July 31, 2013

Hey Hipsters! Ubaguruma Is A Japanese Crib On Wheels


Oh man, back in early July? It really looked like I picked the wrong week to give up crib blogging.

The weird thing about being in Japan when WTF? Williamsburg Parents Drove Crib To Restaurant happened, was that I'd just seen it happening myself.


In Takayama, the small mountain city in central Japan, we kept seeing people driving their kids around in big wicker hampers. At the morning street market, a dad had a newborn kid asleep on a futon at the bottom of this rig, but there were older kids riding around standing up, too. They had big, balloon tires like a stroller or pram, not ridiculous little casters, but they were all low to the ground, and otherwise like a playpen or crib.

Finally, after a couple of missed photo opps, I spotted some of these carriages parked outside a home furnishings store. They really are just big, flat-bottom baskets with handles, though I've since found some with footbrakes.

And at least one company is trying to sell them with canopies, like an old-school pram. But it took me a couple of weeks to figure out what these things are even called. The store label said fujimaru-sha, which sounded like a brand name: Fujimaru Cart. But it turns out that fujimaru is [also] the round type of rattan used to make them. So they are what they are. [In the bamboo industry, it may be more common to flip the order of the kanji and read it as marutou.]

Which, I finally just called the store in Takayama the other night, and the owner explained they're called ubaguruma, 乳母車, which is literally wet nurse/nursing mother cart. Or a perambulator, with all the old-school aura that comes with it.


According to this Aichi Prefecture historical note, ubaguruma were developed in Nagoya in the Meiji Era [aka the late 19th century] by Kitoh Kuwajiro based on carriages brought back from the US. Takinomizu, an antique store in Nagoya had a sweet older example [above] with a nice caramel patina, for just 20,000 yen.


So for the tradition-minded Japanese parent [who doesn't want to go pre-Meiji, and carry the kid on his back], an ubaguruma is the stroller equivalent of the handlebar mustache or local artisanal pickles. And that's just how Tokyo Ubaguruma is selling their Pousse Pousse rattan stroller: as a throwback with a twist. And with a dozen fashionable canopy fabrics and about five meters of satin and ruffles for every JPY10,000 over the base price of 84,000 yen. It's a bit out of control.

Parents Wheel Crib to Eatery in Increasingly Family-Friendly Williamsburg [dnainfo via absolutely everyone]
Tokyo Ubaguruma wicker carriages, 84-126,000 yen [babycar.co.jp]

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