In May, when Mr E was about 20 months, we brought him to Japan for his very first family holiday. Of course, because the thought of a week alone with Mr E in a foreign land felt just too physically and emotionally daunting, we brought reinforcements: The Grandparents.
We decided to go to Kyoto over Tokyo because we wanted a city that was a bit slower in pace. We were also drawn to the fact that Kyoto is literally just filled with temples and parks, making it a safe place for an inquisitive toddler to run around in. I use the word literally, literally. It is literally filled with temples and parks! I’m going to share with you how we travelled to and around, where we stayed, what we ate and what we saw in Kyoto in a series of three blog entries. So let’s start with travelling to Kyoto and where we stayed!
HOW WE TRAVELLED TO KYOTO
It seemed we weren’t the only ones who thought that Kyoto would be a lot more family friendly than Tokyo. The Singapore Airlines flight from Singapore to Osaka was carrying more than the normal load of babies and toddlers. About an hour into the flight, we became fast friends with a French family who were seated at the bulkhead seats across the aisle from us. They too embarked on inter-generational travel as the boistrous one-year-old boy introduced us to his charming mother, father and grandmama. They too were enroute to Kyoto for a family holiday.
To be very honest, the aeroplane ride to Osaka was horrible. Mr E was restless and frustrated. When the air stewardesses first set up his bassinet, he couldn’t wait to hop in and lie down because it was such a novelty to him. Our relief was short-lived when ten seconds later he wanted out and wanted to run up and down the aisle. The stewardesses were less than amused and warned us that we had to keep him off the aisle when they were serving the meals. I think he just wanted to reach across the aisle for his French friend most of the time. But was prohibited from doing so by the stewardesses which further added to his irritable mood. All I can say is, thank goodness for Peppa Pig.
We arrived in Osaka at night. Oh which brings me to #TravellinginKyotowithaToddler Tip 1: Don’t be a hero. You are already a hero for travelling with a toddler. To make your journey as comfortable as you can for you and the child, if you arrive at night, book the airport hotel. So luckily we did, and we spent the night at the Kansai Airport Hotel. It was a God-send seriously. We literally just stumbled out of the aeroplane and into our beds. It seemed an Indian family that also travelled with their toddler on the same plane as us had the exact same idea with us giving each other sheepish awkward smiles as we recognised each other in the hotel lobby and walked towards the same lift.
The next day we took the train, which was just outside the Kansai Airport Hotel, to Kyoto. It was so easy. We just pushed our airport trolleys into our rooms the night before, and then pushed the same trolleys out of the lobby and into the train station. SO CONVENIENT. It was at the train station that we bumped into the French family again. Seriously, Kyoto is a baby magnet. When we reached Kyoto, I noticed many other tourists pushing around strollers or carrying their babies in slings. It’s just that easy to travel around in Kyoto with your child.
When we reached Kyoto station, we decided to go with the easy option of just hailing a taxi to the ryokan that we booked. The cost of a daily bus pass in Kyoto is about 500 Yen (approx S$5). The staff at the ryokan advised that the cost of a taxi from the station to the ryokan would be about 800 Yen. So we decided that since there were four of us plus a toddler, it would be actually cheaper to hail a cab. I guess that brings me to #TravellinginKyotowithaToddler Tip 2: Again, don’t be a hero. Actually, sometimes, the more comfortable option may be the more economical one. One of the best things about cabs in Kyoto is that they are so polite and so accommodating. Even though some drivers may not speak English, they will try their best to communicate with you – to find out where you are going. I guess that also brings me to #TravellinginKyotowithaToddler Tip 3: Try to get the name of the place you want to go to written in Japanese before you get into the cab. While this is a probably a universal rule, it is even more true in Kyoto as most of the drivers can’t speak English and unless you have great Japanese pronunciation, you’d probably mangle the attraction name, causing embarrassment to both you and the driver when he finally figures out what you are trying to say and says it in a completely different way.
WHERE WE STAYED
We stayed at the Ryokan Sakura Honganji, just a 10 minutes cab ride away from Kyoto station. As we’d never stayed in a ryokan before, we were quite excited. Nat and I booked a traditional tatami room and my parents booked a Western room. When we first entered the ryokan, we were pleasantly greeted by this sunny chirpy lady. She told us that although we were early, check-in time is at 3 pm, she’d be happy to keep our luggage for us and deliver them to the rooms, as we headed out for lunch.
The ryokan itself was decent enough. It was filled with Americans, most notably, American university students when we were there. Also – it did not have wifi in the room. We had to use wifi downstairs. It kind of reminded me of my boarding school days where we would all huddle around the living room trying to detect a faint wifi signal. The wifi signal was strong – just inconveniently located downstairs.
Sleeping on a tatami mat was interesting. I’d slept on floors before, but I wasn’t used to such a thin mattress so it took some time getting used to. Nat thought it would help his back, but after five days, he realised it probably made it worse. The only one who was absolutely thrilled with the tatami mat was Mr E. He loved the fact that during the day, the whole tatami mat area was transformed into a free-for-all play area where he could run and jump up and down to his hearts content.
Breakfast wasn’t exciting. Luckily, we only tried breakfast once – just out of curiosity. The salmon was hard and the soup forgettable. I guess it wasn’t a traditional ryokan with a 95-year-old lady stirring rice porridge in the kitchen like I had dreamed about. Most of the staff in the ryokan when we were there were in their early 20s, a few generations away from my fantasy of a 95-year-old innkeeper who cooked food passed down from her grandmother. BUT, to make up for it, apparently there’s a famous ramen shop just 1 minute from the ryokan. Unfortunately we didn’t get to try it, but apparently the queues are pretty long.
I must say I liked the location of the ryokan. It was located right in the heart of a residential district with a playground just down the road and people cycling too and from work. It was also very quiet in the evenings which made retiring for the day very easy and peaceful – we didn’t have to worry about waking up to shattered wine bottles.
At the end of the day, I realised that the kids working in the ryokan weren’t too bad. At least they could speak good (almost fluent) English, I doubt my imaginary 95-year-old innkeeper can!
Stay tuned for Part 2 to find out what this little kiddy ate in Kyoto!