They say it takes a village to raise a child (I know, there must be a billion mama blogs out there that start with this insightful African proverb, but there is good reason for it in my opinion). In some cases, this can be read as, it takes a village to stop a stay-at-home-mama (or papa) from going nuts :).
Don’t get me wrong, I love the days I get to stay at home, just LA and I. In fact, I find it quite refreshing, especially after a particularly overambitious week like I’ve just had. Weird as it sounds, despite being within 10 metres of her basically 24/7 (Japanese-sized apartment and all) I really do start to miss her if I share her too much with her cute little baby friends and their mamas and other friends (and old ladies on the train). Oh yes, I do crave those days I get to be a selfish mama bear and keep her all to myself. But, after spending most of the day at home I start to get antsy for some outside company. If I don’t seek it, or at least get out of the house, I find that the “refreshing” factor quickly plummets into the negative territory of dopey, unmotivated laziness. That could just be me, I know everyone has different personalities, but I truly believe we were meant to live in community.
Fortunately, I’ve been blessed with an awesome community here in Japan. I can’t overstate the value of joining a club or activity where mama/family friends can be made. There are many to be found in my area, and I’m part of a great one called Tokyo Mums. It is a very international group full of vibrant, supportive mamas. Check it out if you are looking for something to join!
One huge reason why I love having a community of mamas around me is for the information exchange. While every baby is different and there is no way to compare, it is nice to hear others’ experiences to get a rough gauge on what is “normal”, learn sleep training and feeding tips, and get ideas for cool spots to take bubs. This has been especially valuable as a barely literate foreigner! It was at a Tokyo Mums event that I was recommended to visit “Kazoku no atelier” (family studio). This is one of those word-of-mouth type places (even Google sensei has very little to say about it, in English anyway) that is tucked away in a quiet neighbourhood near Minami-Shinjuku station. I don’t think I would have found this place on my own which would have been a shame, shame, shame, because this place is great!
In Japan we have city-provided facilities called jidoukan. These are free-of-charge and (usually) come equipped with large play spaces for kids and babies, toys, books, a dining area and nursing rooms. They often also offer family-friendly classes and activities. My friend tells me they are a godsend for parents with toddlers, as their typically small living space often proves inadequate for burning built up toddler energy, especially on rainy (or intolerably hot) days.
Jidoukans in themselves are wonderful things. When I first discovered my local jidoukan, just minutes walk away from my house, I was delighted to find such cool facilities were available free of charge. Once again my opinion that Japan is a great place to raise a family was confirmed.
Kazoku no atelier, however, takes this wondrousness to an entirely new level and makes my local look like child’s play (ha!). Established three years ago as a result of a partnership between the Shibuya ward and a private company called Mother Dictionary, Kazoku no atelier achieves a great balance between providing an artsy, modern and delightful space that appeals to adults, and a fun destination for kids complete with unique play equipment and interest-piquing classes.
On the first floor is the reception and the oyako (parents and children) salon which is elegantly decorated with artwork donated by local artists. It is furnished with several large dining tables, high chairs, two couches (perfect for breastfeeding), a crib and a tatami mat play area. Free tea and water is also available. I was blown away by the high-quality, beautiful toys and books (including large classroom-style picture books) available for use. On my visit there, those toys were enough to keep the babies occupied within eyesight while us mamas enjoyed lunch and a chat.
Downstairs is an indoor playground which would be perfect for toddlers and older kids, although our babies enjoyed it too. Unfortunately the ball pit was being cleaned on the day I visited, although I’m sure we will be back very soon to give that a go!
Upstairs there are separate rooms where classes are held, and also a breastfeeding space. On the day I visited, there was a baby massage class scheduled right after lunch. Many of the classes offered are free, although some incur a fee, and priority is given to Shibuya ward residents.They also operate an art school on Saturdays through which various activities are offered, depending on the week.
Outside there is a small garden with evergreen oak trees which looked like a pleasantly shady space to pass some time, if you could tear yourself and your child away from all that the indoor facility has to offer.
To top it all off, the staff are absolutely lovely and quick to stop for a chat and answer any questions. One of the receptionists even spotted me on the street looking quizzically at the sign (I must have looked lost, but in fact that was just my “I’m trying to read Japanese” face), deduced that I was looking for them, and stepped up to the entrance way to wave me in.
After spending a lovely time, full of much gushing and “ohh, this place is so cool”, we spotted a photo booth on our way out. We couldn’t resist. Definitely a place to put on the regular rotation, especially when the allocated cafe budget has blown out :).
Location: Shibuya-Ku, Yoyogi 2-32-5 (map)
Open Hours: 9:30am – 17:30pm, closed Sunday, Monday, public holidays and 12/29-1/3.
Crowd factor: We visited on a weekday morning, and noticed it started to get a bit busy around lunchtime, although there was still plenty of space. I imagine it would get busy in the afternoons (after school) and on the weekends.