Since the horrible Japan earthquake, probably the most famous new ambassador for travel to Japan is Lady Gaga. But I’m here to introduce you to a new one. Amy Ballantyne traveled to Japan last year, at 7.5mos pregnant and with her toddler son. I’m delighted she’s sharing her story about her visit to Japan, and hopefully Japan tourism will bounce back and help the country to recover.
What an amazing place to travel, it has been a year since we traveled to Japan but an experience we will never forget. Japan is filled with kind, generous and helpful people all excited to take care of the travelers to their beautiful country.
We were traveling to Tokyo for 10 days for a baseball tournament and decided to bring our 16 month-old with us (along with Grandma and Grandpa!). He was a perfect age for this trip (he still wasn’t walking but learned in Tokyo and would he eat pretty much anything we gave him).
We stayed right in the heart of Tokyo and the hotels we used were the Tokyo Prince Hotel and the Prince Park Tower Tokyo. Both hotels were very nice and the staff were exceptional at making us feel welcome, helping us find our way in a city with little to no English and helping us to stay cool in the extreme heat. The concierge was very helpful in helping us to navigate the intricate subway and rail systems used by millions each day.
A couple points to note when traveling to Tokyo with a baby. Firstly, using a shuttle to get from the airport to the hotel you are staying at is critical (we used Friendly Airport Limousine buses). The Narita airport is located a good distance from downtown Tokyo and after a very long flight / transition of approximately 20+ hours it is best to take a reliable shuttle without having to figure out the subway/ rail system and figure out the language while sleep deprived.
Secondly, we decided against renting a car so we had to use the subway/ rail system. It is an amazing system but you will want to pre-plan a few of the places you want to visit first, as the system is so intricate (complicated) that you could become easily lost as there is little English available. Some stations have maps that include the written word for the station, but many times they just have the Japanese symbols. As long as you get acquainted with the maps and have an idea of where things are, the Japanese people are quick to rescue travelers who look lost. Even a little old lady who could tell we were lost attempted to provide directions using the maps and body language since neither party could speak the same language. Consider also that the subway/ rail systems are below ground (sometimes very, very far down) and in most cases there are no elevators. We had to carry our baby, the stroller, the diaper bag and anything else we had up and down the stairs – so bring a light, small stroller!! It was frequent to see Japanese women carrying their strollers up and down the stairs on their own – amazing!
Finally, I am glad that I read someone’s advice about packing lots of diapers (I brought about 45+ for the flight/transition and first few days) because it was absolutely impossible to find diapers that were not ridiculously overpriced in downtown Tokyo. I was able to find 2 diapers (yes – just 2) in the hotel store and it was going to cost me about $10 USD for those 2 diapers. We searched nearby grocery stores in the Nakamise-dori Asakusa Market and in the grocery stores near our hotel but found nothing. It wasn’t until we went out of the metropolitan of Tokyo to a city called Yokohama (a beautiful city with numerous sights to see) that we found a drug store close to the subway station that had a package of diapers (35 or so diapers) for $10 USD – thank goodness for that store as we were on our last few diapers and I was starting to worry. Those diapers got us through the remainder of the trip and the flight home.
As far as the food is concerned, it should not be a concern at all. It is very easy to find food you know everywhere in Tokyo and most places post pictures of the food they offer outside of their stores so you can see what the meals look like. We found grocery stores and were able to eat very American food for most of the trip but did try some Japanese food (that was delicious) here and there. I did purchase some baby food at a grocery store for my son, but we had packed enough jars of food, puffs, cheerios, formula and apple sauce to last the entire trip. Each day we would buy bananas and apples at the grocery store and sandwiches for lunch in the bakery in the lobby of our hotel. Having the store and bakery in the hotel lobby was a godsend for eating food we knew and not having to go far to get it.
When we traveled to Japan a year ago this July, it was the hottest on record that the city had seen in many years. This caused us to purchase a significant amount of water and to stay cool any way we could. Be advised that even if your hotel has a pool it likely is not included in your price. We had to pay to swim and only did so on one day because of the cost.
In general Japan is a very baby/ kid friendly place. A few highlights of this include – seats for baby to sit in, inside the washrooms at baseball diamonds, stores, airports and more. At department stores (i.e. MYLORD) we found kids areas for children to let loose, play and have some fun. At the Roppongi Hills mall there were a few baby/ kids locations that were equipped with change tables, microwaves, snack spots, toys, breast feeding rooms and more. Also at this mall we found an open outdoor area where over a hundred Japanese children were playing with water toys that had been donated by a toy company for the children to ‘test out’. My son loved playing side by side the Japanese children! At the Narita airport we were so happy to find another kids area similar to the mall that had everything our son could need during the long wait.
In addition to having a small child with us, I was also 7.5 months pregnant and this was not an issue at all. I was not able to eat any sushi but that was easy to do since most menus (even in the rural areas we visited for baseball) had English translation under the foods on the menu. Having great footwear was important as we did a lot of walking and it was hot! I was sure to take advantage of the priority seating on the subway/ rail system for the pregnant and individuals traveling with child! Finally, many spots in Japan have ‘Western’ toilets, however in subway station washrooms, malls and many other locations you will only find the traditional Japanese squatting holes. This was a bit tricky as a pregnant person but I had to try it anyhow!!
My husband and I were very lucky to travel with his parents. Taking them with us was absolutely amazing!! Traveling to such a different place it was great to have comfort and security every step of the way!
Some favourite locations we visited included: ZoJo-Ji Temple, Nakamise-dori Asakusa Market, Tokyo Tower, Senso-ji temple in Asakusa, Yokohama park and stadium, the MYLORD department store in Atsugi, Meiji Jingu Stadium, the Imperial Palace in Kokyo and the Roppongi Hills shopping centre.
I am so thankful that we had the experience of a lifetime traveling to the beautiful country of Japan. The people were amazing, sights and culture spectacular and it was a trip we will never forget. Sure the flight was long, the weather hot and the language tricky to learn but I would 100% recommend traveling to this country (even pregnant and/or with a baby) if given the opportunity!
For more info connect with Amy at @FitHealthy_Mom on Twitter!