My baby crab: on swimming class in Japan

Time and time again I’ve read articles and heard from more experienced mamas about the importance of playing and interacting with our young babies. Honestly, it’s a point on which I have felt a little lost because, until recently, our baby playtime has consisted of me waving various objects in front of LA’s face while she attempts to grab and stuff everything into her mouth, with the occasional song thrown in. Now, I’m sure that from Bubs’ perspective this is valuable playtime, but I found myself wondering if I was doing it “right” and if I could really consider that to be “proper” playtime, as silly as it sounds…first-time mum and all :).

However, the game changer in the last couple of months has been her becoming able to roll around and sit up unassisted (yea!). Since starting baby led weaning (very loosely :)), LA has also quickly become a lot more coordinated with her hands; whether or not this can be accredited to BLW I don’t know, but it has made our playtimes feel a lot more significant, that’s for sure. It’s pretty exciting getting to interact with her on a bit more of a meaningful level as she starts to imitate my movements, take great interest in actions to songs and explore the mysteries of her sound-emitting toys.

LA is also now old enough to enjoy our Tuesday morning swimming classes at our local YMCA, which has become a big highlight of our week. These classes really are a fun adventure for both of us. For me, it is a first foray into the world of cheesy kids’ songs and activities led by adults using high-pitched voices. For LA, the wonders of floating and splashing around in water look likely to hold her in awe for quite some time yet. Throughout the 45 minute class I frequently find her big curious eyes catching mine with a bemused look that says, “whoa, Mama, can you believe this?” and occasionally a panic stricken look of, “what the? what the? what the? save me Mama!”, although the latter is quickly replaced with a giggle and smile after finding reassurance in my own. Thankfully, LA has really taken to the water and it has been a joyous and relaxed time for both of us thus far.

Now, funnily enough, I never took baby swimming classes in NZ, so I have no point of reference, but our class here in Japan is a highly organised and routine affair, with its own set of paperwork.

In the morning before class, I obediently take LA’s temperature and fill in her “wellness booklet” and stamp it with my hanko (which is often used instead of a signature in Japan).

On arrival at the swimming pool, I hand the booklet in to the receptionist, and he hands me our locker key. Inside the locker room, the instructors conveniently lay out towels on the ground and in baskets which makes it easy to set Bubs down while I get myself organised.

For swimming gear, we were required to purchase for LA a special YMCA swimming cap on the front of which I was to write her name. I initially just wrote LA’s first name, thinking that surely kids work on a first name basis. After the first class I realised that every other child had their family name and first name tidily printed on their caps, so I went home and hastily wrote LA’s last name as well, not wanting her to stand out even more as the only foreigner in the class. Unfortunately the pen I chose to use was a big fat one, and not only that, the ink ran because the cap was still wet! So now poor LA has to suffer the humiliation of having a cap with an illegible name written on the front, in reverse order no less. You better get used to it, kid, with a gaikokumama like me! As for the adults, every single other mum wears basically identical triathlon style body swimsuits as opposed to my regular racerback type swimsuit. This is my gaikoku life :).


One point I was surprised about was that they do not require (and in fact, seem to discourage the use of) swimming nappies. I put LA in one the first time, but was told by several different instructors at different points of the lesson that it was not necessary. I’m still pretty nervous about stray poops, but my friends assure me that in the event that a swimming poop should occur, LA’s swimsuit will be enough to hold it in…

After getting ready we start with poolside warmups which gradually end up with us in the water. The class then begins in earnest and is full of kids’ songs at which I previously would have rolled my eyes but have a newfound tolerance for, collecting toys dispersed in the water, navigating little obstacle courses and paddling from one end of the pool to the other while twirling, jumping in and out of the water and floating. As well as being a great way to introduce LA to what will hopefully be our shared love for being in the water, it is a great chance for me to pick up some Japanese kid lingo and songs and make friends with other mums.

My favourite part is when the babies have to move along clutching onto the pool wall like little crabs while chanting “kani san, kani san, kani san…” (Mr. crab, Mr. crab, Mr. crab). It is ridiculously cute and I cannot help but think of Willy Wonka’s oompa loompas.

There is also a free playtime for which the instructors provide an impressive array of water toys to play with. I use this time to swim a few laps myself, while one of the instructors kindly holds LA for me. We get the whole pool to ourselves, so there is plenty of space to move around.


After the class is finished, the instructors accompany us to the shower room and help by holding babies/gear while we shower. It is very Japanese style, in that everyone strips naked and showers together in a communal space. Communal bathing was something that I avoided at all costs when I first moved here, but have now become accustomed to and barely bat an eyelid at, especially when I have a squirming, slippery baby to deal with! The instructors then assist us in getting ourselves and our babies dressed amid much chatter on the part of the mums, and excited running around on the part of the toddlers. LA usually lies there looking around with a satisfied grin on her face.

All in all, it is a valuable, stress-free and enjoyable way to spend the morning. And, it’s also so far been a surefire way to get a looooong daytime nap in (for LA, and sometimes me as well). After the first class we got home and LA promptly fell asleep and took a 3 hour nap!

Happy Mama and happy bubba after swim class







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