Our reporter worried she and her baby would be harassed on the trains, but what she experienced was quite unexpected.

When you live overseas for a long time and come back to your home country for a visit, the things that used to be so familiar to you now might seem strange. For example, after living in Japan for nearly six years, going back to the States and seeing the state of American convenience store food was a supreme shock. Lukewarm hot dogs and taquitos with suspicious contents? No thanks. Where are the oden and the meat beans and the juicy fried chicken??

Our Japanese-language reporter Sweetsholic expected a similar experience recently when she returned to visit Japan with her baby. She’s been living in the city of Toulouse in southern France for years with her French husband, and when she was getting ready to bring her six-month-old to Japan for a visit, she was most worried about how she was going to get around Tokyo with her baby.

In France, no matter how big strollers are, getting around on public transport is easy. Not only are there open seats for parents with strollers on the trains, but navigating the subway stations is also convenient, with elevators taking you directly from the ticket gates to the platform.

Considering that Japanese train passengers are often disdainful towards parents with strollers on trains, Sweetsholic was nervous. Were her worries unfounded? Here are four things she felt and experienced while she was travelling with her baby and stroller during her three-week trip in Japan.

1. Some Japanese trains have designated stroller areas

Luckily, on the Tokyo Metro, the subway network that Sweetsholic most used, there was a specific space on the car where she could set her stroller without folding it up. There were usually people standing there when she got on, but more often than not they would move to make room for her when she approached.

On the subway cars in Toulouse, there is no such a designated space for strollers, but there are two or three open spaces that anyone could use, so she usually puts her stroller there. People also often give up their seats for the elderly, pregnant women, and people with strollers and children, even in the areas not designated as priority seating (this may not be something that happens in all of France, admits Sweetsholic, as the south of France is a very laid-back area).

2. There are not enough elevators in Japanese stations

On the other hand, the one thing that really bothered her about riding the Japanese subway with her daughter was that there are very few elevators in the stations, especially compared to French stations. Sometimes the elevator would be on the opposite side of the platform from the ticket gates, so you have to walk all the way from one end of the platform to the other to get to the elevator, and then, once you’ve taken it up to the floor with the gates, you have to walk all the way back to exit the station. When you have to change trains, it’s a real nightmare!

It’s especially hard in stations that are really busy and really big, like Shinjuku Station. Sometimes the lines for the elevators there are really long, which makes traveling on a tight schedule very difficult. Sweetsholic mostly avoided peak hours, but even then the lines were horrendous. She couldn’t imagine what it would be like during rush hour.

▼ A passageway in Shinjuku Sanchome station. Imagine pushing a stroller all the way down there only to find there’s no elevator!

Toulouse’s trains, by the way, also get very crowded during rush hour, so she generally avoids taking her baby on the train then, too.

3. People in Japan were much more helpful than she expected

There was more than one occasion when Sweetsholic just couldn’t find the elevator, and ended up picking up her stroller, with her baby inside, and carrying it up or down the stairs. Once, just as she was thinking what a pain it was, an older man offered to carry the stroller for her. At another station, a fellow female passenger also offered to help her carry her stroller down a particularly long set of stairs. In fact, there were many women who offered to help her at stations all around the city.

She was very touched that not only station attendants but other passengers were so willing to help her, even without her asking.

4. Many people on Japanese trains helped to comfort her baby

One other thing that Sweetsholic was worried about was what would happen if her baby started to cry on the train. Sweetsholic had heard that Japanese people are often rude to parents when that happens, so she hoped beyond hope that her daughter would be well-behaved.

▼ “How dare that baby act like a baby?!”

One day Sweetsholic’s fears came true when her usually happy daughter started to get fussy on a very crowded train. She started to cry, but they were very close to the station where they were going to get off. Sweetsholic was about to panic, until an older lady standing nearby started to comfort the baby, saying, “You’re such a good little girl! You’re doing so well. You’re almost there!” After that Sweetsholic felt the atmosphere relax, so she felt so grateful for the older woman.

In the end, Sweetsholic actually felt that riding the trains in Japan with a baby was not nearly as bad as she thought. In the news and on social media you hear horror stories of passengers kicking strollers and heckling already frazzled parents, so Sweetsholic had been really worried about bringing her large western-sized stroller on Japanese public transportation.

But on the contrary, she had been touched by how helpful people had been. Perhaps she’d had good timing, but she was so thankful for all of the of people at the stations who helped her with her stroller and who had smiling interactions with her daughter, and she decided that she, too, would make an effort to help if she saw a fellow parent struggling.

Now, if only they could do something about the lack of elevators…

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Insert images: Pakutaso (1, 2, 3, 4)
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