If you’ve been reading here for a while, you most likely have a fair idea that I don’t shy away from travelling with toddlers. Or babies. I like to think it can be survived, nay, enjoyed, and it’s like my personal mission to shake people by the shoulders and say “IT’S REALLY NOT SO BAD, I PROMISE, JUST DO IT!” (or maybe that’s just lack of sleep affecting my judgement. Either/or). Yes I’ve been thrown up on (twice, if you’re counting), yes I’ve changed nappies in places that aren’t optimised for changing nappies, yes I’ve had to sit patiently for an hour while a small child stuck stickers all over my face rather than have her scream on the plane. The thing that makes it rad is that a kid’s hurling on me in another country – it’s way more interesting to wipe a nose in a tropical location.
Having said that, we’ve been on 14 planes so far with not one scream. My time is coming, don’t you worry.
I’ve been to Japan twice now, and I love it. The second time around we took a 9-month-old Abby on her first overseas jaunt, and I obsessively researched everything before we left. It was two years ago now, and I still come across directions on my iPad’s map that I looked for back then! Makes me nostalgic and I wonder how many meals I can sacrifice in order to buy another plane ticket. The thing was, I didn’t find much in the way of internet info about taking kiddos to Tokyo. I had a fair idea and winged the rest, but I thought I’d share my top six tips in case you find yourself in the same position. (do it! go!)
Your first stop should be Babies R Us in Ikebukuro
We travel light, so it was important that we pick up a few things for Abby to last us the whole 10-day trip. She had enough nappies and food for a couple of days (always pack more than you need on the flight over in case you get delayed or anything else happens), and although I could have cobbled together bits and pieces from the supermarket a short walk away, this was way more fun and had much more variety for babies.
At Babies R Us, we found all manner of baby and toddler food, eating utensils, formula and bottles (for those who need it), nappies, wipes, clothes, bibs – endless paraphernalia for tiny ones. The other side of the store is a Toys R Us, and you bet we had a good look through there! We got some pouches and jars of baby food without too much trouble. Often the name of the main ingredients were written in English, and if we weren’t sure (being vegetarian), we just chose ones we knew were fruit. We got the Kewpie brand (mostly because it was cute!) of jars, as it was less stress and mess than mixing cereals or anything. We also picked up some rice crackers as she was right at peak rusk-consumption and that seemed to be what Japanese babies were eating.
For other food, we stumbled around the supermarket, trying to figure out what was what. Fresh fruit is crazy expensive, so we didn’t buy much of that. It was easy to see what was yogurt, and what was inside sandwiches and stuff, but for other things, it can be a bit of a guessing game! I got mostly umeboshi onigiri because I couldn’t read the Japanese on the label, but I could recognise the purple plum. Sometimes you can see what flavour the instant ramen/noodles are, and all you need is the kettle in your hotel room for that. Salads and sushi are abundant, but it will depend on what your little guys eat. Cereal and milk is a good choice too, but you’ll need to get bowls and things (I didn’t bother). I did buy a big packet of wooden chopsticks, but we never opened them and they’re still in a drawer here somewhere!
To get to Babies R Us, we went to Sunshine City, a giant shopping centre, on our first full day, catching the subway from our hotel in Akasaka (an excellent central location if you’re considering it) to Ikebukuro. We had a quick look at some of the other stores there, but it was a big day already so we kept it light, preferring to get to know our surrounds at the hotel. Sunshine City would be a cool place to spend some time, they have an aquarium, an observation deck, a museum, a planetarium, a hotel and even a few theme parks!
Speaking of parks…
There is so much to do in Tokyo – get yourself an app!
We walked everywhere in Tokyo (it was surprisingly easy and we barely even noticed it was winter!) and where we didn’t walk, we took the subway, which is extremely easy to navigate. So are the trains, but we just didn’t need to use them as often.
Because I wasn’t sure of data usage/internet whatever overseas, I looked for an app that I could use offline to navigate ourselves. It held a ton of information and was easier to use (in my opinion) than a map or book of maps. We used the Tokyo Travel Guide, and found it invaluable. It cost around five bucks, but it was well worth the coin! It had interactive maps of everywhere we thought we might want to go, lists of places to see (divided into the categories of museums/attractions/shops) and places to eat, with ratings. The best part was the personalised itineraries – we chose a number of things we wanted to see in each suburb each day, and where we wanted to eat, and the app would organise it in a loop, so there was no to-ing and fro-ing, just short, clear directions from one activity to the next, leading us back to our hotel in the evening. I checked it constantly, and sometimes even rearranged the itinerary on the go and it just recalibrated where we were and how to get where we were going. I cannot recommend it enough.
We stuck mostly to parks and tourist traps, given that we had little time and a stroller, so we didn’t want to get somewhere and realise we couldn’t navigate it well. Fortunately for us, Tokyo is filled with gorgeous parks and temples to visit and spend our time in. We had a blast in Shinjuku Park and Yoyogi Park – see our adventures here! Yoyogi was amazing, really something for everyone there. And it’s right next to the Meiji Jingu Temple (which I don’t recommend you take a stoller to, it is impossible to push it along the miles of gravel) and all the fun of Harajuku. I shopped til I dropped there, including picking up all manner of treats at Kiddyland, a toy store full to the brim of kawaii goodness. Don’t miss it! And don’t miss Daiso, which I DID miss and I’m STILL upset about. I know they have them in Australia, and I went to plenty of 100 Yen stores, but IT’S NOT THE SAME! Oh by the way, we went to a temporary Kiddyland while the original was being renovated and I couldn’t fit a stroller in there for quids. I’m not sure if it is the same at the original store, but I do recommend leaving the littlies with someone else while you shop, if you can!
With so much to do and a little one to do it with, we really didn’t want to overload our days. Abby was the perfect traveller, content to sit in her stroller while we wandered about, even napping on occasion in her little hat and mittens, but we didn’t want to push it. We tried to pick one suburb a day to explore, and be home by mid-afternoon.
One of our last days there we headed to Tokyo DisneySea, which was a ton of fun. There is a Disneyland, but we’d already been to the original the year before, so opted to see the other one. It has mini European worlds, an Indiana Jones world, Aladdin world and a Little Mermaid world with King Triton’s cave, among other adventures. King Triton’s cave was the best thing ever, I literally gasped when I walked in, and it was the best land for small children – it even had a fully padded underground cave playground, where Matt took Abby to crawl around while I shopped for souvenirs. She even went on her first theme park ride and was extremely nonplussed, although I was beaming.
Oh and there is a replica Pirates of the Carribbean ship, with assorted characters – do go and find the guy who plays Captain Jack Sparrow! You will thank me later 😉
They love kids in Japan – so don’t be afraid to ask for help.
The Japanese are THE most beautiful, sweet, polite people and they will bend over backwards to ensure you are OK. They are never bothered or put out by your requests, and they are certain to do everything they can to assist. Even if you don’t speak the language, it is reasonably easy to make your needs known for them to answer. They are super keen on babies and kids, and even old businessmen in suits on trains will light up at the sight of your little one. You will also hear “kawaii!” all the time, which means “cute” in Japanese. We even had a few people stop and ask to hold Abby and have their picture taken. At one point, there was a crowd around her little pram, all beaming to the camera, making the peace sign like she was some kind of rock royalty. It was adorable.
There is a lot of tolerance and goodwill when it comes to taking your kids out to places, so don’t feel like you’re an inconvenience (unless you are being an inconvenience, in which case, stop it immediately!), and if your tiny guy tries to pitch a fit or carries on like a pork chop and you need something quickly, someone will come to your rescue. Children are welcome pretty much everywhere, and have their own menus and high chairs and things in a lot of the restaurants we went to. Which reminds me, we went to a Denny’s and could navigate the menu easily enough. We ordered the baby food option from the kid’s menu for Abby, which was a little serve of a sort of congee in a bowl with a little spoon. Super cute. It had actual tiny fish in it that had actual tiny fish eyes, so if that’s not your thing, then do beware! It was not our thing, but I offered it to Abby anyway. She declined.
Tokyo Tower had a Tokyo Tower mascot (yep, that’s what that long, pink creature is!) and a fun kid’s show (that included a jumping monkey…), and you’ll find that there’s lots of things like that around for the kids. If you ever need directions or a toilet or anything, there are no shortage of people to ask, it often seems like there are 100 employees for every 10 visitors everywhere you go. They are unfailingly polite and I had to stop myself from hugging several of them, they were just so lovely and kind!
I couldn’t take Abby anywhere without her getting fawned over! This little girl thought she was the best thing ever, and wanted me to get her out so she could play with her.
There are plenty of parents rooms for changing babies (although its usually the mother that will be in there doing that sort of thing), and the adult ladies’ toilets even have this rad little highchair seat thingy in the corner of the stall you can pop your kid into while you wee so you don’t have to put them on the floor or hold them on your lap. Having said this, I didn’t see any feeding areas in any of the parent rooms, and while breastfeeding is encouraged, I don’t think it’s publicly done very often. I did feed Abby a few times in a restaurant toilet and things like that, or tucked into an out-of-the-way seat.
Everywhere is pint-sized – consider leaving the stroller at home
I’m not kidding, just about every place is tiny. Or if its not tiny, the aisles are. There were plenty of shops and restaurants we couldn’t get into because there was just no room for our stroller, even though it was a very small, foldable one. I went to Tokyu Hands a gazillion times, but I always handed Abby off to Matt while I lost myself in the bento aisle or wherever. Babies in carriers of every style are a common sight in Tokyo, with even dads getting in on the carrying duties. I didn’t have one at this stage, and it probably would have been a big ask for us to carry Abby all day every day for 10 days, but for some places, a baby pouch would have been ideal.
Our hotel room was the size of a postage stamp, and there would have been no way we could fit a portacot in there even if we had requested one. One person could be in one room at a time! Do make sure you have a look at the room sizes before booking if there are a lot of you. It worked well for us, but we could not fit another human in there at all. Well, actually, I came home pregnant, so it turns out I could fit another human in there, albeit a very tiny one!
Even the roads and sidewalks are narrow, so don’t be taking the SUV version of your luxury pram. Something small and compact with a side of baby carrier is your best bet.
Sometimes you just have to go with what you know
Yeah, that’s my kid in Hooters. The place where there is beer and onion rings and ranch dressing and… boobs. You can spend all your time learning how to ask for things in a foreign language (I just used a tiny Japanese travel guide for students I picked up at uni, and it was the best!), restaurants mostly have menus in English or with pictures, it’s fun eating goodness-knows-what from another culture, but sometimes it’s necessary that you decompress with something familiar. Having said that, I’d never been to Hooters in my life, but I knew there’d be American-style food and a wipe-clean booth I didn’t need to worry about my kid in. Turns out they have a ton of high chairs and a kids menu too, so it’s really rather family-friendly!
If you’re not a McDonald’s-eating family, or fast food isn’t on regular rotation at your place, then maybe now is the time to let loose the reins a little. While we rarely eat it here, the McDonald’s across the street from our hotel saved our vegetarian bacon on a couple of breakfast occasions, and we could get out the door and onto bigger and better things. An egg McMuffin and a cup of coffee without linguistic gymnastics can be quite lovely! When you’re tired, when the kids are whiny, when you’re just plain out of sorts, something familiar on occasion can work wonders. Don’t eat white-bread sandwiches usually? Well, you might have to today. Pick your battles carefully and you can keep everyone’s spirits up.
And the sixth tip? Well, that’s where you come in! Add yours in the comments and let us know what worked best for you.