How to travel in Japan with a baby

By on August 1, 2013
The first time we traveled with my daughter, I was nervous. Would she be ok on the train? Would I be able to find places to nurse her discreetly? As it turned out, we traveled around Japan several times throughout my daughter’s infancy without issue. However, I learned some things along the way to make future travels easier and more convenient.

How to know if hotels provide cribs/cots  
Some hotels in Japan provide baby cribs or cots, known as “baby beds” in Japanese. Look for “ベビーベッド” when searching a Japanese hotel or booking site to find them–English versions of hotel sites do not always have this information. Some hotels may require you to book a larger room, as the cribs don’t always fit in standard rooms.

Or, call the hotel to ask. If they do not have an English speaker, say, “ベビーベッドがありますか” (bebi- beddo ga arimasu ka?). An answer with “hai”, “arimasu”, or “dekimasu” will mean that they do.

Alternatively, bring a portable crib and send it with larger luggage between the airport and hotels, or your home and the hotel, via a “takkyubin” delivery service such as Yamato.

Or rent a crib. Several online sites in Japan offer temporary baby rentals, which saves the hassle of carrying goods from abroad or buying baby items you won’t use more than once or twice. Whether you need a crib, stroller, or car seat, prices vary by site and length of rental. Some sites require a minimum rental length of two weeks. You can book the goods yourself, but the sites are all in Japanese, so try asking the hotel staff to help you (you might need to pay for this).

Where to rent baby goods in Japan

Nursing Rooms

Japan is breastfeeding-friendly–women nurse their babies discreetly in public or they use nursing rooms, which can be found in most suburban or urban areas. Nursing room amenities vary by location, such as separate stalls for nursing, changing tables, a sink, a hot water machine for formula, among other features. Larger women’s restrooms usually have changing tables or you can find one in a handicap restroom, if available.

While you can nurse or change your baby almost anywhere, if you prefer the privacy of a nursing room, there are a few ways to find them.

First, Milpas, an iPhone app, allows you to search for nursing rooms by location in English, although the name and address will be in Japanese.

If you can read a little Japanese, Ikusapo and list options around Japan. An online translation tool can help you get the gist of prefectures and basic amenities.

Bullet trains (shinkansen) have a multipurpose room that you can use for nursing or to calm an unhappy baby. To use it, find one of the train attendants in uniform and ask “tamokutekishitsu tsukatte mo ii desu ka?” And remember to tell them when you are finished.

What to pack

Pack light and bring common-sense items (e.g. blankets, bibs, clothes, small first aid kit, toys, wipes, snacks, among other items).

Baby carrier or sling–the lighter the better and worn in. I like the Ergo Baby Sport as it’s lightweight and comfortable. Carrying your child also means you don’t have to worry about finding elevators or fitting into small spaces.

Diapers–bring what you need, but to lighten the load buy disposable diapers at drugstores in Japan, which are often near train stations in suburban/urban areas (search for ドラッグストア). If you plan to use cloth diapers, check to see if your hotel has laundry machines (ランドリー) or if there is a laundromat (コインランドリー) nearby. You can also buy wipes at drugstores, but most contain chemicals and alcohol. Baby stores, which are not always conveniently located, have more options.

Changing pad and a separate bag or holder to keep it in.

Plastic bags–always good to have on hand. Some nursing rooms or changing tables have plastic bags you can use if you run out.

Small hand towel (or two)–everyone carries these in Japan, especially in the summer when it’s hot and sticky. Use it to wipe sweat or in bathrooms without hand dryers or paper towels. Also comes in handy if you need to wipe baby.

Extra baby outfits in case of leaks or spills–put one or two outfits in your diaper bag or purse. Also carry an extra shirt for yourself (and your partner) in your bag/purse in case of leaks, spills or spit up.

Don’t bring booster seats (restaurants have these or baby can sit in your lap), car seats (rent one if you need one), or baby baths (use a sink or bathe with your baby as they do in Japan). Don’t bring a stroller if you can avoid it, but if you do, make sure it’s thin, lightweight, and easily foldable. If you ride trains or subways the stroller needs to fit through ticket gates, and if it is rush hour or you ride a bus you will need to fold it up. Elevators are not always easy to find and some escalators don’t allow strollers, if they’re even available. Department stores and malls sometimes have strollers you can borrow while shopping.

Ultimately, relax and enjoy your time in Japan!


About Ashley Thompson

Ashley Thompson is the Community Manager for Nihongo Master (for learning Japanese online), and editor of the blog, Surviving in Japan.