Asia, Travel

Part 1 – Planning the Ultimate Baby-Friendly Holiday to Japan

We recently had the most amazing trip to Japan with our 10 month old baby. A lot of people told us we were brave or crazy to embark on such an adventure, but it went surprisingly well! Don’t get me wrong, travelling with a baby is definitely a lot more stressful and requires a lot more planning, but with a lot of prior organisation (and low expectations), we ended up having a wonderful family holiday.

I shared a lot of our trip via my Instagram stories and received many messages from both mums and non-mums alike begging for a blog post to share my itinerary, tips and tricks. In Part 1 I discuss how we got there, plane tips, and what to pack. In Part 2 I share our full itinerary including where we stayed, where we ate and what child-friendly activities we got up to.

How to get there

To get from where we lived in the Inner West in Sydney to the international airport, we booked a ride with Shebah. I have used their services before and they are absolutely fabulous, I call them lady Uber. All the drivers are female and most importantly, you can pre-book a car seat. The trip was much cheaper than driving our own car to the airport and leaving it in the long-term carpark.

We flew with Qantas direct from Sydney to Osaka on the way there, and from Tokyo (Haneda) on the way home. It is slightly cheaper to fly in and out of the same city, but since time was precious and we didn’t want to back track, we decided to go the open jaw option.

I called up 8 weeks out to reserve a bassinet and luckily received one both ways – there were a lot of families flying and many missed out so we were very fortunate to have the extra space. Having said that, she hated sleeping in the bassinet and mainly slept in my arms, but it acted as a great play pen when she was awake.

Reserving a bassinet is different with each airline, so make sure you enquire as soon as you book. And bear in mind there are strict height and weight regulations – Zsofia only just fit in lengthwise, and I fear if we had flown even a month or 2 later she would not have fit comfortably.

The baby plane boss, starring at her loyal subjects from up high.

How to cope with a baby on a flight

Zsofia was pretty amazing on both flights. The flight to Osaka was a day flight, and I’m not going to lie, it was LONG. At around 9-10 hours from Sydney, the first half went reasonably quickly, until she got sick and tired of being in a metal tube and overtired (yay) and then she required a bit more effort to keep calm and happy. Some tips that were shared with me before we left:

  • Feed on the way up and down in the plane to help their ears. The sucking reflex helps with the pressure, whether it be sucking a boob, bottle or dummy.
  • Bring spare changes of clothing – for bub and you! There is something about the pressurised cabin which seems to do weird things to baby bowels. Zsofia did 3 poos within the first 2 hours of the flight, one which required a complete outfit change.
  • Bring more nappies than you think, and put together a small change mat, wipes, scented bags and cream in a small nappy bag. There is literally no room in airplane toilets and trying to change a wiggly baby is less than fun. Make sure you and your partner know exactly where everything is so you are not unnecessarily fumbling around in the toilet.
  • Bring some toys she’s never seen before and bring them out one by one throughout the flight. They don’t even have to be proper toys – an empty plastic water bottle is very fun to a baby!
  • Bring lots of snacks. We packed yoghurt pouches, baby crackers, blueberries, savoury pouches and rusks.
  • Keep on boobin’ – I am still breastfeeding which was an immense help on the flight. It she was upset, tired or just plain bored, I popped her on the boob to soothe.
A sleeping baby in my arms meant I even got to watch a movie!

Getting from the airport to your hotel or Airbnb

Things get somewhat more complicated when you have a baby as previously I would normally jump in an Uber or taxi to get quickly to my hotel after a long flight, but that’s not an option when you have a bub. We left our car seat at home as we had no plans to hire a car, so public transport was the way to go. If you can, try and book your accommodation as close to a main train station as possible. When we landed in Osaka, we caught the airport train from Kansai to Namba and then our hotel was just a short walk from there.

She loved holding on whilst riding the train and subway!

Getting around Japan

The rail system in Japan is so efficient, clean and widespread that I highly suggest using it as your main means of transport around the country with your babe.
Purchase a rail pass before you leave – and please make sure you leave sufficient time for it to be processed and delivered to you (at least a week) which I did not do! Fortunately I was able to go to JTB office in Sydney and get it processed on the spot for a small fee. The rail pass is activated once you arrive in Japan, and is available in 7, 14 and 21 day options depending on the length of your trip. There are some restrictions with the rail pass (for example it can not be used on certain bullet trains such as Nozomi and Mizuho) but apart from that it is an affordable and easy way to travel around Japan.
We also caught the subway frequently in various cities, as well as the tram in Hirsohima and bus in Takamatsu. All were pram friendly and locals were happy to get out of the way to accommodate our pram, bags and suitcases.

Taking the bus! I always bring along a toy to entertain her, but there is usually numerous locals smiling and waving at her which keeps her very entertained!

Accommodation in Japan

Japanese hotel rooms are notoriously small and that causes problems when travelling with a baby as a) can you even fit your travel cot in there and b) when they go to sleep at 7pm what on earth do you do?! Sit quietly in the dark for a few hours?

After a lot of research I decided the best options for our budget would be a combination of Airbnb and Aparthotels. The benefit of using the aforementioned styles of accommodation means you get a separate lounge room to the bedroom, meaning you can pop bub down to sleep in the bedroom and then retire to another room to eat dinner, read or watch some Netflix.

As for the travel cot issue, we co-sleep so that wasn’t a problem for us and we left ours at home. Japan is very co-sleeping friendly – in one apartment we were provided with a bed rail, and in one Airbnb they provided her with a little futon to sleep next to us (aww).

There was a ball pit in the lobby of the Mimaru Aparthotel in Kyoto which Zsofia LOVED!

Breastfeeding in Japan

The Japanese are very discreet about breastfeeding in public. I am used to getting my boob out wherever and whenever at home, so I wanted to be mindful of respecting their wishes. I made sure to pack plenty of feeding-friendly tops with zippers and buttons for easy access, and brought along my nursing cover. As Zsofia wasn’t used to being fed while covered, she HATED it. The second I put it over her she would thrash about and whip it off, leaving my boob exposed and milk spurting everywhere. Apologies to everyone who saw that!

Our ferry was running late and there were no nearby toilets, so I found a quiet area to feed her before she lost her little mind

So I quickly became a lot more tactful with my feeds and tried to plan being around a department store/shopping centre when she was due for a feed so I could pop into one of their lovely feeding rooms. This of course didn’t work when we were out on a day trip to a shrine or island, so I would feed her in the carrier with a muslin cloth draped over, or find a discreet corner to feed.

Multitasking at its finest – feeding her and gently rocking her to sleep whilst sightseeing

Buying Baby Supplies in Japan

I packed like we were going into the wilderness for 3 weeks – a full packet of nappies, wipes, countless baby snacks, food pouches and more. I filled up almost an entire suitcase! And despite it being quite annoying to lug around I actually don’t regret it as it was nice for her to have familiar comforts, smells and tastes from home. We ran out of nappies and wipes a few days out from returning home and had no problems buying more from a chemist.

The baby food was a bit more difficult though. In Australia you can buy a lot of baby foods at the supermarket and I could barely find anything! I would purchase some cheese sticks and small tubs of yoghurt along with fruit and vege but that was about it. At the smaller chemists I also struggled to find much and the stuff I did purchase was frankly gross (I thought I had bought her a fruit puree pouch but it was a very sweet jelly.)

The Kewpie brand was our favourite range of baby food on offer

In the big chemists I ended up finding her a few more savoury jars of things – turns out she loves Hokkaido corn puree! But there are quite a few Japan-specific flavours she didn’t love like seafood. We tried to just share our own foods with her so she ate a lot of karaage chicken (with the batter removed), edamame beans, omelette, rice and even some seaweed.

What to Pack

I have never been a packing cube kind of person until I had a baby. So my main tip for travelling with a baby is EMBRACE THE CUBE! Babies have so many bits and pieces and keeping them sorted in separate compartments makes finding everything so much easier. I had a cube for onesies/pyjamas, a cube for tops and pants, a cube for bibs and socks etc.

As tempting as it is to pack elaborate outfits (let’s be honest, mainly for photo opportunities) I highly recommend keeping clothing simple with easy access for on-the-go nappy changes. On travel days we just dressed her in a long sleeved onesie with a double zip, and otherwise she was usually in a short sleeve onesie with snaps and some leggings over the top.

I ended up packing 10 onesies (that doubled as pyjamas) and 10 outfits even though we were going for almost 3 weeks. I knew several of our Airbnbs had washing machines so we ended up doing 2 lots of washing all up. I also packed her a cardigan, a warmer jacket, a dress, a few pairs of socks, several bibs and 2 hats. Fortunately as we travelled in October, the weather was quite moderate and I didn’t need to pack too many heavy clothes.

Make sure you bring sufficient medication for yourselves and bub (such as baby Panadol and baby Nurofen) as I found it so hard trying to find the correct medications once there. It seemed they only sell (adult) Ibuprofen with caffeine in it?! Whilst English is widely spoken in bigger Japanese cities, I did bump into a poor Aussie lass who was trying to explain she needed to buy tampons through charades to a local pharmacist who spoke little English. It did not go well.

Riding the subway in her travel pram

What we checked in at the airport:

  • 2 suitcases (filled with all our clothes, toiletries, baby supplies)
  • 1 travel pram (we also managed to fit our entire packet of nappies, some wipes, and a blanket into the travel pram’s carry case!)

What we carried:

  • 1 x nappy backpack (2 changes of baby clothes, spare tshirt for me, nappy bag, change mat, wipes, snacks, baby panadol etc etc)
  • 1 x Zol’s backpack (laptop, wallet, books, water etc)
  • Zsofia in the baby carrier

Once we arrived at our destination, we put the pram up, stashed the carrier and nappies underneath and popped Zsofia in the pram. Then Zoltan was in charge of the 2 suitcases and his backpack and I pushed the pram and wore the nappy backpack. It actually worked quite well!

How baby-friendly is Japan?

In short – very! Locals are so friendly when you have a cute baby attached to you. There were many, many “Kawaii!’ exclamations and requests for photos. Japan is extremely clean and their parents rooms are an absolute treat. Head for a department store or shopping centre for excellent facilities including change tables, futuristic nappy disposal units, feeding rooms and play areas. I also loved that there were changing tables in the male toilets and small urinals in the female toilets – very progressive compared to Australia! Another thing I loved were the baby seats in the toilet cubicles – it was a safe place to put your bub while you could pee handsfree. What a treat.

Sitting in the toilet’s baby chair!
Our first day in Osaka and we found a fun indoor play area in the Takashimaya department store.

Baby carrier or travel pram?

We brought both and barely used the travel pram! The pram was great when going from one destination to the next, as mentioned above I would push Zsofia in the pram and wear the backpack whilst Zoltan would drag both suitcases. But when we were out and about during the day we would just pop her in the carrier as it was so much easier. She loves to nap in there, and if we were visiting shrines or other locations with steps/cobble stones it was so much easier to just carry her. It also made it much easier to quickly jump on a train or subway as we weren’t running around with the pram trying to find the lift. By the way – Japanese prams are tiny, so don’t bother lugging your giant Bugaboo over!

If your baby is a pram-fan, I highly recommend the Baby Jogger City Tour Lux. It’s lightweight, the seat can face both ways and it folds down into a backpack which can fit in the overhead bin on planes (although please double check with your airline first!)

If you prefer carrying your baby, you can’t beat the Ergobaby Omni 360 carrier. I use it all the time at home and when away. You can have bub facing you, facing outwards, on your hip or even as a baby backpack! The lumbar support this carrier offers really helps with avoiding lower back pain and I can wear her all day without much discomfort.

If you are keen to use a carrier or travel pram on your next trip but don’t want to fork out all that money, I highly recommend checking out Kindershare. It’s a site where you can rent your baby item from a local family from $10/week!

I hope this post has helped you with planning your trip to Japan with a baby or toddler! If you have any more questions, please feel free to comment. Stayed tuned for Part 2 where I share my itinerary, things to do with a baby in Japan and where to stay!

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