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Travelling in Kyoto with a baby: Maybe don't do it

SINGAPORE | Saturday, 4 June 2016 | Views [879]

Well this blog has certainly not lived up to its name.

But now I have a new impetus to write about my travels - my son Nayel. Especially since we have just taken our first trip together, and I (and LY) want to remember as much of it as possible because, well, he certainly can't be counted on.

Before I actually write about the trip though, I want to preface by saying that a lot of thought went into the choosing of our destination, Kyoto. I am not a very brave parent. Many of my friends who are also parents have embarked on trips with their kids even at three months, four months, six months. My son was 14 months old when we set out for Kyoto, and I was still very nervous about how challenging it would be, especially on the flights.

I decided on Kyoto because a) it was one of the destinations I had been planning to visit next just before I got pregnant and b) among those destinations that I had been planning to visit next, it seemed to be the most convenient. For example, I'd first explored the idea of taking Nayel to Hokkaido, but soon realised that it was the kind of place that would require you to move from city to city to really get the full experience, and I was really not keen on the idea of constantly having to repack our luggage and take hours-long train rides every few days with a restless baby. With Kyoto, you could probably base yourself there for a month and still not see everything the city and its surroundings have to offer.

Furthermore, I came across several Kyoto travel guides and blogs written by other parents who testified that Kyoto was indeed a very safe, hygienic, fun and convenient place to take a child, even an infant. 

Dudes, I beg to differ.

Let me set out my arguments against taking your infant (airline definition of anyone under 2) to Kyoto:

1. I read online that diapers were easily available at supermarkets, drugstores and the like. I booked us a room at a serviced apartment, the Citadines Karasuma-Gojo (great decision, by the way), which happened to be 100m away from a 24-hour supermarket, and packed just enough diapers for two to three days.

We didn't feel urgently about it, so we only dropped by the supermarket at the end of our first day in Kyoto. We found it didn't sell diapers. We shrugged it off, told ourselves we'd just buy it the next day at any other supermarket we might chance upon.

The next day we went on a walking tour of temples which did not bring us anywhere near a supermarket or drugstore, so once we'd ended our explorations - which, by the way, involved a solid eight hours of walking and climbing (while taking turns carrying a 10kg baby and his hefty diaper bag) with a short break for lunch - we took a bus to Kyoto Station and actively started looking for diapers. We went to the kids' department in Isetan, then its supermarket, then across the road to Kyoto Tower to a two-storey drugstore, then another building with a department store, before finally finding diapers in a Nishimatsuya on the fourth floor of a building next to Kyoto Tower.

I swear to god my heartbeat slowed down as we entered Nishimatsuya and looked through the aisles, and LY and I burst into laughter when we finally saw diapers, and then I burst into tears.

"This is so hard. It's so hard," I sobbed.

Translation: Being a parent is hard. Travelling with a kid is hard. Finding diapers in Kyoto is REALLY hard.

We took no chances. We bought a huge pack of Pampers that would last us about three weeks, although we only had 6 days left on the trip.

2. We did not come across a single baby chair, with strap and buckle, at any of the restaurants we ate at. Nayel was a demon, climbing the tables and banging sauce bottles, crawling all over the tatami mat rooms and shouting at the top of his voice in glee or screaming in anger when we tried to stop him.

It became such a chore to have a meal that a couple of days in, we would simply wait until he went down for a nap (which, thankfully, was always around lunchtime) then hurried to find a restaurant to have lunch at. Dinners were a bigger problem, because he doesn't nap in the evenings. A few times we ate out, a few times we bought food from depachikas and ate in our room, which was the more comfortable (i.e. less embarrassing) option - at least when he screamed and shouted about being confined to his cot, we weren't disturbing other diners. 

3. Kyoto's attractions aren't really baby- or toddler-appropriate, are they? First of all there's all the climbing and hiking - and have I mentioned we had to do it all while carrying a 10kg baby who squirms and struggles? I was so glad I'd been going to the gym - I hadn't known it back when I started training with Ashley, but THIS was the reason why I needed to get fit. 

Second, most of the top sights (i.e. temples) are so intensely crowded that you can't let your toddler down on the ground much. It was just too risky (people could bang into him anytime) and inconvenient (we kept having to swing him out of the way of oncoming tourists). So even at a site like Fushimi-Inari Taisha, which is touted as a kid-friendly place, we had to carry him.

Third, the less crowded sights (i.e. temples) are often meant to be quiet, peaceful, restful, meditative havens. And guess what kind of people don't respect values such as peace and quiet. So even though we felt safe letting him roam around temples such as Konchi-in and Shoren-in, we were also acutely aware, especially in their gardens, that we were being a goddamn nuisance. I even accidentally caught on camera a man - another tourist - shushing my son as he shouts in excitement and glee.

So, instead of being able to fully enjoy the delights of these beautiful pockets of paradise, LY and I often just ended up feeling embarrassed and quickly bundled Nayel away and ran off into the woods. (Literally, cos many of these temples have woodsy sections).

Looking back, I think the only place we went to where Nayel could roam happily, freely and safely and express all his feelings as loudly as he wished, without us feeling like we were imposing on anyone - that is to say, the only place where all three of us felt fully at ease and happy, and therefore the only truly kid-appropriate place we went to - was the Kyoto Imperial Palace Garden. 

4. The buses come every half an hour, so if you miss one that's a half-hour of waiting. Not sure about other kids, but mine's not a big fan of standing around in one spot for 30 minutes. The buses also get progressively more packed throughout the journey so if you're unlucky and don't get a seat/ nobody gives up their seat to you, it could be a very uncomfortable ride.

Unlike in Tokyo, where I've never had to take a bus on either of my two trips because the subway goes everywhere, you do need buses to get to a lot of the sights in Kyoto. Sure, there are taxis too, but they are pretty expensive. We only took them for short distances, and usually when we were already tired at the end of the day.

So there you have it. Don't bring a baby to Kyoto!

Still, we ended up having a lovely time anyway and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. More on that later.

 

Tags: japan, kids, kyoto

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