Five Sensory Activities for Families in Kyoto

SinceFive Sensory Activities for Families in Kyoto pin

Kyoto, located on the island of Honshu in Japan, was the imperial capital of Japan for over a thousand years. Now known as City of Ten Thousand Shrines, Kyoto is famous for its museums and festivals. We checked out some of these sites on our most recent trip to Kyoto and have created this list of five sensory activities that are perfect for families and travelers with autism.

Five Sensory Activities for Families in Kyoto river


Once in Kyoto, it is relatively easy to get around, since the city has an excellent public transportation system, making it easy to hop on a bus, train, or subway. Kyoto also has taxis, which are reasonably priced, and the city is quite walkable and bike friendly. Any way you choose to get around; it likely to be a safe experience!

Five Sensory Activities for Families in Kyoto pond

Nijo Castle

The building of Nijō Castle began in 1601 and was completed in 1626. It is now one of seventeen historical monuments in Kyoto that are designated by UNESCO as  World Heritage Sites. The Castle boasts an outer wall area and an inner wall area, which demonstrate the social system at the time when only the most notable guests were able to enter the inner area. The inner area consists of the Ninomaru Palace which is built almost entirely of cypress and filled with elaborate gold leaf woodcarvings, as well as gorgeous wall paintings. Visitors should check out the magnificent gardens on the property, where they will see the pond and groves of cherry and Japanese plum trees.There is plenty of room to walk around and explore, and there are English guides available, but it’s not a very interactive place for children.

Five Sensory Activities for Families in Kyoto red

Autism Travel Tips:

  • Parents should prepare their child to remove their shoes at the entrance. If they’re not comfortable with that, they won’t be able to enter the castle.
  • The castle can get crowded and stuffy in some rooms, especially in the summer time. Parents should bring a mini fan and water for kids that are temperature intolerant.
  • Five Sensory Activities for Families in Kyoto gold castle

Iga Ueno, the Ninja Palace

Any kid interested in Ninjas will enjoy the Iga Ueno! The Iga school of Ninjutsu was one of Japan’s most famous Ninja schools in the feudal period. It has since been turned into a Ninja museum. One of Japan’s greatest poets, Basho Matsuo, was born here, so the site includes a museum and his birth home.The interactive aspect of this palace is impressive. The Ninja Experience Hall will show visitors the tools that Ninjas used and a video about how stealthy Ninjas were.

Five Sensory Activities for Families in Kyoto pond

Autism Travel Tips:

  • There is Ninja show that most kids will enjoy. However, parents should bring earplugs along because the show is somewhat noisy.

Tea Ceremony

For those visiting Japan, a must-do is participating in a traditional tea ceremony. This ceremony is a favorite activity in Kyoto, so there are several places to go for a tea ceremony. Most services run relatively the same – a little bit of education before and during the ceremony, and a relaxing experience sipping tea in the traditional Japanese way. The prices are typically around 2000-3000 yen per person.

Five Sensory Activities for Families in Kyoto statue

Autism Travel Tips:

  • As some of the customs may be different than what a child with autism might expect (taking off shoes, sitting on the floor, doing things in a certain order, sitting quietly)attending a  Tea Ceremony is something that parents might want to research the topic ahead of time. Parents should check out our YouTube video below to get an idea of what to expect.

Meet a Geisha

Kyoto is the place to go to meet a traditional geisha. Despite popular urban legends, geishas are NOT prostitutes but entertainers trained in traditional Japanese dance, tea ceremony, and other traditions. It can be quite expensive to attend a geisha (geiko) or maiko show, but since they mostly live in Kyoto, it is possible to spot one on the street.

Five Sensory Activities for Families in Kyoto geisha


Autism Travel Tips:

  • Parents should make sure children do not make disparaging remarks about the customary costume and heavy makeup.
  • In Japan, there is a higher level of politeness/etiquette observed; parents should help their child be mindful.

Day Trip to Nara

Nara is worth its own post, so be sure to check our separate about it for more information. Nara was Japan’s first capital, designated in 610, and is home to some of Japan’s largest and oldest temples. It is about an hour outside Kyoto, so it is not hard to see some amazing temples and gorgeous gardens. Travelers should tour Naramachi, an old merchant town with some interesting old houses and have fun feeding the wild deer roaming freely around the area.

Five Sensory Activities for Families in Kyoto deer

Autism Travel Tips:

  • Families should bring plenty of hand wipes, as visitors will either touch or be touched by the wild deer.
  • The deer are persistent and can chase, stalk, or nibble on the belongings of guests. Parents should prepare their child for this as it can be frightening.







Take your Kids to Nara Park, Japan

Nara Park, Japan:Tips for Your Family Day Trip shrine


If you are spending a significant amount of time in the Japanese city of Kyoto or Osaka, then you want to take a family day trip out to Nara.

Nara, designated back in 610 as Japan’s first capital, is nowadays home to some of the country’s oldest temples and ornate gardens. It’s relatively easy to get to Nara, and there are some fun things to do for all ages!

Nara Park, Japan:Tips for Your Family Day Trip walkway

What to see

Nara has two prominent temples that should be on your must-see list: the Todaiji and Heijo, both listed on the Unesco Heritage sites. The Todaiji, the temple housing the world’s largest bronze statue Buddha Vairocana, was the largest wooden structure in the world until 1996.

The Heijo temple, about half a mile in length served as Nara’s Imperial Palace back in the 8th century when the city was Japan’s capital.

Nara Park, Japan:Tips for Your Family Day Trip deer

The South Gate in front of the Todaiji Temple, constructed at the end of the 12th century earned its claim to fame after being featured in several Hollywood movies and online game by Microsoft.

Nara Park, Japan:Tips for Your Family Day Trip buddha

Not to be missed are the two gate guardians, Ungyo, and Agyo, that may look like a pair at first glance, but boast opposite expressions-one has his mouth open the other closed.

Nara Park, Japan:Tips for Your Family Day Trip gods

It is well worth walking down to the nearby Kasuga Taisha Shrine to see thousands of stone lanterns that line the walkway. Imagine attending the ‘Mandoro Festival’ when they all are lit!

Nara Park, Japan:Tips for Your Family Day Trip gold deity

And speaking of festivals, one of the most spectacular festivals involves fire. Every first weekend in January, during Wakakusa Yamayaki the grass on the hillside of Nara’s Mount Wakakusayama is set on fire along with spectacular firework show.

Nara Park, Japan:Tips for Your Family Day Trip lanterns

What to do

You do not want to miss feeding the deer at Nara Park! The ruminant mammals regarded as messengers of the gods in the Shinto religion are allowed to roam the grounds undisturbed.

Nara Park, Japan:Tips for Your Family Day Trip baby

It might take some time for some kids to warm up to feeding a wild animal; others will jump right in for the experience. It’s the largest park in Nara, so it’s easy to find, not to mention the nearly 1200 deer roaming around!


Nara Park, Japan:Tips for Your Family Day Trip kiss
Over the years, these deer have been taught to emulate people and bow their head in return for food. Make sure to purchase crackers for the deer at various vendors around the park as they are bold and will come up to you to feed them.

Nara Park, Japan:Tips for Your Family Day Trip walking
If you value your belongings keep your purse and coat are safely out of the way as they are persistent and been known to chew on almost anything.

Nara Park, Japan:Tips for Your Family Day Trip bird

The caveat is that once they know you have food, they will follow you, practically stalk you as you make your way around the park.


Nara Park, Japan:Tips for Your Family Day Trip pair

Autism Travel Tips

If you go on your own, you should know there are two train companies that you can travel with– Japan Railways and Kintetsu Railways.

The train ride, is about 45 minutes and then getting to Todaiji and the deer park is an additional 30-minute bus ride.


Nara Park, Japan:Tips for Your Family Day Trip resting

We suggest you go with a tour company as we did to eliminate the wait for public transportation.
It might be a bit pricier but if your kid with autism can’t wait patiently then spending a few extra bucks might totally prove worth it.

If your child gets antsy, get him or her to look for the wooden column with a hole in it behind the giant Buddha. Legend has it that those who fit in there can reach enlightenment.

Nara Park, Japan:Tips for Your Family Day Trip tourist

The terrain in the park is highly uneven, composed mostly of gravel and grassy patches, so closed toe shoes are recommended.

Nara Park, Japan:Tips for Your Family Day Trip begging
Remember you are walking around wild animals so tell your kids to look where they are stepping as there might be excrements on the ground.
Pack hand wipes your family can use after feeding the deer.

Nara Park, Japan:Tips for Your Family Day Trip poop

Since most of the park ticks are carrying visible ticks (around the ears), you may want to dress in long-sleeved shirts and long pants to protect yourself. Another less desirable option is to use a tick repellant containing Deet chemical to deter the ticks.
Like in all ‘touristy’ areas there are multiple extensive souvenir stands both inside the temple and in the park itself selling stuffed animal deer and well-wish trinkets, so establish ground rules for souvenir purchases before arrival.

Nara Park, Japan:Tips for Your Family Day Trip souvenirs

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