As a foreigner, it is easy to be overwhelmed by the diaper shelf in Japanese drugstores. Apart from Pampers, the brand names you will see are names you have never seen before. Moony? Yes, might be a good name for a diaper. Merries? Well, maybe. Luckily, you can see the smiling children on the front and determine that these products are probably intended to keep them that way.
Japanese diapers are sold all over southeast Asia, and you will find Moony, Mamy-Poko and Merries in many stores in Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and Malaysia. The diapers are solid products of Japanese engineering and quality control, though. When you get home, you are going to want some when the store-brand diapers you bought suddenly fall apart.
Just to clarify, diapers in Japan are typically sold in drugstores. Often, they double as pharmacies who take prescriptions (from Japanese doctors - no use bringing prescriptions from home). More often than not, the pharmacy is a different business and the drugstore sells over-the-counter drugs and dry goods. That includes pet food, snacks and canned food by the way.
There are three other places you can find diapers in Japan: In grocery stores with a drugstore department; in specialty baby stores, and in the ubiquitous convenience stores. But there, the diaper packets are not for regular consumption. Paying as much for a packet of five diapers as you would for a packet of fifty-five in the drugstore makes sense only if you are standing there with a screaming poopy baby right now, and do not have time to find somewhere to change.
Actually, there is a fourth place you can get diapers: Some changing rooms, in department stores for instance, have vending machines for diapers. But they are few and far between.
There are changing rooms in most train or metro stations, and in the bigger department stores. Some department stores have even turned their changing rooms to something akin to family rooms, where stressed mothers and fathers can sit down, feed their baby, have a little rest, and then change her diapers before they continue shopping.
When you change your babies in Japan, bring your own plastic bag. Many Japanese changing rooms have a machine that compresses the diapers thrown into it. It makes a very nice job of softly compacting a plastic bag with a diaper in it, but you can imagine what would happen if it was full of poop and not in a plastic bag.
That of course assumes you have some diapers to change into already. But when you go into a Japanese drugstore to shop for baby goods, you are likely to be confused in more ways than one.
There are two basic types of diapers: Pants and tape. In Japanese, pants are パンツ and tape is テープ. The tape-type is the type you wrap around your child, and of course that is better for poopy diapers as all parents know.
The diapers are normally labelled with three more things. The first is whether it is girl or boy diapers. In the photo above, one of the characters is blue and the other is red, making it easy for a foreigner to guess that 男 means man, and 女 means woman. No need to worry about the rest of the characters, which basically say that they are intended for children.
The text includes the word むつ, by the way. Mutsu is the Japanese word for diapers, but it will not appear on every packet of diapers in the store. Sometimes, the usage is considered too special.
There are several other things in the little label on the packet, which you will find on all diaper packages. They are a tremendous help in choosing diapers.
The letter L means the diapers are big, which is the same meaning as ビグ (which is the Japanese way of writing "big"). You also have to consider that Japanese children generally are smaller than children with European or African genes. Which is why you can not buy diapers based on the age of the children. Our kids had already grown out of the three-year-old diapers when they were 18 months old. We have never used anything but "big" diapers. So we go by the weight of our kids, which is why it is great that the recommended weight is written on top of the note ("kg" is the abbreviation for "kilograms", a unit of weight corresponding to roughly one and two thirds pounds for Americans).
The big number followed by the character 枚 tells you how many diapers there are in the package. You know that you will need at least one, but maybe you should invest in two packages while you are at it. It is not like your children will suddenly stop using diapers.
Then, there is a completely different type of diapers that you do not want to select for your children. You will find them next to the colorful packets with the cartoon characters. Luckily, the drab packages includes pictures of the would-be users, so you do not have to worry about buying old peoples diapers for your kids.
That is right, these are diapers for old people. That section is often bigger than the childrens diaper section. Maybe not strange, considering Japan is a country where more people are over 75 than under 4 years of age.
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 - 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.