As first-time parents, my husband and I had a general idea of what to get for the baby thanks to guides posted online and magazines. However, every baby and every family is different so we weren’t entirely sure what would work for our family and what would possibly be a waste of money. It’s even more difficult when you’re a foreigner in Japan trying to figure all of this out when pregnant and exhausted. I’ll admit that I relied on my husband a lot when it came to what would be a good product and what wouldn’t be, and some things just ended up being trial-and-error. We also tried to buy as much as possible before the baby came and we’re glad we did because that meant not having to go out that often with a newborn.
Now that I’m a few months in, I want to share with you what my husband and I felt were great buys and what we felt like we didn’t really need in the end.
The type of clothing you need of course depends on the season but try to have a week’s worth of onesies. I found the ones that tie up (kimono-style) to be easier to work with than button-up ones. For nighttime, buy some sleepers and thick onesies if it’s cold and if it’s hot, UNIQLO’s AIRism inner onesies are great. I felt better about swaddling my baby when she was wearing one of those underneath. Outerwear (hats, socks, jackets) also depends on the season. I would have at least two of each in case something gets dirty and needs to be washed so you’ll have a backup. (This goes for bedding as well, Baby A has sometimes gone through more than two bedsheets in one night!)
For winter, I highly recommend footed pajamas, especially ones that zip up from the bottom to make nighttime diaper changes easier. The ones I own are from Old Navy as I have not found these kinds of pajamas (both footed and the zipper at the bottom) in Japan yet.
You can also pick up used clothing if you want to save money by visiting recycle shops like Book Off or Treasure Factory, auction sites like Yahoo or Mercari, or even Facebook groups for foreign moms in Japan where some people have gotten entire wardrobes for their babies for free. End of season sales are also a great way to stock up. I got a whole bunch of new stuff from Nishimatsuya (西松屋) for 99 yen each!
My haul at 99 yen each
- Laundry detergent for babies (I use baby arau)
- Diaper Bag
I just use an anello bag that I already had.
Even if you’re exclusively breastfeeding, it’s good to have a few of these on hand so your partner can feed the baby too!
Your hospital will likely provide you with a pack or two of these but just in case, have a pack for newborns ready at home or buy cloth diapers from any baby store or online in advance.
- Baby wipes
I quite like moony wipes because they’re thick, gentle on Baby A’s skin, and not too big.
It’s good to have a bottle of baby lotion as well as baby vaseline.
- Bath soap (I use Pigeon, which was ranked the best baby soap in 2020 by たまひよ, a brand that publishes information for pregnant women and parents. It’s fragrance-free, paraben-free, and hasn’t irritated my daughter’s skin. I have eczema and used it once and my skin wasn’t irritated either.)
- Baby bath
We got an inflatable type and I’m glad we did because we don’t use it anymore, so it’s easy to put away. (Now that the baby is two months, I sit on a bath chair in the shower with her in my lap and wash her.)
- Gauze handkerchiefs
These can be used in many different ways, such as cleaning the baby in the bath and wiping away spit-up. We found that 手口ふき (hand and mouth wipes) for babies were too harsh for my baby’s skin, causing her to break out into a rash, so now we just use a damp gauze handkerchief to wipe her mouth after she eats.
I knew I needed towels for the baby’s bath but I never imagined how much I would need towels for spit up! I have a bunch of hand towels that I use as burp cloths or lay on the crib horizontally and tuck into the sides, which I change if she spits up after a feed. It makes it so much easier in the middle of the night so I don’t have to change the entire sheet on the crib. I had to remove the towels when she was older and more active though as she started to pull at it and it became a suffocation hazard, so that is something to keep in mind.
I bought a few bibs because they were cute but with spit up (and eventually drool), I end up using several bibs in a day. My favorite bibs are from Nitori because they are large and absorbent (unfortunately I can’t find any online to provide a link) but for the first two months I also liked ones that easily tucked in the collar like these ones from MIKI HOUSE.
- Bath thermometer (I didn’t really end up using the one I got from my baby registry because I can digitally adjust the temperature of the water in my apartment, as with most Japanese apartments)
- Baby thermometer
I got a simple OMRON one because it had good review, was very affordable, and it’s been easy to use. I tried these kinds in the store and it seemed to work quite well but some people who have bought and used it consistently said that it is not that accurate.
- A crib or baby futon
If you’re thinking of buying these used, be careful as something dated or worn may not be safe. We decided to get a new crib from Ikea as it didn’t have drop-sides, which are banned in North America.
We got this pack from Costco and although the fabric felt kind of rough, looking back I’m so glad we bought it! Not only was it a great deal, after washing it became softer and unlike other swaddles (like Aden Anais), the fabric wasn’t too stretchy so I was able to easily swaddle Baby A without the swaddle coming undone overnight. Around 3 months when your baby is starting to roll over or breaking out of the swaddle, you may want to consider getting a sleep sack. H&M Japan has a lot of great ones that won’t break the bank, especially if you keep your eye out for a sale. I got a few, including cute ones with Disney designs, for less than 1000 yen each! (Try to get ones that zip up from the sides. The ones that button in the front are very annoying.)
- Betta Baby Bottles
We got a bunch of baby bottles to see which one would work best for Baby A, and the winner was Betta! Although I’m not the biggest fan of the plastic (you can get a glass bottle but it’s quite expensive), the design is perfect for my gassy baby. She has significantly less gas when she drinks from this and usually finishes her bottle. (Update at 4 months: Baby A no longer likes Betta because the flow is too slow and will only drink from Pigeon bottles now.)
- Konny Baby Carrier
This is a Korean product that was recommended to me by my husband’s cousin (who is a pediatric nurse with two kids) and I’m so glad she did! It’s lightweight, very affordable and incredibly easy to use. Within a few minutes Baby A is fast asleep in it and usually doesn’t wake up until I take her out.
- Pigeon Electric Nasal Aspirator
The price scared me off at first but after using a manual nasal aspirator, I think this is one of my favorite purchases. When Baby A has a cold, this machine is excellent at clearing up her little nose. It’s also portable and very easy to clean.
- Ergo Omni 360 Baby Carrier
This is recommended by my husband. I haven’t tried it out yet but he uses it all the time to get the baby to go to sleep while he does things around the house.
- Combi Microwavable Bottle Sterilizer
This is so easy to use and a must-have for any new parent. We use it several times a day and have had no problems whatsoever. We got a set that’s only sold on Amazon which includes brushes, dish (bottle) soap, a pacifier, and a bottle with a nipple replacement. (The bottle was really annoying to use, but we loved everything else so that made it worth it.) This Combi sterilizer was also ranked as the best out of microwavable sterilizers in 2020 by たまひよ.
Amazon also has a limited edition Shiba Inu set by Pigeon which is very adorable and Pigeon bottles are nothing short of awesome. But it’s also quite expensive at almost twice the cost of the Combi one (might be something worth putting on your Amazon registry, though).
- Muji Nursing Tank Tops
These make breastfeeding so easy and are super comfortable (I’m wearing one right now actually). I wear it during the day and as it looked like any old tank top, I don’t feel the need to have a shirt over top of it. When the baby needs to be fed, it’s easy-peasy. There are sales from time to time for these so keep your eyes out!
- Ikea Babycare Mat
This is light and perfect for not only changing the baby’s diaper but also for drying her after a bath.
- Combi Electric Nail File
Initially we bought baby nail scissors but only used it a handful of times as babies move around and we were worried we would cut her, even when sleeping. This nail file is amazing, it’s gentle and gets the job done easily even when she’s awake. It has a variety of attachments that allow even you to keep your nails trimmed and smooth.
- Aprica NIOI-POI Diaper Pail (Bin)
Another recommendation from my husband. It makes throwing away diapers very easy and locks in the smell. I like this one better than the type that twist to seal in each diaper because it’s easier to throw a diaper away and not have to worry about searching for the small handle and then turning it. When changing the baby’s diaper, I just don’t have time for that!
If your baby has particularly stinky poo (especially if they have diarrhea), you might want to try out these little packs of diaper pail deodorizers.
- Picture books!
Whoever says newborns are too young for books are absolutely wrong. I read books to Baby A while I was pregnant and the way she listens and looks at the pictures when I read to her now makes me think she remembers.
Babies especially love high contrast colors (black, white, and red) and one of the only books Baby A never tires of (and tends to stop meltdowns) is Look, Look! by Peter Linenthal. I highly recommend it.
If you’re interested in Japanese picture books, you can check out my recommendations here.
We got a bunch of the toys for newborns when they were on sale for up to 50% off, which is why we bought some in advance. I wouldn’t say go crazy if things are on sale but it doesn’t hurt to have a few toys on hand, especially so you can cut off tags and sterilize before the baby comes. Our baby really enjoys using her tummy time mats and playing with her rattles.
- アイクレオ (ICREO) ready-made formula
These are great for when you’re on the go and don’t want to hunt for boiled water or carry a thermos with you to prepare the baby’s formula. It’s light, small (125 ml), and doesn’t need to be heated up – you simply shake the carton and pour the contents into a bottle for the baby to drink. It’s especially great to have a few on hand in case the power goes out or there is an emergency and you don’t have access to boiled water. Our baby was already drinking ICREO formula before we bought these so she was used to the taste; however, if your baby isn’t drinking ICREO already, it may be a gamble on whether they will take to it.
- Disney baby mobile
I wasn’t sure whether this was necessary to buy but Baby A absolutely LOVES it. It helps her go to sleep at night and she enjoys looking at it when I have to pop her in the crib to quickly go to the washroom or put away laundry. It has a variety of songs and you can slow down the melody to help lull your baby to sleep. The light is also a great function, it really helped me when she was a newborn because I was really nervous about whether she was breathing or the swaddle was too tight so I would turn it on at night to check on her and it never woke her up. You also don’t need a crib for this; as illustrated in the photo, it has a stand so you can just put it on the floor next to your baby.
- Compact Bottle Drying Rack
We use this several times a day. I love how it doesn’t take up too much space, is portable if we need to take it anywhere or store it, and easy to clean (unlike the grass type).
- Portable Changing Mat by D by DADWAY This has been incredibly useful when going out with the baby. I always use this on top of changing tables because I’m a germaphobe. It’s light, easy to clean, and I can unfold and fold it back up one-handed while holding the baby in my other arm.
- Como Tomo Bottles
This is not a Japanese product but I felt that it should be included in this list. I had heard good things about this bottle but my husband and I both hated it. The material attracted so much random fluff from fabric and the nipple pushed inward easily, which made feeding the baby difficult at times. Because of its shape, it was also hard to feed the baby the last 10 ml or so, which meant wasted milk.
- Plain onesies
I have so. many. white. onesies.
I guess I imagined I would be putting these onesies under the baby’s clothing but for a summer baby it was just too hot! I never ended up using them. If you’re having a summer baby in Japan, I don’t think you need any undershirts or under-onesies.
- Combi Water Warmer
At first this was useful because we didn’t need to warm up water for the baby’s formula each time and the temperature wasn’t as hot as freshly boiled water. However, depending on the formula you use, the water might not be hot enough to dissolve the formula powder. There was also shiny material floating throughout it, which the Combi website states are minerals, but it was still enough that we stopped using it after one month. Now we just boil water in a kettle, fill the bottle halfway and after dissolving the formula, add 赤ちゃんの水, which is sterilized water that can be given to babies. You can buy this at any baby store, like Babies R Us, Akachan Honpo, or Nishimatsuya, or from Amazon where you can get 500 ml bottles and 2 liter bottles (we go through about one 2 liter bottle a week).
- Buying cans of formula in advance
As every baby is different and has their own preferences, try to get as many samples as possible before committing to spending a lot of money on an 800g can of formula that may not agree with your baby. Check out this post to find out how you can get free samples or go to a baby store and buy travel-sized formula to see what your baby likes. It’s also best to see what formula the hospital gives your baby if you’re not exclusively breastfeeding or supplementing with formula from Day 1 and buy that one.
- Pigeon Electric Breast Pump
Before I had Baby A, I was positive that I wanted to breastfeed until she was at least 6 months old, so naturally I bought a breast pump. Unfortunately, breastfeeding didn’t go as smoothly as I had hoped and in the end I didn’t really need the pump. I probably used it less than twenty times, which feels like a waste for something so expensive. It did work fairly well, though, for the few times I did use it, and it did receive first place in a ranking of breast pumps by たまひよ in 2020. Some mothers, like a friend of mine, also went without using a pump throughout the entire time they breastfed so it may not be entirely necessary.
- Breastfeeding/nursing goods in general
See above. I didn’t end up using the nursing covers, nursing pads, nipple cream, etc. But for those who are breastfeeding, it’s probably a good idea to get these. I would suggest getting samples, seeing what you like, and then going from there.
- Hats and socks
I bought two pairs of each because they were oh-so-cute but as Japanese summers are oh-so-hot, I didn’t use these often except for the occasional chilly day. But if you’re having an autumn or winter baby, even a spring baby, it’s best to buy a few of these, especially keeping in mind that socks and hats can fall off so you want to have some extra ones in your diaper bag when it’s cold.
If you’re lucky, you might have a baby that enjoys being in a stroller. Mine does not. Sure, taking a baby for a walk or to the mall in a stroller is easy because you don’t have to carry the tiny human around. But having a stroller can be annoying in Japan, especially if you live in an apartment as it takes up room and with no elevator, can be a pain to carry downstairs. This also goes for when you travel on the train as trains can be packed and stations have few elevators. I remember a coworker telling me she had to wait for almost 30 minutes to get onto an elevator at a mall because there were so many people.
I hope this list is helpful for all you parents-to-be living in Japan or interested in Japanese products! Remember, one great way to try products out without breaking the bank are to get samples or sign up for an Amazon baby registry and add products that your friends and family could possibly buy for you. (You can read more about my experiences with samples and the registry here.)
Do you know of any items that are a must for new parents? If so, please let me know in the comments!