Holidays in Japan with a toddler

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Despite growing up as a third culture kid used to travel, and having spent almost 20 years visiting various places around Japan, this spring brought a new experience: taking my kid on their first international holiday.

I’ve written this post for friends considering a Japan trip, as well as for future me to look back on. We went primarily as a special trip with my Mum, so stuck to loads of the classic tourist spots and as such this is pretty big city-centric. This was our first international holiday as a family so I was very naive about a lot of things, and despite my history with Japan and being able to speak Japanese I still had a lot of learnings on that front too!

This post skips over a lot of general Japan travel info, and aims to keep to baby-specific aspects. My toddler was almost 2 at the time of travel. Huge credit to Jo at The Tokyo Chapter for being a big source of more general information and recommendations.

Travel from Heathrow T5

A view of a line of BA planes out of a window from the terminal

We arrived with plenty of time, but shortly found out absolutely everything takes longer with a kid. Wrangling bags into the terminal plus an over-excited child, getting to the check in only to be sent elsewhere for a family check in, getting through security, travelling on travellators (insistent to go on, then stands absolutely still). This was a bit of a theme for the holiday, and definitely took me in particular some getting used to given my previous history of solo travel at my own pace!

Security and baby food

I’d read varying advice about milk/baby food through security, but took three pouches of fruit mush in a see-through bag and had zero challenge or needing to taste some. We were able to buy small cartons of milk and other baby food pouches (backups!) in Boots, where they also have assorted other baby bits if you need.


When moving away from our first We Know Nothing, Let’s Get A Hefty One That Does All The Things stroller we deliberately got a lightweight and cabin overhead compartment-sized folding one (Bugaboo Butterly as we were already in their ecosystem). Zero problems on the way out. On the way back we were asked if we had a carry bag for it (no) and were given a plastic cover to protect the locker.

On the plane

On the plane itself I know it’ll almost certainly vary from airline to airline, but we asked if we were able to store milk in a fridge somewhere and told no. The milk for us is a backup and sleep aid rather than a requirement, and we were fine with making do, but if you need things keeping cold probably best to actually think this through in advance!

We’d specifically booked on a flight to make the most of a fairly recent cabin overhaul, and also used seat maps to pick out the best locations for us. I chose a seat with an option for a baby chair/bassinet and whilst we put this up on the outbound flight it got zero use so I probably wouldn’t bother again. It was however very useful for the extra space in-flight (I learned the hard way not to use the tray table after my sleeping kid kicked my wine right into their face whilst twitching in a dream 🥲), but more importantly it was right next to the emergency exit which was a perfect little sheltered space to sit and have a picnic/stretch our legs without bothering anyone.

I was slightly nervous about flying Business with a kid (but also knew we had every right to be there!) and it was absolutely fine, no grumbles from passengers or staff, but I’m also aware that I’m lucky to have a (mostly!) very quiet and chilled out kid who’s content to sit and read stories or play quietly.

As the kid was below 2 we only paid taxes and fees rather than for a ticket (this trip was very intentionally timed!), but that does mean that they don’t get a meal or anything like that. A very kind staff member actually gave us a spare starter of soup and roll on the way back, but generally we made do with what we brought on, plus snacks from the galley kitchen. Outbound was much better on that front – grain salad and fruit and cake for our picnic! On the way back there was basically only biscuits when I checked.

Landing at Haneda T3

Haneda is a very familiar old friend and I thought I knew exactly what to expect, but I was still surprised when we were waived over to the priority queue for immigration which had zero wait. We’d all done online QRs for our forms, but it’s worth noting that babies still need their own forms too.

On getting through security we swung into the small “Sky Market” convenience store in the terminal to get onigiri and snacks, then headed to the taxi rank. This was actually my first time getting a taxi from the airport, and was pure laziness. Other options were baggage delivery (but we were not organised and didn’t want to risk being without baby things or other necessities), bus, or my more usual train/monorail. We easily managed to get a taxi big enough for the four of us and our bags, and tbh for the convenience I’d probably consider doing it again with a kid in future.

We didn’t use other baby facilities at the airport on arrival, but it’s worth noting that baby changing etc is very available and generally very good. More on that as a topic later.


Three pairs of slippers in a row. One for me, a larger one for my husband, and in between a tiny pair for the kid

In Japan co-sleeping and being in the same room as young children is very common. We’ve never done co-sleeping at all, and our kid is also very used to routine and a controlled bedroom environment. This definitely contributed to some of the stresses of the trip! You’re likely to have different experiences based on how you’ve done things in your family.

Our first location was the Shibuya Stream Hotel – this was a known quantity as I’d stayed there previously, and we booked a corner room as it had somewhere a bit more sheltered to stash the kid. In general Tokyo hotels were much more limited and extremely pricey with trying to find a larger room/Suite to be able to not all sit in silence in the room from 7pm, but we made that call rather than doing something like AirBnb or apartments (which I’ve had great experiences with in Tokyo before), because we wanted my mum to be able to have the full “high floor” experience. We’d requested a baby cot, but on turning up it transpired that they only had bassinets for <1 year. Our room was technically a twin double (one of those where there are two beds pushed together), so rather than mess about we ended up dragging a mattress onto the floor. This was our first time the kid was able to be free roaming, was in a totally new environment, and was +9 hours jetlagged. Honestly we had terrible sleep for first section of the trip, and one of us ended up in the floor bed every night. In hindsight I’m not sure what we’d have done differently, but I may have looked into whether we could have rented a travel cot. The hotel had pay laundry (JPY 500), although this wasn’t great and came out still wet. There are also kitchen facilities on one of the floors which was handy for ad-hoc meal stuff.

Facilty wise, the best hotel was Tomoya Residence Hotel in Kyoto. In general it wasn’t in the best location, but we found it to be worth it for having a separate lounge area (see previous comment about 7pm bedtimes!), kitchen, washer and dryer (really good ones), and an actual travel cot bed. We got a lot more sleep here, and because of the predictability we parents also got to go out on a date night for drinks at Craftman a few doors down. Highly recommend the burdock tempura with curry seasoning.

View of a bed with a baby rail guard on the left side
A view of the sleeping arrangement in our Hakone hotel

Our splurge hotel was Gen in Hakone for a couple of nights. Although the Kyoto place above was incredibly practical, this place was so kid friendly and notable because of it. We had a welcome drink and snack, complete with cute apple juice and Anpanman snack for the kid. Our room was set up with baby wipes, baby body wash in the shower, they brought toys in (non-standard offering I felt but they seemed sucked in by the kid’s charms!), super cute little meals to go alongside our kaiseki, yukata and pjs (cutely slightly oversized as I don’t think they had 2yo versions!), tiny slippers and crocs. We had again requested a baby bed or a futon, but instead got a rail guard on the bed for co-sleeping (see above). We could possibly have pushed it on this as the service was immaculate but didn’t; too busy enjoying the private bath on the balcony and free drinks 😎

Meals and eating out

Three pairs of slippers in a row. One for me, a larger one for my husband, and in between a tiny pair for the kid

I came into the holiday a bit worried about eating out, purely because on our ‘normal’ (RIP) trips we mainly ate in little places that felt frankly very inaccessible or like we’d be a horrible customer bringing in a patience-short kid. In bigger cities like Tokyo it’s extremely common for restaurants to be small rooms, often up or down stairs, with limited counter seats and bars, fast turnover, or squishing past people trying not to be that gaijin. I actually did some research before we left as I didn’t want to get stuck, jetlagged and struggling (which was how I found Jo’s blog above), but relaxed a lot as time went on. We definitely compromised here, and ate at lots more chains and touristy spots than usual, plus left other knowingly less practical places to when we’d split into sub groups (I went off with my mum a couple of times). I think my Japanese also got us quite far and gained us some goodwill several times, but I was also pleasantly surprised by generally how accommodating and prepared for small kids places were.

When it comes to restaurants I again can’t stress enough the importance of a lightweight, foldable pushchair. Ours was always stashed under the table in some way, but otherwise in some circumstances you’d probably have to leave one outside. Do check the address for places to see if they’re somewhere like B2 or 5F etc, as in some places you may possibly be carrying up a lot of stairs!

When I was still in “prepared mode” rather than up for winging it a bit more I primarily looked on Google Maps > Photos > Vibe for pictures of the interior of places, to see if there was any sign of high chairs or kids. This got us so far with confidence in certain situations til we found our groove, but as time went on we winged it entirely. I’m not saying this to sound superior or put anyone off, I’m mindful that it can be a bit intimidating to do so, but probably did help us a lot that I can speak Japanese. Being able to explain stuff like “they’re actually ok on a stool as long as we can pin them in a corner” 😆 or “if you have a booth then amazing, but we’d rather go for a counter seat if the wait is going to be ridiculously long” etc really helped. If in doubt, ask anyway, and don’t forget you can always get a hotel to make enquiries on your behalf.

Some places that were good for us:

Suage - soup curry chain restaurant. I’d come across this when I was in Sapporo last year, and I was happy to get another soup curry fix. The one we went to in Shubuya was downstairs, with no lift, but we easily got a table with bench seating. I don’t think there was a kids menu, but there were small sides/extras and we just upped our rice and toppings and shared without issue.

uobei - very very touristy and definitely not the best sushi you’ll ever have, but they have baby seats that go on top of the stools, and this was actually one of our best meals kid-wise because of the level of distraction and excitement. Just keep them away from the hot water taps 😂. There is a kids meal option (which comes in a cool train box) but it does have some raw fish for really little ones (more for me). This also gives you a token you can spend in the gacha machines by the entrance. Mine picked a sushi ring… totally not age appropriate so again your mileage may vary, but entertained them for a while!

Numazuko Shinjuku - Had booth tables (2 or 3?). These unsurprisingly had a longer wait, but they also brought a cute little booster cushion so my kid was more at table level.

Sushiro Kyoto - This has a massive wait in theory according to the queue system but went much faster than anticipated. You can book in advance if you’re more organised. On entrance if you haven’t booked you select table or counter (either). We chose either as I’d also checked about baby seats which they had, but we ended up with a booth table. There are kids set options again (pictured above), but other sides like udon too. The kids meal came with a free toy (common with kids meals).

Katsukura main branch Kyoto - Not only was this excellent food (I could eat the Katsukura pickles and cabbage with yuzu dressing forever) but they had an excellent baby set, baby seat, and my kid got to pick a toy from a basket which is still somehow their favourite posession weeks on.

Eggs and Things Kyoto - Again very touristy, I don’t actually think there was a single Japanese customer in the place when we went in. I think there’s also quite a wait sometimes, but we only waited less than 5 mins. There were good kids meal sets for breakfast/brunch, which went down very well with mine (and my sakura french toast was delicious).

Ichikakuya ramen Shibuya - We went here on a complete whim after we couldn’t be done with the ridiculously long wait for a table at our original destination, and because my husband had been talking with a local friend about Iekei ramen. I’m including this because it had bench seats, they immediately brought out baby cutlery and a bowl, and there were plenty of sides that made for viable kid food.

CoCo Ichibanya - a staple of the chain world, we went to Kyoto’s Gojo branch. There was loads of booth seating, and the kids meal was nearly as big as ours!

Harajuku gyozaro - there are some tables inside on the right, but there are also two tables out the back I’d never known about before. This worked really well for us as we were way out of the way of all the distractions and bustle, and didn’t have to worry about being a nuisance.

Getting around

A view down a shinkansen platform. A station staff member wearing a face mask looks down the platform as the train approaches

As a small bit of general Japan travel advice, I had absolutely no idea there was an IC card (prepaid card, makes transport in particular incredibly convenient) shortage in some areas. I’d typically used my ancient Suica on every trip without thought, but picked up a Kitaca (Hokkaido variant) in May 2023 because I love the mascot 🤷🏻‍♀️ and had zero issue. Because of that I was very surprised to see signs up at the local station talking about the stoppage, as I’d completely missed that news. I donated my other two cards to the family (my husband typically couldn’t find his Suica), and just went old skool and bought tickets as needed, until I discovered that I could get a tourist Pasmo (Pasmo is another variant). You can apparently still get Suica at the airports, but whilst getting tickets was a bit of a small amount of extra friction when we just needed to get an over-tired kid somewhere, it was also a regular game to get a receipt and use that as an extra bit of distraction for my kid to have their own “ticket” to look after. As an aside, there was zero problem getting an ICOCA in Kyoto after I decided three meant I now collect ICs so I’d get another one 🤷🏻‍♀️🤷🏻‍♀️.

Trains and shinkansen travel

Train usage wise it’s all very simple. Kids under 6 are free on JR trains. I started out wanting to check by going to ticket windows and getting waved through the gates, but there’s no problem to just go through normal gates with a stroller. If you want them to have their own seat on a longer journey though, you will need to buy one.

Many trains, but not all, have indicators for the door location with priority area or space for buggies. However, as in other countries, don’t expect these areas to be empty! Outside of other buggies or people with luggage there were often just people standing around in these places. Again, politely speaking a few words goes a long way here.

The shinkansen (bullet trains) have changed in recent years, and you now need to book a dedicated seat to be able to bring larger luggage that doesn’t fit on the overhead shelf. There are two options: the last row of seats in the car, which is suitable for larger suitcases, or additional seats that allow you to use racks. If you’re travelling with luggage and need one of these seats bear in mind that they’re pretty limited in number so you’ll need to get organised. Despite this, I’m actually a big fan of the change, as it’s made it so much less stressful with getting on/off than it used to be!

It’s also worth noting that you can book shinkansen tickets online for major routes too, with discounts available in advance. We picked the tickets up at the station so still had to queue, but it was much easier to browse all of the options in advance rather than making decisions on the fly at a machine.

If you’re planning journeys with changes, allow extra time, particularly if you’re changing from one train network to another. For one journey a travel app suggested an option that meant a 3 minute transfer window, which I may have considered if I was on my own, but an absolute nope with a kid!

Station exits and lifts

When using direction apps, Google Maps tells you the best exit for your destination, but note that it’s not always the best exit with a buggy! I will say it again… take a very light, foldable, carryable one, and I will applaud you if you manage to make it the whole trip without unexpectedly coming across stairs. If you’re more organised than us though, you can look up station maps and plan your route properly. Big JR stations in Tokyo are chaos if you haven’t experienced them before, so if you’re trying to corral a small person it’s may be useful to have some kind of idea. Smaller metro stations also don’t have lifts at all exits, or even at all stations.

There are lots and lots of signs asking people to be considerate with their use of lifts, but a LOT of time we had to wait ages for people who almost certainly could use escalators. Not all disabilities are visible of course, but seriously, so many people in some busier locations 😒

Taking more taxis

After all these years I hadn’t actually been to Hakone before this last trip. It was nice, but personally wasn’t my favourite lake/mountain experience. We went there by trains (Odawara to Hakone Yumoto then sightseeing train to Gora) but actually ended up getting a taxi back to Odawara on the return journey. It was cute to experience the train, and in summer there are apparently beautiful hydrangeas along the route, but going direct in a taxi was much less hassle with a kid. In general I don’t tend to take many taxis, but we did it much more for convenience on this trip.

Attractions/being out and about

At night, a bright blue beam of light shines up at an angle between two reddy orange temple buildings from the Kiyomizudera complex

In general we had a really great experience of activities with a kid. The paid attractions we went to were I think all free for an under 2, then you’d have nominal fees for slightly older kids. As the sakura was in bloom, Shinjuku Gyoen had big lines at the entrance but we were waved over to a priority gate and went straight in. In general we had this a lot with a buggy.

Speaking of a buggy, many places have stroller parks for when it’s not appropriate to be taking a buggy in. Some had locks (e.g. TeamLab Borderless), others (e.g. Kiyomizu-dera nighttime light up) we were just leaving it in an area at the side of the street. I personally had zero concerns (I even left a massive bag of shopping in the buggy park at Sunshine City aquarium), but it’s worth being aware so you can make your own decision about what to bring or do.

Changing facilities

Department stores are always a good bet for toilets generally (plus my other go-to: arcades!) but in some the facilities can be genuinely excellent for kids. Here’s an example of one in Sunshine City, which had curtained feeding areas, a high chair, vending machine of kid snacks, changing areas including a stand-up bar with kneeling pad for me, electric nappy bins, small-sized sinks, good condition books, and bottle prep equipment.

A row of changing tables in Sunshine City

Some changing facilities are still in Ladies toilets, but others are entirely separate. I didn’t see men using, and am not entirely sure of any guidance so again suggest a bit of research if you’re on your own.

Baby holders in toilets (kind of like a little seat for them to sit separately whilst you use the loo) are common in larger cities. Look for icons on the stall doors.

And a bit of a more niche one… Ghibli models

My kid is already a big Studio Ghibli fan, and outside of the Museum or Park (a bit young for both) they loved seeing big models in shops. Branches of the どんぐり共和国 chain are listed in this article, and it’s worth having a look at photos on Google Maps etc to see what’s there, as different stores have different models. For example, the Sunshine City, Ikebukuro store had a big fluffy Totoro, a big Calficer, and a wooden cutout of Totoro at the bus stop. We didn’t go on this trip, but I’d previously seen there’s a large Catbus at the SkyTree branch.

A large model of Totoro stands alongside a bus stop. To its right is a small Mei and a house model
This is actually a photo from a 2016 trip, but best shows the kind of thing I mean whilst not featuring my kid!


Buying baby stuff in shops is a bit different to in the UK. You’ll find some bits in branded shops like Baby Gap, Muji etc, but personally I enjoyed visiting Babies R Us and Akachan Honpo. These are big baby superstores where they have everything you need; from clothes to nappies to food, plus all the things you really didn’t need but ended up buying anyway (small Pikachu umbrella…).

Some bigger places including Akachan Honpo do tax free shopping, but note that if you’re buying consumables like nappies or food these will be sealed up in their special bags until you leave the country, otherwise you’re liable to pay the tax.


I went to the Akachan Honpo in Kinshicho on my last solo trip, and found it to be a really great shop so was keen to head back this time. Our primary goal was nappies, and I bought Merries (First Premium) on a recommendation, and was very impressed! The main thing I noticed nappy wise was the seemingly different approach to night time nappies at my kid’s size. In the UK they’re mostly side-tab based for more security, but we couldn’t find any and bought some pull-ups instead. The ones we got were actually so good we bought more to take home! In other places we saw very limited size/brand nappy options in some konbini, but didn’t actually see any in drugstores although I know some do them.

We ran low on the wipes we’d brought, so got some in the konbini which were fine, and then bought more in Babies R Us which were similarly absolutely fine.

Food and drink

We got lots and lots of snacks, with our favourites being fruit and veg drink pouches, veggie bread rolls, senbei, and various biscuits. I think it helped that I’d brought some back previously so there was an element of familiarity, but in general my kid’s pretty open to new snacks. We have a very lax approach to food, and were happy to feed konbini bakery or onigiri etc for breakfast, as well as getting things like yoghurt and fruit, rather than always having more formal breakfasts. To help this I bought a cute new bowl and cup which were useful in hotels, and to keep everything clean we bought washing up liquid in konbini (own brand around 100 yen).

With milk we bought a few small cartons initially to hedge our bets in case any were rejected, but settled on the Meiji full fat one featured in Jo’s post on milk. We had zero problems with milk in general.


If you’re interested in buying kiddy clothes, it’s worth doing a bit of height measurement and checking out sizes. Clothes are typically sold by height in centimeters.

A striped brown and white tshirt with an otter. Its paws are able to pop on to cover its eyes
Cute tshirt I bought on my previous trip last year

What have I missed? If you’re reading and have any other questions feel free to contact me and I’ll update this post if I can, plus will consider adding to this or writing a new update when we next head back as a family… which I’m excited to do, and head to some more remote places next time!