Traveling with babies in Japan -Getting on Trains in Tokyo-
Japanese trains during the morning rush hours are very famous. You might’ve seen this scene.
I was there, many years and although I never liked it, it was my daily routine and I accepted it. I remember when I was a high school student and the train was delayed because of the strong wind. The platform was full of office workers waiting for the train. The train finally came and we started to march in the train that was already full enough. I felt I was relieved that I wouldn’t be so late for school. The bell rang and the announcement of “the door is closing” was heard. Suddenly I felt fresh air and there was no weight I was feeling from other people on the train.
I was out of the train, on the platform… People spat me out of as if I was a watermelon seed. The passengers were swelling out of the door and it didn’t seem possible to close. When the chime stopped and the door began to close, all of the human bubbles were sucked in the wagon, just like you pour some water on the bubbled up pasta water. The door closed perfectly in front of me with all of salarymen inside, except me.
Now I go to Japan and find myself impossible to get on these trains, especially now that I have to travel with a small toddler. Needless to say, it’s not recommendable to travel by trains during the morning and the evening rush hours, but most of the time. I’ve just found it not so friendly at any time.
The station where I often use, there are no lifts. To change the train you need to go up about 30 steps and go down about 50 steps. There is a special lift for wheel chairs but not for prams and only way to change the train is carry it. From my experience, I have never had a help at this station. I’ve asked the station staff for a help once because the poster on the wall said, “ask for a help” with a illustration of pram, and the response of the staff was “I can’t leave the booth for other commuters”. I am a commuter too. I could only shrug and started to carry the pram down by myself with a 10kg sleeping baby on.
This poster is just a dream world. Once at this same station, I was travelling with my partner and he carried the pram up. Then we saw a mother with a pram at the bottom of the staircases. My partner went down and helped her. Then we saw another mum. He went and helped her. Then another mum…. After helping three mums and prams, we decided not to turn around so that we could carry on our journey. But I felt a little sad that people are so busy with themselves and have no time to give a little hand to others. The reality is more like this.
Here is a video how to ask for a help at the station when you can’t find a lift. In the end of 2016, about 87% of stations where more than 3,000 commuters use a day have lifts or similar services. The Japanese government is aiming 100% accessibility before the Olympic Games. But still Japanese mothers seem to encourage other mums to carry baby carrier straps and be ready to bring up and down the prams by themselves.
Some trains have a priority space. If it’s open, great but I wouldn’t expect people to give up the space because you come with a pram. I was getting on the Yamanote-line in the afternoon with a pram. It was around 5pm, a little before the rush hour and the wagon wasn’t full. Although there were some empty sets, I stayed in the corner and my son was quiet. Still, I heard a tutting and a man’s voice saying, “It’s a common sense not to bring a baby stroller in the train”. The voice was low but loud enough for me to hear.
The other time, we came back late and the train was full even though it was already after 8 pm. Our son was small and was in the carrier. When we got on, my partner took the baby. He said, “Because I’m a man and big (he is 190 cm)”, and he was right. Every time the train moved and our son was about to be squashed, he would say “sumimasen (excuse me)”or “abunai (watch out)”. I saw the men’s faces behind him. They didn’t look happy but could not complain either. It’d have been different if I was alone with the baby. And I’m sure many Japanese mums experience some tough time.
On SNS, people say this is a hate speech and is hate towards the people with children. According to a survey, more than 90% out of 1,000 parents feel threatened when they travel by trains and underground. There are comments like, “A person kicked the pram” or “A passenger shouted at me saying, ‘Get a taxi or move the house close to the nursery school!”.
In the last years, there are more places for kids and families in Tokyo area and most of the time people smiled at my son. But still I felt unfriendly in terms of the transport in Tokyo, not only the facilities but also the commuters. I do understand the prams take space and people are always in a hurry to get somewhere. I know that some mums use babies and claim too much to be prioritised. And yet, I wonder, where is the “kindness” and “empathy” that all foreign tourists who have travelled in Japan talk about?
7 manners in the train : https://tomomama.jp/3563
When no elevators at the station : https://select.mamastar.jp/238275
New barrier-free law: https://www.homes.co.jp/cont/press/reform/reform_00775/