In a country where asking for, and even offering, help can be culturally difficult, these kindhearted badges aim to make a difference.

While Japan’s quick and punctual trains make getting around the country incredibly easy if you’re an adult, getting from Point A to Point B is a lot more difficult if you’ve got a baby who’s crying, fussy, or otherwise suddenly in need of extra attention. Trying to give a baby a bottle while balancing necessary shopping bags on your knees, pick up a shoe that a tyke pulled off and tossed onto the train floor as the carriage shakes and sways, or soothingly rock a panicking infant while also keeping a firm grip on a stroller so that it doesn’t roll away can all be nightmares, especially in a country like Japan where not causing problems for other people is a cornerstone of traditional etiquette.

But recently, some troubled moms and dads have been happy to spot other passengers displaying this emblem clipped to their bags or clothes.

Called the hoiku (child care) mark, they’re a sign that the bearer is ready and willing to help parents who’re having a hard time while riding the rails with small kids. The hoiku mark’s creators say they were inspired by seeing a mother on a train struggling to comfort her bawling baby, and wishing there were some way to automatically let parents in similar distress know that help was available. They settled on the idea of badges, similar to Japan’s pregnancy badges, which both indicate that the bearer is approaching the parent to offer help, not chastise them for their unruly child, and also to get around Japanese people’s society-wide reluctance to ask strangers for help, for fear of bothering them.

We spoke with Saya Takemoto, a childcare worker in Toyama Prefecture who’s part of the effort to increase the awareness, and use, of the hoiku mark and the thoughtful initiative.

▼ Saya Takemoto

Initially, Takemoto informs us, the badges were only available to people currently and directly employed in the childcare industry, such as day care staff or preschool teachers. However, this stance was eventually softened, since you don’t necessarily need professional-grade training to lend a quick helping hand to a parent in distress.

The organization doesn’t just go handing the badges out willy-nilly to anyone who wants one, though. Under the new system, the organization periodically holds interviews for applicants, and the badges are given to those who demonstrate a genuine willingness to help others and make society a better place.

Takemoto says that at first the demand for badges was higher in the countryside, where the interpersonal sense of community tends to be stronger, even between strangers, than in the big city. The badges’ use is slowly spreading in Tokyo, though, and now they can be seen in Niigata, Aichi, Toyama, Saga, and Hyogo prefectures as well.

But while the group is obviously happy to see more people displaying the badges Takemoto says that they eventually hope for them to disappear, after having helped create a society where being willing to help, and parents not feeling reluctant to accept such help, is just a matter of course. Until that day comes, though, the hoiku mark is here to help.

Related: Hoiku mark official website
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