Having a baby in Japan can, but doesn’t have to be, expensive. With a little research you can find many and varied ways to be frugal and have fun with children from the very earliest age.
It all starts before your baby is even born. When you register your pregnancy at city hall, ask about parenting classes (ryoshin gakkyu). Many places run free classes for mums (and dads) to be, covering the basics of pregnancy health, labour, and caring for a newborn. These classes are quite popular and you may have to go on a list to attend one so it’s best to enquire early.
When stocking up on baby goods ask about point cards. Akachan Honpo has a member’s card with a point system and will send you out catalogues with specials and campaigns. I’m sure many other stores have similar systems.
An even more frugal option is recycle stores. As well as general recycle stores like Hard Off there are specialized children’s recycle stores selling new (second hand but unused) and used clothes, toys, and goods at a fraction of the retail price. They are a goldmine: clothing from 50 yen, slings and carry packs from 500 yen. You can outfit your baby very frugally indeed. And when your little one has outgrown the baby bath or highchair, you can sell it back to the shop and free up space in your house.
When choosing where to have your baby, there are many options. Large general hospitals, smaller ob-gyn hospitals, midwife clinics or a visiting midwife in your own home. The cost of outpatient visits and delivery vary greatly so it’s worth asking about when you make enquiries.
If you choose to give birth in a hospital, there will more than likely be visits from various companies eager to introduce you to their products. Attend one of their workshops and you may end up with a bagload of freebies. Even if you are certain you won’t be using disposable nappies/ milk formula, there’s no harm in taking them home. You may find you use them, and even if you don’t you can give them to someone who will. I signed up for a newsletter from one company and still get free samples in the mail along with campaign information and specials.
When you register your baby’s birth at city hall ask about child allowance (jido teate), the amount and eligibility criteria differ from place to place but 5000 yen a month for a first child seems about average.
Once you get over the excitement (and exhaustion!) of the first few weeks with a new baby, cabin fever can set in. Pram unfriendly stations, lack of baby change facilities, and the need to feed your baby frequently, mean going out requires a little more planning than just grabbing your wallet, keys and phone and heading out the door. It’s worth the effort, though, for a change of scene for both you and baby, and the chance to meet other people.
An easy first outing is a major department store. Try the kid’s apparel floor for great parenting areas (akachan kyukeishitsu). They are often equipped with hot water for bottles, changetables, sofas, curtained off breastfeeding rooms, baby beds, scales, and measures. I’ve even seen one with a baby cafe serving up pureed menus for those starting solids. Look around for information on visiting midwife times (kosodate soudanshitsu). Many department stores have this free service where you have your baby weighed, measured, and you can talk to a midwife about any concerns you have with sleeping, feeding, development etc. Some of the brochures you receive are sponsored material with a heavy company bias but, keeping that in mind, it is well worth checking out. Other mum and baby friendly aspects of department stores are climate control, elevators and family friendly restaurants.
Many cities/towns offer an amazing array of classes and groups at minimal cost if not free. The city newsletter (kouhou) is a good place to start. Kosodate salons vary from place to place but tend to be informal groups of mothers and prekindergarten age children meeting in community centers. A great outing, especially as your baby gets older, as while baby enjoys new faces and toys, you can have some social interaction of your own. Don’t think a baby who’s too young to play is too young to go — kosodate salon are as much for mum as they are for baby!
If there is a children’s center (jidokan) near you, you are in luck. Like a kosodate salon but open everyday, children’s centres may offer age-specific game rooms for free play, as well as organized activities. Some jidokan even have free courtesy buses.
Many libraries have storytime sessions, some with elaborate puppet shows or thematic crafts as well. You may be nervous taking a baby to the library but I have found the librarians very accommodating and my library even has a curtained off reading room for littlies and their families. Ask your librarian for information.
When checking the kouhou don’t limit yourself to the children’s section. Some classes offered through the city include childcare. I did a first aid course with childcare provided and didn’t pay a single yen for it. I felt great after a two hour session of learning something important AND getting a much appreciated break from watching my daughter. Other classes with paid childcare included flower arranging and Hawaiian dancing.
The arrival of a baby can strain the family budget but that doesn’t have to stop you getting out and about and enjoying yourselves. Grab a copy of your town magazine, head to city hall and go find some frugal fun!
© 2004 H. Fukase.