Bebe Voyage recently had the pleasure of hearing from travelers Gyongyi and Jurgen; Hungarian and Dutch parents living in Amsterdam. They chose to take a sabbatical after their daughter Mirin was born to travel, meet other people, and experience different cultures. They shared with us their stories of the unique delights and challenges they experienced while traveling through Japan, and you can check them out at their blog for more of their adventures!
Article by Mirin’s World
We traveled Japan 5 years ago as a couple without a baby and our memories were of a very clean and well-organized place. When we had our daughter, we felt it would be the perfect country to travel to again, with her in tow. We thought…
Japan is still one of the cleanest and safest places we’ve traveled so in that sense, you can really relax and the let your little one explore without worry. If your kid eats food from the floor, Japan is the country where it would probably do the least harm (though we still don’t suggest it). Most shopping malls offer free strollers and many times baby seats are provided in restaurants, but even better; public toilets with great children’s facilities can be found everywhere – on the streets, in malls and even in trains. When we say great facilities, we really mean GREAT! They all have a changing table, special sinks for washing up, and handy baby chairs mounted to the wall where your little one can sit safely while you are otherwise occupied. Plus, in most malls and trains you’ll find special rooms for feeding your baby in private.
Japan is also a very safe country where you, nor your child, nor your stuff will be taken. You can leave your luggage somewhere while you do a diaper change, and when you come back it is still there! I think it would be a first if your stuff wasn’t there anymore.
‘So far so good’, I hear you thinking. And yes, so far so good, but there are definitely some challenges traveling Japan with a baby and these challenges are heightened because communication is difficult. The Japanese have a lot of room for improvement regarding English fluency, and speaking Japanese is not our strongest asset either. Our dear friend ‘Google Translate’ helped; however, many times we would look into questioning eyes when we showed the translated words. Not that we expect everyone to speak English when we travel, but when speaking with an “English speaker” in Japan, you can likely still expect to struggle with some communication.
Buying Children’s Items
Buying diapers is a quest when you do it for the first time in Japan. We are used to buying them in the supermarket; however, in Japan you have to look for them in big shopping malls or better pharmacies. Don’t be surprised if you have to spend a couple of hours chasing after a new pack of diapers! We were also really surprised that baby food is so hard to buy. If you want more ‘natural’ or ‘organic’ stuff, it becomes a day-long hunt. The baby food you can buy in some stores is generally full of sugar, salt and other stuff I wouldn’t expect, and the same applies for powdered milk and dairy products in general. Yoghurt ‘without’ sugar is mostly one choice of flavor and tucked away in coolers. We spent many hours scanning labels with our phones hoping the translation app would recognize the characters on the package and basically, there is sugar in almost everything; even the bread tastes sweet!
Fresh fruits are much easier to buy, but be prepared to pay for them!
Before we left for Japan on our travels, we sent home one of our bags that contained our electric hand blender… a decision we regretted quickly. It is not easy to make your own baby food in Japanese hotels or B&B’s, but with some creativity you can do a lot with your water cooker in the hotel room or a microwave in the plentiful 7Elevens. We bought a small hand crank blender to keep the traveling light and still be able to blend some veggies or fruits to make our own baby food. We also brought it to the restaurants to blend some of the food we were having. The Japanese like their noodles, which was not the easiest for our daughter to eat, but our little blender did it’s magic and made a portion of ‘Ramen soup’ into a very manageable baby dish!
We are very lucky that Mirin tries everything and eats diversely. She loves sashimi (raw fish), fish roe, oysters, nori, pickled ginger, seaweed, miso soup, rice and so on. The food in Japan is quite different from home, but we like to introduce Mirin to different tastes and we are lucky she is so adventurous! However, if your kid is picky it will be much harder to find food, especially because menus are often only in Japanese and the waiters often only understand Japanese. There were also times we were not seated in a restaurant or coffee shop with a baby even when the place looked empty. You’ll get an understandable reason or explanation, but it won’t be told directly to you. Don’t let that scare you off; in most cases, kids are welcome!
Hotel rooms in Japan are generally much smaller than in Europe. A Japanese style ‘Ryokan’ room provides a little more space, but a western type room is tiny! Many hotels don’t offer a baby bed which was not an issue for us as we always bring our little pop-up tent, but many times, it was half in a closet or under a desk with the suitcase taking the rest of the ‘free’ space. The tight quarters are not always easy for kids and challenge your private space as a couple as well, especially when most babies need naps during the day. If you bring a stroller and/or carrier, they can sleep on the go, but many times we use Mirin’s nap time to take a break and relax. We normally look for a nice terrace or bar, improvise a sleeping place for Mirin, have a drink ourselves while we plan our next steps; but Japan doesn’t do terraces or relaxed sitting places! In Europe we are used to having a terrace or café on almost every corner; however, in Japan they are not very common. It is just not in their culture.
Mirin was ill for a couple of days and, thankfully, finding a doctor in Japan was not difficult. We went to the tourist information center and they helped us out, and many hotel receptions will try to help as well. Overall, we had a good experience, but prepare yourself for some stressful situations; especially when you are concerned about your child. The language barrier can be frustrating and aggravating in an already tense situation like this.
In general, Japanese people were fairly reserved and preferred to keep their distance, but they were quite sociable with Mirin. She got a lot of attention – maybe because she has blonde hair and blue eyes – and many times, women and men would come up to her and touch her hair, cheeks or hands. Everywhere we heard people saying, “Kawai!” which apparently means “cute” in Japanese. Given our interactions with locals we did not expect that, and we did expect a lot of reactions to Mirin’s name that we did not get. The sweet Japanese cooking wine is called Mirin, but many times it took quite some explaining before anyone realized it, even if we showed the spelling of her name.
All in all, Japan is easy and fun country to travel with a baby. Don’t let any of the challenges we talk about withhold you; we just want to share our experiences so you aren’t also surprised by it! Japan is a special country with a special culture; the people are really nice and helpful so go, explore, and enjoy!
For more exclusive Bebe Voyage recommendations for a trip to Tokyo, check out our Tokyo city guide.
Our 2022 Tokyo travel guide has tons of community sourced recommendations for:
- restaurants that will delight mom, dad and baby,
- trustworthy babysitters for a date night out,
- charming hotels with rooms that are bigger than a shoe box,
- vacation rentals in case you want your own kitchen and living room,
- hidden gems that even locals don’t know about, and
- pediatric clinics and local baby meds, just in case.
All these items are pinned on an interactive map that you can download for off-line use. Updated post-pandemic with latest information.