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Chowing with Baby through Japan

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We are traveling for 14 days through Japan in November (Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, Nikko, Hakone, Hiroshima) with a one year old. Obviously we won't be going anywhere upscale for chowing, but I was wondering whether it would be acceptable to take a well behaved toddler to mid-range eateries, and if there were certain types of eateries that were more acceptable than others.

Thanks in advance.

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  1. Many department stores have a floor or two of restaurants, and these are almost always child-friendly. Other than that, one doesn't see a lot of very young children at restaurants (other than "family restaurants") and definitely not at izakaya.

    In Tokyo, Fujimamas is very child-friendly, as are most branches of La Boheme.

    1. In my time in Tokyo, the only place I saw children eating was in fast food restaurants, Fujiya (for a birhday treat often), and...maybe the park, picnic style. Definitely children don't belong in izakaya, as the above poster cautions. I never did see a child in La Boheme (in Ginza Palmy, anyway) or Doma Doma even.

      A woman I know lamented that she couln't eat in nice restaurants with her 3-year-old grandchild, and sighed about being regulated to family-style joints like Saizeriya and the like.

      1. Realistically, if you were to go to most places at around, say, 5:00 to 5:30, right when they open, you shouldn't have any problems. Larger, upscale restaurant-izakayas like EN and some other places are probably fine and many have non-smoking sections. Many places offer small private rooms, including mid-range sushi places. It's the smaller, smokey places that you will not be comfortable or really welcom in. Overall, we had friends who brought their 8-month-old and 2-year-old around and it wasn't that bad.....But yes, you don't see small children out in Japan. People will make exceptions for foreign tourists though.

        1. Currently reside in Tokyo. Strollers and toddlers a plenty during the daytime. Avoid the noisy/smokey izakayas. May find Aoi-Marushin fun if you tour Sensoji in Asakusa. Tokyos largest tempura restaurant & english menus. Last I ate there, both tables flanking us had toddlers in the tatami room. http://www.fodors.com/miniguides/mgre...
          The last restaurant I ate at in Nikko this past April, the waitress had her toddler on her back! "Well behaved toddler" is welcomed in just about any eatery in Japan. Especially the tourist areas are very receptive. Department store restaurants are very accomodating for todders. Never have I NOT seen toddler/strollers while waiting to eat at Takashimaya's restaurants in Shinjuku!
          And if they have a plastic kid's meal in the window, kid friendly indeed!

          6 Replies
          1. re: tokyolo

            Thanks so much for the advice. We are so looking forward to our trip and enjoy all japanese food. We did not want to be relegated to fast food, but did not want to offend the locals. I'll try to give a full chow report upon our return.

            1. re: masala maci

              We just got back from a month-long vacation in Tokyo, with our 3-yr old and 8-mo old. I think tokyolo and silverjay had particularly good input -- some additional observations / experiences:

              * Izakayas worked just fine for us, since the kids tended to eat early in the evening anyway. They were empty at 5:30, even in dead-center Tokyo like Akasaka, and were very accommodating.
              * We brought the kids to every restaurant we mapped here (http://tinyurl.com/34kahk) except for the kaiseki dinner. All were kid-friendly, bringing out little plastic bowls / utensils for the kids without being asked. Little candy snacks offered after the meal. When we offered to park the strollers outside the restaurant, they went out of their way to find storage for them.
              * The department store restaurant courts have a nice side benefit: Easy access to *very* clean diaper changing stations on the floor.
              * Nice side benefit of tatami-mat seats: Room to lay the kid down on the zabuton, should s/he fall asleep.

              Have a wonderful trip! We've collected a few more trip notes on our Tokyo-with-kids time here: http://tinyurl.com/25fsss

              1. re: SuperCarnitas

                Thanks so much SC, its comforting to know traveling w/ kids and chowing well are not mutually exclusive. Your trip sounds amazing, and although I can't get a month off work, I'm hoping two weeks will be enough to get a good flavor.

                1. re: SuperCarnitas

                  Thank you so much for posting your trip in Tokyo. My husband and I are bringing our 13 month old to Japan for a three week trip to Japan-Kyoto and Tokyo and vicinity and we were worried about all the kid unfriendly places and what would be inappropriate.

                  I do have one question-did the restuarants have booster seats for your 8 mth old or did you bring one from the states? Should I bring one?

                2. re: masala maci

                  HI I wondered if it was easy to buy baby food - and to read the labels! and get baby milk formula such as sma in Japan - we are travelling with a 6 month old at the beginning of feb

                  1. re: rachel30

                    We found it difficult to buy babyfood. When we did find some, our baby didn't like it. I thought it was chicken and rice, but it turned out to be sardines and rice. Also there was no organic babyfood at all. On the plane they had babyfood from japan, but we were only able to find it in a really big grocery store in kyoto. Good luck and have fun.

              2. I wanted to post a follow up to my trip to help anyone else thinking about traveling w/ a baby ( a 1 year old) to Japan. I'd like to thank Robb S. and his site www.bento.com for general eating information, and everyone who responded to my initial question See http://www.chowhound.com/topics/402369.

                We did have a game plan, (1) we ate our big meal at lunch or early evening when there were less people and it seemed less smokers in the restaurants, (2) we always asked at the very beginning whether a child was welcome (in very bad Japanese), and (3) we never went to a place that was expensive (who wants to pay a lot of money to sit next to a squirmy baby). Finally, there were 4 adults so if she got fussy one of us was ready to take her out.

                Surprisingly, we were only turned away by two places. One was a sushi place in Osaka, which I believe was more opposed to gajin (foreigners) than a baby, and the second was a place that was (unbeknownst to us) an izikaya. We stayed away from izikaya and conveyor belt sushi (plates within grabbing distance of baby-- not good). In one tempura place we were welcome with kiddie utensils and pillows, and the few people who were smoking immediately put out their cigarettes (smoking is allowed at almost all restaurants). The friendliest places were udon/soba restaurants who would give us a separate room or section with tatami floors, and always a little plastic bowl and kiddie utensils. The weather was fabulous and we ate a lot of really good bento (ask the locals for good bento places and go to the one recommended twice), and some mediocre street food (which was not so easy to find).

                For kaiseki, I would suggest splurging for a family friendly ryokan. We stayed at ryokans in Hakone (Ichinoyu) and Miyajima (Iwaso) where we had delicious and beautiful kaiseki meals. In Hakone they sat us in the “room” which had a crib in the corner (not sure if the crib is always there), which was great while we feasted on all kinds of local dishes, nabe, and fabulous sashimi. In Miyajima, we were served in a room, similar to the room we were staying in, and a futon had been placed on the floor for the baby. Luckily she slept through both meals.

                Traveling with child did keep us out of most of the restaurants suggested on this board, but we did go to Kaikaya, after having the concierge at our hotel call the restaurant and ask whether bringing a child was okay. The owner was very funny apparently, and welcomed the baby, but asked that we not bring a stroller. When we got there, the owner had reserved a seat for us near the door and was really gregarious. We let him just bring us food and drinks, and he brought us the most delicious fish carpaccio, some kind of crab filled fried dumpling, beautiful sashimi, a baked whole fish that I think was a type of amberjack with a soy-miso sauce. People were smoking, so I wouldn't suggest taking children, but we had a tremendous and fun meal.

                On a final note, we went to a few grocery stores and could not find baby food. We did find some baby snacks which were really sugary, and also found instant rice cereal for babies but the kind we got apparently was sardine flavored, and the baby didn't like it. Luckily she's a pretty good eater and lived off noodles, dumplings, rice crackers, fruit and yogurt, and bread (the bakeries I thought were delicious). If your baby or toddler is fussy, I'd suggest you pack plenty of baby food. Thanks again for all the advice.

                1 Reply
                1. re: masala maci

                  This thread was really a help - thanks a lot! We are leaving for Japan i april with our 18 months old son, great to get some advise.