What does it mean when something has 98 % 水? For baby wipes, it means nicer to your kids skin. It means the wipes contain 98% water, without harmful alcohols, preservatives, and detergents. Yet they wash the skin of your child as effectively as any swipe with alcohol. Or even better. And they are cheaper than baby wipes in other countries, with the exception of Korea.
But when you stand in the grocery store asking yourself where you can find them, because you can not spot the baby department, you soon come to realize that you are in the wrong store. Baby goods in Japan are not sold in grocery stores, they are sold in drug stores or speciality baby goods stores.
Two Dominant Chains
There are two chains of baby goods speciality stores in Japan which dominate the market: Nishimatsuya and Akachan Honpou. Akachan Honpou has a store between Meguro and Osaki in southern Tokyo, Nishimatsuya has one in Odaiba. But unless you are living close to one of them, it is not necessarily the most cost effective way to spend your shopping time.
If you are looking for consumables, like baby wipes or diapers, you can go to any drugstore. While the text on the diaper packaging will only be in Japanese, it is not that hard to figure out what you want - you start by choosing whether you want the tape model or the pants model, then you look at the weight of the child they are intended for, and you are all set. I wrote a separate blog post about buying diapers in Japan earlier.
Watch Out For Senior Diapers
There are two things to look out for: the training diapers intended for night use, which you actually tape into their pants. And do not buy the kind with old people on the package. Japan has a growing population of increasingly elderly seniors, and many of them has an incontinence problem.
The seniors may buy diapers, but they typically do not buy baby wipes. You usually find them next to the diaper section, and they either come in packages of two or three packs, or they come in boxes of 10 or 12 packs. Which you buy depends on how many you are going to need, and that is of course depending on how many children you have, and how long you are going to stay. Remember that having a pack of baby wipes in your diaper bag (or going out bag) is useful not just for wiping baby bums, but also noses, hands, tables, toilet seats and iPad screens (99% water works better than alcohol on keeping your screen clean, actually).
The drug stores in Japan is also where you will find both formula, baby food, baby oil and cream, soap and schampoo, and any other baby product you may think about. Including baby food and formula.
Formula in Japanese drugstores is made in Japan without exception, and it is usually manufactured by the chemistry branches of the main dairy companies. We used to feed our kids hohoemi (ほほえみ). They had problems with international brands (and colic), but when drinking that, the stomach problems went away. And so did the colic.
Milder Baby Soap
While there are some products which have international brand names on them (often produced under license in Japan though), most of the products on the drug store shelves in the baby department are made in Japan.
The soap/schampoo (in Japanese 石鹸 or ベービシャンプー or ベービソプ) comes either in refill bags or pump bottles. Depending on how long you are staying and how often you intend to wash your children you may want to pick up more than one bottle (or one bottle and one refill bag). Japanese baby soap is milder than baby soap in other countries, and so you are able to wash your children more often. Japanese children take a hot bath with their parents (usually one of them) every day, at least during winter, so the soap can not be too strong.
Once your kids grow a little older you will need toothbrushes and toothpaste. Toothbrushes are easy to find and identify. Japanese toothbrushes are a little softer than European or American toothbrushes, something to remember when you brush the teeth of your children. The toothpaste (歯磨き粉 or はみがきこ) come in a number of flavors and often contains xylitol, preventing tooth decay even after you brush the teeth.
I am Wisterian Watertree, recently moved from Bangkok to Tokyo, with a brief visit to Honolulu on the way. I write about travel, especially with our three beautiful kids (two girls and one boy, soon turning four and a half - yes. they are triplets). Travel is education and fun rolled into one, and if you are like me, that is something you want to give to your kids. If you want more tips and want to find out when I will publish something, get it from my email list. If you want to be personal, drop me a note on email@example.com, or if you want general tips, follow me on Twitter @wisterianw.