TRANSPORTATION TIPSby EXPERTS
- Renee Riddle
- 10-year resident of Japan
I lived in Japan for a few years before having my first child, so I had to change my travel habits quite significantly after becoming a mom. Suddenly I had to start thinking about things like fitting a stroller onto the train or where to find changing rooms in stations. When you travel with a baby, adapting to the transportation system in Japan can take some getting used to, but after a while I discovered a few easy solutions. Here are my tips for navigating the railway system, particularly when you have kids in tow.
At the AIRPORT
First Things First
The first thing you usually need to do when you step off an airplane and have kids is head to the bathroom for a toilet break. I find the airport restrooms in Japan to be very clean and spacious, and they usually offer convenient amenities such as baby seats and changing rooms. There are no toilets on the trains (except on the shinkansen or express trains), so I always make sure we go before leaving the airport.
The Waiting Game
One of the biggest challenges of traveling with my daughter is trying to keep her occupied while waiting to board flights. My tip is to look for the kids' space, usually located near the departure gates – Narita and Kansai airports have good ones. My daughter loves them, and it’s a great way to use up her energy before boarding. She also loves the observation deck. She’s fascinated with planes so it’s very exciting for her to watch.
Access by TRAIN
Find Your Way Through Crowded Stations
The train is usually most crowded during rush hour in the morning and evening, so you might want to avoid traveling during these times if possible. Depending on the station, transferring to other lines with kids in tow takes a lot of time due to narrow stairs or because the location of the elevator is far away. You might need to walk a fair distance so if you’re traveling with children, I recommend adding an extra 30 minutes to your estimated commute time. Bigger stations like Shinagawa offer separate breastfeeding rooms, which I appreciate. Tokyo Station is also very foreigner-friendly.
IC Card Makes Traveling with Kids Easier
Trains are convenient and usually cheaper than taxis. To ride the train, you either need to buy a ticket or use an IC card. I definitely recommend the latter; I even buy it for my friends visiting Japan. You can buy an IC card from the ticket machine or office – the deposit is ¥500 and then you can charge it up for as much as you like. Instead of having to search for change or ticket stubs in your bag, the IC card makes getting in and out of stations swift and hassle-free – and all moms will tell you this is first priority when traveling with kids. There is also an IC card for children between the ages of 6 and 12. Kids love using it, and tickets are half-price. Children under 6 years old can ride the train for free.
Transferring with Strollers
When traveling with children, I think easy access to the platform is very important. Often, there are elevators available so you don't have to worry about lugging heavy strollers upstairs. I usually only travel with a baby sling. But if you do have a stroller, try to make sure it’s small in size. This will make navigating inside the station easier, especially if it’s crowded. There are wider ticket gates, usually closest to the station staff office, so that you can pass with a stroller without any trouble. Some cars have designated areas for strollers. If you happen to be on a carriage without this area and the train is crowded, you might need to carry your child and fold the stroller up in order to save space.
On the SHINKANSEN
Easiest Way to Buy Tickets
For all shinkansen trips, you need to buy a ticket before you leave. Tickets can be purchased from the machines but buying from the ticket office is the best option if you are a first-time user and aren't familiar with the machines.
Choosing Seats on the Shinkansen
The seating on the shinkansen is arranged either as two seats or three seats, so choose the best option for the number of people in your party. You can swivel the seats around to sit four people face-to-face, which is great for larger families (I learned this from watching others do it!).
Keeping Kids Happy on Long Trips
The shinkansen offers many benefits for parents traveling long distance with their kids. You can find toilets in odd-number cars, and they have baby seats inside. Though there are no rooms for breastfeeding, there are large multi-use rooms available. To access these rooms, simply ask the train staff to unlock the door for you when they pass through your car. My daughter loves the shinkansen, but during long rides she sometimes gets tired or fussy. Luckily the train's movement is so smooth that it's easy to stand in between cars for a few minutes where there is plenty of space. There is also always plenty to look at out the window, which works well as a distraction for little kids.