This is a bit of a different post for me, as I delve not only into product recommendations, but product recommendations for babies and small children. As some way of qualifying the following, we bought these products, and they worked for us, through two children, both born and raised in Japan, though you’ll quickly notice these are not Japanese products. These weren’t always the cheapest, and often weren’t the most popular, but we found that for our attitudes and lifestyle, they just worked, and they lasted and they endured the punishment two children and parents often put items through.
Obviously things are quite good in Japan in regards to being able to rent almost anything with regards to children, and often the economics work out, though sometimes they don’t, versus buying items. Also, unlike perhaps the UK or other European and North American countries, the culture of passing things on to friends and so on has only just started to grow, so often we couldn’t pick things up from friends, though we have managed to pass some items off to good homes after our second was finished with them. Anyway, here are five things which really worked for us (most of these were bought 2006-2008):
Stokke Tripp Trapp
Basically it’s a baby high chair, except it can be altered and adjusted to fit kids and adults of all ages. It’s incredibly simple, has no moving parts, requires no awkward strap adjustment, and is based on a simple ‘Z’ design. You can get a high chair with a built in, and often swing over table part, but we often heard tales of banged heads, and that the table part actually placed the baby too far from the family table if they were attempting to feed the baby when everyone else was eating too – which is what our two kids definitely preferred. We looked around, we spoke to friends, and we tested in shops, and ultimately went for the Stokke – it meant the kids could be near the table to feed them, was massively adjustable, easy to clean, simple to make and generally fitted the elegant simplicity I kind of like in products. They’re incredibly well built, and can be put together in minutes by pretty much anyone. I notice now there are quite a few look-a-likes, many cheaper, but I’d be willing to bet this is still better value for money.
The search for a pushchair is a fraught one in Japan – prices just seem to have no ceiling, and much is fashion led. When we bought our Airbuggy in 2006, it was one in a corner of Babies R Us, and I think was the only pneumatic tyre three wheeler in the shop. Everyone else was fondling the MacLarens, and eagerly adding accessories. I played with the MacLaren and other small wheeled ones, and decided that when on smooth concrete and in shopping malls, they’d be great, but we knew we liked ‘off road’ – old paths, the big parks, the beach, the mountains, grass, the fun places for kids. A four mini wheel wouldn’t cut it for us, and we risked the AirBuggy. We never regretted it. In truth we had a problem with the frame after one year – we mailed the company a photo, not expecting anything out of warranty, but they replaced the frame with no questions. Also, they provided much cheaper accessories and support generally. As we glided down small stone and sand paths as solid wheeled Combis dug grooves and were pushed by out-of-breath parents, it became apparent the extra size and weight of an Airbuggy was a small trade off since the weight when pushing it was much less thanks to having real wheels and tyres. One thing though – especially with foreign baby cars – make sure they fit through a Japanese train station ticket gate. Though AirBuggy has Japan based models, ours was an early one, and only fitted through the wider gates. Not a huge issue, but something to remember. (And yes, pretty much every manufacturer now has a 3 wheel version!).
Baby Bjorn Carrier
When baby is tiny of course, you need something secure to hold them in, as you may be a nervous parent yourself. We looked at a whole pile of carriers in several shops, and basically they break down into front carriers (I suppose ‘dakko carriers’ in Japan) and rear carriers (‘onbu’ ones). There are pros and cons to both and many parents have almost fanboy (fan-mothers?) devotion to them. We went for a Baby Bjorn front carrier. We decided the padding and adjusters were good more mother – father – and child (I couldn’t get some carriers on). My wife preferred a front carrier as she was concerned at not being able to see the child behind obviously, but also that her hair would get in the baby’s face.
As they get bigger and need a bed over a cot, you want something which will last a few years, but something which will be safe whilst they’re still flailing around at night. Again, we looked and looked, and in the end found a small shop selling these (oddly Flexa don’t seem to mention Japan on their international site at the moment). The Flexa system is, as it’s name implies, designed to be flexible – you can all fences to the bed, then later add stilts to make a bunk-bed, or a study desk space, even add a slide. It’s all thick solid wood too, but easy to home assemble – and disassemble and re-assemble as I found when we moved! Again, you pay for it, but when we looked at ‘kiddie’ beds, they either looked flimsy, as in the case of most themed ones, or just small or impractical.
Sometimes you just don’t want to take a buggy, or cant, and want that flexibility of when the child fitted in the front carrier, but now is far too large for that. This then is a child carrier pack – it’s essentially a state of the art hiking backback, but with a child carrier and some storage built in. I really like this, and we’ve done some excursions where even the AirBuggy would have slowed us down. It’s well padded and adjustable, and we added the sunshade and all containing rain cover too. It makes the child feel much, much lighter, and there’s enough space for some nappies, food and such at the bottom. It also has some supports so it can stand up on the ground as a seat though we always tethered it to something like this, so it couldn’t fall over! It was great for snow trips, walking around hills and ruins and such, and kids love being high up and seeing everything, but without the aches for parents of a prolonged piggy-pag. I haven’t seen too many people with these in Japan, and indeed I bought mine from New Zealand, but they do have similar ones in some hiking shops (Jimbochou has several shops with them), and I’ve actually been asked a few times by curious fathers, who took notes of the brand and model, so there’s definitely interest here.
So there’s five things we found worked for us – again, totally personal requirements. I could go on about the things which didn’t work for us – for example: the ‘oshiri fuki’ (bum wet wipes) warmer we had recommended to us for use in the winter, which did nothing but dry the wipes out – useless. Some people recommended boiling milk bottles over microwave steaming them. That lasted 2 days as I remember before I was dispatched to get the small microwave container. My parents still wonder why we even entertained the boiling option.
We’d be interested to hear any other good hits, or hilarious misses on baby kit. I think Mrs. Nanikore will write a post at some point (in English and Japanese though) on things which worked for her – or didn’t – much closer to the front line.