Keeping your Baby and Toddler Cool During Summer in Japan
Summers in Japan are getting hotter by the year, so when I found out I was going to give birth in July when temperatures are at their peak, I was quite concerned. This is why I thought I would share how I prepared for having a newborn baby in summer, what I did to make sure she was okay, ways to keep newborns, older babies, and toddlers cool in Japan, and Japanese words you should look for when buying something for summer.
How I Kept my Summer Newborn Cool in Japan
Newborns are very sensitive to temperature changes and are still getting a hang of sweating, which is why we invested in a few things to try to offset the heat.
We got an air conditioner for the bedroom my baby would be sleeping in before she was even born. My husband lined up at a major electronics store on January 1st to get the air conditioner, which was sold as a fukubukuro or Lucky Bag, meaning that it was heavily discounted but we wouldn’t know exactly what kind of air conditioner it would be. Thankfully, it was an excellent brand and worked perfectly, keeping our baby cool in the summer and warm in the winter.
Now regarding the ideal room temperature for newborns, there seems to be some discrepancy between Japanese health authorities and those in the West. I am hesitant to recommend a temperature, even based on health authorities, because the last thing I want to do is give potentially harmful advice. This is why you should ask your clinic or hospital when you give birth or your pediatrician about what room temperature is best for your baby. If you feel uncomfortable at a recommended temperature, there’s a chance your baby does too so adjust as needed, taking care not to have the room too cold as the baby can get sick. Also, this may be common sense but don’t have the air conditioner (or fan if you’re using one) pointing directly at your baby.
There are lots of light, breathable summer onesies for sale in Japan that are perfect for keeping summer babies cool and comfortable. The ones pictured are from Nishi Matsuya but you can find them at any baby/children’s store in Japan. A friend of mine who had a baby in August loved the ones from Akachan Honpo. My daughter wore AIRism onesies from UNIQLO every night before I wrapped her in a thin cotton swaddle. We also had some mesh kimono-type ones that tied at the front, which my mother-in-law gifted us, but I liked the fit of the Uniqlo one better and the material felt cooler (likely because it contains “cooling fibers”). It’s also completely fine (and recommended) to just let your baby hang out in these mesh onesies if it’s really hot. If you don’t feel comfortable or confident swaddling your baby, you might want to consider a sleepsack. We used Love to Dream. I would have gladly bought more than one but the price tag is a bit hefty and I missed out on a sale they were having a month before we bought it, so if you are interested, keep your eyes out because they might just have another sale!
I get cold very easily and it takes a lot for me to feel hot, which is why we bought an indoor thermometer to monitor the temperature inside the house as otherwise, I honestly wouldn’t notice if it was too hot for the baby. We got this one from Amazon Japan and have been using it ever since our daughter was born. I like that it also displays the humidity.
Portable electric fan for the car or stroller
We got one of these portable fans to put in the car when we brought our baby home from the hospital, and it’s been excellent. The one pictured, which works with batteries, is from Nishi Matsuya and clips onto the stroller so your baby stays comfortably cool while out and about.
A light and airy baby carrier
There are various baby carriers for summer and considering how hot Japanese summers are, I definitely think it’s worth the investment. My cousin-in-law who had a baby in May recommended that I get the summer Konny carrier for my newborn and I loved it because it was fast-drying, blocked UV rays and was made of cooling fabric. The one drawback is that as my daughter got older and heavier, I didn’t feel comfortable wearing it so I sold it on Mercari (and it sold within minutes for almost the same price I bought it for, so keep the box and pamphlet!).
Cooling gel packs
These can be used from 2 months of age for the stroller as well as for your baby carrier. The one pictured on the right of the adorably angry polar bear demanding to be picked up (DIE-CUT ICE PACK POUCH) is only 300 yen from 3COINS but you can find these on Amazon Japan or any baby store in Japan as well. Simply put the gel pack in the freezer and then insert it into the fabric pouch when you’re ready to go outside. Place the pouch between your carrier and your baby’s back or on the seat of the stroller. Make sure that the gel pack itself is not directly touching your baby’s skin.
Okay, this isn’t really related to keeping cool per se but sunscreen is an essential summer item for a baby. I didn’t use sunscreen on my daughter as a newborn as I was worried but now we’re using this SPF 50 Pigeon brand one. This is apparently safe for newborns and is fragrance-free, free of dyes, and doesn’t contain ultraviolet absorbers, so this may be why my daughter hasn’t had any adverse reactions to it so far.
I know, this is another item that’s not related to keeping cool but bug repellant or 虫よけ（むしよけ or mushiyoke) is essential for babies during summer in Japan. There are various types of bug repellant, some of which include:
Spray type for skin
I haven’t used this kind but it seems quite convenient. All you do is spray it onto the baby and their clothing. These tend to be quite large so they’re not as portable and should be used before leaving the house. The one pictured above can be used on newborns although the maker recommends spraying a tiny amount on your baby to make sure they don’t have any adverse reaction. They also recommend not putting the spray on your baby’s hands as they might rub and end up irritating their eyes.
Spray type for the stroller and clothes
Similar to the one above but you spray it directly onto the stroller or your baby’s clothes to keep bugs away. This can be for newborns and up but make sure you do not get any on your baby’s skin.
These are nice because they’re quite small and portable, and unlike the sprays, you don’t have to worry about your baby inhaling anything. We just bought the gel-type Pigeon 虫よけ pictured above for babies six months and up as it’s free of chemicals, scent-free, and good for sensitive skin. I used this on my eczema-prone skin and had no adverse reaction nor a single bug bite while at the river with my daughter so I would highly recommend this. Similar to the spray mentioned earlier, it is not recommended that you use this on your child’s hands or face.
Sticker-type bug repellants are simply placed onto your child’s clothing, stroller, bag, or carrier so it may be a good option if you have a child with sensitive skin. It’s also safe for newborns. We used these when my child was a newborn but weren’t fans as it came off very easily and the smell was too strong.
These are really easy to use and durable as it’s made out of plastic. You just hang it on the stroller and it keeps away bugs. It has a strong smell so it’s important to close this if you’re bringing it into the house or car.
How I Cared for my Summer Baby in Japan
On top of using the items listed above, I checked for signs to make sure that my daughter wasn’t overheating. In particular, I checked up on her a few times at night and felt the back of her neck while she was in the swaddle to see if she was too hot. If I felt like she was hot or her face was getting red, I would lower the temperature of the room, wipe her face with a damp washcloth and gently fan her with a sensu. Also, to try to prevent my newborn from getting a heat rash, I made sure to wipe the folds of her skin, particularly her neck, arms and legs, with a damp washcloth throughout the day. It’s also recommended that babies are not left in their diapers for too long as this can also cause a heat rash (my daughter as a newborn screamed whenever she needed to be changed so I never had a problem with this since I was frequently changing her diaper). You can read more about signs of overheating on Dr. Harvey Karp’s website, Happiest Baby.
I also didn’t take her for walks during the day (particularly between 11 AM to 2 PM) if it was hot and sunny and waited until the early evening and stuck to air-conditioned malls as much as possible if I felt like I needed to get out. If you need to take the baby out during the day, I highly recommend using a parasol if you’re going to be wearing them in a carrier. Make sure to also have a light blanket or swaddle on hand if you are going to a mall or an air-conditioned building so your baby doesn’t get too cold or sick from the change in temperature.
(Check out this post for ideas on what to put in a summer baby’s diaper bag in Japan.)
How to Keep Older Babies and Toddlers Cool in Japan
There are a lot of great ways to keep older babies cool during the summer in Japan. Here are a few:
Cooling mattress/futon pads
Perhaps you already have one of these for your bed or futon as it’s excellent at keeping you cool during a hot and humid summer night. I bought one of these for my daughter as a newborn but I was too paranoid to use it as I was afraid it would come off the mattress and smother her (yes, I was and still am a 心配性ママ). Now that she’s older, I’ve started using it on her futon for naps as I find that the air conditioner in her room does a good enough job that I don’t need to put it on the mattress of her crib. However, if you don’t have an air conditioner or don’t want to use it too often and instead use a fan, it’s probably a good idea to put one of these on the crib mattress.
Gauze blankets, Towelketes or Sleepers/Sleepsacks
Gauze blankets and towelketes are must-haves for hot summer nights as these types of blankets are made out of breathable and light material. Towelketes (タオルケット) look like a large towel (we may have accidentally bought one for our daughter when she was a newborn, thinking it was a normal towel) but can be used for both sleeping and drying purposes. These and gauze blankets can be found in any baby store or online.
If you don’t feel comfortable having your baby sleep with a blanket yet, you can buy sleepsacks for summer from the H&M online store (which are reasonably priced and can be bought on sale for ¥1250 sometimes, just look up スリープバッグ). Gauze sleepers are also very common in Japan and can be found at any major retailer that sells products for young children or Amazon Japan.
Staying hydrated is essential during the summer, which is why it’s good for your little one to have something to drink frequently, such as water. Depending on their age, you can also give them the following, which can be found at most grocery stores, drug stores, or baby stores in Japan:
ベビー麦茶（むぎちゃ or mugicha)
This is barley tea that doesn’t contain caffeine, so it’s safe for babies from 1 month and up. We usually give this tea to our daughter with every meal as it’s what she drinks at daycare but didn’t start giving it to her until she was around 7 months old and eating solids.
You’re probably familiar with the brand Calpis but did you know that they have a drink for babies? My daughter isn’t the biggest fan of these but as all babies are different, there is a baby out there who likes these!
This is an ion drink for babies 3 months and up, so it’s great for preventing dehydration. It’s like a watered-down Aquarius. My daughter LOVES these.
Fruit and vegetable juices
These are a nice treat on a hot day once in a while and a great way to sneak in vitamins if your child doesn’t like eating fruits or vegetables.
Remember, do not replace formula or breastmilk with one of these drinks as they do not contain the nutrients or calories a baby requires in a day. My daughter, who is 11 months right now, only has formula two or three times a day as she primarily gets her nutrition from solid food three times a day, so I give her mugicha or water throughout the day so she’s hydrated.
These squeezable jelly drinks are one of my daughter’s favorites and are recommended for babies who are one and up. I bought them after her daycare teacher told me that these are good to give babies when it’s hot. You can freeze them as well so it’s like a little slushy beverage for your little one. They also contain no artificial ingredients.
Cooling stroller pad/seat liner
These are similar to the cooling mattress pads and are supposed to keep your child cool when they’re in the stroller. You don’t need to cool it in the fridge/freezer or anything in advance, just attach it to the stroller and wash when needed. We bought ours from Nitori.
Airy clothing and hats
I mentioned airy onesies earlier for newborns but they also have them for older babies, so just keep your eyes out for anything that says さわやか. It’s also important that your baby has a hat to keep the sun off their face. I got the one pictured for my daughter from Nishi Matsuya during their end-of-season sale back in 2019 for 99 yen.
Speaking of airy clothing, jinbei are perfect for summer, not to mention are super adorable. Nishi Matsuya is yet again a great place to get these because it’s so affordable, especially during their end-of-season sale (a great opportunity to stock up on jinbei for next year).
This might seem extreme for some but in Japan, it’s quite common for people to use these small tents outside to help block the blazing sun. It also works well in stopping the wind from blowing light things away. We use something similar to the one pictured for our daughter and love it because it’s really light and portable, although we are considering getting one that closes in the front to provide more protection from both the heat and bugs.
Although space can be an issue, it’s easy to set up a small inflatable pool on your balcony for your little one to splash around in and get some reprieve from the heat. My daughter has had so much fun in her little pool and the mushroom top was an added bonus as it provided her with shade. Now that she’s two, it’s getting a little small for her but I’m happy it did the job for two summers.
Archway Falls Water Table
I got this for my daughter’s 2nd birthday and I’m so glad I did because it is a lifesaver! It’s so easy to just fill up with water and let my daughter go nuts splashing the toys around and dumping water from the bucket onto the spinners and ramps. Clean up is simple too — just open the valve, let the water drain out, and you’re done. I cover it with a big blue leisure sheet when it’s not in use. I’m hoping by summer next year (2022), my daughter will be able to enjoy this water table with friends.
We got this water table from Costco but it can be hard to find as it sells out very quickly. It is also available on Amazon Japan but at the time of writing, the cost is much more than what we paid at Costco.
Taking them somewhere air-conditioned
I mentioned earlier that I took my newborn to the mall during summer as it was cool and had all the facilities I needed. This might be more difficult considering the current global circumstances surrounding the pandemic; however, as there are fewer tourists right now, an aquarium might be a great idea.
Candace, an American mom who had a baby in August in Japan, has also contributed a great piece about taking her child to jidoukan and kosodate shien centers when it was hot, so make sure to check out her article if you want to know more.
Japanese Words Related to Keeping Cool
Here are some words in Japanese to look out for when you’re shopping for products that will help keep your baby cool.
- ひんやり: cooling
- 保冷 (ほれい or horei) : To keep cool
- さわやか：breezy, airy
- 快適 (かいてき or kaiteki)：comfortable
- 冷感 (れいかん or reikan)：cooling sensation, cool feeling
- 冷却 (れいきゃく or reikyaku)：cooling
I hope this information was helpful and perhaps put some anxious parents at ease when it comes to tackling summers in Japan with a small child.
If you’re a parent in Japan and this isn’t your first summer with a baby, how do you keep your baby cool? Let me know in the comments!