Whether by half-Japanese families or young parents in love with Japan, travel to Japan is totally feasible with a small kid. Yet, whether you want it or not, it will create some disruption to the kid’s habits. We can (hope to) minimize just about everything else but only flight duration and jet lag remain unavoidable. Some babies easily deal with these disruptions, while the vast majority of the other kids do not. And it is hard to plan based on empirical evidence.
Let’s not be too optimistic or deeply anxious: accept the fact that those supporting your travel are mainly experienced travelers with kids and eventually supplemented by those who getting benefits from your departure. And in this context, there are obviously worse destinations than Japan!
The essential condition remains to plan your stay in advance in order to better approach it and therefore minimize unexpected events and worries once there.
Administration and security
All Canadian, English or American children, from newborns to age 16, need their own passport to travel. Your child’s passport will be valid for a maximum of 5 years. A child’s passport is valid until it reaches its expiry date, even after the child turns 16.
You can apply for a passport online or print out the form online from the governmental websites to start the application process. Do not forget that it might take 4 to 6 weeks to obtain the final document.
It is also wise to check you insurance contract and especially the repatriation conditions, in case something happens.
Choosing the season
Regarding the period of the year for traveling, let’s review the highlights already given in the article here...
- The hanami period will already be very crowded—too crowded to add another difficulty with an infant.
- Summer is much too humid and hot for young children.
Two excellent seasons to go to Japan, according to our experiences, are:
- During May, as soon as the Golden Week finishes: The temperatures are nicer without being stifling, the tsuyu is not here yet, and the greenness is beautiful (especially azaleas). It is also a break from tourists!
- From mid-September to the beginning of October: After the typhoon period, one can enjoy an Indian summer and its pleasant temperatures, just before the third touristy outburst of fall for the maple trees.
Duration of the stay
There are two quite opposite opinions about the duration of the stay.
Those thinking travel is already hard to swallow for a young kid may choose to stay a maximum of one to two weeks in Japan. Others may argue that, as they are going to handle all of these inconveniences, why not stay for a longer duration? They may decide to travel for three weeks or more.
Each family will make their own choices based on their knowledge and experience.
Choosing the flight
With the goal of minimizing the duration of the flight as much as possible, a direct flight should logically be the first and wisest choice. Only a few companies fly directly:
- From New York: All Nippon Airways (ANA) and Japan Airlines (JAL)
- From San Francisco: ANA and JAL
- From London: ANA, JAL, and British Airways
Of course, the higher the class of seat, the larger the space that will be allocated, for your and your baby’s comfort. Therefore, a business class seat will allow everyone to lay down on the seat/bed, which will favor better sleep. For babies up to 9 kg, companies will provide a "bassinet" (a small cradle) and reserved seats: usually the first row of each class.
An infant’s fare depends on his or her age:
- Under 2 years old, we pay, at most, the airport taxes (about 10% of an adult’s fare)
- Above 2 years old, the fare usually varies from 25% to 50% of an adult ticket, but the kid will have his/her own seat.
A baby is also allowed several suitcases in the cabin and in the hold.
The stroller is usually considered a supplementary piece of luggage that can, in international airports, can be used up to the airplane’s doors. It is useless to invest in a costly model specific for cabins: a classic stroller will be enough. It is totally possible to bring water in a baby bottle or bottle (note how hypocritical it is for the rest of the population).
When going through customs, a control may happen by testing the liquid or asking you to drink a little of it.
In the plane
If your baby has frequent otitis media or other ear infections, be very careful! It is not feasible to consider traveling with a baby who has otitis media, as his or her ears might not resist the takeoff and landing: the suffering is real, and aftermaths are possible. A health check-up is essential before planning any travel with a baby. To avoid discomfort during pressure changes, having a baby bottle ready will allow your baby to calm down during these moments of the flights.
Once at cruise, most companies’ staff will be caring. Patience and courage will be necessary during times when the baby is not sleeping. Get ready to walk the corridors. Depending on the baby’s age, an anime or cartoon on your smartphone (or on the plane’s screen) will help to make the baby quieter (although it might condense the excitement for later on…).
The ideal remains to test several of these conditions before locking up your family for 12 hours!
Maybe even more than for adults, the goal is to synchronize children as early as possible in the country to the rhythm for the same school hours. It is sometimes easier to cope with jet lag when arriving in Japan rather than when coming back from there, yet there is no true evidence—it depends on each person.
In Japan, the sun rises and sets very early, whatever the season is. This would not be an issue if Japanese homes had normal curtains or sun blinds… but they tend not to. It is not easy to have a baby wear a sleeping mask.
Naturally, prepare a health and medicine case with the essentials: anti-diarrhea/constipation medicine, anti-fever medicine and pain killers, anti-allergy medication and arnica balm, if your baby walks.
If your baby has fragile bottom, then plan to bring its daily diapers, although there are many sorts of Japanese supermarkets and pharmacies. One can easily find places to change your baby’s diaper in malls and train stations.
Traveling in Japan does not require any vaccines, but the one against Japanese encephalitis is advised if you plan to go to rural areas or if you are planning to hike. Bring your health documents and health insurance with you.
Prepare a list of medical health centers: international and famous hospitals will allow you to easily find an English-speaking doctor.
Finally, avoid onsen and sento, where temperatures are not adapted to babies’ bodies.
Let’s be honest here: there is nothing more comfortable than a house or an apartment, and Airbnb happens to be the most resourceful website to find a good place. Some homes even have services and materials, such as baby beds or playpens. Also, the Japanese bathroom, which is very watertight, makes it practical to clean yourself with your baby.
When everybody is tired, you might end up spending a lot of time inside, more than if you had traveled without your baby, so the choice of accommodation is critical and justifies a larger budget. If possible, avoid staying at multiple homes during your travel, or avoid constantly changing it.
Whatever the selected type of home, it is essential to find one with excellent insulation for heating during the harsh winters and cooling during the stifling summers. We will insist on this aspect, as it should be almost the first criterion, knowing the climate of Japan and the bad insulation quality of homes.
Attention: Baby-sitting services are not a cultural habit, so do not rely on them.
Commuting may be a problem when traveling with kids in Japan.
We more or less cannot find taxis with baby seats. Only one company, tokyo-taxi.jp, can have these childcare accessories and can easily be booked online in English; moreover, they only have services in Tokyo region. Yet, classic taxis will never refuse to have a baby come aboard. It will rely on you to determine if this sounds secure enough for you.
In public transportation (free for children under 6 years old), space reserved for strollers does not exist:
- Reserved seats in Tokyo trains and metros are still not respected;
- Buses happen to be a baffling problem (let’s not even talk about Kyoto’s buses)
- The shinkansen remains the most comfortable, if you book seats in first class or in the last row to enjoy more space.
However, most train stations have lifts, which are very useful as strollers are forbidden in escalators. Expect to spend more time when transferring in a station, as numerous travelers with big suitcases, seniors and lazy people use them.
If baby is comfortable with it, do not hesitate to rent a car and / or a bike properly equipped to reduce commuting times and schedules by public transportation.
Depending on your baby’s feeding phase, you will need to plan to have a certain stock of baby formula or other favorite foods. Applesauce and prepared mashed potatoes are also very useful.
On site, the choice of baby food remains quite small. If you doubt whether to introduce raw fish sushi to your kid, do not worry too much—Japanese cuisine offers a wide variety of food. Even while enjoying your sushi, your kid can have vegetarian or cooked sushi and maki.
For the rest, the huge amount of food choices in Japan will offer some interesting and funny tasting experiences, based on your ability to read the ingredients in Japanese.
Japan happens to be an easy country to enjoy with a baby, at least in the cities. Numerous visits are possible with a young child, and some are even created for them (including numerous gardens and squares in Japan). Also, we easily find bathrooms for babies with changing tables in malls.
In the countryside, it is a little more complicated, and it is wise to correctly inform yourself before climbing a mountain to reach a temple, for example.
The essential accessory for travel with a baby is a stroller and/or a baby carrier, which will allow you:
- to comfortably access numerous places;
- to start nap time while still visiting, which is more convenient: no need to go back to the hotel/apartment in the middle of the day; and
- to tidy up the space around you, if needed, in public transportation, for example.
A stroller is easier to use, and you can still enjoy access numerous attractions.
With one objective being to minimize transportation time, it is important to plan ahead district by district.
Avoid planning very busy days, as they will be tiring both for you and your child.
Feelings and benefits for baby
Your child’s consideration and enjoyment of the travel will vary depending on the age and developmental phase of your child. Most babies are emotional sponges (even perhaps with delayed effects). Travel can be tiring and stressful, even more so when having to take care of a baby. The main goal for parents is to remain as serene as possible.
It is important to take the baby’s favorite games and toys, with which he or she spends most of his or her time playing, without forgetting the doudou—your baby’s comforting toy or blanket. Keep a secure and reassuring cocoon around your kid to prevent anxiety. As a rule, Japanese people tend to accept babies’ anger crises (from their own babies and those of others!).
When everything is going well, interacting with locals becomes so interesting. Japanese people of all ages will remove their serious faces, even the strictest salarymen. Therefore, we will ask the mother the age of the child. And if your baby is blonde, get ready to hear massive amounts of "kawaii"!
A little vocabulary
- baby: 赤ちゃん aka-chan
- stroller: ベビーカー baby-car
- diaper: おむつ omutsu