Planning the Ultimate Baby-Friendly Holiday to Japan

Travelling with a baby can be an adventure in itself, but with careful planning and some insider tips, it can also be an amazing experience. We recently embarked on a trip to Japan with our 10-month-old baby, and despite the initial doubts and apprehensions, it turned out to be a wonderful family holiday. In this article, I’ll share our journey and provide you with valuable insights and recommendations to help you plan the ultimate baby-friendly holiday to Japan.

How to get there

Getting to Japan with a baby requires some pre-trip organization. We booked a ride with Shebah, a reliable service that caters exclusively to women and provides the option to pre-book a car seat. This saved us the hassle of driving our own car to the airport and finding parking. We flew with Qantas from Sydney to Osaka on the way there, and from Tokyo (Haneda) on the way back. It is advisable to reserve a bassinet well in advance, as availability is limited. Although our baby preferred sleeping in our arms rather than the bassinet, it served as a great play area when she was awake. Each airline has its own policies regarding bassinet reservations, so it’s important to inquire at the time of booking.

How to cope with a baby on a flight

Travelling with a baby on a long-haul flight can be challenging, but with a few tricks up your sleeve, it can be a smooth journey. During takeoff and landing, feeding your baby can help alleviate ear pressure. Bringing spare changes of clothing for both you and your baby is essential, as the pressurized cabin can sometimes cause unexpected bodily reactions. It’s also wise to carry more diapers than you think you’ll need, along with a small change mat, wipes, scented bags, and cream in a compact nappy bag. Having a variety of toys, including simple items like an empty plastic water bottle, can keep your baby entertained throughout the flight. Additionally, packing a range of snacks such as yoghurt pouches, baby crackers, and blueberries can come in handy. If you’re breastfeeding, taking advantage of that soothing tool when your baby is upset or bored can make a significant difference.

Getting from the airport to your hotel or Airbnb

Transportation becomes a bit more complicated when you have a baby in tow. Public transport is usually the best option, but it requires some planning. It’s advisable to choose accommodations located near main train stations to minimize travel time with your little one. When we landed in Osaka, we took the airport train from Kansai to Namba, where our hotel was just a short walk away.

Getting around Japan

Japan has an incredibly efficient and widespread rail system, making it the ideal mode of transportation when travelling with a baby. Before your trip, consider purchasing a rail pass, which offers convenience and affordability. It’s important to allow sufficient time for the pass to be processed and delivered to you, or alternatively, you can process it on the spot at a JTB office. The Japan Rail Pass is available in different durations, depending on the length of your stay. While the rail pass has a few restrictions, it remains an excellent option for exploring Japan. In addition to trains, we also used the subway in various cities, took trams in Hiroshima, and buses in Takamatsu. All these modes of transport are pram-friendly, and locals are usually helpful in accommodating families with prams, bags, and suitcases.

Accommodation in Japan

Finding suitable accommodation when travelling with a baby can be a challenge, especially in Japan where hotel rooms are notoriously small. However, Airbnb and Aparthotels provide practical solutions for families. The advantage of these options is having a separate lounge room, offering some privacy and allowing you to put your baby to sleep in the bedroom while you relax in another room. As for the travel cot, we opted for co-sleeping, but if you prefer having a cot, it’s essential to check the room size and inform the accommodation provider in advance. Fortunately, Japan is known for being co-sleeping friendly, and some places even provide bed rails or futons for your baby.

Breastfeeding in Japan

Breastfeeding in public is typically discreet in Japan, so it’s important to be mindful of local customs. Packing breastfeeding-friendly tops with zippers or buttons for easy access is a smart choice. While using a nursing cover might be convenient in theory, some babies don’t like it. In our case, using a nursing cover resulted in a battle with our little one, who would thrash about and expose everything. To find a compromise, I had to find department stores or shopping centers with dedicated feeding rooms. Of course, this wasn’t possible during day trips to shrines or islands, so I would find a discreet corner or use a muslin cloth to cover while feeding.

Buying Baby Supplies in Japan

Packing all the necessary baby supplies for the trip is crucial, as finding suitable replacements in Japan might not be as easy as expected. While nappies and wipes are relatively easy to find at most chemists, the variety of baby food options can be limited. Unlike in Australia, where you can find a wide range of baby foods in supermarkets, the selection in Japan may not meet your expectations. However, don’t worry; there are still alternatives. You can purchase cheese sticks, small tubs of yoghurt, fruit, and vegetables to supplement your baby’s meals. Sharing your own meals with your little one is also a great way to introduce them to new flavors and textures.

What to Pack

When travelling with a baby, organization is key. Embracing the use of packing cubes can simplify your life significantly. Having separate compartments for different baby items, such as onesies, pyjamas, tops, pants, and bibs, not only keeps things tidy but also makes finding items much easier. Instead of packing elaborate outfits, opt for simple clothing that allows for quick and easy nappy changes. On travel days, we dressed our baby in a long-sleeved onesie with a double zip for convenience. We packed a sufficient number of baby clothes, considering the availability of washing machines in our accommodations. It’s also crucial to bring essential medications for both you and your baby, as finding suitable ones in Japan can be challenging.

How baby-friendly is Japan?

One of the most pleasant surprises during our trip was how baby-friendly Japan is. Locals were incredibly friendly and welcoming, often exclaiming “Kawaii!” (meaning “cute”) when they saw our baby. Japan’s cleanliness is legendary, and the parents’ rooms in department stores and shopping centers are fantastic. These rooms are equipped with excellent facilities, including change tables, futuristic nappy disposal units, feeding rooms, and play areas. It’s also worth mentioning that Japan’s toilets are well-equipped for families. The male toilets have changing tables, and the female toilets have small urinals, demonstrating the country’s progressive approach to parenting.

Baby carrier or travel pram?

Choosing between a baby carrier and a travel pram can be a difficult decision. Although we brought both options, we found that using a carrier was more convenient during our daily outings. Our baby enjoyed napping in the carrier, and it made navigating through locations with steps or cobblestones much easier. The carrier also allowed us to quickly access trains and subways without the hassle of finding elevators or ramps. However, if your baby prefers a pram, the Baby Jogger City Tour Lux is an excellent choice. It’s lightweight, foldable into a backpack size that fits in most overhead bins, and versatile as the seat can face both ways. For those who prefer a carrier, the Ergobaby Omni 360 offers flexibility in carrying positions, lumbar support, and all-day comfort.

Travelling to Japan with a baby can be a remarkable experience filled with unique memories. Remember to plan ahead, consider the needs of your little one, and embrace the adventure of exploring this beautiful country together. Stay tuned for Part 2, where I’ll share our itinerary, baby-friendly activities, and recommendations for accommodation in Japan.

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