Asia,  Japan,  Travel Tips,  Wean like a local

Wean like a local in Japan: all you need is a bowl of rice

Good morning buddies! Summer has definitely kicked in for those of us living in the Northern emisphere. High temperatures often result into very nervous kids and feeding them turns out to be a difficult exercise of self control. I know, this is because I gave up those mom-and-baby yoga classes after the first session: I pretty much deserve it. Summer vacations are also approaching for many, which means “Oh jeeeee, I feel like traveling abroad but I’m parenting a ten-month-old baby and I’d better go as close as possible from home, maybe by car, so that I can basically move”. This is especially the case when you’ve just started the weaning phase but still breastfeeding or on formulas. You are thinking of that trip to chateaux of the Loire you’ve dreamt of for the last two years but you are wondering how you can survive three weeks feeding your little one(s) on confit de canard. The answer is: you can, my friends. In our previous post we generally highlighted how to mentally face the journey, thanks to our pediatrician advices. We are now telling you about our amazing experience with Princess in Japan, when she was eight-month-old. I think Japan is the best destination you can reach with a baby from 6 to 18 month-old. Also, and mainly, as far as food is concerned. Let’s see why.

Baby snacks in Japan are funny. You can have a vague idea about what is inside thanks to drawings.

No concerns about food and water security. Japan is just safe. From tab water to raw fish: you’re gonna have no problem. This means, you can relax about feeding your baby on local food. All you need is a supply for the flight and the first day on your arrival. We left for Tokyo with a couple of baby food meals, a dozen of fruit desserts and a pack of baby snacks from Italy: these supplies were meant to be used on the plane and for the first hours when landing. What was meant to last for some days was fruit: we knew that in Japan it is considered a dessert. As Princess is fond of it, we made sure she would have her “inventory”. Princess dislikes Italian baby food meals. I don’t know why, but any time we tried to feed her on meat or fish meals, she refuses to go beyond the third spoonful, even if, normally, she shows interest for what she eats. Our flight from Milan to Tokyo was one of those circumstances. Fortunately, I was still breastfeeding, so she had milk and baby cookies on her way to Japan. Snacks are essential when traveling to face hunger crisis in critical moments: for example when you are in a queue to get your visa and you have no option but keep staying in the line. It is a fact that when you are sleepy, hungry, thirsty and a couple of meters away from the foreign cops, your baby starts screaming and crying. Normally, it is also the moment when you repent not to be in Coney Island, few miles away from home, or in a quiet beach spot on the French Riviera. You need to stay calm: the jet lag is not forever, nor the queue and in sixteen years your baby will be a teenager and will not vacation with you.

Finding baby food is not the easiest task you can imagine, but if to you carefully look for a drugstore, you can find what you need.

Baby food search can be painful but you end up finding all what you need. You might wonder why you should bring food for the first day, once arriving. Isn’t it way simpler to find a grocery store next to your hotel? Well, it is, when you are 100% sure of where to go or what to ask, otherwise it may become a nightmare. If you are heading to Tokyo for the first time, chances are that you are gonna have troubles. First of all: people are not very familiar with English, meaning it can take a while to ask and get an answer for “Do you know where I can find baby food, please?”. Second: grocery stores normally don’t sell it, you should look for a drug store. Third: not every drug store sells baby food. I admit that we lived a couple of hours of fear on our second day, when looking for it. The three of us suffered for jet lag. This doesn’t help, especially eastward: our day started at noon, with a brunch and baby Princess just had fruit, baby snacks plus I was breastfeeding her. It was about time to look for something more nutritious for her. Theoretically, it should be a piece of cake to find a drugstore in a place like Tokyo, where you can find litteraly whatever: from mini fan to Sailor Moon dresses (for adults), from Hello Kitty mosquito repellent to green matcha chocolate bars. Well, it isn’t. I knew what I was looking for, thanks to a Tokyo-based blog for expats where I found useful tips about baby food brands. Now, according to our researches, we were heading to drugstores and namely, to Matsumoto Kiyoshi: this is the main drug store franchise in Japan. They have definitely a lot of stuff, from cosmetics to drugs, but not all of them have baby food: it depends on the size of the store. We’ve been asking in three of them, showing the picture of a jar of Kewpie “Udon with beef and vegetables” on the phone. In our undestanding, this the main Japanese brand in the industry. The first clerk we asked to, at the view of the picture, stirred at us as if we were asking something indecent and told us a huge NO, by crossing her arms, as to form an X in the air, at the level of her chest. The second one, after carefully analyzing the picture, as it was seeing a jar of baby food for the first time (which could be hte case, as he was a young man), told us to go to another shop. When I was starting to think that I was the worst mother on the planet as I brought Princess in a place where baby food doesn’t exist, we finally found a drug store where baby food existed, was considered a normal good by the clerks and was even sold! Kewpie baby food has an English translation at the bottom of the jar and baby snacks have drawings explaining the content. Spoiler: they are rice-based snacks. I spent something around forty euros to make sure that was the first and last time I would search it. It turns out that Japanese baby rice snacks are just great. Meals are a bit strange to our taste (Example: “rice porridge with bonito flakes”!!). Fruit is indeed a dessert, rather than actual fruit. How did it go with the whole weaning thing? Read the next point, after seeing the photo of what it means to be an Italian mother that doesn’t find food for her daughter during two hours.

This is my forty-euro shopping when finding baby food, at last !

Fresh food is so much better! After such a quest for feeding Princess, I have to say: stick to fresh food! If I would go back, I would just get some baby snacks and then rely completely on local food. You can do this if your baby begins to somehow chew and if he/she is normally keen on trying food. In this case, in Japan you don’t even need baby meals. Food is delicious and healthy. You can always find white rice, brot ,udon and grilled fish to feed your baby. The Japanese are the cutest and most polite people on this planet and they love babies. This means that in every single place we ate, Princess was given a funny small plate with a baby spoon. By “every place”, I do mean every place. Princess turned out to be very keen on Japanese food (by the way, who is not?). How to order in order not to throw food? Here are some examples.

Cuteness is the main Japanese feature
  1. At ramen places, you often have meal sets that include a bowl of ramen and a small bowl of rice topped with either an egg or meat. Your baby can have a balanced meal with white rice and some egg, or adding ramen brot to white rice.
  2. Grilled salmon is a good option if you are having sushi: you should specify that it is for the baby.
  3. You can order cooked tofu: it is a protein and they cook it in a tasty way, with some vegetables. Baby Princess found it delicious, even if it was the first time she tried it.
  4. Soba udon are a good alternative to rice, you just need to cut them somehow (with chopsticks). It is a bit more complicated, but viable.
  5. Nikuman are steamed rice buns, filled with meat: a good on-the-go snack. The meat is a bit too savoury and spicy for the little ones, but they can have the bun and some bites of meat.
  6. Melonpan is a sweet bun that results into a yummy breakfast for the little ones and the not-so-little ones (like me).
  7. Mochi ice cream: a healthier and lighter ice cream your babies can taste from you.
First time on chopsticks for Baby Princess

Very bottom line, after three weeks in Japan: Princess was eating possibly more than she does at home. For sure, she was much more eager to destroy her bowl of rice than to have my cooked meals. All the fears I had at home were groundless: unless you go to places where food security is an issue, you shouldn’t worry. Locals are eager to see travelling babies and they are going to arrange whatever suits your little one most. You are going to find a way to feed your baby. Believe me, I promise as an Italian mother, who, by definition, is someone that calls the doctor if someone is skipping a meal: there are no chances that anyone can starve in Japan. Rather the opposite holds: Japanese food can be addictive . Fortunately enough, I live in Milan, where it’s much easier to find a Japanese restaurant than an Italian one, so I guess Princess and ourselves can always count on a warm, comfy bowl of ramen when it comes to Japan-blues.