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Babies, baby carriers and babywearing in Tokyo, Japan

Today’s post was written by guest author Dee Peterson, a gaijin (Japanese word meaning non-Japanese or “outside” person)  who lives in Tokyo, Japan.  Dee bought a Kozy Carrier from CMA and as we corresponded about how difficult it was for her to locate carriers she wanted  in Tokyo, we got to discussing baybwearing and the use of baby carriers in Japan.  Dee kindly agreed to write this article for The Sling Lady blog.

Babywearing in Japan

So first of all I live right on the northern border of Tokyo, in a sleepy city (sleepy by Tokyo standards) with my husband, toddler and baby on the way. When I left the United States for Japan I didn’t know much of anything about what it would be like. Sure, I tried to research as much as I could but job, baby care, selling our home and selling/packing up our lives got in the way of true study.

I can tell you that I heard that the country of Japan was experiencing a negative population growth. I took this to mean that Japan was not a very baby friendly place, but I knew I would find a way to make the best of things.

Much to my surprise there are babies everywhere here! Older people will go out their way to be nice to you and your baby, even if your ‘baby’ is a unruly 1.5 year old toddler gaijin! Just about anywhere you go in or near metro-Tokyo there are public rooms for parents to tend to their babies. These rooms are stocked with multiple changing tables, microwaves, and yes vending machines with juice drinks, baby food, and nutritional bars and also less healthy treats too if you so desire (The Japanese LOVE their vending machines!) These rooms also have multiple private cubbies, some with views of the city below, for mamas to breast feed. Furthermore there are several free indoor play places and baby gyms for young children in every prefecture. These buildings are stocked with all kinds of toys from large fun house toys to smaller blocks and dramatic play toys. These places are set up for children of multiple ages. Cloth diapers are also used, but this practice is not as common as disposable among the people with children that I have seen and/or met.

Here is a cool term I learned about recently that I thought you would enjoy:
Skinship (a wasei-eigo, or a Japanese word coined using English root origins), is a word used to describe the closeness between a mother and her child due to the physical contact of their skin.

These things took me awhile to discover and I am sure there are so many things I have yet to find out about and may never learn about. (Japan is layered like that.) But one thing I noticed fresh off the plane was how into baby wearing the people of Japan are!

Now before I get into great detail I want to explain my viewpoint. I am American and so is my husband. We are not involved with the military in any way. We did not speak any Japanese or have any experience with the language prior to finding out my husband had a job here. Since being here (9 months) we travel as far as we can every holiday and usually every other weekend.  We have made friends, but because of the language barrier, we are limited to talking to people who speak English. (Our friends include the nationalities of Japanese, German, French, Korean, Nigerian, Italian, and Canadian.)

So those are my caveats. I don’t pretend to be an expert on Japan or Japanese culture.  I can’t speak the language of my host country and I’m not an expert on baby wearing.  The following is only my observations as an outside and only what I’ve experienced here where I live. Things may be different in other parts of Japan.

However I am a baby wearing enthusiast and I ask anyone who is willing to talk to me about baby wearing in Japan. My pictures are limited. All of my friends (including the Japanese ones) prefer American brands of carriers or strollers.  DH is horribly embarrassed by me snapping pictures of mamas baby wearing. I have asked to take pictures of people a few times and both times was told “no”. So rather than give up like any sane person would do, I just try to be clandestine about it. However, DH thinks there is no way I can master that when I am one part of a large, biracial gajin couple along with their “why-be-quiet-when-you-can-scream-and-run?” toddler.

So without further ado: here is list of the types of carriers I see, followed by a brief description, and also links to sites where you can see pictures and perhaps find out more information about them.

Onbuhimo
The Onbuhimo (with buckles) is the baby carrier I see the most here.  I see these everywhere, all the time. This is a traditional Japanese carrier, most of which have a stiff area of fabric near the baby’s head.  These can come with buckles or ties, but buckles are much more common here. I see them in a multitude of different colors and patterns. Almost always it is the Mom is wearing an onbuhimo, with baby on her back. Oftentimes they are both going by on a bike. The babies in these carriers are almost always asleep with their heads between Mama’s shoulder blades.

Babywearing in Japan
This picture gives you a pretty good idea of what I see in Tokyo and elsewhere in Japan. I see other Onbuhimos as well, but this type is pretty popular (although with buckles, not ties like in the picture). Notice the stiff headrest and narrow body of the carrier.  Also, for some reason the buckle versions (again, not all, but MOST by far) do not have anything around the waist. So all the pressure is on the shoulders. I am surprised that these are SO popular, as opposed to the tie version, which looks so much better to me. The Japanese babies I see in them are always happy, but sometimes the parent looks weighed down!

Babywearing in Japan
Mei Tais
I have only seen one mei tai baby carrier in use in my 9 months of looking around.  I think a lack of Mei Tais in Japan makes sense, an Onbuhimo with ties seems very similar to a Mei Tai, and the majority of Japanese seem to prefer buckles anyway.

Slings

Ring Slings  are very popular here. Interestingly, it’s just as common to see a Dad wearing his baby in one as it is to see a Mom. Dads seem to wear slings as often as they do buckle carrier, although men seem to rarely use the Onbuhimo)  I see men wearing babies more often here than I did in the crunchy college/ ski resort town that I came from in the U.S, which I think is awesome. The pouch slings are a little less common than the ring slings. I think I may have seen a few Maya Wrap ring slings, but there are other brands of Japanese and European origin that I don’t recognize.  I have seen Hotslings a few times.

Soft Structured Buckle Carriers
Buckles! People living in Japan LOVE them, at least most of the people I see do. There are so many types of buckle carriers around here, including European brands, American brands and Japanese brands. I have only seen sleeping hoods for the American brands (Ergo) but that doesn’t stop the babies in the other carriers from sleeping. I swear they are always crashed out, head flopping but they don’t care.  ERGOs are the second most popular carrier I see, right below the stiff backed, buckle Onbuhimo. People adore them here.  There are also tons of Bjorns, which I’m not so thrilled about.  Becos seem to be making headway here, too.

Wraps
Why wrap when you have BUCKLES! That seems to be the attitude around here by far. I don’t feel that way but I am in the minority here. However, I know wrapping exists here because I have stumbled upon Japanese shopping websites with pictures of stretchy wraps. I have also seen one for sale by an American on Tokyo craig’s list (Yes even Tokyo has one!) And my Italian neighbors use woven wraps for their boys.  So, in short, wraps happen but I have not seen or met any Asian parents wearing them here in Japan.

Other types of carriers

Babywearing in Japan

Lastly, I have also seen two other carriers of special note. The first type of carrier (shown above) is extremely popular. I would say it ties with Ergo as the most frequently seen carrier, and is right behind the stiff back Onbuhimos with buckles. Parents frequently use the sideways position which looks nice for baby (they are always asleep when I see them) but not so nice at all for the parents.  This carrier has other positions too, which you can see here: http://www.combi.co.jp/products/carrier/magicomf/

The other one I don’t know how to classify: http://en.item.rakuten.com/cuseberry/cdk-8101/ (SlingLady’s note: this carrier is very similar to the Obi Carrier that Beco used to make).

Well this is pretty much it for my experience baby wearing in Tokyo and traveling around Japan. It really is a joy to live in baby wearing culture!

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11 Responses

  1. Hi!
    Thank you so much for this really handful article, as I’m going on my 4th month of pregnancy and was starting to look around for types of baby carrier…In france (my home country), mamas use a lot a kind of long scarf (between 4 to 5 meters) they wrap around their babies and their bodies, but I don’t think it would be any convenient in Tokyo’s summer heat/humidity!
    Merci!

  2. You’re welcome, Helene! Here in the US, we call those long pieces of material “wraps.” Although some people do like wraps made out of gauze for hot humid weather, there are some other carriers that many people find more comfortable in the heat. 🙂

  3. I have a mother’s joy baby carrier which I purchased in Hawaii about 38 years ago. Do you have any information about the safety of this product? My daughter-in-law isn’t interested in anything not tested for safety. I used it successfully with three infants, but of course, there were no tests back then. the youngest is 27. I would greatly appreciate any information you might have.
    Thank you sincerely,
    Sally Layne

    1. Sally Layne, my mom gave me her Mother’s Joy baby carrier. It’s at least 35 years old and has a detachable stiff part for the baby’s head. My mom only used it without the stiff part and doesn’t remember how that is used. Do you know? Thanks!

  4. Hi,
    I’ve been looking all over for a baby wearing coat (back carry) like the one in the photo above. I realize you took the photo at a playground in Japan, but do you have any insight as to how I could find a similar coat? Is there a brand in Japan that makes these coats? Thank you for any info!

    1. Hi Kristen, I am not sure which babywearing coat that is, but there are several on the market! Two I know of are Suse’s Kindercoat: and the Japanese Weekend Babywearing coat (although that only works for front carries). If you are in Europe, you can also look into the Mam babywearing coat, but that’s not distributed in the US. There are also a bunch of babywearing vests on the market, including the Boba Babywearing Vest, which we carry in our store.

      I hope this helps!

      Best regards,
      The Sling Lady

  5. hi,
    I am an indian mummy to a 9 month old baby girl. We moved to tokyo (kanagawa yokohama) a few months back. I loved your blog on baby wearing. Am a baby wearer myself and love it. I have used an ssc carrier with buckles but my girl didnt like it at all… I now use a wrap…moby wrap. I was keen to get a mei tai…could you suggest where i can get it.

    Regards
    Aloka

    1. Hi Aloka, thank you for writing! Mei Tais are a great cross between a wrap and a buckle carrier! I really like the Kozy Carrier mei tai. They are currently manufactured in and shipping from New Zealand so it may make sense for you to order directly from their website: http://www.kozycarrier.com

  6. I am in Tokyo for a few days and am amazed by how many parents embrace babywearing here. Question: where are good places to shop for babywearing gears or accessories in Tokyo? TIA

  7. Can you help me, where i can buy a baby carrier? Mine is lost this day at disneyland ? I really need a baby carrier since i have 2 baby to handle

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