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Traveling in Japan with children

Traveling in Japan with children

Old Apr 13, 13, 4:08 am
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Lightbulb Traveling in Japan with children

So having had rather more first-hand experience than I'd like with this topic in the last few years, I've written up an article on Wikivoyage about traveling in Japan with young children:

http://en.wikivoyage.org/wiki/Japan_with_children

Comments welcome, it's currently pretty heavily tilted to babies/toddlers because that's what I've dealt with so far. And remember, it's a public wiki, so please edit away!
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Old Apr 13, 13, 10:48 am
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I don't have children, but your article is in line with my observations.

I recall my first trip on ANA. When pre-boarding was announced, some flight attendants came out to help the families with children, either to carry the diaper bags or to lead the children by the hand.

You might want to add that even small children are required to take their shoes off in shoe-free situations and that slip-on shoes are a better option than lace-up ones.
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Old Apr 13, 13, 10:52 am
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Strollers are a rare sight because they are a massive PITA.
I live in London and, like a few other mums - and dads - hardly ever used a stroller until my kid was well passed two years old. Whilst this is comparatively abnormal in London it is typical in Tokyo.
There are PLENTY of small children out on the streets of Tokyo, you see them on bicycles and, of you look closely, they are being carried ombushite style behind or upfront in slings.
Just because the Japanese don't have the same senseless attachment to strollers that the rest of the Western World have doesn't mean there aren't any kids around.
Strollers and prams are not the way to measure how many kids there are out and about.

I can see the baby carrier point gets made later, but it is almost an afterthought after the statement made in "Understand".
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Old Apr 13, 13, 11:55 pm
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Originally Posted by LapLap View Post
Just because the Japanese don't have the same senseless attachment to strollers that the rest of the Western World have doesn't mean there aren't any kids around.
You're right, and I didn't phrase that well -- what I meant more is that you don't really see kids mix with the "adult world" in the same way you do in, say, Australia, which is ridiculously kid-friendly to the extent that virtually every cafe/restaurant/pub not listed in the Michelin guide has a stack of highchairs, a box of toys, coloring puzzles and crayons.

I also wanted to add a second paragraph in Understand saying that, nevertheless, Japan is a great place to travel with kids... but ran out of steam before I could think of some way to express that didn't seem terribly trite. Any ideas?
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Old Apr 14, 13, 12:10 am
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jpatokai,

I think Japan is pretty kid friendly and there are a ton of kids in Tokyo. The only real disagreement I would have is that I think there are quite a few very rude Japanese parents who let their kids run wild with no consideration of the people around them.
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Old Apr 14, 13, 3:08 am
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Originally Posted by LapLap View Post
Strollers are a rare sight because they are a massive PITA.
I live in London and, like a few other mums - and dads - hardly ever used a stroller until my kid was well passed two years old. Whilst this is comparatively abnormal in London it is typical in Tokyo.
There are PLENTY of small children out on the streets of Tokyo, you see them on bicycles and, of you look closely, they are being carried ombushite style behind or upfront in slings.
Just because the Japanese don't have the same senseless attachment to strollers that the rest of the Western World have doesn't mean there aren't any kids around.
Strollers and prams are not the way to measure how many kids there are out and about.

I can see the baby carrier point gets made later, but it is almost an afterthought after the statement made in "Understand".
I wouldn't say strollers were at all rare in Japan.
But other forms of transport are more common and children are encouraged to walk independently from an earlier age than is common elsewhere.
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Old Apr 14, 13, 7:18 pm
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I agree that using a stroller in Tokyo is more trouble than it's worth most of the time, but I still see people using them everywhere. If you don't see a lot of strollers it's probably because you are in an area where people don't take their kids, e.g. a CBD during a weekday. Walk around Tokyo Midtown or a large public park on a weekend, or go out to the burbs on a weekday, or better yet go out toward Disney, and you will see strollers all over the place. Also noisy kids and rude parents.
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Old Apr 15, 13, 1:18 pm
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When I lived in Japan in the 1970s, strollers were rare, and children who were too young to walk were carried on someone's back, usually the mother's, but sometimes a grandparent's or older sibling's.

I returned after an 8-year gap to find that carrying babies onbu-style was nearly extinct. Visiting my old neighborhood, I noticed that an acquaintance was carrying her "afterthought" child (about ten years younger than the next one) on her back, and when I remarked on the fact, she said that most young parents preferred sutorooraa or sunaggurii.
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Old Apr 15, 13, 2:03 pm
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The stroller issue is a wriggly one to explain definitively. Go to certain parks in the Minato area and you'll see a wide range of imported strollers. Wait at the taxi rank at Tokyo station and there might be plenty of mothers (and a few dads) in line carrying their kids. It depends on the time of the day, where you are, and numerous other factors, all I can say with certainty is that there are a great many more strollers in use in London than you will see in Tokyo and many more child carriers used in Tokyo than in London.
And of course, strollers are anything but a rare sight once you go somewhere like Tokyo Disney.

When you do travel in Tokyo on public transport with a stroller (or with a wheelchair) you need to use the same elevators and access routes as most of the other people, big and little, on wheels. Outside of Maihama station, the amount of strollers in any given line for an elevator is surprisingly small given the volume of people going in and out of the stations.

In short, I didn't really mean "rare sight" just "comparatively rare" - thinking of stroller traffic in, say, a Hampstead shopping street and what one will encounter in Aoyama or Azabu Juban.
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Old Apr 15, 13, 5:02 pm
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Originally Posted by LapLap View Post
thinking of stroller traffic in, say, a Hampstead
From one extreme to t'other. It's not called Pramstead for nothing. Did you know that there's a guy who teaches some sort of military-style fitness class on the Heath in which yummy mummies push all terrain strollers up and down Parliament Hill to get back their pre-preg bods? (I kid you not).
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Old Apr 15, 13, 9:08 pm
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Originally Posted by LapLap View Post
Go to certain parks in the Minato area and you'll see a wide range of imported strollers. Wait at the taxi rank at Tokyo station and there might be plenty of mothers (and a few dads) in line carrying their kids.
Well, of course. There isn't any place to put a stroller on the Shinkansen...
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Old Apr 20, 13, 3:19 am
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Originally Posted by joejones View Post
Well, of course. There isn't any place to put a stroller on the Shinkansen...
A lot of the strollers you do see in Tokyo fold up small as - or smaller than - ours does. We had no problems storing our stroller (Quinny Zapp) back on the Shinkansen from Sendai. Didn't even remember it as an issue.
What I do remember thinking when surrounded by the fashionable young couples in the taxi queue with small children strapped to them was how much wider the social demographic was for doing this than in the UK (and Spain).
I wish I could delve more into why this part of Japanese culture is different. I've seen glimpses of information disseminated publicly that supports carrying children (such as a documentary style segment on a Japanese TV program which explored the view that carrying small children for a large portion of the day makes them more intelligent) but as I don't read Japanese it is difficult for me to explore this subject with the thoroughness I would like to.
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Old Apr 20, 13, 9:20 pm
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Originally Posted by LapLap View Post
A lot of the strollers you do see in Tokyo fold up small as - or smaller than - ours does. We had no problems storing our stroller (Quinny Zapp) back on the Shinkansen from Sendai. Didn't even remember it as an issue.
The Zapp is a good folder though. Many foreign strollers are not so usable in Japan. With Japanese strollers, there are design differences - I wonder whether this is down to customer needs or if these Japanese designs have controlled how strollers are used here.

Babies aren't supposed to leave the house for 1 month (their first outing is supposed to be to their 1 month checkup. So strollers aren't designed for newborns. There are 2 types of stroller - A for 3-6 months and B for over 6 months you never see double strollers*. A's normally towards the parent or can face both ways and have a decent recline, but they are rarely fully flat and it's unheard of for a stroller to de designed for overnight sleeping.

B-type strollers don't need to be as big as US, as children stop using them earlier and are made to walk. So they can be designed to fold small and to fit train gates (max 55cm wide). Foreign imports are becoming more common in department stores, but are crazy money compared with importing them directly. They are usually too wide for train gates, so you have to use the disabled gates (85cm wide), there's always at east one of these , but you might have to ask to be let through.

In terms of trains: many stations (not older subway) have barrier free routes, but in old station they can be a bit odd (like asking to go the wrong way through gates and out of the station and reentering in another entrance for a transfer) staff will help and are required to carry up/down stairs if no elevator available. But if you don't know the stations it can be a pain and you need to allow lots of extra time for transfer if you go the stroller route. You start to get irritated by rude Japanese that use the elevator when they have no physical need leading to increased wait time - at busy stations with slow elevators, you might have to wait for several loads (5-10 minutes) before you can get in an elevator. Polite couples with strollers will often split up with one accompanying parent taking older children on escalators, reducing the number of people waiting for the elevator. On the trains, you used to be required to fold up strollers at all times, but now you can leave strollers open with children in. Obviously you aren't supposed to travel like this at peak times. On limited express/shinkansen trains you can put folded strollers behind the last row of seats. Some trains (like N'EX) have a wheelchair area at the front of some carriages that can be used for strollers too. Children under 5 travel free, but aren't supposed to use a seat if anyone is standing.

On other forms of public transport: there is space for wheelchairs on some buses too, but I can't say I've ever seen people with strollers on buses using these areas. Domestic flights don't normally allow stroller gate checking (I don't know how this works on the newer LCC though)- you check them as normal baggage and pick up from the reclaim belt (they usually come out first before the priority luggage). They always wrap them in plastic bags and I have not had any damage in many flights. When you check in, you can get an airport (or airline, these are often nicer) stroller, that you take through security and leave at the gate, you can ask for a stroller to be waiting at the arrival gate for you too.

Bottom line, strollers can be a pain if you have certain types, take longer to get places (especially if you are not familiar with the routes), so might not be the best choice for tourists. I use a stroller in Japan almost everyday, but we have several different strollers for different purposes and for many trips we leave the wheels at home. If you don't plan carefully, a stroller could cause many more stresses and problems on a visit to Japan than it saves.

In terms of popularity of baby carriers - nothing to do with development imo, just tradition (as in most countries before the stroller) and mostly laziness. Don't rely on Japanese TV documentaries for anything near science or truth. (Other factors are the high use of bicycles and public transport). However, I can't think of any families with young kids that don't have a stroller in regular use.

*ok, maybe not never seeing double strollers - I have one and I have seen another couple in my city with one a few times. But these are really really rare, for very good reasons.
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Old Apr 20, 13, 11:56 pm
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Thanks BalbC
That's a very thorough run down.
I've visited Tokyo whilst using a wheelchair before so had experience using trains and buses that proved useful when taking the stroller (which we ended up using more than anticipated as my father-in-law's sciatica was bad and the stroller provided relief on our excursions).
Your comments about splitting up at elevators are spot on. On the odd occasion there would be a short nervous moment because the elevator would go somewhere completely different to the stairs/escalators causing a delay to our reunion on the other floor, but splitting up when there's a push for space is definitely the courteous thing to do. Also, wheelchair users get priority as far as I'm concerned (they have to deal with delays at the gates and at the elevators every day).
The Quincy Zapp is definitely too wide for some gates (and even some escalators, there's one at the entrance to Azabu Juban that comes to mind) and certainly needs to be folded to board a bus. Then again, it's too wide for some buses in London.
And the documentary thingy I saw was definitely "a view" rather than "fact", but interesting for me to see at least one way that a habit that I had found myself to be a minority in practicing was supported and encouraged in another culture. Stroller type A is a device that I've never been able to get my head around, makes no sense to me whatsoever under anything but some extreme and freak circumstances.

Multiple infant carriers are something I see quite a lot of when I'm in the Minato Ku area. So whilst the two tier twin and sibling carriers aren't something I've spotted very often either (much more common to see two kids mounted on a bike) 4, 6 or even 8 kids on a sidewalk tram is something I've seen regularly. These are usually kids at kindergarten being escorted around. Occasionally you see a large (generally foreign) family being towed behind a parent in a big wheeled box with seats.
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Old Apr 24, 13, 9:12 pm
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Originally Posted by LapLap View Post
Thanks BalbC
That's a very thorough run down.
Sorry, that was a bit rambling. I shouldn't be left at home unsupervised on a rainy sunday.
Originally Posted by LapLap View Post
...And the documentary thingy I saw was definitely "a view" rather than "fact", but interesting for me to see at least one way that a habit that I had found myself to be a minority in practicing was supported and encouraged in another culture. ...
I'll have another ramble at this. I imagine that previously in most countries some way of "wearing" a baby was usual, but Japan has more strongly kept this tradition. Maybe because stroller use is more difficult here or carriers work with bicycles/public transport better, maybe that traditions erode more slowly (particularly child-related stuff). I also think baby carrier use is increasing again UK and Europe though, but just from observation. In many situations a carrier is far more use in Japan, and I wouldn't take a baby on a trip without one available. Not just for convenience, there must be something in this more natural way of baby carry in terms of bonding, maybe even emotional development but I don't think the normal Japanese way of use fosters this.

In Japan, using a carrier walking round the house is common to get the baby to sleep rather than being taken for a walk in a pram or something like my parents did with me. I've seen staff in the infant class at nursery with a baby strapped in front and another on their back and holding another in arms and walking up and down to rock all three to sleep. I would not like this job. Housewives also stick babies on their back to cook or do other housework; I think this is for convenience rather than bonding. Though, I see children playing with dolls or teddy bears strapped to their back with a piece of cloth pretending to be mum- so the norm of baby carriers is accepted from an early age.

Another common use parents tell me is with 2 young children: when the older one gets tired walking, they can go into the stroller and the younger child comes out of the stroller into a carrier. So they don't need a tandem stroller.
When I see young babies in carriers on bicycles or on mums chatting in the street, the babies on their back or front are often flopping about, no neck support and head and arms hanging back. This appears a bit different from how carriers are used in the west and more about being hands-free. I don't like to see these children being ignored and I wouldn't think it was comfortable or good for their spines, but it is common and acceptable. But then there's a lot of things I see that initially conflict with what I always thought was right that don't seem do any harm really.
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