Traveling with a toddler in Japan

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Baby T is no stranger to overseas travels, having made the trip to Denmark and back when he was 7 weeks old and again when he was 20 months old. Wanting to take advantage of the infant 10% flight fare, Mrs. T and I decided to book a trip to Japan before he turns two. Luckily for us we found an amazing airfare deal.

Japan is a very interesting place to visit. I've been to this beautiful country more than a handful of times but it was Mrs. T and Baby T's first time. Quite frankly I didn't know what to expect traveling with a toddler in Japan. Since Baby T is a charmer and has long wavy blond hair, I figured he would gather a lot of attention in Japan. And I was right. Everywhere we went Baby T was making friends and getting attention left, right, and center. The Japanese ladies simply adored him, wanting to touch him and taking pictures of him.

The funniest thing for me was probably seeing people's reaction whenever I was walking with Baby T or pushing the stroller with him in Japan. Because Baby T has blond hair and Caucasian facial features while I have short black hair and Asian facial features, this usually resulted in very puzzled and odd looks from the Japanese.

Overall our 2 week trip with Baby T was great! We did find out that traveling with a toddler in Japan can be both a lot of fun and exhausting at the same time. Baby T loved every second of the trip and even learned a few Japanese words here and there. It's pretty amazing how quickly he was able pick up Japanese words (i.e. sumo, okonomiyaki, shabushabu, shushi).

I knew traveling with a toddler would require a slightly different pace than when traveling by myself. So we limited ourselves to only doing two or three attractions each day. That was definitely a good idea. Japan has an amazing public transportation system. We used public transportation mostly and walked whenever we could. It's amazing how extensive the rail and subway systems are in Tokyo alone. As an engineer I always wonder how much careful planning it took to build the rail and subway systems in Tokyo.

Traveling in Japan with a toddler will be exhausting. We loved traveling with Baby T in Japan but perhaps we were slightly too ambitious. Since Baby T was only 22 months when we were in Japan, he was still a bit too young to follow instructions or to be reasoned with. Temper tantrums were an issue from time to time, especially when he was over tired or over excited. It certainly didn't help when he lost both his pacifiers one day in the train station and we didn't have any backup. He screamed and cried for close to an hour on the entire train ride and we weren't able to calm him down at all. People on the train must have thought that we were terrible parents. Given the option, I would recommend to either travel with a small baby before he/she can walk, or travel with an older kid like 4 years old and up. Option 1 does mean you get to take advantage of the 10% infant air fare, while option 2 means more expensive air fare.

ramen museum
Baby T & Mrs. T inside the ramen museum in Shin-Yokohama

Tips on Traveling with a Toddler in Japan

Now if you're a brave soul and decides to travel with a toddler (or two if you're really really brave), here are a few tips I would like to share.

  • Travel as light as possible. Last thing you want is to be hauling large heavy suitcases and a heavy diaper bag and stroller. We only had one medium suitcase for the three of us. (I was somewhat disappointed that we weren't able to pack everything in a carry-on suitcase). It's totally OK to pack only a few days worth of clothes and hand wash them during the trip. Furthermore, Japan is a very convenient country, it's very easy to buy diapers, wipes, and other baby related items in pharmacies or supermarkets. It seemed that some fellow travelers had issue purchasing these items in Japan but we had no such issue.
  • For the flights, book seats that allow you to use a bassinet. Sitting with a toddler can get tiring. We got lucky that we managed to have an empty seat next to us on both legs of the trip.
  • If you are strong enough and can carry your toddler, a baby carrier is a great idea. Since Baby T is over 13 kg, we opted for a light weight umbrella stroller instead and that worked quite well.
  • If you're traveling with a stroller, be ready to carry the stroller. Although some train stations have elevators, we did have to carry the stroller with Baby T sitting in it a number of times. Subway stations generally do not have an elevator to get to the platforms. Most temples are not stroller friendly either. With this in mind, don't bring a gold plated stroller or you'll be swearing at yourself every time you have to carry the stroller up and down the stairs. If you do not want to carry the stroller up and down stairs in train and subway stations, learn to use the escalator with the stroller (note: this can be dangerous and is technically not allowed, but sometimes your only option).
  • Smoking in restaurants are quite common. Secondhand smoking doesn't seem to be a concern for the Japanese. This can make mealtimes complicated if you don't want to expose your little one and yourself to secondhand smoke. Generally restaurants in department stores do not allow smoking and they have pictures or plastic models outside so you can easily figure out the menu. When in doubt, ask. Another way to avoid smoking crowds is to go to a restaurant early so you're the only one there.
  • Avoid trains and subway during rush hours in Tokyo, especially if you're traveling with a stroller.
  • Multi-purpose washrooms are very easy to spot and found in major Japanese cities like Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto and Hiroshima (where we went, I'm sure they are available all over Japan). These rooms are HUGE so it's very easy to do a diaper change and dispose the dirty diaper in the garbage bin.
  • If you're traveling by yourself and need to go to the bathroom, typically there are washroom stalls with a baby seat that you can put your baby/toddler in, so you can relief yourself. I don't know why we don't have these baby seats here in North American bathrooms. They're awesome.
  • Limiting number of attractions you see each day is a great idea. Having said that, we were perhaps slightly too ambitious when it comes to number of cities we chose to visit. We visited Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, Hiroshima, and Fukuoka, meaning we spent quite a bit of time on the Shinkansen (bullet train) and other public transportation. The train ride from Hiroshima back to Tokyo was 5 hours. Although we broke the trip into two portions, riding on the train with an energetic toddler for more than an hour can be challenging. Limit number of train rides and amount of time you spend on public transportation. Toddlers generally don't like to sit in the stroller for a long period of time. It's also a good idea to take nap time into consideration when doing longer train rides.
  • The major streets in Ginza and Akihabara (Tokyo) are closed for cars on Saturdays and Sundays (other Tokyo district too?). This makes a great opportunity for the little ones to run around and burn off some energy.
  • Parks and temples are great places to let the little ones loose and run around. As you can tell by now, it's a good idea to burn off your toddler's energy as much as possible so they can nap and sleep well.

We are quite happy to report that Baby T slept very well during the trip. But that shouldn't come as a surprise as he has been sleeping through the night (i.e. 10+ hours) for over 6 months now. Now we're back in Vancouver, the last few nights have been rough for the little guy. He has been waking up a lot during the night. He had similar experience for a few night when we came back from our month long trip in Denmark earlier this summer, so we believe he'll sleep just fine once the jetlag is gone.

We don't have any more trips planned before Baby T turning two, so we won't be able to take advantage of the 10% air fare. We haven't quite decided where we'll go next, perhaps Hawaii? Perhaps the Canadian Rockies? We'll have to wait and see.

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  • Reply
    Fervent Finance
    September 30, 2015 at 8:54 am

    Glad you enjoyed Japan. I've never been to Asia, but will make it there eventually!

    • Reply
      October 1, 2015 at 8:14 am

      Japan is a great place to visit.

  • Reply
    September 30, 2015 at 9:13 am

    Well done! My husband and I have resisted travel outside of camping with our little guy (also 2). I hope that when all our kids are a bit older that we can do some city based travel, maybe even international.

    • Reply
      October 1, 2015 at 8:15 am

      Baby T loved camping so it was great. Some friends of ours actually took their little one (less than 2) to a week long back country hike in Yosemite. They just also recently returned from a week long canon trip in the Yukon. That's brave on my page.

  • Reply
    Penny @ She Picks Up Pennies
    September 30, 2015 at 10:07 am

    Wow! I'm impressed. I can't even get my husband to cope with a flight that lasts longer than 4.5 hours 😉 This is great insight. I would love to visit Japan one day. Seems like an incredible opportunity.

    • Reply
      October 1, 2015 at 8:16 am

      Baby T was pretty good on the flights actually. The time when the flights left definitely helped as he was able to fall asleep shortly after we had the big meal.

  • Reply
    September 30, 2015 at 10:47 am

    Sounds like you guys had a great time. Thanks for sharing all the pointers.


    • Reply
      October 1, 2015 at 8:23 am

      No problem, we had a great time in Japan.

  • Reply
    Amber Tree
    September 30, 2015 at 1:26 pm

    Good to read that you had a great trip in Japan. This country is high on my todo list.

    I recognize a lot of the situations that you describe and I agree with the tips you give. It is important to adapt the travel schedule ,to the kid.

    As far as travel with kids goes: we yet have to take them out on a flight. They are 3 and 5 now... We plan to start traveling first by train, then Europe by plane and when they are about 10-12 years old, we consider longer flights.

    • Reply
      October 1, 2015 at 8:25 am

      Hi Amber Tree,

      I always have fun traveling in Japan. Been there so many times and I love the country. When traveling with kids it's definitely important to adapt the travel schedule to them. Baby T has traveled on train quite a bit as well, I find it's actually easier to have him on a plane than a train.

  • Reply
    Adam @
    September 30, 2015 at 3:35 pm

    Looks like an amazing trip! I've never been to Japan but it's certainly on the bucket list.

    • Reply
      October 1, 2015 at 8:25 am

      Definitely need to go and check out the country.

  • Reply
    September 30, 2015 at 11:48 pm

    It was great meeting you guys in Osaka! Looks like an awesome trip

    • Reply
      October 1, 2015 at 8:26 am

      Likewise Jeremy and thanks for all the pointers. Will post more pictures later once I go through all my pictures.

  • Reply
    October 1, 2015 at 7:55 am

    You guys are brave thinking the kid across the ocean 🙂 I wouldn't know what to do with an infant. Hah!

    Getting stared at maybe uncomfortable at first, but after awhile, things will settle down. Just imagine your family are all superstars, they all want to see you! :p

    • Reply
      October 1, 2015 at 8:27 am

      Hi Vivianne,

      It was actually pretty straight forward taking Baby T on international flights. He seems to deal with jetlag fine, just take a couple extra days compared to us.

  • Reply
    October 1, 2015 at 7:58 am

    You are a brave soul! We didn't do any plane travel until our littlest was 3. Before that it was minimal traveling or a looooong road trip (2500 miles to/from Canada).

    I'd love to make it to Japan one day but I'm not sure if I or the kids could make it through the long flights. I think it's like 17 hours from NYC or ATL (a likely gateway from us on the east coast in Raleigh North Carolina).

    • Reply
      October 1, 2015 at 8:28 am

      Boy 2500 miles trip sounds tough. We actually find train/plane rides easier than car rides, because Baby T could walk around if he wants to.

      Right you're in Raleigh North Carolina, that's a long flight going to Japan since there's no direct. For me to go there from Vancouver, which I have done quite a number of times, that's an all day travel.

  • Reply
    Dividend Gremlin
    October 1, 2015 at 10:56 am

    Sounds like a fun trip. I want to go one day too, but in the meantime I find your toddler advice very useful. I am sure I will have one in the future, but that is sometime away - specifically until my wife says so.
    - Gremlin

    • Reply
      October 5, 2015 at 11:07 am

      Hi Diviend Gremlin,

      Hopefully the advice will be helpful to parents planning to travel with a toddler.

  • Reply
    October 1, 2015 at 1:01 pm

    Great info! Don't have any toddler anymore, but still some nice stuff to know!

    And indeed: "a lot of fun and exhausting at the same time" are the right words when traveling with kids, not matter the age actually! haha!


    • Reply
      October 5, 2015 at 11:08 am

      Lucky that you don't have any toddler anymore but I'm sure having older kids offer different kind of challenges.

  • Reply
    Jayson @ Monster Piggy Bank
    October 6, 2015 at 2:42 am

    Nice that you all had fun in Japan, Taw. What do you consider the most special part of your trip to Japan? Something like you'd never ever forget.

    • Reply
      October 6, 2015 at 9:38 am

      Hi Jayson,

      I'll have a Japan trip post later but the most special part is definitely seeing sumo wrestling and traveling with Mrs. T and Baby T.

  • Reply
    [email protected]
    October 6, 2015 at 8:18 am

    Looks like a great guys are definitely brave. We only took our toddler to Florida (also because of the free flight before 2 yrs old) and it was only like a 3 hour flight. I'm not sure I could handle a long flight with a little one! My wife would probably want to travel more, but I find traveling with a toddler stressful...I prefer road trips or short flights.

  • Reply
    There's Value
    October 20, 2015 at 3:05 am

    Tawcan, thanks for this advice. We are planning a trip to Japan in 2020, so our currently 24 month old will be just over 7 by then, and our soon to be born baby will be 5, but maybe we will have another one? Who knows.

    We've travelled extensively around the UK, Northern Ireland, and Europe and it was easier when our son was younger, although he has been mostly great after the age of 18 months. We bought a very light stroller from Amazon that was easy to carry (Schoenefeld Airport in Berlin has NO lifts!!!) and we also usually bring the carrier with us too, even though our son is also more than 12kg, we still bring it anyway - sometimes there are places you want to visit that are inappropriate for strollers e.g. a castle/palace so the only option is carry them, or don't go.

    • Reply
      October 20, 2015 at 10:50 am

      Hi M,

      Traveling with a 7 and a 5 year old should be OK but I'm sure there will be challenges. At least they should be able to follow your instructions.

      Stroller is a great tool for carrying thing around. 🙂

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