Japan: friendly or unfriendly to children?

We arrived in Tokyo mid afternoon on Saturday. After an on-time arrival, we went to collect our checked bags, one of which was already waiting for us on the conveyer belt, followed by our second and last just minutes later. We speedily got through immigration, and less than half an hour later, we were on the train platform waiting for our Narita Express train into Tokyo station, where we’d transfer onto a Nozomi Shinkansen, which would take us to Osaka in about 2.5 hours.

The efficiency of all moving pieces in the airport is one of hundreds of reasons I love Japan. I love that things are always expedient and on time. I love the obsession with efficiency and getting things done easily and well. As a few people including Chris have noted, I have a (slightly unhealthy) obsession with always wanting to know what time it is, so when things are on time and per schedule, I am usually pretty happy. As I waited for Chris to get our Narita Express tickets, an airport worker even came to take my luggage trolley away. People were polite and gave me space at the airport, especially seeing that I not only had eight different pieces of luggage/backpacks, but also a toddler I was wearing on my chest. And as we waited for our train to Tokyo station, I was even reunited with my favorite vending machines that have everything from “Royal Milk Tea,” which was our drink of choice out of a machine 8.5 years ago when we came, to sparkling apple cider. The cost is cheap. The quality is good. How much better can you get out of a vending machine?!

But once we arrived in Osaka and started walking up and down the different streets and alley ways of endless eateries and bars (another thing I LOVE about Japan), I was immediately reminded of how child un-friendly Japan can be as a society. People oftentimes talk about how friendly Japan is towards kids. Yes, this is the case in many ways: Kaia got given endless Japan Airlines branded toys and trinkets on our flight over. She got fawned over a good amount by random Japanese passersby. People gave way to us in crowded areas and on elevators. But I couldn’t help but notice that endless restaurants just do not have the space for a stroller (even folded up) or a child under 10 or 6. Some restaurants even had signs (in both Japanese and English) saying that children under the ages of 10 or 6 (who knows why, but that’s what I read) were not allowed to dine in. And even without the signs, some eateries would just not be comfortable for anyone with a child; it was almost like an unspoken way to say “no kids allowed” without having the above explicit signs.

I can’t really blame them, though. While space and rent are expensive in New York, I’d imagine in major Japanese cities like Tokyo and Osaka, it would be even higher. There are literally places where you sit at a tiny counter and eat ramen where you can’t even push your chair or stool all the way back, or you’d just hit the wall (and hard!). Some restaurants are standing room only. Others feel like a tiny, narrow hallway that barely has enough space for your bottom.

I knew this going into this trip, though, because I remember all these styles of eateries from our last trip in July 2015. What I loved about Japan then is what is a little annoying this time around since I have a toddler in tow. So while there are places I would have loved to eat at, given I had a toddler with me this time, it just wouldn’t work. So we’d have to make do with what we had.

I’m not sure if the style of eateries of Japan has influenced the low sex rate, romantic relationship rate, or birth rate of the country, but I’m sure it isn’t helping. Japan already has one of the world’s lowest birth rates. Its population has been shrinking for over the past decade, and it’s apparently projected to plunge a further one-third by the year 2060. And if that isn’t alarming, just forget marriage or child birth: according to Japan Times, a record one third of Japan’s unmarried adults under 50 have simply never dated, period. People have been quoted as saying that it’s a waste of time and money, and there are better ways to spend time than than foolishly looking for love.

Japan is a complex nation, one with complex problems. While I come here as a tourist and try to enjoy the land and the food as much as I can, I already know that if I were to live here, I’d feel the weight of society on me, especially as a woman. But I suppose that’s why I can love it as an outsider and just visit, appreciating it for all its deliciousness and beauty.

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