Pregnancy Badges: Things I love about Japan

Picture this: you’re about five weeks pregnant (far too early to be showing) and commuting to work in the early afternoon. You’re also suffering from horrible, round-the-clock morning sickness.

It’s a full train, so you head toward the Priority Seats… only to see that they are filled with a couple older ladies, a few businessmen, and a teenager.

priority seating pregnant tag train Japan Japanese Tokyo

When you stop in front of one of the businessmen, he glances up and notices a small keychain on your purse. Without a word, he gets up, offers you his seat, and walks off towards another part of the station. Breathing a sigh of relief, you sit down, pull out your iPod, and start jamming out to your favorite band.

Thank Goodness for Pregnancy Badges.

That’s what the businessman saw, by the way. He saw your pregnancy badge. A pregnancy badge (or maternity badge) is a small, circular metal and foam keychain that can be attached to bags, purses, or worn around the neck. As the name suggest, the pregnant badge is for pregnant women. Each pregnancy key chain has the Japanese maternity logo on it – identical to the stickers you see on trains.

pregnant pregnancy maternity badge Japanese train Japan

The rules of the priority seating is simple. You are supposed to give up your set to:

  • The elderly
  • Injured (mostly leg injuries, but when I had a broken arm people would occasionally give me their seat)
  • Pregnant women
  • Families with small children
  • Small children

In any case, I always wondered how pregnant women were identified. Most of the time you can’t tell – and you’re never supposed to ask. By the time a woman is “close” enough to be obviously pregnant, they typically don’t ride crowded trains in the first place. I doubt the pregnant women in the first and second trimester, themselves, are asking for the seat; IF (key word, IF) I were pregnant, I would be far too embarrassed to ask.

This is where pregnancy badges (or Maternity badge) come in.

I don’t spend very much time standing in between the seats in the priority section. I remember when I saw my first maternity badge. The Japanese women, in question, was wearing a somewhat tight fitting gold shirt with a black shawl, carrying a black purse. She didn’t look pregnant, but she had the badge.

She got a seat.

Priority Seating on a Japanese Train

Priority Seating on a Japanese Train

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About Grace Buchele Mineta

I got into the writing business by accident. Now I live in the countryside near Tokyo with my husband, Ryosuke, where I draw comics, blog, and make videos about our daily life. Contact: Website | More Posts

15 Comments on Pregnancy Badges: Things I love about Japan

  1. Its a pity JR doesnt make one for disabled people, I dont look disabled but certainly am and often have people glaring at me for using the priority seat

    • They really should. I had an awkward encounter when I fell off a bike and broke my foot (ish) – and some old lady said something to her friend about me not getting up to let them sit in the priority seat. Ryosuke was sitting next to me and totally chewed them out (and they left the cart for another one).
      It was pretty awkward… I can’t imagine if that happened regularly…

  2. Just an observation as third time pregnant in Tokyo and usually working until 40 weeks. It’s amazing how many people fall asleep when they see you get on. I’ve actually sat on the floor once.

  3. This reminds me of a story my mother told me about a man who went to France and didn’t speak much French. He repeatedly heard people using a particular phrase to ask people to give up their seats, and for some reason he decided to try out this phrase. (I’m not sure why, and now that I think about it, this makes no sense unless maybe he was injured or something.) It turned out the phrase meant “I’m pregnant,” so people thought he was pretty strange.

    • Oh my gosh. That’s hilarious. I can almost see people going like “What is with this crazy foreigner??”

      The dangers of parroting what you hear in another language. This is really funny.

  4. I would have needed that in my first and second trimester when it wasn’t obvious that I was pregnant yet.

    In China, pregnant women with big bumps do take the subway at rush hour, because maternity leave usually only starts at 8 1/2 months and pregnant women will work right up to the time they are almost about to give birth.

    If people see that you’re pregnant or need a seat, most of them will give up their seats here in Shenzhen. The only thing is that with smart phones, many people who have a seat watch videos on their phones and don’t look around to see if anyone needs a seat.

    • Oh wow. Really, working at 8 1/2 months? That’s… impressive. And kind of crazy (by American/Japanese standards, I guess).

      Japan is the same way, everyone uses their smartphone and stuff on the train. You’re SUPPOSED to not use your phone near the priority seats (in case someone has a heart problem). But even if the kids aren’t looking, I’ve seen a woman go like “Excuse me,” so the person notices her and gives up their seat.

      I really love that system because I’ve heard that morning/all day sickness can be rough in the beginning.

      • This is an interesting system! It can be really hard to tell when some women are pregnant and I definitely don’t like to assume.

        Most American women I know worked as long as possible into their pregnancies (since they don’t get much time off work and would rather spend what time they do have with the new baby). I also live in China and worked until the day before I gave birth. I have my own business and don’t get paid if I’m not working.

        Morning sickness wasn’t much of an issue for me but I definitely felt tired if I had to stand or walk long at the end of my pregnancy. Luckily, people usually gave me a seat whenever I took the bus.

        • That’s nice :)

          I’ve never been pregnant, so I wouldn’t know what morning sickness/fatigue is like. But I really do think this is a great system to make sure people who aren’t “showing” still are protected.

          I love how Japan has cool things like this!

  5. We talked about These badges at University about 2 years ago. I think it’s a good idea. But like you said, you would be embarressed if you would have to ask for a seat, women are also embarressed to wears those badges. And even if you have one, not everyone make space for you.
    Also we talked about posters at staircases for example at Train stations. That you should help the women with their stroller.
    My teacher was in Japan with her little Baby and almost no one helped her or stood up from the priority seats.

    Hearing that I was a bit shocked. Normally Japanese people are prejudice as friendly and helpful. But here I think, the thing with “Don’t disturb others private space” was more important for them. :(

    • I’ve notice that too…
      It makes me really sad when I’m on the train – I will never sit in the priority seating (because I don’t need the seating that bad), but I will usually see a young person listening to their headphones or texting, while an old woman stands. I always give my seat to old women (and sometimes old men) – I do see other people occasionally offer their seat up, but not nearly as much as I would expect – especially for women with small children.
      It’s really surprising.

      I also noticed that people don’t help other people with bags, carrying things, etc… I always kind of assumed it was because they didn’t want to invade the other person’s space. I agree with your whole “Don’t disturb others private space” idea. It still makes me a bit sad. I like it when people disturb my space a bit.

      • I know what you mean. I like to have my own space and deal with my stuff alone. My grandma always told me she didn’t like it, when people wanted to help her with her bags or with stairs, altough she was still fit and could to everything by herself. She felt old when they did that. So I think it’s ok not helping other people all the time. But if you see someone is obviously in Trouble, you should help.
        Sometimes I really wish someone would disturb my space. When I am going to visit my Family, travelling with one big case, one heavy backpack and a cat in a bag, trying to get onto the train in time. From time to time someone is helping me, and they are always old People, so I am feeling bad and worry about their health >___<

  6. LOL, that made me laugh. Wish we had something like this here in China. Japan is so amusing!

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