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If you’re from a Western country, you know how easy it is to drop in on your local big-box store and find every baby/child product under the sun. With the advent of Amazon, our lucky friends back home can have everything they need on their doorstep in days. Things aren’t so easy in Japan. For expats, accumulating the products that parents and parents-to-be need can seem like an endless challenge.
After all, the popular brands are completely different here. Standard must-have items from your home country like sleep sacks, zip-up footie pajamas, and portable cribs are nowhere to be found. Trying to track down specific items, decipher labels, and figure out whether you’re getting a good deal or not can add up to one giant headache, on top of the one you’ve already got from not sleeping nearly enough.
So, to help, I’ve compiled this all-inclusive guide to shopping for little ones in Japan. As a mom with loads of experience hunting things down and bargain hunting, I can give you some guidance on where to shop for what. I divided this list into two sections: used and new. I encourage you to check out the used section first, because not only will your wallet (and the Earth) thank you, but due to the incredible speed at which kids outgrow and reject stuff, not to mention the frequency of people moving in and out of the country, you can find a remarkable amount of items in pristine condition. For disposables and other items that you’d just prefer to buy new, I’ve got recommendations for high quality yet budget-friendly stores.
Garage sale Facebook groups (especially ones specifically for kids) are a lifesaver for expat moms and dads in Japan. You can find a lot of Western brands that you’d otherwise have to import at great expense. Furthermore, because most people in Japan are living in confined spaces, they’ll be so eager to get rid of bulky items like exersaucers and rockers that you’ll score them for pennies on the dollar. Keep your eyes out for sayonara sales too; families moving out of the country want to get rid of stuff fast, so they’re a great way to pick up much-desired items at ultra low prices.
If you don’t see what you’re after right away, start a post in the group of your choice with ISO: (in search of), followed by the item that you’re looking for. People are quick to offer items they’ve packed away in their closets but haven’t found the time to list themselves.
There are also several garage sale groups specifically for books written in English. Beloved and classic books get snapped up in minutes, so you need to be fast. Shipping a few books will usually run you around ¥300-500, depending on the shipping method.
LOOK FOR: cribs/co-sleepers*, foreign-made strollers and car seats**, large baby equipment like exersaucers, swings, and rockers*, baby gyms, swaddles/sleep sacks, clothing bundles, pricey school supplies like randoseru and entrance ceremony formalwear, bikes*, high chairs*, English picture books, toys
*Best to look local, as you’ll likely need to pick up these items yourself
**If you buy a used car seat, make sure that it hasn’t expired and has not been in any accidents. I highly recommend buying a seat with the Isofix attachment system. The reason for this is that many cars in Japan do not have a seatbelt locking feature (only an emergency lock), which means that the seat will not be very secure with just a seatbelt attachment. Also, consider convertible seats that allow for extended rear-facing.
Book Off/Second Hand Shops
Book Off and other local second hand shops often have amazing finds on brand name toys that cost a small fortune when purchased new. For example, I picked up a 100+ Lego Duplo set in perfect condition that would have cost over ¥6000 yen new (I got it for ¥1000). You can also find bigger toys like play kitchens and toddler bikes at drastically reduced prices. While these objects are really easy to clean and sterilize (soak or wipe in diluted bleach and rinse), you should exercise a bit more caution with clothes and soft toys. Make sure you smell the items to make sure they come from a smoke-free home and once you take them home, wash them well in hot water and dry them outside on a sunny day.
LOOK FOR: Brand name toys (i.e. Lego, Anpanman, Sylvanian Families), push toys and ridable toys for toddlers, brand name baby carriers (i.e. Ergobaby, Lillebaby, Baby Bjorn), Bumbo, high chairs
AVOID: Teething toys, soft battery-powered toys, selling things to Book Off and expecting to make money (consider it a donation because you likely won’t get much more than a few yen per item, no exaggeration)
Mercari (メルカリ) is the most popular online used goods marketplace in Japan. You can find a lot of baby/kids products there. Sometimes, you can find Western brands from people who have lived or shopped abroad. The one caveat is that it’s sometimes hard to tell the condition of an item from the pictures and the description usually says something vague like “a few scratches.” Also, shipping of large items is usually prohibitively expensive.
My opinion of Mercari is mixed. Sometimes sellers barely reduce the prices from what it would cost to buy new, which is frustrating. But if you look every now and then, you may come across a big lot of well-priced treasures!
LOOK FOR: Popular brands (Ergobaby, Halo, Aden and Anais, etc.), items that are used once and then never again (like a fancy coming-home-from-the-hospital or photo shoot outfit, Halloween costumes, etc.)
Ikea has a fantastic kid section that is worth checking out in person, if you’re lucky to live close to one of their stores. If not, you can find most products via their website.
If you go to pick up a few things and don’t want to risk your little one getting lost in the Ikea maze, I’ve got a tip for you. Go at opening. Head straight for the cafeteria. Pick up a plate of ¥99 morning curry and a couple FREE cups of coffee (free in the first 30 minutes after opening). From the cafeteria, you should be adjacent to the kids section (this is based on the Nagakute store, if other Ikeas are different, please let me know in the comments!). Pick up what you need and head downstairs to check out the small items section. This way, you can skip the endless rooms of furniture and get exactly what you need. If there’s any flat-pack furniture you need, you can simply grab it from the warehouse section on the first floor before the registers.
LOOK FOR: Kallax bookshelves (lay them on their side as the basis of a Montessori bedroom), play kitchens (they have one for ¥5000 and another for ¥10,000), baby activity mats, foam changing pads and covers, beds and cribs, mattresses and sheet sets, shelving, potties, baby baths, hooded towels, train sets, wooden and soft toys, tents, high chair (the super cheap Antilop is under ¥2000!), bibs with sleeves
Though I largely avoid buying clothes for myself from fast fashion companies like H&M, I have to admit, I have stopped by there to pick up basics for my kid on several occasions. If you head to one of their retail stores (not online, the deals are not the same), at the very end of the season, you’ll find some absurdly cheap prices. I’ve seen multipacks of onesies marked down to as low as ¥100 or ¥200 when they were trying to move stock. Keep in mind: while some clothes run true to size, items like jeans can run extremely large.
LOOK FOR: multipacks of onesies, socks, tights, coordinated outfits, holiday-themed outfits
The first rule of Gap is: never buy anything at full price. It ALWAYS goes on sale. We’re talking at least half off, if not more. You can catch me in the sale section, where I’ll be waiting for them to stick their next round of red discount stickers over previous discount stickers. Remember these numbers: ¥290, ¥790 and ¥990. Those are typically the lowest prices that items will get to there. And I’m not talking about items that were originally one or two thousand yen. I’m talking about clothes that originally retailed for ¥5,990, but in literal months, had dropped to a fifth of the original price!
LOOK FOR: jeans (my absolute favorite jeans for kids), summery dresses, winter outerwear, cute graphic tees and sweatshirts, onesie multipacks
Uniqlo is one of my favorite places to pick up basics for my kid because their patterns are subtle yet super cute and stylish. I also like the fit of their clothes, which is more body-hugging than the billowy style of a lot of Japanese baby clothes. I always tend to pick up a few onesies, undershirts, or pants per season (10分丈 length for pants, because I’m not all about that capri life, but you do you!). They also have nice fleece zip-up pajamas for winter that resemble the ones from Carter’s. Most items here will range from ¥300-1000 per piece, with further reductions in the bargain bins located at the end of each aisle.
LOOK FOR: down jackets, legging-style pants, kimono-style snap-up onesies for infants, undershirts, zip-up fleece footie pajamas
If you already have a Costco membership, great. If not, I wouldn’t reckon it’s worth getting just to have access to their limited baby/kids products. But they do have a few interesting ones.
LOOK FOR: English books (think more picture dictionaries and pull-back-the-flap books rather than story books, but they do have some), Western brands of toys (check out what they have here), Carters brand clothes (outerwear, pajama sets, Disney graphic tees, party dresses, Halloween costumes), wipes and diapers, steel cut oats, Honey Nut Cheerios, Banza chickpea pasta, Kirkland squeezable apple sauce, big jars of peanut butter, Kraft Mac and Cheese.
Birthday may actually be my very favorite place to shop for my daughter. It’s part of the Shimamura family, which is a store known for its extremely cheap- if not slightly dowdy- women’s fashion. The difference with Birthday is that the clothes it carries are both cheap AND fashion forward. Rather than garish, bright colors, you’ll see more of the muted colors and slightly boho style that are popular nowadays. Their clothes look like expensive, department store brands, but for around ¥500-¥1000 per piece. Their toys (which include a lot of popular brands) are almost always marked down, which I love. It’s just a great place. I’m always begging my husband to take us there. And every time we go, even on weekdays, it’s packed with young families.
LOOK FOR: Stylish clothes, shoes, toys, bedding, feeding supplies
This is the store you go to when you want pick something up quickly and be guaranteed a good price. Nishimatsuya is by far the cheapest of the Japanese baby/child speciality stores. Their clothes are not as cool as Birthday’s, but when you find t-shirts for ¥199 on season-end clearance, cool kind of goes out the window. They have an in-house brand, Smart Angel, which offers some of the best prices on quality toys, clothes, and other goods. I’ve purchased quite a few of the wooden toys and blocks shown above. This is also the place I went when I was pregnant and bought everything on the hospital-recommended shopping list.
LOOK FOR: Smart Angel brand goods, toys, baby gates, hadagi (those light, kimono-style undershirts that they put babies in here), snap-up rompers, gauze handkerchiefs, hygiene essentials (nail scissors, baby baths, water thermometer, shampoo, soap), bottles and bottle disinfection goods, breast pumps
Toys/Babies R Us
You may be thinking: why did it take you so long to get to one of the most popular chains of toy stores in Japan (yes, Toys R Us is still going strong in Japan). It’s true, Toys R Us does have the biggest selection of toys of any toy store I’ve been to in Japan. However, they do not price competitively whatsoever. When I was searching for a specific Anpanman play kitchen for my daughter’s second birthday, I found that their price was almost 40% above Birthday’s! On other occasions when I’ve done price comparison, I’ve found that Toys R Us was more expensive nearly every time. I’d designate it as the place to take grandma and grandpa when they offer to buy your kid whatever their heart desires for their birthday/Children’s Day/School Entrance/Graduation (by the way, there’s a senior discount of 10% on the 15th of each month).
Once you get comfortable with online shopping in Japan, these are probably going to be the two sites you check out the most. Amazon is not as popular in Japan as it is in America, so it doesn’t have quite as many offerings. However, it still has quite a few English books for sale.
Don Quixote/100 Yen Shops
See my previous articles on Don Quixote and 100 Yen Shops for baby/kid essentials. To sum it up, Don Quixote for diapers and water diapers, 100 Yen for baby-proofing supplies, stroller accessories, and arts and crafts.
iHerb can be slightly expensive when you factor in shipping, but they carry common American brands like Gerber, Happy Baby, Plum Organics for weaning foods (puffs, pouches, and teething wafers) and brands like Babyganics, Aveeno, and Summer Infant for bath and hygiene.
Other Shops Around Japan
Miki House (very expensive), Hello Akachan (expensive), Akachan Honpo (average), Akachan Depato Mizutani (low to average), Aeon (average, but sometimes they have sale bins out), Mujirushi (very limited, expensive, and kind of ugly), Belle Maison (average – expensive), Katoji (one of the few carriers of travel system car seats and strollers, average), Old Navy (average), and Zara (super cute, average – expensive).
BONUS: Stuff I Lugged Back from America
Number one: books. An entire suitcase of books. 23 kilograms of them. These may be the only things you truly NEED from back home.
Sleep sacks, Carter’s clothes, shoes, and pajamas, baby-friendly bows, long sleeved bibs, splat mat for under the high chair, Montessori toys, silicone and bamboo plates/spoons, OXO baby food containers, diaper bag, big bottles of sunscreen. I didn’t bring a breast pump, but I probably SHOULD have. There are much better options available in the states.
Food: Cashew/Almond butter, hemp hearts, chia seeds, bean-based pastas, freeze-dried fruits, Lara bars, other assorted weaning puffs and bars.
This post is still a work in progress. As my kid is only two, I may have excluded products that parents of older children require. If there’s anything I can help you track down, leave a comment and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can!