There’s no denying it: All countries are different, but believe it or not, Japan is somehow more different than most. Just imagine a country where tipping is considered disrespectful, a country where English is not that the national language, but is widely used and understood!
For any grown-up visitor, Japan is an exotic destination. It is a unique country that offers an exciting escape from the familiar surroundings with its peculiarity being part of the captivating appeal.
The big question, however, remains; what about taking your baby or even a wide-eyed six or eight-year-old kid on his/her first long-haul holiday to Japan?
Our Personal Experience of Visiting Japan with a Baby
We have read time and time again about how baby-friendly Japan really is, but yet we found the holiday a bit challenging (*honest truth). (We have a full guide of other ideas on the best places to go on a holiday with a baby.)
So here are my thoughts, if you are travelling to Japan with only a baby (and no other kids), I think Japan is a great destination to visit. We were travelling with 3 kids though and together with having to drag luggage + hold hands + carry a baby up and down stairs to subways & train stations on a regular basis; we found the trip REALLY HARD. But I have some invaluable tips on how to ensure your holiday will be easier than ours! Learn from our mistakes and take them on board.
Because a vacation to Japan is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that promises lots of adventure, education and a giddy blend of culture, it is always worth a little bit of a challenge.
Visiting Japan Baby Guide: Top Tips + Everything You Should Know
Before you embark on the journey to Japan with a baby, these great tips will help you create the ultimate baby holiday in Japan.
Children are required to have their own passports in order to be allowed to travel to and around Japan. You will also need to carry the passport with you when you travel on trains as you might be required to show it.
There are also no mandatory vaccinations for a child to travel to Japan, but it’s vital to ensure that your baby is up to date with his/her vaccines.
3. Don’t Pack Too Much!
Getting from one destination/attraction to the next, in Japan, can be a bit of a mission when you have too much luggage with you. Whilst the train system is super-efficient, taxis are incredibly expensive, which means that you will most likely use the trains to get around.
We found very few stations actually had lifts or escalators, which meant that we had to carry our baby (in a carrier) as well as all the luggage down and up way too many stairs. So, try to minimise and to pack as light as you can.
You will also need to be able to fit the luggage in the luggage compartment above your seat (see photo above to see how much space you have – not much!)
TIP: If, like us, you find that it was way too hard to drag all your luggage from one destination to the next, here is a handy tip. Japan has a luggage forwarding system. Essentially you can organize and pay for your luggage to be collected from your hotel in one city and dropped off at your hotel in the next city. You can do this at the hotel reception. We thought the prices were pretty reasonable (nothing in Japan is cheap).
Important to note that the process typically works overnight, so you will have your bag the next day (depending on how far they have to travel). So we always took our essentials in one suitcase and only carried that suitcase with us. You can learn more about this forwarding system here.
4. Travel Slower
Travelling with a baby will undoubtedly slow you down. One of the downsides is that you won’t be able to visit as many locations as you’d have wanted. You should, therefore, always consider planning activities that are close to one another. Ensure you travel slower and allow plenty of time for baby to be changed, fed or to be rocked to sleep. Don’t forget to schedule some downtime for you too, otherwise, you might get exhausted.
Because it can be so tricky getting from point A to B in Japan I also highly recommend that you minimize the number of cities you will be visiting. We tried to see Tokyo, Kyoto, Miyajima, Nara, Shirakawa-Go, Takayama, Kanazawa all in our 3-week trip and we were exhausted by the end of it. So pick 1-3 cities for your trip and keep it simple and easy.
5. Be Prepared for the Flight to Japan
Remember to book bulkhead seats that come with a bassinet. Not only can you make use of the bassinet, but you will also have loads more room (and no reclining seats in front of you!).
You should also know what your ticket includes. If your baby is eating solids, remember to call the airline and request a baby meal. A baby meal usually includes a drink box and some pureed food pouches. Remember, airline food is never guaranteed to be a hit with the baby. So make sure you have your own snacks and baby food supplies for the trip on hand.
6. Book a Machiya (Japanese-Style House) or Airbnb Apartment
When it comes to accommodation we suggest you stay clear of the hotels. The hotel rooms in Japan are really tiny and pretty pricey. Renting a Machiya rather than a hotel or a guesthouse in any of the Japanese cities will go a long way in ensuring that your stay with the baby is completely enjoyable. They’re not only less expensive compared to hotel rooms, but also offer some privacy as well as a larger space where baby can crawl and play.
We loved our Airbnb’s in Japan as they typically come with a fully functional kitchen that certainly affords you the chance to cook your own meals, especially for the baby. Most also have a washing machine which will make things easier as far as the baby’s laundry is concerned.
We ended up taking a portable baby cot with us to Japan as many of the hotels and Airbnb’s did not have a cot available, so it is important to ask the question before you book, to ensure that baby has a safe space to sleep.
7. Always go for Public Transport in Japan
Whilst we are on the topic of transport, here is another tip. If you’re planning to stay in Japan for longer than a week and plan to travel between major cities such as Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto (which is obvious) travelling by rail would definitely be the most economical option. The Japanese public transport is undoubtedly one of the best in the world. So whether it’s a bus, a subway or the Japan Rail Pass (which is basically long-distance train travel), the Japanese public transport is extremely conducive for kids. Kids under the age of 6 can travel for free and kids aged between 6 and 12 will be half-price.
Tip: Always avoid rush hour in the main cities. This is because it can sometimes get hectic and the lack of space can scare the little one. You will be surprised at how many people can squash into the trains at these times. I wouldn’t recommend it. The weekday rush hours peak between 8 am and 9 am in the morning, and shortly after 5 pm in the evening.
8. Try to Travel Hands-Free
We found that many attractions were located in beautiful hilly areas, which meant that not only did we have to deal with stairs at the train stations, but we also had to climb stairs at the attractions. Whilst we did indeed take our baby stroller along, we barely ever used it and I would suggest that you leave it behind altogether.
Instead, try to travel hands-free. We had Avalee in a baby carrier all the time. It just made life so much easier as we climbed many stairs at attractions or headed down all the stairs to the subways.
We also prefer to travel with a backpack diaper bag, which is great to not only balance out the weight of our baby on the front, but also makes it easier for us to have our hands free to deal with money and tickets (and to hold our other two daughters hands at the busy train stations).
Tip: If you find that you really do need a stroller, you can always rent one. There are a lot of online shops that offer baby cots, car seats, baby carrier and many more baby amenities at affordable prices. They are all in Japanese though, so best to ask your hotel receptionist to help you book one. Most of the department stores and shopping centres in Tokyo have free stroller rentals which will give you a break from the carrier if you need.
9. You can rely on Japanese Department Stores
Most department stores in Japan are extremely baby-friendly. They have nurseries with changing tables, and private rooms for breastfeeding. Some of the well-known stores with these amenities include; Daimaru, Isetan, Matsuya and Mitsukoshi.
For food and baby supplies we often found it best to head to the drug stores instead of the supermarkets. Drug stores are an excellent source of baby supplies and you can typically find them easily. They will sell your pre-packaged baby food, formulae, baby snacks and diapers.
Pureed Baby Food: Our baby didn’t like the Japanese baby purees, so make sure you pack your own just as a backup.
Baby Formula: Our baby didn’t mind the baby formula in Japan. The best brands are Meiji, Morinaga and Icreo. We couldn’t understand how many scoops to add, but our hotel receptionist managed to translate the instructions for us, so just ask if you are confused.
Baby Diapers: Whilst they are readily available, they are expensive. Our Australian diapers were much better quality as well so we made sure to keep a good supply of our own diapers for the flight home (because nobody wants to change baby’s diaper more often on a plane than is necessary)
Note: We did struggle to find supplies in the smaller towns, so stock up in the cities before you head out to islands or remote destinations.
10. Restaurants in Japan
Whilst most restaurants and pubs do allow babies, use your common sense when deciding which restaurant is appropriate for him/her. Many restaurants in Japan are tiny, crowded and noisy, which is such a great atmosphere for us but can be pretty overwhelming for a baby. Smoking in restaurants is also allowed and we often walked into a restaurant only to turn back around when we realized how heavy the cigarette and cigar smoke was.
You also won’t easily find a high chair in these restaurants, so expect to hold our baby on our lap or in your baby carrier. If your baby is a bit older, you might like to take a lightweight travel high chair with you. Here is our recommendations for portable high chairs.
Dinner time for us typically meant that our baby Avalee was tired, but the restaurants were way too noisy so we struggled to get her to sleep and she spent the dinner crying. It wasn’t fun. So my tip here is to remember that they do have Dominoes Pizza Delivery. We ended up ordering delivery a few nights, so that we could eat in our Airbnb apartment instead (and that way Avie could get some sleep in her portable cot) – dinner + peace = heaven!
11. Breastfeeding in Japan
If you are planning on breastfeeding in Japan I would highly suggest that you pack in a cover-up. Whilst breastfeeding in public is fine, I never saw anyone with their boob visibly out, it is all about discretion. If you prefer to feed in breastfeeding rooms, you will always find them in department stores, museums and play centres.
The idea of travelling to a foreign country is often an intimidating prospect for many. The idea of making the trip with a baby or toddler in tow is even more worrying to many, but that doesn’t mean parents cannot have an exciting holiday to a foreign land far away from home.
Save for the jet lag, travelling to Japan with a baby is easier than in many other countries. That’s because Japan is an extremely baby/kid-friendly country and everybody seems to be in love with babies. To highlight this, there are seats for babies to sit on in many public places, as well as kid areas for children to let loose, run around and have some fun. Believe it or not, changing tables are everywhere including in the men’s bathroom! Some places even offer free diapers and microwaves. This is a place where you’ll walk in big cities such as Tokyo and Kyoto and see babies everywhere.
But do learn from our mistakes and travel slow and travel light.
So if you’ve been planning to travel to Japan and have some worries regarding your baby, be rest assured that Japan has got you and the baby properly covered. All you have to do is keep up with the above fantastic tips and you and your baby will be good to go.
Over to You:
- Do you have any helpful tips to add to our Japan baby travel guide?
- Do you have any other questions that you need answers for?