Overall I had no idea how baby-friendly it would be to travel with a baby in Tokyo – but given that Lina visited this city three times in her first 18 months, it just shows that it is totally doable. There are a few things I’ve learnt, so let me share them. First of all, do some research. A very helpful website that I found is TokyoUrbanBaby – check it out, it provides you with a lot of insights.
Staying in a hotel or apartment
We tried different approaches – and let me say an apartment is a little easier. While we were lucky and the hotel provided us with a cot, a nappy waste bin and baby toiletries, it was a little more difficult all being together in one room and not having a small kitchen to prepare baby food/milk. That’s why we stayed twice in an apartment (different ones, we just found them via airbnb) – it was easier to have separate bedrooms and we could prepare breakfast and dinner at home, ensuring the baby or toddler ate food she liked. Of course, the downside to that was that the apartments were not specifically baby-friendly, so I had to improvise and also speak to the owner ahead of our visit, to ensure we had futon mattresses on the floor and I knew what extras I had to bring.
Stroller versus baby carrier
I guess this depends on your overall preference and baby size – compared to Hong Kong it is easier to navigate with a stroller through the city of Tokyo. However, it might be challenging if you are on your own, as not all train and subway stations have lifts (here is a list of wheelchair accessible stations) and visiting temples can be impossible with a stroller. Apart from that, the pedestrian walkways are much more spacious, shops and restaurants are bigger, there are usually fewer people around you (compared to busy Central, Causeway Bay, TST or Mong Kok) and I found people in general to be much more helpful. And don’t get me started on the taxi drivers, which are usually excellent – folding up strollers and placing them into the trunk of the car is no issue, they are so polite and caring, ensuring you and the little one are seated and comfortable. So I would not hesitate to bring a stroller, but if you feel that this is too much to carry around – most of the big department stores, shopping malls and museums let you rent a stroller for free.
Baby changing facilities
Nursing rooms and baby changing stations in department stores are amazing in Tokyo – not only are they big, usually with space for a few babies and caregivers, but they include vending machines that sell all the essentials including nappies, wet towels and some of them even include baby food in jars or pouches. I specially like that they have quiet corners and rooms, so you can nurse and put your baby to sleep. The nursing room at Isetan Department Store even had a scale. Other great baby rooms I’ve encountered are all around Tokyo Station: check out one or all three main department stores on the Marunouchi side of the station – Marunouchi Building, Shin-Marunouchi Building and Kitte.
Most public toilets also have a ‘baby holder’ seat – which is great once your baby is old enough to sit but still too small to stand. A quick 2 minutes hands-free moment that I wish would be available in other countries too!
Nappies and baby food
I brought all my nappies with me – so I don’t know where to buy them, but I’m guessing big supermarkets will have them too? Well, apparently not. I’ve been told they are not available at supermarkets, only in some shops such as drug stores/pharmacies, so better to stock up before you go!
Baby food was available in all the big department stores and I saw it in a few supermarkets and bigger 7-11 stores, but the biggest challenge is to decipher what is inside the jar. So actually I had stocked up on some food from Hong Kong, and apart from that Lina was happy to eat rice crackers, which you can get almost everywhere.
Eating out was a bit of a challenge. Not as much for Lina, she tried anything and everything, but some restaurants are too small (especially the tiny ramen places at a back street somewhere in the deep parts of Shinjuku) to bring a kid with you, and there are others that actually have a non-child policy (we encountered this for some top-notch sushi restaurants). I guess that’s fine if you know this in advance – and then the other thing is that not many restaurants provide high chairs. Again, department stores and family-friendly restaurants like Ootyoa are your best bet, they all had high chairs. But even if they didn’t some restaurants came up with creative solutions, extra cushions and pillows – and they all brought us cups, straws (so it is easier to drink for the little one), bowls and cutlery for the little one. Many also made an effort of bringing her some special food for her, an extra piece of salmon, or some melon. Staff was always very attentive and friendly to us and Lina.
I love that there are so many little playgrounds tucked away in Tokyo – we had no idea where they were, but we always discovered one or two per day, so Lina could run around and play. There was one next to the river in Tsukishima that Lina really enjoyed, and a great one behind Tokyo Midtown (even with a water fountain for hot days). Just walking around the different quarters meant we walked past a playground – all the residential areas seem to have them dotted around.
For rainy days, we just went indoors – again Tokyo Midtown has a small section where kids can play, Roppongi Hills has a small family room (a little disappointing but fine for a quick break) and of course, there is the fantastic Tokyo Toy Museum (TTM) that I already mentioned.
A fantastic shop for big and small is the Muji Yurakucho flagship store. Three levels full of Muji items – from clothes and books for little ones, lots of food items to choose from (and a restaurant and bakery that also sells pretzels – one of Lina’s favourite food items) and almost anything from fashion to interior design.
What else can you do with babies and toddlers in Tokyo – plenty of things!
Head over to mylittlenomads to check out more ideas.