pre-school sports day
More than 90 percent of Japanese three- and four-year-olds attend pre-schools that teach students things like respect for their school, the importance of group interaction, language skills and how to cooperate with others to achieve common goals. Preschool teachers usually don't teach numbers and letters because mothers are expected to do that at home. In many Japanese pre-schools teachers and mothers swap notes on how the child is doing on a daily basis.

Education prior to elementary school is provided at kindergartens (“yochien”) and day-care centers (“hoikuen”). Public and private day-care centers accept children from under age one up to age five; their programs for children age three to five resemble those at kindergartens. Approximately 60 percent of all kindergartens are privately operated. The combined attendance of five-year-olds at kindergartens and day-care centers exceeds 95 percent. The educational approach at kindergartens varies considerably, from unstructured environments that emphasize play and provide little formal instruction to highly structured environments that are focused on mental training. [Source: Web-Japan, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan]

More than 70 percent of three-year-olds, more than 80 percent of four-year-olds, and more than 90 percent of five-year-olds attend either preschool/kindergarten (yo-chien) or nursery school (hoikuen) (Monbusho- 1999b:270). Yo-chien is the Japanese equivalent of American preschool and kindergarten. Under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Education (MOE), preschools teach three- to six-year-olds approximately four hours a day. Nursery schools provide full-time childcare for infants and preschoolers to the age of six whose guardians are unable to take care of them because of work, illness, or other reasons. [Source: Miki Y. Ishikida, Japanese Education in the 21st Century, ; iUniverse, June 2005 ~]

Yo-chien (preschool and kindergarten) and hoikuen (nursery school) in a typical town: In 1999, there were 5,069 children under the age of six in Marugame City, which had a population of 80,000. Fourteen public nursery schools operate for eight hours a day. Some of them provide service for 10.5 hours a day. Three private nursery schools operate 11 hours a day. Private nursery schools take care of infants and provide temporary emergency daycare. In addition, there are five unlicensed nursery schools. There are eight public preschools and two private preschools that thus far do not provide extended childcare service. Six percent of newborns, 26.2 percent of one-year-olds, and 37.7 percent of two-year-olds are sent to nursery schools. Mothers and/or relatives care for the rest at home. Approximately half of all children between the ages of 3 and 6 attend preschools while the other half go to nursery schools (Marugame-shi 2000). ~

Recently, yo-chien (preschool and kindergarten) have become more like hoikuen (nursery school) by providing extended services for working mothers. Otherwise, because of the falling birthrate, it would be too difficult for the yo-chien to maintain the number of children enrolled. Elementary schools have also confronted the problem of too many vacant classrooms by the decreasing number of students. In April 2002, the school week was reduced to five days. All elementary schools now have “integrated study” and course content has been reduced by 30 percent, in accord with the 1998 Course of Study. This chapter discusses the current state of preschool and primary school education in Japan. ~

Five-year-olds from wealthy Tokyo families attend exclusive kindergartens (which feature calligraphy, drawing and piano lessons), special $500-a-month strengthening class (which teach rhythm exercises, simple academics and etiquette) and other special classes. Mothers often wait outside the classrooms for two or three hours while their children are studying. They say the classes help their children "jump puddles" ahead of them.



Good Websites and Sources on Education: Education in Japan ; Education in Japan, a First Hand Look with Photos ; MEXT, Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology ; Statistical Handbook of Japan Education Chapter ; 2010 Edition ; News

Education System Good Photos at Japan-Photo Archive ; Education ; Education System in Japan , Case Study Findings ; Japan’s Modern Education System ; List of Schools and Universities Broken Down by Prefecture Education Topics Moral Education in Japan ;Wikipedia article on Secondary Education in Japan Wikipedia ; Education Cost ; English Language Education in Japan ; Wikipedia article on Juku Cram Schools Wikipedia ; Exam Hell ; Exam Hell, Now Not So Hot ;

Preschool Education in Japan

Nursery schools began as a social welfare program for poor working mothers under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Health and Welfare. The local government had examined eligibility and assigned nursery schools before the 1997 Amendment to the Child Welfare Law allowed parents to select nursery schools. As the number of working mothers has risen, more mothers prefer nursery schools to preschools. Approximately 60 percent of first-graders graduated from preschools (yo-chien) in 2003 (Monbukagakusho- 2004a). The government plans to establish integrated preschool/nursery school facilities, which will accept children up to the age of five without the requirement of guardian’s work status and let part-time guardians use only during working days, if they want, after April 2006 (AS January 15, 2005). [Source: Miki Y. Ishikida, Japanese Education in the 21st Century, ; iUniverse, June 2005 ~]

In recent years, the government has become interested in preschool education and childcare. The government enacted the 1995 Child Care and Family Care Leave Law, the Angel Plan (1994-1999), and the revised Angel Plan (2000-2004) to provide favorable childbearing and childrearing environments for women, especially working mothers. This change in policy came after the government was alarmed by the drastically decreasing birthrate (in 2003, 1.29 children per woman in her lifetime). The ever-decreasing number of newborns will reduce the number of productive workforce-aged groups, and stall economic productivity. Moreover, a smaller pool of workers will have to bear the burden of supporting social welfare for a population that is both aging and living longer. Lawmakers have realized that they have to make it easier for women to balance their careers and motherhood if they want to prevent a further decline in population. The Child Care and Family Care Leave Law guarantees working parents childcare leave for newborns and toddlers. Beginning in April 1999, all companies must provide childcare leave up to one year after birth, and shorter working hours until the child enters elementary school, at the request of any employee (male or female). ~

Under the Angel Plan (1994-2004), the government subsidizes childcare facilities and childrearing expenses. First, the government launched the Five-Year Program on Emergency Measures for Nursery Care (Angel Plan) (1994-1999) which opened more nursery schools for newborns, extended the hours of daycare service, provided temporary and emergency daycare service, created infant health daycare services, promoted after-school children’s clubs, and increased the number of multipurpose nursery schools and child-rearing centers. The conditions for childbearing and childrearing are improving. However, the demand for nursery schools for newborns is still high. In practice, not many women take long-term childcare leave from work. ~

Local governments regulate their own Angel Plans to meet demand at the community level. Many local governments provide incentives for women to have more children. The Marugame municipal administration enacted the Marugame Angel Plan (2000-2004) to promote 1) health and medical care for pregnant women, newborns, and new mothers; 2) extended daycare service and temporary daycare service; 3) community support at child centers, mother’s clubs and child counseling centers; and 4) reduction of fees for nursery schools (Marugame-shi 2000). The administration waives half of the daycare tuition for the second child, and provides total daycare tuition for the third child. ~

Hoikuen (Nursery Schools in Japan)

Hoikuen are day-care nursery facilities provided for mothers who cannot take care of their children during the day, either because they are working or for some other reason. Hoikuens are similar to kindergartens and their aim is, as the name suggests, to prepare young children for elementary school. Children up to elementary school age are eligible to attend.

Nursery schools (hoikuen) were established under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Health and Welfare (now the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare) as a part of the social welfare programs for working mothers. Nursery schools tend to newborn babies, toddlers, and preschoolers to the age of six whose guardians are unable to take care of them because of work, health problems, or responsibilities to sick or elderly family members. As more mothers work outside of the home, the number of children enrolled in nursery schools has risen. Prior to the revised 1997 Child Welfare Law, local governments had designated certain nursery schools as a part of their social welfare program. Since April 1998, parents/guardians have been able to choose nursery schools. Since April 2000, businesses, private preschools, and individuals can establish their own nursery schools. The local government sets tuition fees for licensed nursery schools, taking into consideration the annual income of parents/guardians and the age of the child. [Source: Miki Y. Ishikida, Japanese Education in the 21st Century, ; iUniverse, June 2005 ~]

In April 2003, approximately 1,990,000 children received nursery care at 22,355 licensed nursery schools (AS August 20, 2003). The prefectural and municipal governments together share half of the expenditures for nursery schools. Nursery schools regularly operate eight hours a day on the weekdays all year long. Parents apply for daycare at their municipal office, which determines whether their child can be taken care of at a daycare center, depending on their needs. The fees for nursery schools are based upon the income of the family or guardian. National and local governments subsidize both public and private nursery schools (about 60 percent of nursery schools are public). ~

Nursery schools, which provide extended childcare service and care for newborn babies, are in high demand. Many nursery schools accommodate working mothers who cannot pick their children by 4:30 p.m. by offering longer service hours. However, many caregivers are themselves mothers, and cannot work early in the morning or late in the evening. The local government subsidizes these extended services, especially for children under the age of two, because many newborn babies are on nursery schools’ waiting lists. ~

In 1999, the national government established a 200-billion-yen grant to counter the plunging birthrate. The grant money is distributed to local governments to use at their discretion. In many cases, local governments subsidize preschools and nursery schools. About 70 percent of the grants are used to build facilities and purchase equipment for preschools and nursery schools (AS January 14, 2000). Since 2000, public subsidies for childcare have been extended to children under elementary school age. Originally these subsidies were only granted to children under three years old. ~

The tuition for public and private nursery schools is based on the guardians’ household incomes because childcare service in nursery schools is a social welfare program under the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare. Applying for Entry: The Japanese day care year runs on the same schedule as the school year, that is from April 1 through March 31. As a rule applications are accepted from about January and decisions are made by early or mid-March. There are circumstances in which applications are accepted mid-year. Public daycare systems are administered by local governments so the services differ from community to community. In Tokyo, pregnant women are entitled to put their older children under age six into public daycare for the last 4 months of their pregnancy and another 4 months after the birth of the newborn, provided there is space available and need. There are also supposed to be ways to get your newborn in mid-year, provided space is available. I have not heard of anyone successfully doing so. [Source:Cornelia Kurz, “Japan With Kids” website, June 8, 2001 ]

day care kid mover

Japanese Day Care Centers

Day care centers are designed as childcare facilities for families with two working parents. Participants apply through local government channels for spaces. The kids are served food at the facility, take naps and usually come home around 5:00pm or 6:00pm. The fees are about $240 to $350 a month. Kindergartens centers are supposed to be more learning oriented. Participants apply directly to the schools. The kids have to bring bento lunches from home (they are not served food at the facilities), don’t take naps and usually come around 2:00pm or 3:00pm.

Children as young three months can be enrolled in government-subsidized day-care programs that are said to be so much fun that children sometimes hide behind stacks of blocks when there are told it is time to go home. Day care center cost are relatively low for low-income families and reasonable for those who are better off. Even so many parents dodge paying the fees. A study in 2007 found that 2.3 percent of parents shirk their responsibilities

For a child to enter a day care center his or her parents must get a certificate that shows proof that they are both employed. Some mothers want so desperately to get their child into good day care centers that they work long enough to get the certificate and then quit. "The paradox," writes Nicholas Kristoff in New York Times, "is that Japanese society presents working women with every kind of hindrance and discrimination, yet one area that is essential in allowing women to pursue careers — the provision of reliable and affordable day care — Japan has a far more sophisticated system than the United States."

More and more companies are offering day care for their employees at in-house centers. Many of the employees that are taking advantage of these facilities are men, especially if their wives work and have longer commutes than they do. Demand for night time child care is high as working mothers and parents increasingly have to work late or do night shifts.

See Educations, Schools.

Pros and Cons of Day Care in Japan

Some Japanese housewives, worry that they are doing their children a disservice by keeping them at home. "It's good for the kids in nursery school," one mother told Kristoff, "it's better for them to be in a nursery school than to be at home." An elementary school teacher at the day care center agreed, "Here [a child] can meet friends and play with them, and that's very important for development. He's learning to be more independent, and to do things on his own. Why, now he can put on his clothes for himself!"

A typical family pays about $150 to $250 a month for day care with wealthy Tokyo families paying up to $570 a month. Even then, a parent's contribution covers only about a fifth of the total costs of the system. The rest of the funding come from the government, who sees the money as an investment in their country's future. Working women that can't afford normal day care are sometimes forced to place their children in substandard day care centers known as "baby hotels," which are not illegal but are run without government approval. These baby hotels got a lot of negative press in spring 2001, when a 4-month-old infant suffocated at a center in Tokyo after another baby in the same crib rolled over on top of him . The owner of similar facility in Kanagawa was arrested for child abuse in connection with the deaths of two children..

The number of children on waiting lists to get into day care has risen from around 16,000 in 2003 to around 28,000 in 2009. The problems is particularly acute in urban areas like Yokohama where many parents struggle to find day care for their children. The shortage is linked more to more women seeking work than to an increase in the number of children.

Employees at Hoikuen (Nursery Schools in Japan)

One of most serious childcare problems is the shortage of caregivers for newborn babies, toddlers, and children before and after regular business hours. If working mothers cannot find a daycare center, they have to bring their children to an unlicensed daycare center or to a daycare home. In 1998 there were 9,644 unlicensed nursery schools, including 3,561 company daycare facilities and 649 “baby hotels” (Ko-seisho- 1998:160). The government must increase the number of nursery schools that offer extended childcare service and emergency daycare service. As of April 1, 2003, there were 26,383 children, 57 percent of whom were 1- to 2-year-olds, on waiting lists for the licensed nursery schools. The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare planned to increase the number of nursery schools in order to take 150,000 children from 2002 to 2004 in order to take all children on the waiting lists (AS August 20, 2003). About half of new nursery schools may be private, and unlicensed but excellent nursery schools may receive public subsidies (AS May 21, 2001). [Source: Miki Y. Ishikida, Japanese Education in the 21st Century, ; iUniverse, June 2005 ~]

Newborn babies and toddlers can be taken care of by daycare homes, baby-sitters, community-based support centers, and by mothers’ support groups, though many parents prefer licensed nursery schools. In the mid-1950s, local governments started a home-based daycare system (so-called “daycare mama system”) for babies and toddlers younger than three years of age. In 1997 there were 137 local government-operated home-based daycare systems (Ko-seisho- 1998). Many homemakers or retirees are interested in obtaining the certificate to open licensed home nursery schools. Childcare providers can earn certification by completing correspondence courses. Many local governments have taken the initiative in creating “childcare home-helpers” by providing free workshops for baby-sitters and nannies. ~

Many community centers offer childcare facilities that are staffed by volunteers. Marugame City provides a community-based childcare support club for stay-at-home mothers of children up to three years of age. Mothers bring their children to the childcare support clubs in nearby community centers once a month, where the public health nurse and volunteers examine the children and offer advice to the mothers. However, this support is available only for stay-at-home mothers or guardians, not for working mothers. ~

Among the first things the pre-schoolers learn are how to bow correctly and how to put their shoes in their proper place and change into their indoor shoes. They also learn how to march around the room in time to the piano, following a colored tape, to obey "cleaning-up music,” and to sing the good-bye song. During a "voice-obedience" session a group of 50 four-year-olds stand in a straight line and hop forward when they hear the beat of the tambourine and jump in place to the sound of a whistle.

Describing how a pre-school teacher dealt with a four-year-old bully who was notorious for stealing other children's ball, Lavinai Downs wrote in the Washington Post: "the teacher seldom disciplined him. Instead, each student eventually left him alone. Totally alone. In time he had no one to play with, and no one to sit next to unless the teacher asked them to. Before many lonely months had gone by, he was more conciliatory toward his classmate. All this happened without obvious intervention by the teacher."

Care and Curriculum at Japanese Day Care (Hoikuen)

The children learn how to brush their teeth after lunch and change into their pajamas when they take their afternoon nap. The children wear color-coded hats that indicate what grade they are in. Sometimes they are identified as individuals as a grape girl or butterfly boy and places for their stuff is identified with symbols of a grape or butterfly. When they go for a walk or to the playground the younger one are often pushed around in cage-like carts that hold fie or six children. Nicholas Kristoff wrote in in the New York Times, "By and large they seem better behaved than they might be at home."

Nursery schools emphasize childcare services rather than preschool education. The curriculum for nursery schools follows guidelines from the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare. Almost all nursery teachers are female, and most of them received their certification from a junior college. Nursery schools have much longer operating hours than preschools, and provide naptime and snack time. Nursery schools teach children up to six years of age how to use the toilet, feed themselves, and put on their clothes. In addition, nursery schools provide preschool education for four- to six-year-olds, like preschools/kindergarten (yo-chien). According to a cross-cultural study of American and Japanese nursery schools, American teachers prepare children to be self-sufficient, while Japanese teachers indirectly train children to socialize with their peers (Fujita and Sano 1988). [Source: Miki Y. Ishikida, Japanese Education in the 21st Century, ; iUniverse, June 2005 ~]

In April 2000, the private Kiku Daycare Center in Marugame had 216 children up to five years of age, 32 caregivers, one nurse, four food service workers, and three administrators.3 The government regulates the maximum ratio of children per caregiver. For example, one caregiver cannot take care of more than three newborn babies. ~

The Center, like other private childcare centers, tailors its programs to working mothers in order to attract more children. The Center operates from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. on weekdays, and from 8:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Saturdays, with extended hours from 7:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. in the morning, and from 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. in the evening. The Center also provides temporary childcare services, where one childcare worker and one assistant care for the children. Furthermore, the Center has an after-school childcare program for first to third graders from 7:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. during the spring, summer and winter vacations. ~

Children play, sing, dance, make handcrafts, and listen to stories read by caregivers in the playgrounds and classrooms. Five-year-olds have more classroom learning activities in order to prepare for elementary school. The Center provides English lessons with a native English-speaker once a week for four- and five-year-olds. The children perform plays in English at the school festival. Four- and five-year-olds have a dance lesson once a week and a brass band class once a month. In addition, the Center teaches computer skills to five-year-olds three times a week. ~

Daily Life at Japanese Public Daycare (Hoikuen)

Children are generally dropped off at hoikuen between 7:00 a.m. and 8:00 a.m., have a snack time at 10:00 a.m. for newborns to 2-year-olds, lunchtime at 11:30 a.m., a naptime from 1:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. (except for 5-year-olds), and an afternoon snack time at 3:00 p.m. The mothers and guardians return to pick up the children between 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. All classrooms, except the 5-year-olds’ classroom, have a corner of tatami-floor where children can nap. The bathrooms are connected to the classrooms for smaller children so that caregivers can teach toilet training. ~

"From about 7:30am to 6:30pm,"Nicholas Kristoff wrote in in the New York Times, "the nurseries look after dozens of children ranging in age from a few months to six years. Divided into classes by age group, they spend the day playing, singing, drawing, making crafts and generally wreaking the kind of havoc that warms your heart. There is at least one teacher for every three infants. But that ratio falls steadily, so that one teacher must look after six terrible two's." [Source:Nicholas Kristoff, New York Times, February 1, 1995]

Mothers and day care instructors exchange notes. "She woke up at 7:45am and ate bread, shrimp and milk for breakfast," the mother of a two-year-old wrote. "recently she goes to potty herself and when she's on it she says 'Mommy you shouldn't watch me! Then she comes to tell me when she's done." The teacher then wrote back: "She can put on panties and pants on by herself, and she can sit on the potty by herself. It's very impressive, and show's how she's developing."

Cornelia Kurz wrote on the “Japan With Kids” website: “Japanese public daycare hours vary. In Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo, the earliest time for children to arrive is 7:15. All children are expected to be there by 9:30. If your child arrives later, he or she may miss an outing called an osampo. If it is raining you don't have to worry about that. All children are to be picked up by 18:15. However, there is an extended care program (enchoban) until 19:00 which costs an additional 10 percent of your assessed fee (which is weighted according to your income). The first two years that I was participating, the pick-up time was 18:00, so there are minor changes from year to year. (Vocabulary: hayaban = early shift, osoban = late shift). Saturday care is also available and included in your monthly fee, but not all Saturdays are fully available. For example, twice a year fumigation takes place on Saturdays so there is no child care on those days. Generally, Saturday care does not extend much past 5:30 pm. I'm not sure if this is official or an unspoken courtesy to the daycare staff. [Source: Cornelia Kurz, “Japan With Kids” website, June 8, 2001 ]

As in Japanese elementary school and kindergarten, each age group in the hoikuen has a name. At my hoikuen the babies are in "Dream" class (Yume - maximum number 10). The one and two year olds are in Tsukushi and Tampopo (Dandelion - maximum number about 16) classes. The three younger classes are on the second floor with a gate at the top of the stairs and an air conditioner in each room. There is a large hallway and a common space as well as a large open toilet room with toddler sized toilets and two urinals. This makes toilet training pretty easy since the caretakers can observe more than one child at a time and the children learn very quickly immitating each other. Each room has child sized wash basins at toddler height. There is also a fair sized veranda with a tall wrought iron fence painted a neutral color.

On the ground floor are the Risu, Kuma and Mori (Squirrel, Bear and Forest) classes as well as a large common room, toilet room with urinals and toilet stalls with doors, the kitchen, the entrance way and the staff office. The rooms for the older children are about half the size of the rooms for the younger children, and the maximum number of children per class is increased to about 18.

Food and Nap Time at Life at Japanese Public Daycare (Hoikuen)

Meals are prepared by the cooks and are basically very healthy with portions of vegetables, a meat (generally fish or chicken), often noodles or bread instead of rice, miso soup and milk. The day's meal and afternoon snack can be seen in a glass case in the entrance way when the children are retrieved at the end of the day. There is also a monthly menu included in the monthly newsletter. Parents only supply a lunch box on scheduled picnic days, which only applies to the oldest three classes. [Source: Cornelia Kurz, “Japan With Kids” website, June 8, 2001 ]

The Dream class receives their food first at 10:30. When they are still tiny they get formula or pumped breast milk from the freezer (supplied by mother) and they receive this again after their nap. Their diet is changed according to their age. Then the rest of the upstairs gets their food by about 11:00 am. The downstairs classes all eat the same thing and pretty much get their lunch by about 11:30. After lunch there is a diaper/clothes change and cleaning up, and then it is nap time. The caretakers are very patient and work hard to instill this habit in the kids. The younger kids are allowed to sleep until they wake up on their own (which can be as long as 3 hours!). The downstairs kids all sleep in the big common room where the futons are stored. They all awaken after about two hours, and the room, which has ceiling fans and an air conditioner, is made available again for play.

There is an after nap snack served with a beverage (mugi-cha or milk) and in the hot months there is water or mugi-cha served in the entrance way for any kids that get thirsty while racing around outside.

Diaper and Toileting Policies at Japanese Public Daycare (Hoikuen)

Cornelia Kurz wrote on the “Japan With Kids” website: “Diaper policies seem to vary widely across local systems. I've heard of daycares that have a rule to allow only cloth diapers, for example. In the case of the daycare where my daughter attended, both cloth and disposables were acceptable. Dirty diapers were collected in a labeled bag provided by Mom (standard plastic supermarket bag with my daughter's name written on it with magic marker in katakana) and had to be taken home at the end of the day. This included disposable diapers as well as cloth diapers. [Source: Cornelia Kurz, “Japan With Kids” website, June 8, 2001 ]

“Toileting was pretty easy going at hoikuen. There wasn't really any pressure to attain a certain level of skills by a certain age. By and large the kids were all more or less competent at using a toilet by the time they were in Squirrel class, though they all had accidents time and again, particularly during naps. Not a problem, since mothers are there for the purpose of washing the futon sheets mid-week and supplying umpteen changes of clean clothing (never mind that the whole point of having the kid in daycare is so that mother can hold down a job). A lot of mothers have mentioned to me that they felt that the demands on mothers were pretty high. In retrospect, I think this was more likely to be heard from a working first-time mother who ultimately did not realize that, in the first years, child-rearing is a heap of maid labor, and that the daycare system is not an exact replacement for full-time "mothering". In other words you are expected to keep up your end of the grunt work regardless of whether or not you work outside the home.

“I nicknamed the place the "Imperial Hoikuen" when I noticed during the first year (age zero) that half the diapers in the bag at the end of the day were not even wet! The diapers were changed on the hour every hour regardless of whether or not a change was needed. So was the clothing. At some point I got smart and switched back to cloth diapers. I also sorted the "dirty clothes" into two piles: "actually dirty" and "obligatory change". The second pile went back into the backpack for the next day. Age zero class required 5 clean changes per day (as well as 5 washclothes/oshiburi, 5 gauze clothes, 10 diapers, 2 bibs with pocket in front, etc., etc.)

“Incidentally, I was the only mom who packed all this stuff into a backpack. The bag of choice for the Japanese moms was a rectangular open canvas or vinyl bag with short handles so it could not even be slung over a shoulder and definitely did not fit properly into a bicycle basket. This may be because that was what was described with a small drawing in the list of items to prepare for the first day. So people just followed instructions. I, on the other hand, was not going to go out and buy a bag when something I had on hand looked suitable enough for the job. Fortunately, this time I was not gently reminded to get the item described.

Parental Duties at Japanese Public Daycare (Hoikuen)

Cornelia Kurz wrote on the “Japan With Kids” website: “You will receive a description (in Japanese) of all the stuff you need to prepare for your child's entry into daycare, and what is needed on a daily basis. This differs widely across systems and age-groups. For example, at my public daycare, clothing changes were constant until age 3 when the incessant "cleanliness" finally slowed down a bit. [Source: Cornelia Kurz, “Japan With Kids” website, June 8, 2001 ]

You must pay dues to the parents' association (which in my case was Yen 1,500 twice a year). You are expected to attend certain meetings, basically one meeting with all the parents and the staff for your child's class which will also be attended by the encho-sensai, the parents association meeting at least once a year and two "one-on-one" meetings per year with the daycare staff directly responsible for your child.

Sooner or later you may feel pressure to serve on the parents committee for your child's class. I volunteered during Squirrel class because I was sure I did not want to end up doing it in the last year for Mori class. My main duty was to buy and wrap the Christmas presents for the 18 kids in that class. I managed to get another mother who spoke English to volunteer with me, so I had better than usual communication.

You will receive papers (in Japanese) on everything with great regularity. These include monthly newsletters, menus, the odd bits from the daycare staff union, flyers for pertinent performances (suitable for very young children) taking place at the local city hall, and finally various notices churned out by the parent's association. I'm probably missing something. In fact, I know I missed a lot, since I am Japanese illiterate. I often did not find out about something until the day before it was scheduled.

One Year Schedule at Japanese Public Daycare (Hoikuen)

APRIL: In the first week there is the Yuenshiki which could be translated as the Welcoming Celebration for all newcomers. (Parents need not attend.) [Source: Cornelia Kurz, “Japan With Kids” website, June 8, 2001 ]

JUNE: First Saturday of June fumigation takes place so there is no day care available to children. All possessions are removed from cubby holes and drawers and taken home on Friday. Also in June, the government sponsored worm test is handed out and parents collect a stool sample at home. The second test just calls for a pressure imprint around the child's anus two mornings in a row (this is where some worms lay their minuscule eggs). Return must be punctual since all the samples are collected only one time to be taken to the lab. A week or so later parents receive the results. Click here to see the instruction form for Test type one and here to see the instruction form and English translation for Test type two (for thread worm). The tests have your child's name printed on them in advance to prevent any mix-ups. A man shows up one day with piles of bamboo, and over the next 10 days two bamboo shade awnings are erected, one over the sand box and one over the second floor veranda.

About now, we are asked to bring in two towels, labeled with the child's name. First, a larger one to be used as the summer blanket during nap time (should be about the same size as the child futon) and, second, one not too much smaller to be used when the kids get showered off on a particularly hot day. The weather in June is still variable between 20 and 29 degrees centigrade. You know when your kid had a mid-day shower, because she will get a clean set of clothes after, meaning your take-home bag will have extra laundry in it. This also means that you will see mud stains on the clothes because water is introduced into the sand box and the play yard.

JULY: In this month the swimming pool (about 2 by 3 meters) is opened for the older three age groups. The younger three age groups get to play in little plastic splash pools up on the balcony of the second floor. This means that you have to provide a bathing suit and cap daily, as well as the shower towel that you already started bringing in June. The swimming pool is filled and drained every day so chlorine is not added (there is already plenty in the city tap water!) The kids LOVE this and I have heard of no serious accidents. The toddlers are heavily supervised and there is a caretaker in the swimming pool with the older kids. Each class has to take turns since the pool is so small.

The Tanabata Festival is celebrated early in the month. A bamboo branch is erected in the foyer and decorated by the children. Also, the PTA arranges a small summer festival about mid-month always on a Friday which starts at about 16:00 and ends at 18:00. The parent is supposed to come early (at 4:30) , and accompany the child through the various activities of the festival. Depending on what the activities are, the time it takes to complete them varies from year to year. This festival includes invited daycare "alumni" who are now in elementary school, so the yard can get pretty crowded! If it rains, the festival is set up inside and activities inappropriate for indoors are dropped from the agenda.

OCTOBER: The first Saturday of October is Sports Day (Undokai). There is no day care available after the festivities and class photos are taken afterwards. The whole affair is done by noon. Parents are strongly encouraged to attend, though I did not attend even once until my daughter's 5th year in October of 2001 and it was not so bad. My kid was pleased. Parents who attend are also asked to participate. They will play at least one game paired off with their child. And there will be one parents only game which will make their kids laugh.

DECEMBER: A Christmas Party is arranged. The PTA arranges gifts for each child (and pays for it out of the dues that were previously collected. The child minders will make sure that the gifts get to the kids in a fun way. Maybe one of them will dress as Santa.

MARCH: Graduation (Sotsuenshiki). Some time this month the Sotsuenshiki is scheduled which lasts about 2.5 hours. Parents are highly encouraged to attend. This is the graduation ceremony for the children leaving to start elementay school, and all the children put on little skits and shows, even the babies who can all walk by now. Formal class pictures including the parents might be taken depending on what the PTA arranged in terms of photography. Also this month the 3 oldest classes will probably do one more big outing together which means that a complicated bento must be arranged by mom or dad.

Other Pre-School Options in Japan

The American mother wrote on the education-in-japan website: Yoji rooms are run by the municipal ward are very cheap, just over a thousand yen per month with a guardian/babysitter. And it's usually free if you just meet there to play with the toys with other mums. Mums just meet in a playroom with boxes of toys in a huge tatami room, and chat while their children play together. It is a good place to exchange info with other mums. This is where mums turn to when their kids are not ready for preschool or who can't really afford three-year yochiens for several kids or whose husbands may be assigned elsewhere the next school year. [Source: ^^]

Sometimes, there are non-recognised unorthodox preschools. The Wakaba preschool in my vicinity is such a school and has an unusual approach. It houses kids in an ordinary apartment house and is said to be run like a barrack-cum-adventure-type school. Only kids interviewed and deemed to be outgoing and rugged were accepted. The schools' activities centred around teaching real-life skills which included lots of nature walks, cooking, outdoor excursions, gardening, farming, learning to deal with the transportation system and like outings. It aims at developing independence and discipline in children. ^^

Special educational classes/programs for 1-6 year olds held on the premises of Sogo, Takashimaya and Ito-Yokado shopping centres. These tend to be good. Maximum class-size: 12. My son attended an hourly Mikihouse program at Sogo. Innovative right-brained teaching methods and vocabulary rich curriculum: puzzles, toys, puppet-story-telling, computer software, videos, song and dance,etc. Strict academic goals are maintained and teachers feedback conscientiously on your child's progress. Registration fee: 5,000 yen, monthly: 6,800 yen. Be warned that the educational packet extras that are come with the programs can cost around 40,000 yen. If you homeschool in English and want your child just to get some Japanese language exposure, these programs may be ideal. The Shichida Academy is a particular famous institution that conducts classes for right-brained learning beginning from infant stages. ^^

Extracurricular activities: Calligraphy, music or gym classes can be good alternative activities if you'd like your kids to meet other Japanese kids. The Yamaha music schools which have a variety of rhythm and movement as well as instrumental classes for the preschool set (phone the Yamaha Music Foundation for the location of a school near you: 03-5773-0808 or see this page in Japanese for locations). Costs are reasonable. Apple Rhythm classes are very well-known, not only provide rhythm & movement for tots and preschoolers, trampolines, crayon and craftwork to music, storytelling but also really do teach kids how to read music notes and have a good musical ear (available in various locations in Chiba). Finally, your kid can start to learn the piano and violin as early as three with the world-famous Suzuki method. The method maintains that before the age of three, a child can be prepared for music lessons by listening, observation and mimicking others. I called up the Suzuki office in Tokyo 03-3295-0270 and they were able to locate two teachers near my home. Do check out your local music store's bulletin board, they tend to be jammed with messages from all sorts of music teachers offering their services. ^^

Plan for Tuition-Free Pre-Schools Eyed

In February 2013, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “The government will establish a panel to study a plan to eliminate tuition fees for children aged 3 to 5 in a bid to improve preschool education and stem the declining birthrate by easing the burdens of child-rearing households. according to sources. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, February 19, 2013]

Among the facilities the panel will consider making tuition-free are kindergartens, day care centers and so-called authorized kodomo-en facilities, a hybrid between kindergarten and day care. The Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry has estimated about 790 billion yen would be needed annually to finance the measure.

While the consumption tax rate is scheduled to be raised to 10 percent in October 2015, increased tax revenues will be unavailable for the tuition-free plan. The government therefore needs to allocate other funding for the plan when compiling the fiscal 2014 budget or later. Some within the ruling parties have proposed a plan to gradually introduce tuition-free preschool education by first targeting 5-year-olds. Other lawmakers have suggested reviewing the way increased tax revenues from the planned consumption hike would be utilized. However, such a review would likely be met with opposition from the Democratic Party of Japan and groups of day care facility operators, among others. As a result, observers say the government will likely have a hard time securing the necessary funds to implement the plan.

Yokohama Method’ Eases Day-are Waiting Lists?

The are shortages of day care facilities in many places in Japan, particularly in urban areas. In May 2013, the Japan Times reported: “Officials at Yokohama City Hall said the city has reduced the number of children on nursery school waiting lists to zero from 179 as of April 1, meeting its 2010 target of doing so in three years. City officials credited the reduction of the lists, which at one stage were the longest of any municipality in Japan, mainly to efforts to increase the number of nursery schools by aggressively encouraging private companies to enter the business. [Source: Japan Times, May 21, 2013 **]

“The city also promoted nonregistered day-care facilities that met the city’s standards, which are somewhat more relaxed than the national standard. According to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, similar problems exist in urban areas across the nation because an increasing number of households have both parents working, and most local governments are facing difficulty addressing the problem. **

“Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government is willing to learn from Yokohama’s success and intends to address the problem as part of its growth strategy because it has become a major obstacle to women returning to the workforce after childbirth. He has proposed increasing maternity leave. But some experts say the rapid increase in nursery schools could eventually lead to a shortage of qualified teachers and a deterioration in services, as well as increased pressure on local finances. **

The Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “Under the Yokohama method, funds from a limited budget are concentrated to encourage corporations to enter the day care business. Following Yokohama’s success, other municipalities have since adopted the method. However, … funding and how far the initiative will actually spread is unclear…Now at the forefront of the movement, Yokohama faces the challenge of maintaining the quality of its child care facilities.” [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, May 22, 2013]

“In Yokohama, children below the age of 5 on nursery waiting lists rose to a record 1,190 in 2004, the highest in Japan. In 2010, it broke that record with a figure of 1,552, prompting Mayor Fumiko Hayashi, former president of BMW Tokyo Corp. and chairwoman of Daiei Inc., to make solving the problem a priority. As the city used the private sector to boost the availability of day-care services for children, the number of privately operated nursery schools in Yokohama doubled from its level in April 2010, and now accounts for about a quarter of the total. **

“The city also deployed special consultants at ward offices to advise parents searching for schools and the availability of convenient facilities in their neighborhood or on their way to work. The city has spent some ¥49 billion since 2010 on setting up nursery schools and has allocated over ¥76 billion for the operation of such schools for fiscal 2013 through March 31 next year, it said, adding that it has hired about 2,000 new nursery teachers since 2010. **

“Abe has vowed to increase the capacity of nursery schools by 400,000 in five years from now through 2017 and also reduce the number of children on waiting lists nationwide to zero. According to the labor ministry, there were about 46,000 children on waiting lists nationwide as of last October, although the number of potentially eligible children who do not have places at nursery school places could even be as high as 850,000. **

Image Sources:

Text Sources: Source: Miki Y. Ishikida, Japanese Education in the 21st Century, ; iUniverse, June 2005 ~; Education in Japan website ; Web-Japan, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan; Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO), Daily Yomiuri, Jiji Press, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, The Guardian, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.

Last updated Japan 2014

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