We are back from our trip and we managed to get around without too much trouble, but with a lot of planning involved.
First off: It is really not an issue in airports, big city centres etc. Shopping malls and airports often have very nice spacious nursing rooms. We still did plan in advance and checked online where exactly they were located so that we didn't have to spend a lot of time looking around for them. Something to note is that compared to what we are used to, some nursing rooms come with little privacy (no individual cubicles), so if that's an issue for you, you might want to pack a nursing cover. Power plugs are often not available, so we had to make sure the battery was fully charged overnight.
As for smaller cities and out-of-the-way destinations it really is quite tricky. We had to choose some of our destinations purely based on whether there was a nursing room available or not. For instance, we had to give Yamadera a miss because we couldn't find out whether there'd be a nursing room available.
Here are the tools and methods that helped us:
- https://mamamap.jp/ This website really was the best resource for us. It's a directory with changing and nursing rooms in Japan. It's all in Japanese, but it works reasonably well with google translate. Note that not all of the entries are very accurate or up to date, so it's best to stick to those with pictures and some comments.
- Google maps can be quite useful as well. We noticed that in Japan a lot of shopping malls are mapped even with floor maps, so if you're not sure whether there's a nursing room in one of the shopping centres, this can be a way to find out.
- JR stations maps. We travelled mostly on JR East, which has station maps of a lot of stations. That was really useful, however, it's important to check whether the changing room is inside or outside the paid area. A quick search shows that these maps are also available at least for some stations for some of the other companies.
- In some cases, we couldn't find any information through these methods. We then either checked the website of the destination or in one case e-mailed the local tourist office in Hirosaki which then directed us to a nice nursing room at the town hall.
Some other side notes on logistics: For storing the milk we brought ice packs. We found that most hotels we stayed at didn't have freezer compartments in the room, however, they were always happy to keep our ice packs in their freezer overnight. Washing bottles can be a hassle in the tiny bathrooms.
Overall, if you want to travel to Japan while expressing milk, it is definitely possible, just be prepared to put in a lot of preparation and planning. Or just stick to the cities.