Mar 4, 2018

Strollers, Carriers, or Backpacks? Transporting your infants/toddlers in Japan

My wife and I have had two kids in Japan now, lived in both the city and the countryside of Japan, and done quite a bit of traveling throughout the country. One of the constant considerations when living and traveling with kids is how the heck you're supposed to get them around when traveling on foot. In the United States, there's generally no question: get the biggest, baddest stroller and truck anyone who gets in your way. That's not really an option in Japan though, with narrow walkways, ubiquitous stairs, and crowds. Sure, there is a time and place for strollers here, but we found that carriers and backpacks were also necessary tools for raising infants in Japan. Allow me to give a brief description of the pros and cons for each here in Japan:


Strollers, Carriers, or Backpacks? Transporting your infants/toddlers in Japan photo

Certainly, every parent should have a stroller. There are just times when you need to push your infant or young toddler around in a buggy. Still, strollers are extremely difficult to use in conjunction with Japan's public transportation system (namely buses, trains, and taxis). If you're going to invest in a stroller, here are a few things you should look for:

- Narrow width: navigating doorways, turnstiles, and crowds gets increasingly trickier the wider the stroller.  The narrower, the better.

- Lightweight: expect to have to carry a stroller up and down stairs, so sparing weight can help make use of a stroller much easier .

- Foldable: Invariably, you're going to have to store the stroller in a trunk, cubby, or closet. Space is a premium in Japan, so be sure to get something that folds down to a relatively compact size.

Note: Most malls, department stores, and supermarkets in Japan offer children's carts with varying sizes to accommodate infants and toddlers, so we rarely, if ever, bring a stroller when shopping anymore.


Strollers, Carriers, or Backpacks? Transporting your infants/toddlers in Japan photo

Carriers are the things that you will see most Japanese parents using, and for good reason: they are the best all-around method for transporting infants and young toddlers in Japan. Keeping your child close to your body helps when using any of the many methods of public transport, and it enables you to navigate crowds with relative ease. Also, whenever you find a public-use child buggy (such as in a mall or department store), you can simply unpack your child and give your back a break.

The downside to a carrier is that it restricts the freedom of your little one. While many kids are okay with that, some lose patience after a while, and trying to soothe a bawling child against your chest can be difficult. It also makes temperature regulation a lot more difficult, especially in the hot and humid Japanese summers.

When selecting a carrier, make sure you spend a little extra to get one with adequate padding and support straps, and you may want to think about getting one with a mesh pouch instead of solid cloth so that it is a little more versatile in the hotter months. You can also invest in cooling pads to place in the carrier before loading your tot to help keep him/her at a healthy temperature.


Strollers, Carriers, or Backpacks? Transporting your infants/toddlers in Japan photo

The backpack option is too bulky to serve as an everyday transport device for your child in Japan, but I have found it to be the best when traveling. The backpack combines the best elements of the stroller and the carrier while offering some extra built-in storage for diapers, snacks, etc. I find that my children have fared in the backpack much better for longer periods than the carrier, and the freedom they enjoy in the back (not to mention being up high) makes for a more enjoyable experience for them, meaning happier kids.

When looking for a backpack carrier, I recommend selecting ones designed for hiking, even if you don't intend to be doing much hiking.  Hiking backpacks are always developed with the highest level of ergonomics in mind, including easy-access pouches (great for snacks or drinks to be able to hand your children on-the-go), stow-away sunshades, comfortable straps (for you and your child), and sturdy construction. Regardless of the type of backpack you select, you should go for an option with a sunshade (either stow-away or attachable) and a retractable frame that allows you to stand the backpack on the ground with your child inside.   As an add-on, I recommend picking up a small rear view mirror to attach to your backpack strap so you can easily see what your child is doing in the back.

Do you have any questions about any of these options?  Have any additional notes or recommendations?  Feel free to use the comments section below!



Hitting the books once again as a Ph.D. student in Niigata Prefecture. Although I've lived in Japan many years, life as a student in this country is a first.

Blessed Dad. Lucky Husband. Happy Gaijin (most of the time).