When a woman becomes pregnant for the first time, it is an exciting yet daunting time in her life. If you find yourself embarking on this journey in a foreign country it can easily become overwhelming, especially in a country where there is a language barrier.
There are limited resources in English here in Tokyo so I thought I would share some of my pregnancy experiences in the hope that it helps others to enjoy their Tokyo pregnancy as much as I have!
Get your Maternity Badge
This ultra cute badge can be worn on your handbag and it lets people know that you have a baby in your tummy! You can pick up one of these badges at your local subway station or ward office for free. You can also purchase some blinged up versions with little diamantes on them from Amazon Japan!
Personally speaking, my badge has not helped me to get a seat on public transport but it did get me a ride in a priority elevator in a department store during a busy Saturday afternoon! However, one of the biggest benefits of the badge is that people strike up conversation with you in shops and restaurants. Great for practicing your Japanese!
Learn how to navigate Akachan Honpo
‘Akachan Honpo’ is the name of the store where you can purchase all your maternity and baby products. It is similar to the British chain ‘Mothercare’ and they have branches throughout Japan.
The first time we went to Akachan Honpo we were completely overwhelmed! A lack of familiarity with the products in our own language combined with trying to figure out how to read all the Kanji on the product labels left us feeling rather frazzled! For an emotional first time parent, it can be very daunting to go in there and try to understand everything. What to do?
- Register as a member at the Customer Service desk inside the store and they will give you a free pack of product samples and catalogues. I found it very helpful to go through the catalogues at home in my own time where I could check the words in my dictionary and match up the vocabulary with the pictures. It also helped me to become familiar with the popular brands here in Japan and look them up on the internet.
- Ask a Japanese friend to go with you. I was reluctant to do this at first because I was so overwhelmed that I didn’t know what I wanted to ask them to help me with! However, after looking at the catalogues and compiling a list of what we would need I picked three items and went with a friend. She also helped me identify which aisles sell which type of products and I started to feel more comfortable with the layout of the store.
- Take a tour with Tokyo Urban Baby. The team over at TUB offer regular guided tours of Akachan Honpo where they can show you their favourite products and brands and explain the store.
Get your lucky charms!
I have been given a number of pregnancy related lucky charms and amulets by my Japanese friends.
‘Inuhariko’ is considered to bring good luck to pregnant women because dogs do not suffer so much in delivery. The first crafted dog is said to have been located at the Imperial Palace in Kyoto during the Heian era and noble people used to put them in the delivery room to ensure a successful delivery and the good health of the baby. I have one in my hospital bag ready to go!
Learn some pregnancy vocabulary
My Japanese teacher helped me to learn some of the key words and phrases that are useful for pregnant women in Japan. Whilst you don’t necessarily need to go into detail learning all the medical terms, it is enormously helpful to be able to read the Kanji for words like ‘newborn’ when you are out shopping.
It is also great to be able to answer people’s questions about your due date and how many months pregnant you are. I find people are quite curious about my pregnancy and where I will give birth!
Send some photos home
Celebrate your beautiful bump with a maternity photo shoot! This is such a special time in a couple’s life and, as an expatriate, your friends and family back home are probably feeling sad that they are missing out on all the preparations for the new addition.
We had a session with Genevieve at Romp Photography and sent some lovely pictures back home to our family for them to enjoy and feel part of our pregnancy experience.
Spend some time with a ‘sage femme’
Birthing classes in English are extremely thin on the ground here in Tokyo but I was delighted to discover Celia Hughes and her passion for childbirth! Celia is a certified widwife, doula and lactation consultant who offers birthing and breastfeeding classes. Plus, she is French which makes the whole experience “tres chic!”
Ask for some divine intervention!
Visit a shrine to pray for the safe labour and delivery of your baby. You can buy an ‘ema’ which is a small wooden plaque that you write your prayers or wishes on. You then hang it up and leave it at the shrine for the Gods to work their magic!
Whatever you do, don’t panic! There is no doubt that preparing for a baby in a foreign country is going to be challenging at times and there will be cultural quirks that come your way. The most important thing that I have learnt is that you need to ask for help. This isn’t always easy, I know, but it has been an insightful journey for me to learn how to open up and accept help instead of trying to do everything by myself. When you are away from your family and friends, you need to look for support in whatever format you feel most comfortable with – in a group, on a one-to-one basis or online. Do whatever feels right for you and, most of all, enjoy it! Tokyo really is a wonderful place to be pregnant!