Japan: Family-friendly travel tips

Family fun ... Barry Divola, his wife and baby Coco at Senso-ji temple.
Family fun ... Barry Divola, his wife and baby Coco at Senso-ji temple. 

This is the companion piece to Toyko, Kyoto and Coco, which describes author Barry Divola's trip to Japan with his wife and nine-month-old baby.

Japan with baby: the checklist

1. Remember to book bulkhead seats with a bassinet on your flight. You'll have to sit your baby on your lap during take-off and landing, attached to your seat belt with a small auxiliary belt.

2. If you're doing the Tokyo-Kyoto return trip on the bullet train, as well as train travel within the cities, buy JR (Japanese Rail) Passes to save both money and time. You have to pay for them in Australia before you leave, then redeem the receipts for the actual passes when you get to Japan.

Japanese department stores are your friends

3. Japanese department stores are your friends. Most of the major ones have nurseries with change tables and private rooms for breastfeeding. The B1 (basement) level is usually a depachika - a huge food hall filled with high-quality Japanese and Western produce, so you can stock up for a lunchtime picnic. Some of the best names to look out for are Isetan, Daimaru, Mitsukoshi and Matsuya. Make sure you check out the Tokyu Food Show below Shibuya station, one of the biggest and best food halls in Tokyo.

4. Although you'll definitely need a stroller to get around, be warned that not all train stations have lifts. Taking a few flights of stairs at opposite ends of a stroller is good for toning the arms, but if you have to change trains a lot in one day or you're visiting less stroller-friendly locations, such as Ginkaku-ji in Kyoto, consider taking the baby sling.

5. Japanese hotel rooms tend to be small and on the expensive side - and they often charge by the person rather than by the room. You'll also have to book a portable cot for your baby ahead of time. If you're travelling on a budget, be warned: you'll be living in close quarters.

6. Sleeping in ryokans involves thin, futon-style mattresses laid out on tatami mats. Your baby either sleeps between you or on a separate mat. It's more spartan than a hotel but more comfortable than it sounds, and worth it for the experience.

7. Nappies, wipes and other baby needs are readily available in Japanese pharmacies, but if you're particular about the ready-made baby foods you give your child, it's worth bringing your own supply.

8. Give yourself and your partner some time alone each day, even if it's just a solo walk or an hour or two to shop. As those great philosophers Chicago once sang: "Everybody needs a little time away, I heard her say, from each other."

Have anything to add to the list? Join the discussion in the Essential Baby travel forum.