When I first arrived in Japan I was told that the area was not very kid/family friendly. Thankfully, I found this to be very far from the truth. Having a baby and toddler while in Japan has been a pretty eye-opening experience for our family.
I believe the “non friendly” impression merely came from a misunderstanding of cultural differences. Streets, sidewalks and elevators are narrow and sometimes non-existent. This makes having single strollers hard to walk around with; add a double stroller to that scenario and you could get frustrated very quickly.
I think the key to having kids is to know what to look for and do as the Japanese. If you stop and watch the locals with children, you will see that many moms and dads, if not most, are wearing their infants and young kids. Double strollers are not common because the Japanese don’t generally have their children close in age. Of course it does happen, and I learned to wear my youngest and push the oldest in the stroller (when they’re willing!) or have the little one in the stroller and let the older one walk (again, when they’re willing!).
It may appear that some places are not “family” friendly because there aren’t diaper changers in the restrooms. You’ll find that most department stores, train stations and malls have a dedicated Baby Room. These baby rooms are amazing! Some of the malls back in the states are following the trend, where you can discover changing tables, sinks for bottle rinsing, and family restrooms. The deluxe Japanese baby rooms are even nicer, having:
- A water dispenser that has boiled water cooled to a warm 75º/80ºF
- A scale and measuring table
- Bottle washing detergent
- A vending machine with baby food and drink items
- A diaper and wipe vending machine in case you happen to forget or run out
- Plastic baggies or diaper genies next to the changing tables and more!
I’ve seen most anything you could possibly need for tending to your baby in these rooms… and I haven’t even talked about the “Milk rooms”! These rooms are generally within Baby rooms or adjacent for nursing mommies. Nursing is discreet but completely acceptable in public, but these milk rooms are made for convenience. They are similar to changing rooms with a bench or chair alongside a table to set your diaper bag, or can be a large room with several chairs and tables.
These rooms have been my absolute favorite thing about being in Japan with a baby. My daughter refused the bottle and having a place to retreat with her, even for a few minutes during one of our outings, gave me the confidence to go out and explore with a nursing baby. There is, of course, an app for that – Milpas helped me locate a nursing room when outside of our regular area.
I also enjoy people watching and always wondered why Japanese babies are so calm on trains, in stores, in lines, etc.. I was in a desperate search for a milk room at the mall with a wailing baby and realized something…the mom and baby in front of me were waiting for the milk room as calm as can be….say what?! I discovered the easiest solution is to stop in a baby room when arriving or leaving a destination, so that my daughter was never starving for her next feeding. I would always check her diaper just as often; I’m not sure if this revelation is from being on my second baby or from watching calm Japanese babies in envy!
Another great tip I learned from the Japanese, is when we were having lunch in Yokohama with my wiggly baby, in what seemed to be a not so family friendly restaurant. The tables were very close together with there was nowhere to park my stroller, and no room for high chairs. I was trying to nurse my child in a cramped booth and I turn to see another mother nursing her child too. Then something happened when she finished nursing her child: she called her server over and next thing I knew she was bringing the baby a cushion to lay down next to the mom. …WHAT…so simple yet so effective! That family had a much more relaxed lunch than our family because we had been taking turns holding the baby while the other one ate. Of course, I remembered this ingenious idea and used it another time out to lunch when I wasn’t able to pull the stroller up to the table. I just piled up our coats and laid our baby beside me, calm as can be!
I have also found that the carts in some stores are actually much nicer for someone with an infant so you don’t have to tote around your stroller. They are cushy and recline for non-sitters; my three year is petite and even she is willing to sit in these at times when she wants to relax!
Highchairs are also different in Japan. High chairs are meant to be just that: higher chairs for toddlers to reach the table or similar to American booster chairs. No belt, no tray – just a chair. If you are dining at a local restaurant, they may have “baby chairs” which are similar to what we know as “high chairs” but not all restaurants carry these kinds of chairs.
Thankfully, a friend showed me a product in a local baby store that can be used on any regular chair, similar to a baby chair. You simply velcro your baby into the diaper shaped device, and snap the strap into place around the chair’s back. This has worked really well when no baby chair is available and is so compact it doesn’t take much space in my diaper bag. The closest American product to the Japanese one I purchased – is this Totseat (see photo on the right).
I’m so grateful that I came to Japan with an open mind. I have been told by Japanese ladies and have seen it first-hand that in Japan when it comes to children, they come first. I feel bad that the person who told me ‘Japan was not family friendly’ had a bad experience because I have learned so much! I may not always understand certain things about the Japanese lifestyle, but when it comes to ease of parenting, I appreciate all their efforts to make my job as a mom easier!