Five Places to Make Mom Friends in Japan
Because every mom needs a girls group to lean on.
I remember my very first day at primary school. I was sitting nervously on the mat when a friendly lad plopped himself down next to me.
“Can I trade places with you?” he asked earnestly, “I’ll be your best friend!” Eagerly, I agreed and he, my new best friend, clumsily draped his heavy arm over my shoulders as I scooted over to make space. Yea, we were cute.
Thankfully, my friendship skills have developed somewhat since then, and they have definitely been put to much use as a new mom. Amidst the delightful snuggles and warm fuzzies, becoming a mom can be an overwhelming and isolating experience.
Making friends with other moms with whom you can relate and share information is vital, particularly when living in a foreign country.
It can be easy and natural to make friends with other expat families living in Tokyo, but this may not be ideal if you are in Japan long term. Expats tend to come and go on a fairly regular basis which can leave you in a constant state of flux, friendship-wise. Instead, you might be interested in seeking friendships with local families in your neighborhood. This can, however, be a daunting task. Luckily for us, in Japan there are many places to meet new friends-to-be and a strong culture for doing so. There is even a word for it. Mama-tomo (ママ友), a word combining mama and tomodachi (友だち, friend) that means a relationship that you have established with another mom via your kids.
Here are our five favorite ‘hotspots’ for making mama-tomo in your neighbourhood!
There are a number of established mothers’ groups primarily focussed toward foreign moms living in Tokyo, such as Tokyo Mothers Group (an online community where you can reach out to find moms and playgroups in your area) and Little Explorers Playgroup (a group that organizes weekly events around Tokyo for 0-3 year olds). There are also international groups that cater equally to both Japanese and foreign moms such as Tokyo Mums (a bilingual mothers group that holds monthly events and weekly hangouts).
If you are looking for a group closer to home, it is worth inquiring at your local ward office. It is likely that they organize something, perhaps even in English specifically catering to foreign moms.
In Japan, most ward offices provide children’s play centers (児童館, jidokan, maybe also called 子供文化センター, kodomo bunka senta) and childcare support centers (子育て支援センター, kosodate shien senta). Both are provided free of charge and equipped with safe play areas for babies, toys and nursing rooms. They are a godsend for moms living in small apartments with active kids.
In particular, childcare support centers are focussed specifically toward younger children (babies and toddlers) and tend to encourage a community environment in order to foster friendships between moms. They are usually attached to a hoikuen (daycare) and are staffed with qualified childcare workers who can help entertain your kids while you chat with the other moms. Jidokan, on the other hand, tend to be focussed at elementary school children, but also have play spaces for babies and provide the opportunity to meet other moms.
Make a visit to your ward office to find out about play centers in your area.
Routine Checkups and Vaccinations
Routine health checkups and vaccinations are provided either at your local health center, or at your choice of paediatrician.
Either way, they tend to be done en masse which means they are a great opportunity to meet moms in your neighbourhood with similar aged kids.
Make the most of your time in the waiting room to strike up a conversation while gawking at all the cute babies!
From baby swimming classes to music and craft classes to yoga and pilates classes—with a little research you might be able to find a class that interests you in your area. Your local YMCA, gym or kindergarten/daycare might be a good place to start making inquiries. Not only can you sneak in a bit of exercise or entertainment while bonding with your precious one, you are also likely to meet other moms with similar interests. Win-win!
Every time I have visited my local library I have found it full of kids and at least one mom with a young baby. Most city libraries have a children’s area where you can let your baby crawl around and/or read them a book or two. Many libraries also host a “story time” for kids which is not only great for Japanese language development, but also for meeting other moms.
While you are there, you might want to check out the library’s English section. Many have a small selection of English children’s books in addition to the Japanese ones. It’s never too early to start enjoying books with your children!
And Finally…Some Useful Phrases
A huge barrier to making new friends in Japan is, of course, language. However, even if you don’t speak Japanese well, you are likely to find moms in your neighbourhood who speak a little English. Either way, here are some useful and simple phrases (“pick-up lines”, shall we say?) to get you started. Most conversations between moms with babies tend to follow a similar pattern, so you will quickly get used to it and be a pro in no time.
Kawaii desu ne! (Your child is) so cute! You are probably very familiar with this phrase. The more you repeat this phrase during your conversation the better!
Nan-ka getsu/nan sai desu ka? How many months/how old (is your child)?
Nani-kun (if it’s a boy) desu ka? Nani-chan (if it’s a girl) desu ka? (Or, to be safe) Namae wa nan desu ka? What is his or her name?
Hitori-me desu ka? Is he or she your first child?
Chikaku ni sundeimasu ka? Do you live nearby?
Yoku dekakemasu ka? Do you often go out (with your child)? (I find this is often a precursor to an invitation to hang out together sometime).
Yokereba, kondo issho ni asobimasen ka? If it’s good for you, shall we hang out together sometime?
La-in wo tsukattemasu ka? La-in de tomodachi ni nattemo ii desu ka? Do you use Line? Is it ok if we become friends on Line?
Ja, mata renraku shimasu ne! Well then, I’ll contact you sometime!
Armed with these mama-tomo pick-up lines, and a little proaction and boldness, you should be fine. And remember, the moms you meet are probably craving friendship just as much as you, so don’t be afraid to reach out. It’ll be worth it!