Traveling with a Baby in Japan – Everything You Need to Know
Is Japan baby friendly? Absolutely. Does that mean it’s always easy to travel through with a baby? Not exactly.
We just returned from two wonderful weeks traveling through Japan with our 6-month-old and while some parts of the trip were challenging, I think we did a pretty good job of successfully navigating four cities in two weeks with our baby. Here’s everything we did to make our trip to Japan with our baby a memory we’ll always hold dear:
Overall Japan Baby Friendliness
When I was planning our trip, I read mixed reviews from other bloggers of the baby friendliness in Japan. I even received Instagram DMs saying it was the most baby friendly place ever – or not baby friendly at all. So which is it?
I’m happy to say that I was impressed by how family and baby friendly Japan was.
It’s the first country I have traveled to where attendants will usher you to a special family line whether it’s at airport security, check in, or waiting to board. I’ve never had people actually seek us out to help us board like that before.
There were also family/handicap bathrooms everywhere. From train and metro stations to historic folk villages, and more places I really didn’t expect, they were plentiful, clean, and unlike in the US, I never saw a single, able-bodied person walk out of them. People really respected that they were meant for those who actually needed them.
I also saw lactation pods in major transit hubs, and bathroom stalls even had little baby holders!
People were also incredibly friendly and playful with our son. We heard “kawaii!” (cute) all the time. Someone even pulled over on a major city street in Tokyo to tell us that we’d dropped a sock while we were walking on the sidewalk. Can you imagine that happening anywhere else?
We were also given our own private room to dine in at one of the fancier places we stayed – Ubuya near Mt. Fuji. They put two chairs together for a makeshift crib and even brought in toys for Felix when he was fussing. Although we’d heard babies aren’t allowed in some nicer dining establishments in Japan, we never ran into that issue.
Still, I can see why some people struggled. Make sure you do the following when traveling to Japan with your baby.
It seemed the biggest struggle people had was with bringing too much.
I understand! It’s easy to do when you have a baby. It seems like the smaller the human, the more things they need.
Between the three of us, we only had one large bag, two backpacks, and one shoulder bag – even in the winter with bigger clothes! Garrett would stack the shoulder bag on the rolling suitcase and wear one backpack during transit while I wore the baby in this front carrier with the diaper bag backpack on my back. This way, we could get through public transport without issue. This is how we pack light with a baby.
Most train stations have elevators and escalators, though you may come across some in Tokyo that don’t. We bought this rolling suitcase/backpack just for this purpose. It’ll come in so handy in Europe as well, where we’ll encounter the same problem.
There were some key things we left out: Half of the diapers for the trip (we bought there), a stroller, car seat, and a baby bed/crib.
There are luggage forwarding services in Japan, but that seemed like more trouble than just packing lighter to me. Still, if you need it, it can be helpful.
Consider Your Transport Plans
We didn’t bring a car seat because we were using all trains and buses where they aren’t necessary. The one time we did need to catch a quick taxi, he didn’t mind us having the baby on our laps. That went in contrast to what I had read about Japan’s strict car seat laws. Maybe it’s because we were in a small town?
Regardless, since taxis are crazy expensive in Japan, we didn’t rely on them very often. The one time we took a private transfer to the airport, we reserved a car seat in advance for a few dollars.
The one area where I am still torn is the stroller. There were many times when we were walking down the sidewalk and a stroller would have been great. Our baby is pretty big for his age, so we were hurting from all of the carrying. But there were many times when I thought to myself, I’m so glad we don’t have a stroller to deal with in addition to everything else!
During rush hour, trains in bigger cities can get quite crowded, so you’ll be folding up that stroller anyway.
If I were to do it again, I’m not sure I would do anything differently, although we are now testing out the world’s smallest folding stroller, the GB Qbit+. I’ll let you know what we think!
Book the Right Accommodation
Another area where people ran into issues was with accommodation. It’s true that cribs are difficult to come by in Japan. Affordable hotel rooms can also be quite small, particularly in Tokyo.
I loved using Airbnb for this. We were able to book multi-level apartments in Kyoto and Takayama that cost under $100 per night. Both had floor beds so we had no problem putting Felix on his own mattress and sleeping next to him on our own. He never sleeps quite as well on the road as he does at home, but that would be true regardless of whether we brought a travel bassinet or not.
We did run into a little bit of an issue in Kawaguchiko at Ubuya, which did not have any kind of infant bed despite being a five star, family-friendly hotel. We had to put him between us on two beds pushed together so he wouldn’t roll off. That was the worst sleep of the trip!
In Tokyo, the Prince Gallery Kioicho hotel had a crib for us, which was great.
Buying Baby Products in Japan
Drugstores are your best bet for buying baby food, formula, diapers, and any other baby-related needs while you are traveling in Japan. Don’t expect to find these things at grocery stores. Matsumoto Kiyoshi (マツモトキヨシ) is the one we came across the most often.
Although you will find a bigger selection in bigger cities, we were able to get the diapers we needed in the smaller town of Takayama. You can easily find the right size as the baby weight in kilos is printed on each package. That said, it may be the brand we bought, which was the only one available, but it just wasn’t as absorbent as the Honest Company ones we use at home, and we had a few pee-throughs.
Since our baby was just turning six months and we mostly do baby-led weaning with him, we mostly fed him milk and bought a few fruits and veggies at grocery stores and fed him at home. I’ve never had such delicious strawberries in my life!
From time to time I’d share any unsalted food I had with him, including some breakfast salmon. I think he was more excited about the chopsticks than the food, which was so fresh and delicious.
Nursing in Japan
Can you publicly nurse in Japan? I never saw anyone do it. My feeling is that it’s not something people openly do there. Since I can’t nurse, I didn’t run into this issue, but I did see lactation pods from time to time. Since the water is clean, pumping on the go and cleaning parts was no problem for me. It’s also common to have hot water kettles in accommodation, which made sanitizing easy.
The family bathrooms are also a great place to nurse since they always had a fold out bench/bed. If it were me, in a pinch, I’d also use a nursing cover.
Overall, Japan was a wonderful place to bring our son for his first ‘big’ international trip. With the right preparation and packing light, we had a blast. You can check out our Japan itinerary here.