Pregnancy, Birth, and Parenthood in Japan: Harriet’s Story (Kenya → Tokyo)


Last Updated on June 29, 2021 by Kay

I’m beyond thrilled to have the opportunity to share this latest interview on pregnancy and motherhood in Japan. Harriet Ocharo (known online as Savvy Kenya) is a working mother of two in Japan. Her firstborn, J, was born in Kenya on March 30th, 2013. Her second boy, K, was born in Japan on March 25th this year (2021).

“I know it seems like I planned for them to share their birthdays but that was just a coincidence that I came to realize later,” said Harriet. “Same with the alphabetical order of the names, J & K. And no, there will be no L & M.”

Harriet was born in Kisii, Kenya but moved to Nairobi when she started high school and lived there until 2014 when she moved to Japan to pursue her PhD in Information Science under the MEXT (Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology) scholarship. At the time, her first son, J, was only 1.5 years old. Moving to a new country with a completely different language and culture is far from easy, so J was temporarily left in the care of Harriet’s parents until Harriet was more settled and could prepare for his arrival, such as finding a daycare for him.

“It was really hard to leave him behind but I knew this was something I had to do,” said Harriet.

A year later, J joined her in Japan where she spent 3 years doing her PhD at a small national graduate school in Ishikawa Prefecture. When she graduated, she got a job offer in Tokyo so they moved there in 2019. J started elementary school and Harriet started work. Harriet was living in Tokyo when the pandemic began and is still there now. However, due to certain circumstances that will be explained later in this interview, J is currently in Kenya with Harriet’s parents.

One key reason Harriet is sharing her story is because she is a single parent. She was unmarried when she had her first child and chose not to get married when she had her second child.

“My Japanese partner and I are still seeing each other but we don’t live together,” Harriet shared. “Single parenthood is almost the norm in my country but in Japan never-wed mothers are somewhat of an anomaly. That’s why I wanted to share my experience.”

Harriet’s interview presents a lot of firsts among the diverse and amazing international mothers in Japan whom I’ve interviewed: the first from Kenya, the first mother of two, the first with a PhD, and the first single parent. Harriet’s strength to have a child on her own in another country and during a pandemic is truly remarkable and inspiring, and I say this having been raised by a single parent myself from Day 1.

So now I invite you to grab a cup of tea, sit down somewhere comfy, and please enjoy reading Harriet’s story.

Pregnancy in Japan

How did you find out you were pregnant? Do you remember which pregnancy test you used and how many times? What did you do afterwards?

In the month that we decided to actively get pregnant, my period was late by a day. I went to the drug store to find a pregnancy test. I remember that day vividly because I couldn’t find the tests and a middle-aged male customer who spoke good English offered to help me find what I was looking for. He didn’t bat an eye though, when I mentioned the pregnancy test kits and together we prowled the aisles of the drug store until we found some. He left me there to pick my choice and I thanked him with several bows and arigato gozaimases. I bought a simple set of two pee-on types, I don’t remember the brand name. Electronic types are actually the same as the simpler color-changing ones, only with some engineering to make them electronic, but not more accurate. I was so excited to see the two lines and immediately sent the pic to my partner and friends. A week later, I tested again with the remaining stick because my friend wanted proof of my pregnancy haha. She didn’t believe that we only tried one time (it was well-timed) and that was it. I then went to the gynae at a small ladies clinic near my station to confirm everything but she told me 5 weeks was too early. She gave me folic acid supplements and referred me to their sister clinic that had a maternity and admissions section. She added that I could go at any time between 8 and 10 weeks to start my prenatal program.

What, if anything, worried you the most about the prospect of giving birth in Japan? Were there any major differences between your home country and Japan in terms of pregnancy and childbirth?

I wasn’t worried about giving birth in Japan. What I was right to be worried about was the period after. With no family in Japan, it’s been difficult taking care of myself and my baby these first couple of months.

As for differences between the two countries, there are so many but I’ll just talk about three for now. First of all, maternity isn’t covered by the national insurance in Japan so the costs can pile up, even with the subsidies and lump sum maternity payment (the 420K). In Kenya, I had full private insurance that covered everything. The national insurance scheme in Kenya isn’t adequate at all so you need private insurance.

Secondly, weight gain is closely monitored here and commented on during every visit. I remember gaining weight so quickly during the first trimester. Eating almost constantly was the only thing that kept the nausea away, can you imagine that! Luckily that phase went away and I was back to normal eating habits in the weeks after. In Kenya, I don’t ever remember a prenatal visit where my weight was mentioned, not even once. Yet I gained more weight that first time round.

Thirdly, I think doctors in Kenya are more open to VBAC. Vaginal Birth After C-section (CS). Of course it depends on the reason for having a CS the previous time(s). But in Japan, they won’t risk it. The doctors told me that theirs is a small clinic that cannot handle an emergency situation, e.g. if uterine rupture occurred. So we just scheduled a CS. I didn’t really mind whichever way I gave birth, I just wanted a safe delivery. So a scheduled CS was okay with me.

Oh, one more difference is how the doctors here perform a quick ultrasound check with every visit. In Kenya, I did that once or twice during the entire pregnancy. The ultrasounds may be performed once per trimester. The nurses/doctors/midwives in Kenya will feel your belly and estimate the fundal height and check that your weight is increasing accordingly. If everything seems normal, then they won’t do an ultrasound. Sometimes they have a small, portable “heartbeat scanner” to listen to the baby’s heartbeat but not always.

How did you feel knowing that you would have to give birth during a pandemic? What concerned you the most?

I chose to give birth during the pandemic, so the state of the world wasn’t a surprise. Working from home favored me during the pregnancy. I had nausea almost throughout so I was lucky that I didn’t have to throw up at work or struggle with nausea during the commute. I don’t know if I would have had to walk with a sick bag.

But I did worry about catching the coronavirus knowing my immunity was compromised by the pregnancy. Also, the lack of support because no one from my family could travel to Japan to be with me. I plan on going back to Kenya soon instead.

What clinic/hospital did you go to and why did you choose it? How was your overall experience with that particular clinic/hospital?

I first found Ikeshita Ladies Clinic in Kichijōji on Google maps when I was looking for a gynae in my area that opened until late (7:30pm) so I could pop in after work. When I got pregnant, naturally I went there first, and they referred me to their sister clinic in Musashino near Mitaka Station, as they didn’t have an inpatient or maternity space. That’s how I ended up at my clinic. I met a Ghanaian lady who’d been admitted there and she told me the nurses were kind to her so that sealed the deal. Plus it’s at a convenient location for me. One short bus or a 10-minute taxi ride away. In any case, I don’t have many friends who’ve given birth in Japan so I couldn’t ask for recommendations and I didn’t know what info to Google in Japanese.

I liked the experience there but bear in mind I have no other clinic or hospital to compare it with in Japan. It’s a little on the expensive side but it was so nice and cozy. The private room felt like a hotel room with clean gowns for each day of the stay and drawers full of clean linens. I enjoyed my stay there and yes, the nurses were kind and professional and I got jouzu’d a lot. The food was great. From what I can tell, there are two doctors (except when there are temps covering them) and I’d see whoever was on duty when I went for the prenatal visits. They were the ones who carried out the CS and it felt like we’d been through this journey together. I got to know the nurses too and they actually held my hand during the surgery. By the way, I think because of masks we’ve had to have eye contact in order to communicate so I feel like I know them even more than I would if it wasn’t during a pandemic.

Being a small clinic, they don’t have English language support. The younger of the two doctors can speak English but the nurses and staff all communicate in Japanese. I pride myself on my JLPT N2 level of Japanese but it’s woefully inadequate when it comes to maternity vocabulary. I did miss some key info like how everyone coming to give birth at the clinic has to have a private room. Up until the time I checked in, I thought I would be in a shared room so my budget got a last-minute shocker. But the info had been there in the handbook. I also quickly learned the vocabulary for antibiotics, spinal tap, IV, etc., in the space of a week. I should have done that earlier. My partner couldn’t help, they were not letting anyone come with you because of the pandemic. In any case, he speaks no English so it was me and the Japanese-English dictionary app on my phone.

You were pregnant throughout the pandemic. What did you experience at your prenatal checkups in terms of coronavirus measures?

I got pregnant in July 2020, well into the pandemic. Initially, you’d walk in without an appointment but when the coronavirus cases continued to increase, they changed that to appointment-only. They also weren’t allowing anyone else to accompany the patients for whatever reason. They continued to take the temperature of everyone at the entrance and of course, hand sanitizing was required before stepping into the clinic. Everyone was masked up and I have never seen the medics’ full faces. Surreal.

What additional precautions did you take when it came to being pregnant during a pandemic?

Well, I avoided going out as much as possible. Luckily, I worked from home so I was able to minimize my movements to the supermarket or drugstore. If I had to take public transport, I tried to do that during off-peak hours. I used Uber Eats a lot until we just decided to be cooking at home, as ordering in was getting costly.

Did you have a birth plan? If so, could you share a bit about it?

Because I was going to have a scheduled CS, there was really no need for a birth plan. The hospital has a schedule already of what happens when you get a CS. You check in the day before and they run some tests on you (blood, urine, fetal heart rate check, and contractions measurements).

The following day, after the doctors finish the morning shift at 11:30, they come to do the surgery. They do a spinal tap or epidural, and you get to see the baby for a few seconds before they are whisked away for cleaning and testing. Two hours later, they bring you the baby for some bonding time, if the baby is alright and you’re up for it.

Did you take any prenatal vitamins? If so, which ones?

I just took the folic acid the gynae had prescribed, for about a month. Later, it turned out I was slightly anemic so I got prescribed some iron tablets as well. In Kenya, they recommended “pregnacare”, a kind of all-in-one supplement.

Did you do any additional prenatal testing (i.e., 4D ultrasound, NIPT, etc)? If yes, what was your experience?

No, I didn’t require any additional tests so I didn’t ask for them.

Did you continue to work throughout your pregnancy? How did your coworkers take the news of your pregnancy? If you continued to work, were you able to get childcare leave in addition to maternity leave? Were there any challenges when working while pregnant?

Yes, I continued working until around 35 weeks. Since I was working from home, it was easy to stay on until the last month. I had to tell my boss fairly early, at 12 weeks, because we plan projects like a year in advance. I work for a big Japanese company that’s somewhat progressive when it comes to supporting working parents so I wasn’t scared of telling them about my pregnancy. I don’t know how most of my colleagues took it, I haven’t seen them in over a year! Our online meetings have no video. My boss is very kind though and he told me I could be excused from stressful projects. One of my colleagues who has kids invited me to zoom lunches so she could answer any questions I had. Overall, a positive experience but I guess the scale of the company makes that possible. I am not a project leader at the moment, so I didn’t feel like my colleagues have to take over my workload and they could always hire temps as the company doesn’t pay my salary during my leave.

I am also able to take childcare leave and will do so until K is at least a year old. I can take an additional two years if I wish, at no pay.

How was your experience with taking public transportation? Do you have any tips?

I tried to commute during off-peak hours, that’s the only tip I can give. Ask your job if you can change your commuting hours by coming a little later or leaving a little earlier. I also took local trains if possible as express ones tended to be more crowded or chose the cars at either end of the train. For priority seats, only once or twice did someone ever give up their seat for me. Most of the time they would be buried in their smartphones or sleeping, making it super awkward to ask for a seat. In fact, one time, an old man asked me for my seat because my bulge wasn’t very visible when I sat down. I just let him have it and moved to the next car where there was space.

What was the most challenging or frustrating thing about being pregnant in Japan? What did you find the most positive?

The most challenging thing I would say is the language and cultural barrier. For example, the doctors here aren’t really chatty so you don’t always know the basis behind their decisions. Like, they would want to do some tests and I wouldn’t know if they are routine or optional. Many things are done because they have always been done a certain way, and nobody asks why. Doing the paperwork for my maternity leave, insurance, childcare leave, city hall procedures, etc has been challenging because of the language barrier.

The most positive thing is the support they have at the city hall Hoken center. They offered counseling and support if necessary. I got some 20,000 yen worth of gift vouchers from my city hall which I used to buy diapers and some clothes. I also like that Japan has specialized/small maternity clinics like the one I went to. In Kenya, the best maternity places are part of large private hospitals.

How did you decide what to buy initially for the baby in terms of everyday necessities (such as diapers, wipes, formula, soap, etc)? Did you get any free baby goods/samples from sites, stores, or events?

I read your blog! I got the Amazon Welcome Box after reading this blog. I bought a few basics in small quantities but I wanted to wait until after the baby was born to buy other major stuff. Because of coronavirus, I didn’t attend any events or go to any physical stores. I got some basic clothes online and towels/wraps/soap/detergents from Nishi Matsuya. A friend also sent me some items. The hospital also gave me some samples when I was being discharged. I knew not to buy too much stuff that was never going to get used, learned that the first time round.

Where did you go for maternity clothing?

Oh, I hated the colorless sacks that are sold as maternity clothing here. I went to thrift shops for some loose tops or got some long shirts from some stores that I wore with tights as my maternity “uniform”. It also helped that I was working from home, I spent many days and nights in my PJs. One tip I would offer is to pick dresses or shirts that button up at the front if you are planning to breastfeed. That way, you can still wear them during the “fourth trimester”.

Where did you go to find information about pregnancy? Did you do anything to prepare for the birth, such as attend any birth-preparation or parenting classes? If so, was it helpful?

Since I already gave birth before, I knew what to expect. I redownloaded a “BabyCenter” app that I used to track progress week by week and it was just as exciting as the first time. For information specific to being pregnant in Japan, I Googled and that’s how I found this blog and others writing about pregnancy in Japan (e.g. I didn’t attend any classes this time but I remember the first time around, I did some Lamaze classes. At the time, I found out a lot of information from a Facebook group of expecting Kenyan mums.

Did your clinic give you any health advice about being pregnant during a pandemic and the conditions under which you would give birth?

No particular advice but they did warn me that if I caught coronavirus, they would have to refer me to a different hospital. Being a small clinic, they may have to close for several weeks if they even have a single case. There were also multiple warnings not to gain too much weight (sigh) but later I learned why (see birth below).

Setting the pandemic and being in Japan aside, how was your second pregnancy different from your first?

The first pregnancy was kind of a breeze. Maybe because I was just 24 then. I didn’t have any morning sickness and I hardly “felt pregnant”. This second time, I had morning sickness throughout the day and throughout the pregnancy, although it got better from the 16th week. In the third trimester, I really “felt pregnant”: I couldn’t find a good sleeping position, I got out of breath easily and felt hot flushes sometimes.

Any other comments you would like to share about your pregnancy (in particular, being pregnant during a pandemic)?

I can’t express enough the importance of having a support network of friends and family, especially during the pandemic.

Giving Birth in Japan

When did you realize the baby was coming and what did you do? How did you feel? Was your baby early, on time, or overdue?

I had a CS scheduled on the 25th of March. A few days before that, I had been having somewhat strong Braxton Hicks and some back pain. When I checked into the clinic on the 24th and they measured the strength of the contractions, it turned out they were quite strong and I may have been in early labor! The doctor had to prescribe me a pill to slow down/stop the contractions until surgery the following day. I guess the 25th was well-timed, 38 weeks and 4 days into the pregnancy.

Were you tested for COVID-19 before delivery?

No. Aside from temperature checks every 3 hours or so.

One concern mothers-to-be giving birth during a pandemic is whether their partners will be allowed in the delivery room (or even the hospital/clinic they give birth at). Was your partner allowed in the delivery room with you?

No, they were not allowing anyone to step into the clinic with you, let alone into the theater. It was hard to be alone in there but the nurses and doctors were very encouraging. I felt like they were my family. One held my hand during those first few minutes, I was feeling scared because I could imagine them cutting me up as a result of having watched a few CS videos.

What was your experience giving birth during a pandemic? Did the medical staff wear protective gear? Did you have to wear a mask? Did you feel safe?

The nurses and doctors were all in masks and medical scrubs, but no special protective gear. I didn’t have to wear a mask. However, I didn’t feel unsafe. The small nature of the clinic probably contributed to this feeling. I didn’t see or interact with other mothers, even though I could hear their babies crying next door.

I understand that your first child was born via a C-section in Kenya. Did this influence whether you got a C-section for your second child?

Yes. I had an emergency C section the first time round because my water broke first, but then I never went into labor: no contractions and the cervix was barely open. I got induced with tablets but even this hardly got things moving and because I was steadily losing amniotic fluid, my baby got fetal distress and I had to be rushed into surgery.

This second time, the doctors here said I had to have a CS as they couldn’t risk uterine rupture. They were not equipped to handle such a complication at the small clinic.

Could you describe your experience having a C-section in Japan and how it compared with your first experience in Kenya?

The first time round, I had general anesthesia. I’d been having labor pains for a while as a result of the induction so I was eager for the pain to stop and I remember being told to count, and was out by 3. When I woke up, I was alone in the theater with a nurse waiting to wheel me back to my room. I was in so much pain but was given painkillers and soon after they wheeled in my tiny, beautiful baby. He was so cute. I really fell in love with him right there.

This second time, I really would have liked to have general anesthesia too. But they told me they only do spinal taps. You would have to be awake during the procedure and even though I consider myself brave, I can’t stand the thought of my body being cut up or of a needle going into my spine. I was also willing to wait the extra time it takes to see my baby when you have general anesthesia; after all, I had waited 9 months already.

Anyway, I didn’t have a choice and really, a spinal tap or epidural is actually considered the safest for both the mother and the baby. That morning, in my cozy “hotel room”, I woke up and wore compression stockings and a blue surgical gown. I wasn’t allowed to eat or drink anything from the night before but I had an IV line already. At 11:30 I walked into the theater room which had been prepared already. I was told to lie on my side on the surgical bed and thus began a 10 minutes-or-so nightmare to find the right spot in my back to inject the anesthesia. I have a short torso so I was very “full” during my pregnancy, I literally could not curve my spine no matter how hard I tried to make the letter C or to imagine a shrimp. I’d also gained some weight, naturally, so my spine wasn’t standing out. The older doctor tried 3 times and failed; each time he poked my back I prayed that this was it. I was sweating and the tension in the room was rising. Finally, the younger doctor, who’d been encouraging me to make the letter C and to imagine a shrimp, tried it. He said I have a narrow spine but he was able to successfully inject the anesthesia. Everyone in the room breathed a huge sigh of relief. Everything had literally stopped and suddenly there was so much movement.

Immediately after the injection, I started feeling a tingling sensation from my waist downwards. I’d expected to “go numb” immediately and I was numb to pain but not to some sensations, which took time to go. I could still wiggle my toes while the nurses put my legs into protective gear because it was going to get messy. Someone drew down the privacy screen so I couldn’t see what was happening below my chest but not before I saw a nurse inserting a catheter. I didn’t feel a thing, thankfully. I didn’t like the lack of control over my lower body: the first time I have ever experienced such a weird sensation. But there was no time to mull over such things. My left index finger was placed in a pulsometer, the IV Line had 2 other types of fluids added, ECG sensors were attached to my chest, a blood pressure cuff was cuffed around my right arm, and an oxygen mask placed over my mouth.

The surgery commenced. I felt terrified imagining I was going to feel the pain as they cut along the very same incision scar from 8 years before, even though the doctor assured me the anesthesia was adequate. That was when the nurse on my right, who was to receive the baby, took my hand. The room went quiet, all the bustle having died down. But soon, the sounds picked up again. The snipping and snapping, the clanging of tools back onto metal trays, the medical chatter between the doctors, the suction machine bubbling. When I looked up at the green ceiling, a red spot was reflected. A few minutes into the surgery, one of the doctors started to push down on my stomach, literally pushing the baby out. The nurse on my left was telling me push, push, like there was anything I could do in my immobile situation. Then I could feel the tugging. They make a 10cm or less incision through which they pull out the baby. I thought I wasn’t supposed to feel a thing! They pulled out the baby and the nurse on my right brought him to my face so I could look at him and touch his foot. He was so beautiful and so full of life, and he started crying then. Congratulations for a baby boy, everyone said. Genki, genki, they said. The nurse took him away for cleaning and testing, and said she’d bring him back in a couple of hours if all went well.

After that, they stitched me up as they chatted. The nurses waited patiently to clean up and wheel me back to my room, which had transformed from a “hotel” room back into a hospital room. I still had the blood pressure cuff attached, which would take measurements every hour, the pulsometer, the ECG, the IV Line, a catheter and I was also informed that my legs were in a massage contraption to keep circulation moving in order to prevent blood clots.

They brought my baby in after a couple of hours. They must have given him some formula because he was sleeping so beautifully (yes it’s possible to sleep beautifully!). The nurse put him in my arms and took plenty of photos for me. I couldn’t stop looking at him. They did take him away soon and as the anesthesia wore off, the pain took off. I had the longest night ever. I was in agony and it seemed the painkillers weren’t helping. I had some painkiller injection and suppositories twice that night. The nurse told me a CS is more painful the second time round and it’s not possible to have zero pain (I’m sure it is though, with the right amount of drugs) . When I woke up the following morning, the pain was bearable although any movement made it worse. But it got better with time and by the third night, K was spending the night with me in my room.

How was your hospital stay and recovery? Were you allowed to have any visitors?

I wasn’t allowed to have any visitors, but I expected that. I did have moments of loneliness. The nurses can’t really stop to chat. On the other hand, the lack of visitors allowed me time to rest and nap whenever the baby was sleeping.

The day after the surgery, they unhooked everything from me except for the IV line and I was able to take the few steps to the bathroom. The doctors came every morning to check on me, and the nurses seemed to come every hour or so it seemed, to take my temperature and blood pressure.

The food was good, 3 meals a day with an afternoon snack. I was able to enjoy an afternoon shower, followed by a nap and a snack on a daily basis. The nurses looked after him during this time. However, by the fifth day, I was getting tired of being in one room and couldn’t wait to get home. I couldn’t believe I still had a couple of more nights left and I was so glad to be discharged on the 8th day. I’d spent 7 nights in the hospital.

How did you bring your child home from the hospital or clinic?

My housemate and another friend came to pick me up in a taxi and we were home in 10 minutes. They’d hung up a “Welcome Home Baby K” sign up on the wall and I was just in tears, I was so touched.

When looking back at things you were worried about when it came to giving birth during a pandemic, how would you describe your birth experience overall? Was it what you imagined it to be?

Giving birth in a Japanese clinic was just as I expected. I felt well taken care of even though the lack of visitors put a damper on things. I would have loved to have my mother and my older son over, but the pandemic meant it would be hard to get them both a visa. So I plan to rejoin them in Kenya as soon as possible.

How would you describe your overall birth experience in Japan compared to your experience in Kenya?

It’s hard to compare because of the different circumstances. I do like the care given in a small maternity clinic in Japan, but I do miss being surrounded by family and friends and I’d rather have that. As for the medical care itself, I would say I received quality care at Mater Hospital in Nairobi, just as I did at Ikeshita Ladies Clinic in Tokyo. What matters the most to me is the safe delivery of my babies, and I have had that both times.

What advice would you give to women who have to give birth during the COVID-19 pandemic?

To try and be prepared as much as possible. Financially, emotionally, physically, etc. Living in a pandemic is stressful enough, giving birth is stressful, and both at the same time could be hard on one’s physical and mental health. I thought I was well prepared but I was pushed to the limit the first month after being discharged because I didn’t have enough help with the baby. I was quite sleep-deprived.

Child-rearing in Japan

How did you feel those first couple of days home from the hospital with a newborn? Was it any easier since this was your second child?

In some ways, it was easier, as I knew what to expect. As I said, I don’t live with my partner but I have a housemate who has been helping me with the housework and grocery shopping. I have the baby full time, and on some days I was running dangerously low on sleep. So it was harder in some ways.

When I had my first child in Kenya, I had plenty of help from my family and I don’t even remember much from those early days. I don’t think I ever had a totally sleepless night but I’ve had a couple of those this time round. However, we’re six weeks now (as at the time of writing this) and I’m happy to report that he’s sleeping at night. He sleeps from around 10pm to 6am, waking up 3 times for quick feeds and changes. Everything has improved so much.

The week after being discharged, I developed some infection around my CS scar. I had to go back to the clinic for antibiotics which cleared it up in a week and I was back on the recovery journey. Of course, it takes months to fully heal from a CS so I will try to continue taking it easy over the next few months.

Where does your newborn sleep? Do you swaddle them, use a sleepsack, or put a blanket over them?

We co-sleep in my bed. Initially, he slept beside me in a small futon with padded edges that my friends got me from Amazon (see link) but after a while it was easier to just place him on a towel beside me. I put a blanket over him but I make sure to leave the hands free

Baby K (Harriet)

What is one product you found to be especially useful for a new mom?

At this rate, it might seem like I’m running an Amazon affiliate program! I got a Konny baby sling from Amazon (see link) that has helped me a couple of times when I need my hands free but the baby doesn’t want to be out of my arms. The sling doesn’t need that lower support belt that goes right over the CS scar (ouch), like most baby carriers have.

What are your experiences with making local mom friends?

Sadly, none. Because of the pandemic, and because it is Japan, I don’t have any local mom friends and haven’t had the chance to meet any.

Do you find Tokyo to be baby or child-friendly? What are your experiences with going out alone with your child?

I do, especially this side of Tokyo where I reside. I have been out a couple of times with the baby on public transport, like when I went to apply for his passport. I was commuting during off-peak hours and I found it easy to navigate with the baby stroller. I could get into the spacious “multi-purpose” bathroom at the station with the stroller and didn’t have to worry about getting into a tiny toilet stall with the baby or (gasp) leaving him outside (not an option). Most large department stores at train stations are likely to have a baby room. The buses I have been on also have space for two-three baby strollers (of course during off-peak hours).

There are also lots of small parks and play spaces in Tokyo. So far, I’ve been out once to the nearby park.

When are you planning on going back to work and hoping to put your child in daycare? Have you had any experience with the daycare system in Japan? If so, could you share a bit about it?

I plan on going back to work when my baby turns a year old, so that will be in April of 2022. I haven’t applied for daycare yet, but I believe the application for next year’s April intake will be in October this year.

My firstborn son attended daycare here, from ages 2-6. We were in inaka though, and had a fairly tolerant nursery school. Tolerant in the sense that they relaxed some pointless rules and requirements for us foreign parents, for example they let us buy hand towels instead of making us sew them, or they would let us give them sheets that were not the exact 30 x 27.8 cm requested. J really enjoyed the time in that daycare and I just hope K will also get into a good daycare here in Tokyo.

What languages do you speak with your child? Do you have any concerns or plans when it comes to raising them in a bilingual or multilingual household?

With J, I spoke to him in English and he spoke Japanese in the daycare and later, elementary school. Now that he’s back in Kenya, he’s forgetting Japanese but he has improved his fluency in English and he has picked up Swahili and Kisii. I plan to do the same with K: English at home.

Do you find anything daunting and/or challenging when it comes to raising a child in Japan?

There are a few challenges when raising a child here. First, it’s the rules, so many, especially when they start school. Takes the joy out of what should be an otherwise carefree childhood. Secondly, it’s the language barrier. Thirdly, the sense of identity of the kids, a complex topic. It’s a challenge raising kids who speak Japanese, are culturally Japanese, but aren’t accepted by those around them. I have read so many horror stories and in fact, my older son experienced bullying in the elementary school here. I had to take him out of the school while I figured out what to do and that’s why at the moment, he is in Kenya with my parents. I actually hope to raise my kids outside of Japan.

So far, have you experienced any cultural differences when comparing taking care of a newborn in Japan versus Kenya?

Not really, as I’m raising him “my way” and I don’t really know “the Japanese way” 🙂

What is something specific to Japan that you’re most looking forward to doing with your child?

There are many things I look forward to doing with my kids. Going for walks, hiking, swimming, drives, going skiing and frolicking in the snow, traveling together, cooking together, movie nights, Christmas, birthdays, their first days of school, graduation, etc,. However, these are not specific to Japan. In Japan, I look forward to hanami, hanabi, the festivals and the special attention to seasonal foods.

You can read about Harriet’s life in Tokyo on her blog, Savvy Kenya (make sure to subscribe!). Harriet can also be found on Instagram and Twitter.


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As a small token of my appreciation, I'll also send you a FREE Japanese and English printable to help your little one learn all about words associated with Summer in Japan