Traveling Japan with a baby

Everything You Need to Know About Traveling Japan with a Baby

As traveling parents, we’ve become fairly adept at toting our tot overseas. At 16 months, Kaia had been to 16 countries including two weeks in South Africa for her first safari, a month in Thailand, an island getaway to Nevis, many months in Anguilla, and a summer escape to Greece. Japan marked our longest direct flight with her (15 hours) but given the amount of travel we’ve done with her to this point, our confidence in traveling had increased immensely. For many parents, the idea of traveling to Japan with a baby is intimidating (naturally!). The long haul flight is enough to make people wince, but there are also the other concerns: what’s general receptivity to babies and toddlers like in Japan? Are there activities to entertain kids? What about the basics like access to babysitters? If you read no further, let me just reassure you that Japan is extremely family-friendly and I think that truth extends to all ages for children. Below I’m sharing details on traveling to Japan with a baby or toddler (plus will extend some info for older kids too) and touching on the main questions & concerns that parents shared with me when considering a trip like this.

The Flight

Traveling Japan with baby
ITA Business Class

Alright, parents, if this is your first long-haul flight with your little one there are two things to consider: the class of service (this may be dependent on their age and your overall budget), along with whether you’re better going direct or consciously including a layover. We have been lucky that the majority of our long-haul flights, spare one, were all in Business Class. We flew Economy from Anguilla > St. Maarten > Paris > Bangkok in February and it was the worst flight we’ve ever taken with baby. If you can splurge on Business Class, especially when they’re under 2 given the economic advantage, you’ll find it makes life infinitely easier and more comfortable. If you’re flying Economy, buy the extra seat. Call in and speak with an agent about your infant and the cost of an extra seat as they usually can arrange a child fare, and we’ve even had other promotional rates for doing this that we were able to lean into. With flights that are 8 – 12+ hours long, you need the space. When Kaia turns 2 and hits the threshold where she can no longer travel free as a lap infant, we’ll revisit our conversation since that tacks on quite a premium, but for now, with an under 2, Business is the way to go! I’m petite so have an easy time sharing my seat with her, she can easily sleep, and they’re always fantastic about providing the food, milk, etc. that she needs. Plus they always have a free toy and kids amenity kit to keep little ones busy.

The next question is whether or not to include a layover. This is a hugely personal question. Going to Thailand our layover in Paris was necessary and quite honestly, it was somewhat useful as she got to crawl around, got to eat a bit, we were able to easily change her, etc. Going to Japan, we had the option of nonstop or the ability to include a layover in Doha if we went Qatar. Ultimately, we wanted to get it over with and that choice was the best for us and for her. She slept a fair bit of the flight (again, Business Class made that possible given the lay flat seats), and we had zero issues with jet lag!

Use Luggage Forwarding Services Within Japan

Luggage Forwarding in Japan, Things to Know When Visiting Japan

If you’re planning on exploring Japan via the Shinkansen, and especially if you have kids in tow, don’t overlook luggage forwarding services in Japan. When you’re traveling Japan with a baby or toddler you’ll have more luggage than usual, not to mention a stroller to take while navigating public transport. What you don’t need, if you can help it, is to be lugging your checked bags on and off trains while also managing a little one. Yamato provides easy and affordable luggage forwarding between hotels in Japan and it’s a total breeze. This is not something that needs to be booked far in advance and you can chat with your hotel concierge on arrival about dropping off bags with them for onward transit. Generally speaking, you’ll give your prepared luggage to the concierge the day before you head to your next destination, and provide the name and address of your next hotel. We used this for virtually every stop along the way and it was a lifesaver! With little ones, have a small packing cube that has some of their basics ready to go to keep on your in a carry-on bag so you can send the remainder on to the next hotel. We generally had our luggage sent at the 12PM service and it arrived at its next destination within 24 hours.

Read More: 10 Things to Know When Visiting Japan 

Food & Introducing Japanese Cuisine

Traveling Japan with baby

Let me start by saying that we’ve never fed Kaia ‘baby food’. Formula, yes, but as soon as she was ready to move on to purées and solids we migrated to real food so she’s always been accustomed to eating what we eat, and is interested in doing so which has served us well. The obvious no-go for littles is raw fish which they don’t advise until they’re 3+, but when we did have sushi around her, we’d order her nigiri with egg, a Japanese omelet, or something with cooked fish. She loved all of the fresh strawberries and cherries, noshed on red bean mochi (dang, if that’s not a slippery slope), shared an eel lunch with us, and slurped ramen. For infants and parents needing formula in Japan, Don Quixote and other similar large stores will have options but it’s worth knowing your international formula equivalent while traveling. I always erred on the side of extra formula (after running out of formula in the mountains of Oman with a four-month-old!) but if you want to purchase formula while abroad, just know that the brand names can change when you cross borders.

Also, this is not a food need, but diapers are readily available in Japan so don’t overdo it on diaper packing. You can find them all over Japan though they do tend to come in large formats so buy early and plan on using throughout your trip.

Receptivity to Babies

Traveling Japan with baby
Rooftop at the Ginza EDITION

In my post about 10 things to know when visiting Japan, I mentioned how Japan is sort of the epitome of organization, efficiency, and rule following. The thought of bringing an unpredictable child into an environment that seems so structured and disciplined seems intimidating. Do Japanese babies even cry out of line?! Turns out, Japan is incredibly baby friendly; perhaps the friendliest place we’ve been! People adored seeing Kaia to the point of stopping us to look at her or squeeze her cheeks (which, by the way, can be tough as a parent with wanting to create boundaries for your baby as well). Half of the women that passed us on the street would ooh and ahh and say kawaii!! when they strolled by. Even at the food markets, elderly male merchants seemed enchanted. We were pleasantly surprised to see that she seemed to actually bring joy to people around her which was comforting. For those worried about this aspect, don’t. We found people in Japan generally incredibly warm and receptive with seeing a baby/toddler.

Activities for Babies, Toddlers and Children in Japan

Traveling Japan with baby

When I talk about traveling Japan with a baby and mention the country being super family-friendly, this extends to activities in a major way. For toddlers, there are green spaces and interactive exhibits like TeamLabs Planet in Tokyo, along with a range of cafés that cater to different interests and ages. For children slightly older, places like Harajuku can be fun to explore with outposts serving rainbow-colored grilled cheese sandwiches, stores filled floor-to-ceiling with toy-doling vending machines, and lots of anime and Hello Kitty-themed locales (it’s beyond me, but parents of kids this age I’m sure understand). For those keen on tours that are kid-focused, Context offers a few throughout Japan as does Project Expedition for things like mochi making classes and other experiences that may cater to kids and teens.

Babysitting Services

Things to Know When Visiting Japan
Carefinder Japan

Our one hesitation when we were talking about traveling to Japan with a baby was our ability to fully enjoy (selfish, but it is what it is). Part of the allure of cities like Tokyo and Osaka are sexy-cool cocktail bars, evening food tours, and omakese menus at a sushi bar. In Kyoto and Kanazawa, we were interested in Japanese traditional offerings like a tea ceremony and delving into the samurai districts. While Japan in general is baby-friendly, those experiences are not. 

Enter babysitting services. I mentioned above that I thought Kaia was the perfect age for her first trip to Japan, and part of that was because we were finally in the stage where we could hire babysitters while traveling. We hired babysitters in Thailand across three islands and in South Africa across three destinations. In Japan, we hired babysitters in Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto every single night and it was an absolute game changer. We used a website called Carefinder Japan (disclosure: you have to pay for a one month membership to use it) to find babysitters along the way. We had one babysitter for 5 nights in Tokyo and then one babysitter for 6 nights across Osaka and Kyoto (she agreed to do both locales for us). For those that don’t travel with their own nannies or family members who can pitch in – I think that’s most of us! – this site is fantastic. I provided a description of my needs, of our baby, and of what our hourly spend was (based on what we were seeing as the average) and we got tons of amazing applicants. Ultimately, in Tokyo, we had an Algerian MBA student studying Japanese, and in Kyoto/Osaka we had a Tanzanian PhD student finishing her program. On average, we ended up spending about $100/night including transport costs for babysitting for about 5 hours of services. For us, it was completely worth it to be able to go enjoy dinners out, go to adults-only places for drinks, or engage in experiences that would be an absolute headache with a toddler.

The ‘They Won’t Remember Anyway’ Nay-Sayers

Traveling Japan with a babyLastly, this is hardly a practical point about traveling Japan with a baby but I think worth throwing out there: the nay-sayers; the people who will remind you that your baby won’t remember the trip and that they’re ‘too young’ to be traveling this way. Travel choices are highly personal. We are a family that travels, and we’re bringing up our baby to learn how to travel as well. And yes, selfishly, we still want to explore the world and she’s part of the equation so she naturally comes with us.

Will she remember the deer nibbling at her toes in Nara or eating strawberries at Tsukiji market in Tokyo? Probably not. Will she remember her babysitter, Fifi, who took care of her every night in Ginza, or her first time eating eel? Again, probably not, though I hope there’s a glimmer that she retains. All that said, I do think these moments and experiences are shaping her. She’s comfortable around new people of all different colors and sizes, she’s up for trying new foods, she’s become quite adept at sleeping on planes, and she’s been exposed to so many cultures and people that I think and hope she’ll be an open-minded, receptive child with resiliency and adaptability. At the end of the day, those are the lessons and life skills that will be imbued from these experiences. Even if she doesn’t remember each moment — and, by the way, we will! — she’ll be shaped by them. Plus, she has the world’s best baby album, so there’s that.  💛

For those that have taken their babies or little ones to Japan, feel free to share any tips or insight!

More about Shannon Kircher

Shannon Kircher is the founder and editor of The Wanderlust Effect. Founded in 2009, she has continued to document her international escapes as an expat in Europe and the Caribbean. Additionally, Shannon is the founder of Compass & Vine, a luxury boutique travel design firm, and is the Director of Marketing for the Frangipani Beach Resort. Shannon holds an MSc in Social Policy and Development from the London School of Economics and is a current candidate for WSET Level 3 in Wines & Spirits.