I’ve learned this summer that part of the process of becoming a new parent in Japan is accidentally elbowing a realistic baby doll in front of a crowd that gasps in unison.

Thankfully, I’m not the only one at the Suginami Health Center this particular afternoon in August learning how to give a newborn a bath — and plenty of other dads-to-be aren’t exactly acing this challenge, either. That’s why we’ve all gathered here for a parenting class, after all.

There’s plenty to prepare for ahead of having a kid. Most of the essential to-dos are the same in any country — from finding the right hospital to gathering the necessary products the newborn will need when they finally arrive home. Yet having a child in Japan presents specific issues to keep in mind alongside the rush to find the perfect car seat.

After you confirm that you are expecting, the first step is to head over to your local ward or city office to procure a Maternal and Child Health Handbook (boshi kenkō techō). Your doctor will give you a paper to take to the appropriate government body.

Every area has its own process. My ward requires an hour-long interview with at least one of the parents, and the handbook you receive differs from place to place. Yet across all locations, the book is used to track checkups and comes with vouchers that can be used at the hospital. With a baby on the way, you’ll want a full bank account, too.

Enter the aforementioned parenting classes. In Tokyo, there are plenty of independent courses and groups to seek out, while your hospital might also have a class to help prepare everyone involved for the pregnancy ahead. It’s probably best to supplement those with mother’s classes, which most ward governments offer for free.

As the name implies, though, these gatherings only focus on moms. Many wards provide parenting classes that teach both parents the basics of taking care of a baby, including opportunities to practice giving a bath to or dressing a doll (and make mistakes before the baby can cry back at you). Men will also be given the chance to wear a pregnancy suit. Take this as an opportunity to appreciate what your partner has to go through for nine months — or, from the other side, laugh as your husband mucks it up.

You need a plan to get to the hospital when labor begins, but it never hurts to have a backup. Nihon Kotsu offers a service for pregnant women where those living in Tokyo can register with the company, providing the address of one’s home and the hospital in advance. When the baby is on the way, you can call up the number at any time and a taxi will come to whisk you away. There’s certainly a lot going through your mind in the final days — like, am I capable of not elbowing my newborn now? Prepare as much as possible in advance.

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