Dining in Japan with children can be quite a task. Fortunately, there are a ton of family restaurant chains for you to enjoy.
They are super easy to enjoy with children because they essentially do everything you need. They have seating for kids. Menu items for kids. Silverware for kids. Coloring books and toys even.
But if you want to get off the beaten path a bit you’ll start to run into difficulties. Here are a few phrases to help you out.
Do you allow children?
While nearly all restaurants allow children, there are some that do not. These are usually very high end restaurants, or are in fact an izakaya — a bar which serves food (small dishes that go great with alcoholic beverages).
To ask if the place allows children say:
kodomo mo issho de ī desu ka?
It means ‘can children accompany me?‘ Technically you’re not asking if the place allows children, not in the direct sense like you would back home. Instead you’re asking
if children can accompany you [inside the place].
This shortcut is a giant cut of the phrase above. It’s a complete misuse of the Japanese language, and I almost didn’t want to include it at all.
However, I want you to be successful with every dining experience, so here it is: kodomo OK desu ka? Make it sound like a question, hold up an OK sign with your hand, and it should work out for you.
Do you have a diaper changing station?
This is one of those things that is very hit or miss in Japan. You’ll find most major shopping center restrooms have diaper changing stations, but very few restaurants do. However, it doesn’t hurt to ask, and just might save you a trip to the car for an emergency diaper change.
To ask if they have a diaper changing station say:
doko ni omutsu kae supeesu wa arimasu ka?
The Japanese do not call this a diaper changing station, but instead a “diaper changing space.” If you look closely at the phrase above you will notice you’re not asking if they have one, but where it is. This is a bit of a language hack to save you time.
If you simply asked if they had one they may answer “yes” and then you would have to ask where it was located. With the phrase above they will either answer “we don’t have one” or “yes, it’s right over here.”
Most places with a diaper changing space actually offer a whole room designed for more than changing diapers. These areas are setup to offer mothers a place to escape the public eye to breastfeed, quiet a crying child, etc…
While most restaurants might not have such a space, you will find them at major shopping centers (especially nearby food court areas).
Do you have a kids menu?
If you are visiting a family chain restaurant you can pretty much guarantee they will have a kids menu, but what if you’re not visiting a family restaurant?
Typically if you are with children the staff will automatically bring you a kids menu, assuming they have one. However, asking isn’t too hard. In this section I’ll show you how.
To ask if they have a kids menu:
kodomo no menyū wa arimasu ka?
As you can see, asking for a kids menu is straight forward. In fact, this hints at a phrase you will see quite often: “_ wa arimasuka?” This means “do you have _?” In this case you’re asking about a kid’s menu, which is kodomo no menyu.
If that phrase above is a bit too hard to pull off you’re in luck, there is a great shortcut. You might not be ready for how easy this is.
Are you ready? You can simply say “kids menu arimasuka?” It’s not a perfect sentence, and it mixes English with Japanese, but you’d be surprised how often that happens.
The staff should easily understand you, and this shortcut is easy to remember.
Do you have high chairs?
If you are going to a restaurant with real small children, you may wish to have a high chair to seat them in. If you are at a family restaurant there is a very high chance it will have high chairs (and will likely offer you one if they notice you have small children).
If you don’t spot high chairs in the restaurant, you can still ask if they have them, here’s how.
To ask if they have high chairs say:
kodomo no isu wa arimasu ka?
If you read the last section you might recognize part of the phrase here. Yes, we’re using the same “_ wa arimasuka?” sentence with a different subject. Notice that you are simply asking for a kids chair, not specifically a high chair like you might in English.
Just like with the kids menu in the previous section, if that phrase above is a bit too hard to pull off you’re in luck, there is a great shortcut.
You can simply say “kids chair arimasuka?” Again, not a proper sentence, but the staff should understand you.
However, be prepared for the staff to ask what you said. Sometimes they aren’t ready to hear English mixed with Japanese and not catch what you said the first time.
Do you have kid-friendly table settings?
Smaller hands needs smaller forks and spoons. The Japanese also have training chopsticks for kids, you won’t find these at restaurants too often, but can buy them in shops throughout Japan — you should even be able to use them in the restaurant.
Of course every family restaurant has kid-friendly table settings, but if you’re not at a family restaurant, how do you ask if they have some? In this section I’ll show you how.
To ask if they have kid-friendly table settings say:
kodomo no supūn to fōku wa arimasu ka?
Notice that you don’t ask for table settings like you might in English. Instead, you simple ask for a fork and spoon. Usually this would be all you need, but what if you want kid-friendly plates or bowls?
That’s not too hard. Replace the fōku and supūn above with osara and bōru.
If you’ve read the other sections of this article, you’ll notice the Japanese understand the English word “kids.” This means you can get away with saying “kids fork to spoon arimasuka?”
Not perfect Japanese, but will get the job done in a pinch. The Japanese language has transliterated the words fork and spoon from English, so it is so close they should understand you.
Responses to Listen For
When you use each of the phrases above, the staff are likely to respond right? This is where you may get lost.
If the staff are responding with a positive answer, you may hear keywords such as:
- Arimasu — means “have it”
- Gozaimasu — also means “have it”
- Hai — a simple “yes” (although quite informal, you likely won’t hear this often)
- Ii Desu — means “it’s good” as in yes, it is okay (not something like tastes good)
If the staff are responding with a negative answer you may hear words such as:
- Arimasen — means “don’t have it”
- Gozaimasen — also means “don’t have it”
- Ie — a simple no (again, too informal to hear often at a restaurant)
- Nai Desu — means “don’t have” as well, too informal to hear often as well
Notice the -sen on the end of gozaima-sen and arima-sen? That is what you should listen for, as it is the negative form of the word.
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