Navigating Japan with Babies and Young Children: Feeding and Changing


2024.05.01

NAVITIME TRAVEL EDITOR

Navigating Japan with Babies and Young Children: Feeding and Changing

Despite Japan’s ageing population (or perhaps because of it?), getting around the country with babies or young children in tow is usually pretty painless. Most people like children, and in urban areas you’re seldom far from a safe place to nurse a baby, change a diaper, or just take a few minutes’ break. In this article you’ll learn more about these spaces and how to find and use them.

  • 01

    Nursing and Feeding

    As a general rule, you can feed a baby anywhere you can sit down as long as the nipple-baby interface is protected from view. Many mothers in Japan carry a blanket or shawl to drape over their nursing babies, and simply slipping baby up into your shirt is also completely fine in a pinch.

    For a little more privacy, you want a junyu-shitsu or “nursing room.” These can often be found in places like department stores, airports and train stations, and commercial developments. Most nursing rooms are divided into separate cubicles with curtains or doors where parents can nurse (or pump breast milk) in peace. They also usually have facilities for washing up, and hot water on tap for preparing formula. Nursing rooms in Japan are often women-only spaces, but not always, especially if the individual cubicles have proper doors. The pictogram signage is usually either a baby, a nursing bottle, or a mother holding a baby—or sometimes all three.

    Door to a nursing room—note the signage making it extra-clear that fathers are welcome too

    Door to a nursing room—note the signage making it extra-clear that fathers are welcome too

    Sometimes a nursery will be a section inside a larger room with a name like aka-chan (or bebii) kyukei-shitsu. This literally means “baby break room,” but is often just translated into English more naturally as “nursery,” perhaps so as not evoke images of babies drinking instant coffee and complaining about their sales quotas. A nursery, in this sense, can be anything from a simple room with comfortable chairs and tables to a more elaborate space with wall murals, hot water dispensers for mixing formula, or even a playpen and toys.

    One corner of a fairly luxurious nursery—note the diaper changing stations (see below), sink, and hot water dispenser

    One corner of a fairly luxurious nursery—note the diaper changing stations (see below), sink, and hot water dispenser

    Nurseries are usually open to fathers nowadays, but this wasn’t always so in the past, so it’s still a good idea to check the signage before heading in.

    Here are some helpful nursing-related phrases:

    • Junyu-shitsu wa arimasu ka? — Is there a pumping room?
    • Junyu dekiru tokoro wa arimasu ka? — Is there somewhere I can nurse?

  • 02

    Changing Diapers

    As all parents know, what goes in must come out. Changing diapers in a park or similar outdoor location is generally not viewed as problematic in Japan, but just like elsewhere in the world people take a dim view of soiled diapers being opened up in indoor spaces like cafes or train carriages. Fortunately, there are other options.

    A baby break room, as described above, will usually have a place to change diapers. If one of those isn’t available, what you want is an o-mutsu kokan-dai, or “diaper changing station.” These are usually found in public bathrooms, in the same kind of places as noted above—department stores, malls, train stations, and so on. Some are freestanding tables, while others are just platforms that swing down from the wall. If you’re lucky, there’ll be a trash can for used diapers nearby; otherwise, you’re expected to take your used diapers with you and dispose of them at home or your hotel.

    Freestanding diaper changing station with trash can for used diapers

    Freestanding diaper changing station with trash can for used diapers

    In the past, diaper changing stations were only found in female toilets, but they tend to be installed on the male side as well now. (Tip: Look for the largest stall!)

    If there is an accessible toilet—often known as minna no toire or “toilet for everyone”—this will usually have a diaper changing station as well. Look for the pictogram of an adult leaning over a baby.

    The pictogram for a diaper changing station

    The pictogram for a diaper changing station

    Incidentally, while in the bathroom you might also notice handy baby holders (okay, seats) where children can be parked while Mom and Dad take care of business. The men’s room will sometimes have a single urinal small enough for little boys to use as well.

    Baby seat next to wall-mounted diaper changing station (ready to be swung down and used)

    Baby seat next to wall-mounted diaper changing station (ready to be swung down and used)

    Some handy phrases:

    • O-mutsu kokan-dai wa arimasu ka? — Is there a diaper changing station?
    • O-mutsu o kaerareru tokoro wa arimasu ka? — Is there somewhere I can change diapers?

  • 03

    Some Other Tips

    Now that you have a handle on input and output, you’re all set to go! Here are a few more tips for enjoying a stress-free Japan experience with young children.

    • There’s an ongoing debate in Japan about whether parents boarding a bus or train with a baby in a stroller are obliged to take the baby out and fold up the stroller for the duration of the ride. The thing people object to is strollers taking up space and blocking the doors, so if you avoid doing either of those things, you’re probably fine.

    • The best place to stock up on baby supplies, including diapers and formula but also moistened wipes, snacks, and so on, is usually a big chain pharmacy. Convenience stores often have a few emergency items as well, including mini-packs of diapers. Diapers can even be found in vending machines in some areas popular with tourists.

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