Kindergartens offer three, two and one year programmes, meant for three, four and five year old children respectively. The majority of Japanese yochien (preschools or kindergartens) are privately run - because the compulsory education system does not cover the preschool years. However, according to press reports, the government is currently considering a bill to make preschool or kindergarten compulsory - as part of its bid to boost academic skills and discipline of children entering elementary schools.[Source: education-in-japan.info/sub105.html ]

Preschools provide education for children before they enter elementary school. The first public preschool was affiliated with Tokyo Women’s Normal School in 1934. Since the 1960s, the number of private preschools has rapidly grown (Monbusho- 1992:33). Most preschools operate four hours a day and lunchtime, and are finished by around two o’clock. Therefore, the children sent to preschools often have stay-at-home mothers, or working mothers whose relatives, usually a grandparent, can watch the children in the afternoon. [Source: Miki Y. Ishikida, Japanese Education in the 21st Century, usjp.org/jpeducation_en/jp ; iUniverse, June 2005 ~]

In 2003, 702,000 five-year-olds, 659,000 four-year-olds, and 400,000 three-year-olds attended 14,000 preschool, including 8,400 private preschools (Monbukagakusho- 2004a). In 2002, the MOE allowed two-year-olds to attend preschool in special districts since many parents wanted their children to attend preschool before the age of three (AS September 27, 2002). ~

The ratio of enrollment in preschools and nursery schools has changed over the years, as more and more working mothers use nursery schools rather than preschools. Many preschools, especially private ones, are pressured to provide extended childcare hours in order to stay in business. Private preschools, approximately 60 percent of all preschools, receive less public funding than public preschools do, and have to rely primarily on tuition fees from parents. ~

With extended childcare service, preschools are becoming more like nursery schools. In 1997, about 30 percent of preschools, including almost half of all private preschools, offered extended childcare services until the evenings (Ko-seisho- 1998:164). Extended childcare service in preschools was recognized as a part of preschool operations in the 1998 Course of Study for Preschool, which went into effect in 2000. For example, since 1999, Midori Preschool, which used to operate from 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., is now open from 7:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. They planned to have a daycare room for children from children up to the age of two by May 2000, responding to the request from the Setagaya Ward government in Tokyo. Approximately 30 percent of preschools (4,197 preschools) have provided extended childcare service since 1997 (YS January 10, 2000). ~

Preschools with longer hours do not differ greatly from nursery schools (hoikuen), and it is expected that the current ministerial jurisdictions (the MOE and the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare) of two institutions will be phased out. Some local governments have already begun to integrate yo-chien and hoikuen for childcare and preschool education. In 2003, the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare deregulated in order to transfer some daycare center facilities for the preschool, while the MOE consider doing the same for nursery schools (AS October 22, 2003). ~


Yo-chien Teachers and Parents

Yochiens commonly have three years of schooling: nensho (1st year), nenchu (2nd year) and nencho (3rd year). The average preschool has 23.9 students in a classroom, with 16.2 students per teacher (Monbukagakusho- 2004a). Some classes have two teachers: a regular teacher and an assistant. Large classes promote interaction, socialization, and group consciousness among children. The assistant teachers help to meet a child’s individual needs. [Source: Miki Y. Ishikida, Japanese Education in the 21st Century, usjp.org/jpeducation_en/jp ; iUniverse, June 2005 ~]

Ninety-four percent of preschool teachers are female (Monbukagakusho- 2004a), most of whom received a teaching certificate from a junior college. They generally remain in the classroom for less than five years, leaving either when they marry or when they have their first child. Recently, however, more preschool teachers have kept teaching because their earnings help the household income. Their salaries are decent, and the social prestige of being a preschool teacher is relatively high among female workers. Many female students wish to become a preschool teacher. ~

Most Japanese parents do not ask at briefing sessions what the school methodology/philosophy is - they assume that all teachers are professionals and know what they are doing. The key considerations are borne out of "brand" consciousness i.e., whether the school is "ninki ga aru" (popular or not), whether the peers in the same housing complex will be attending the school, and out of convenience, i.e., whether there are school-buses and whether they have to prepare lunchboxes everyday or not. Nor do they ask about bullying (ijime). Foreigners tend to be concerned about "ijime" (bullying) problem and want to know how teachers will handle the problem, but locals just say it will make the kids stronger. [Source: education-in-japan.info/sub105.html ]

Curriculum at Yo-chien (Preschool-Kindergarten in Japan)

Japanese preschool education is child-centered and based upon the principle of “whole person education,” which focuses on social and emotional development, friendship and responsibility. The 1989 Course of Study for Preschool changed preschool education pedagogy from planned classroom teaching into child-centered education with minimal intervention from teachers. Children learn social skills through playing, while teachers create optimal environments for their development, and monitor their activities. Many preschool teachers were initially confused by this hands-off policy. [Source: Miki Y. Ishikida, Japanese Education in the 21st Century, usjp.org/jpeducation_en/jp ; iUniverse, June 2005 ~]

The 1998 Course of Study for Preschool Education remains child-centered, but provides more teacher guidance. According to the 1998 Course of Study, preschool education should help children develop healthy bodies and minds while exposing them to a range of experiences. The Course of Study does not mention the cognitive and academic development of preschool children. Preschools are considered to be places for fun and socialization, not for academic study (Monbusho- 1998c). Preschool education is the first step in children’s socialization. Teachers instill an appreciation of friendship and cooperation. Children develop their creativity and sensitivity through crafts, drawing, playing music, dancing, caring for plants and animals, and making friends. Children learn about cooperation and responsibility by participating in small group (han) activities. Peer interaction sharpens their interpersonal skills. Teachers take a low profile, seldom scolding or punishing mischievous behavior. Teachers let children play and settle their own conflicts. The children take turns as task monitors so that every child has an opportunity to lead the class. ~

Comparative ethnographic studies of preschools show that the Japanese preschool focuses more on teaching social skills and fostering a collective identity, unlike the American preschools, which place a premium upon individualism and independence. The Japanese preschool keeps teachers at a low profile, and lets children monitor themselves. In contrast, the American preschool establishes a dyadic relationship between a maternal type of teacher and the children (Tobin et al. 1989:63, 70). ~

According to another cross-cultural survey, preschool education in the United States focuses on cognitive and academic stimulation. About 30 percent of class time is allocated to teaching academic materials in American preschools. On the other hand, only 20 percent of class time is allotted to teaching academic materials in Chinese preschools, while less than 5 percent is used in Japanese preschools (Stevenson and Stigler 1992:78-79). Three percent of Japanese mothers and 28 percent of American mothers expect kindergarten to provide their children with academic experience. Almost all Japanese mothers and 55 percent of American mothers expect kindergarten to help their child’s social and emotional development (Bacon and Ichikawa 1988:380). Japanese mothers teach their children basic reading and counting through reading books and playing with numbers at home. Most children can read the Japanese alphabet and count to ten before they enter elementary school. ~

One American mother wrote on the education-in-japan website: Many popular Japanese preschools are merely play-schools so your child may learn no math or Japanese writing (as was the case in the two most popular schools here in Kashiwa). Teaching methodology is really difficult to judge, and you may have to probe a little. The average yochien conducts little academic instruction compared to schools in the US or in the rest of Asia for that matter. Elementary schools will tell the kindergartens not to teach basic hiragana, to avoid boredom in their classrooms from having to learn the same stuff all over again. In any event, you will find that kids have already been taught at home using Shirojima/Benesse's Shinkenzemi or Doraizemi programs (or by Kumon teachers), and that most kids are exchanging letters daily by their third year. [Source: education-in-japan.info/sub105.html ^^]

“Nearly all the schools visited had in their mission-statement "genki" health and emotional well-being or happiness as their goals. In all fairness, there is plenty of music and art to be had in the curriculum and every preschool teacher who is hired can play the piano and every classroom has a piano without exception. Yochien kids have plenty of origami and art-and-craft activities and turn out particularly in tune with the festivals and folktales that are part of their cultural heritage. "Kyoiku mamas" (educationally oriented mums) will put their kids in the most popular schools and then send their kids after school to preschool jukus or cram-schools (no seriously) to learn their math and hiragana, or to other special educational hourly private programs. In a positive light, you might say, the Japanese like their children to stay children a little longer. Naturally, kids love these types of "all-play" schools, but as a parent forking cash for three years of preschool, you may have other ideas. If you wish for a less wishy-washy educational philosophy, then it might be best to look for either Montessori or Steiner-type preschools (I hear there are quite a few in Tokyo, Yokohama and elsewhere in Japan). ^^

Typical Yo-chien (Preschool-Kindergarten in Japan)

In April 2000, Sakura Public Preschool, established in 1898, had 121 preschoolers between the ages of 3-5 in five homeroom classes with five teachers and three assistant teachers.2 The city assigned two of the assistant teachers to two disabled children. Sakura Preschool operates from 8:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays, and from 8:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. on Wednesdays and Saturdays. The facility is closed on the second and fourth Saturdays. Children bring lunch boxes on Mondays and Thursdays, and have school lunch on Tuesdays and Fridays. Parents/guardians are required to take their children to preschool in the morning and pick them up in the early afternoon. Approximately 70 percent of the children’s mothers are stay-at-home mothers. Parents/guardians read the teachers’ daily journals every day, and cooperate with teachers. The preschool has a 40-day summer vacation and two weeks of winter and spring vacation, like public primary and secondary schools. The monthly tuition amounts to 6,000 yen. By comparison, a nearby private preschool costs 14,500 yen per month, more than twice as much as the Sakura Public Preschool. [Source: Miki Y. Ishikida, Japanese Education in the 21st Century, usjp.org/jpeducation_en/jp ; iUniverse, June 2005 ~]

Sakura Preschool emphasizes child-centered education and learning through experience (social experience education). According to the preschool’s brochure, “Preschool education helps raise children to be healthy and strong in their bodies and minds, to have basic life disciplines and group norms, to be sensitive and love nature, to be thoughtful toward friends, to be creative, and to be persistent in accomplishing goals.” The children learn interpersonal skills, group rules, and affection by playing with friends, nurture affection for animals and plants by caring for school rabbits and plants, and develop creativity and artistic abilities by drawing, crafting, singing and dancing. Teachers organize students into groups of six or seven in order to build their sense of cooperation and responsibility. ~

Ten years earlier, the pedagogy changed from teacher-centered to child-centered, following the Course of Study. Five-year-olds used to learn the Japanese alphabet and counting by studying workbooks, but now they learn the Japanese alphabet and counting indirectly, through drawing and crafting. The new methods of pedagogy perplexed some teachers, and initially the child-centered curriculum created discipline problems in the classroom. The 1998 Course of Study reflects the overemphasis on child-centered education, but adds the importance of the teacher’s leadership in children’s education. Teachers need to find the best methods of guiding children in their activities. ~

The American mother wrote on the education-in-japan website: Non-Japanese mothers should be forewarned to expect wads and wads of pamphlets, questionnaires, info papers to be filled out from time to time, bazaars, and have to seek help from English-speaking mums for explanations for the many outings and meetings. Busing I think is a great boon in the light of the unpredictable weather of Japan. The terrific bus phoneline (renraku) networking memo that is unvariably handed out to you is but one example of how well coordinated and closely knit the Japanese community is when it comes to handling disasters as well as community events. How else would you know that your kid doesn't have to go to school today because of the floods or the approaching typhoon. In some yochiens, however, NOT having public transport is considered an important discipline and practical life lesson of the curriculum. Cooking daily lunchboxes can be a real drag or joy depending on your inclinations. The greatest feature of snob-appeal in yochien life is how aestheticly appealing one's obento is (other than the prim-and-proper uniforms of mission school or private comprehensive system school kindergartens, that is). [Source: education-in-japan.info/sub105.html ^^]

Daily Life at a Typical Yo-chien (Preschool-Kindergarten in Japan)

On a sunny day in February 2001, children came to preschool between 8:30 a.m. and 9:30 a.m., and put their bags away in their classroom. Then the children and their teachers played on the playground until 10:30 a.m. Between 10:30 a.m. to 11:00 a.m., all children stopped playing so that they could take physical exercise. All children engaged in fitness exercises set to music and then ran around the playground and/or played jump rope. At 11:00 a.m., all the children returned to their classroom and sang, listened to picture book stories, drew pictures, made crafts, or watched videos under the supervision of their teachers. [Source: Miki Y. Ishikida, Japanese Education in the 21st Century, usjp.org/jpeducation_en/jp ; iUniverse, June 2005 ~]

In a class of 17 three-year-olds, the children practiced songs with a piano played by their teacher, and danced to music together with their teacher. Then they practiced skipping to music. The teacher asked the children what they had done with the class of five-year-olds during a field trip to a nearby castle a few days previously. The children said that they had played games with their five-year-old “big brothers and sisters.” ~

Around 11:30 a.m., the children prepared for lunch. They washed their hands, and arranged several long tables and their chairs for lunch. The two children in charge of the day’s task force cleaned the tables. All children put napkins over the desk, and the children in charge distributed hotdogs and milk. Then, two children of the day’s task force said, “Please eat now!” The rest of the children replied, “Thank you. We will eat now. Please eat, Dear Monitor” “Thank you. We will eat now.” ~

After lunch, they put away the dishes and brushed their teeth. Then they played in the playground or in their classrooms until 1:30 p.m. The teacher took charge of the class from 1:40 p.m. to 2:00 p.m. by singing, reading stories, and informing them about upcoming events. In another class, four-year-olds sang a song and listened to stories told by their teachers. The class of five-year-olds practiced dancing for the upcoming 100th-year celebration of a nearby elementary school. Around 2:00 p.m., the mothers and guardians of the children arrived to pick them up. ~

The American mother wrote on the education-in-japan website: The best-rated schools are likely to have pleasant environments. However, few kindergartens in Japan have outstanding or out-of-the-ordinary or modern playground facilities (unlike the preschools in US and UK that outdo each other in terms of equipment and facilities in accordance with snob-appeal); they may have in fact the most rudimentary of equipment like a real tree and sandboxes. [Source: education-in-japan.info/sub105.html ^^]

“Class size and ijime mondai. Parents should also probably consider their kids' temperaments whether they are shy and likely to be picked upon or whether they are gregarious like my son who begged to go to school. Yochiens in Japan tend to have huge sized classes (not classroom space but number of kids). Large classes are in fact preferred by local teachers since peer or crowd control technique is a characteristic of Japanese education. I don't personally see how one or even two teachers can adequately supervise 30 or more mischievous boisterous kids. However, a neighbourhood mum I know said her daughter who had been to more than one yochien had said this one was her favorite. Her daughter liked the fact there were so many children hanging around classes and having lots and lots of friends. Her mum said that since there were always so many children waiting for the school-bus, her kid would become part of the circle of friends so that there was less likelihood of being bullied. When I asked the teachers what they did to discipline bad behavior, their reply was that they had to exercise fairness and that they use time-out. Japanese teachers often will not intervene in what they see to be normal spats and quarrels, believing that kids need to learn peer conflict resolution early on and to sort things out among themselves. A friend of mine who has an extremely shy son is delaying yochien entry till nen-chu (second year) or nencho (third year). ^^

Choosing and Getting Into a Yochien

The American mother wrote on the education-in-japan website: Here in Kashiwa, the two most popular (presumably the best) preschools in Kashiwa are Midori Yochien and Masuo-Daiichi Yochien. At some kindergartens (like Masuo-Daiichi Yochien), parents have to wait on a long line to get an application form. Some parents start waiting on a line at 2 - 4 am in the morning of October 15th in order to get one (this happens every year). Securing a copy of the limited few application forms is the only way of ensuring a place for your kid in such kindergartens. On the other hand, at some kindergartens (like Midori Yochien), you have wait on a long line to hand in the form. Some parents start waiting on a line at 2 am in the morning of November 1st in order to give them the form. Since it is all on a first-come-first-served basis and there are limited places available, you have to be able to hand in the form early in line to secure your kid a place in the kindergarten. Since my son had not gotten a place for the first year of these preschools, there was virtually no chance of him entering these "prestigious" preschools next year either. Fortunately for us, as we explored our options further, we think we actually found better options. [Source: education-in-japan.info/sub105.html ^^]

“The Midori Yochien visit was scheduled on a school morning so that parents would be able to see the children in action. A very accommodating enchyo sensei (administrative teacher) showed us all around. A middle-sized schoolyard generously (more so than others) equipped with a giant sandbox, climbing frames, tunnel structures, slides, with two just-perfect-for-climbing real trees right in the centre. There was evidence that the kids had been gardening, and there were dogs, rabbits, hamsters for petting, even ducks too. The classrooms were really clean, with hundreds of crayons/colored pencils neatly displayed and very very bright with ground-to-ceiling windows. The corridors were clear for running children, staircases had beautiful stained-glass windows and there were a few Spanish art masterpieces hanging on the walls. The school actually had its own pottery furnace as the children made their own pottery work and other craft. As I asked about the actual teaching, the teachers said no writing was taught, not even basic hiragana recognition. The kyoiku hoshin (philosophy) was derived decades ago from some French school of thought (I could not make out the French name) plus a variety of other sources. However, class-size was reasonable around twenty-odd with three teachers each class as of next June (presently two per class). ^^

After our little visit around, hordes of children (4-6) tumbled out into the yard, they were the happiest looking kids I have ever seen in any school anywhere. The teachers looked young energetic, I saw quite a few were cheerful looking male teachers. I was told that the school aimed at healthy and "genki" kids (in the sense of physical and emotional well-being). This school as I had heard from many mums was infamous for its extremely long outdoor athletic activities, and was thus especially popular with mums with boys. As the older children returned to their classes, the 3 year-olds came out to play and I saw (through the windows) the returning kids crowding right close up to their teachers in what was probably a story-telling session. All in all, I would rate the preschool very high in ambience and environment, but I had great reservations about the fact that nothing academic was taught there (which the teacher admitted). ^^

Although I did not visit the other most prestigious preschool Masuo-Dai-iichi Yochien, my neighbour who had sent her two girls there said that the school was just a playschool (asobi basho) and they taught no academics there either, no hiragana and no math, but that her girls had enjoyed themselves there. The third option was the biggest one. A family friend who sent her son there and whose daughter will attend next year, had said the Kashiwa Kindergarten was more balanced than most, not all play and not all work. But when I went to visit, I didn't like the rather impersonal, concrete/brick, institution-like big building. The classrooms were big, but had no natural sunlight so that they had to make do with lots of florescent lighting. Parents here had to pay the school an unusual expensive monthly utility bill (airconditioning and heating) which other schools didn't require. The fees were surprisingly the most expensive of the schools too. An equally impersonal (and boring) briefing to more than a hundred odd parents left me feeling quite depressed. ^^

Then I went to pick up the moshikomi papers at Kaga Yochien. The school didn't bother with making impressions and held no special briefings.It was come-when-you-please, ask all the questions you want and I was free to wander around. It was located within twenty minute walk (5 min drive) of home, and I was pleasantly surprised to see a pretty pink and white school building (with an equally pretty pink school-bus). It was right beside a decent public park but the yochien had its own schoolyard. I went inside the school, couldn't find the administrative room and there were children spilling out of all the classrooms, everywhere. It was "free-playtime" just before the school-buses came to pick up the kids. It was a great din with kids talking at the tops of their voices and looking very lively. The playground was quite uncluttered, just a straight row of potted plants by the fence, but offered a large open space with real gym equipment (tumbling horse and mats), great climbing frames and two wonderful slides (the stainless-steel roller ones that rattle to the kids' delight). The climbing frame was shaped like a tall pirate's ship complete with sails and suspension-bridge gangwalks, and very colorful. My son attacked them with great glee. ^^

There were no gardening patches though, and no petting animals, the yard was very clean (no muddy compound)....a plus point for kids with dust and skin allergies. The classrooms were were interestingly decorated, bright with floor-to-ceiling windows, AND every classroom had a piano and tape-cassette/CD players! The school's selling point was its key rhythm-and-movement curriculum (of the Swiss Danclaus rhythmy school) and as I looked in on the obento-hour, I watched the teacher singing and playing the piano as the children ate and listened to the music. The children looked a little wild to me, but that's probably because it was free-play time and because of my all-girl convent background (shrine-affiliated preschools enforce more discipline I am told). Although a very activity-oriented curriculum, the school also taught both math and hiragana and even had English classes with a gaijin sensei. They also focused on aesthetics education, the appreciation of tea ceremony and other arts. Another interesting feature was that parents could elect to send their kids everyday (Mon-alternative Sats) or any flexible combinations of two, three or four school-days. A big minus point for me was the class size which teachers said could go up to 35 maximum although I saw quite a reasonable sized class for the 3 year olds. Although entrance fee was as high as most other yochien, the monthly tuition was the cheapest ranging between 5,000 yen to 13,000 yen. No uniforms were required hence no extra-cost there. School-busing was available for any option and the school provided catered obentos. Mothers had fewer PTA and other usual preschool duties than elsewhere which accounted for its popularity with foreigners. I have a very energetic and gregarious boy whose needs appear to be likely to met by coming here. My little just-out-of-his-diapers boy said "mama I really really like this school. I want to go everyday to this school". ^^

I had wrongly assumed that the most popular schools would be the most expensive ones, but Midori Yochien was a lot cheaper than nearly all the other preschools (both entrance fees and monthly tuition). Beware the hidden costs can really add up with the fancy uniforms, positively cool hats and sweaters or blazers, the Ralph Lauren-like school-bags, and to die-for art and craft-kits that some missionary yochiens bill you for. ^^

Japanese Government to Waive Kindergarten Fees for 5 Year Olds

In June 2013, Faith Aquino wrote in the Japan Daily Press, “Making kindergarten education free for 5-year old children has been agreed by the government. It was decided, together with the ruling party officials, that the program will be executed on the 2014 fiscal year. The proposal will only cover a family’s third or subsequent child given that the eldest sibling is still on his third or lower grade in primary school. The current condition is due to limited budgets. However, the government claims that waiving fees for all children from 3 to 5 years old is the ultimate goal. Also, no income requirement will be needed for the new subsidy program. [Source: Faith Aquino, Japan Daily Press, June 7, 2013]

“Waiving kindergarten fees, though with a condition, will be the government’s initial step for its education plans. It will be expanded and will cover all 5-year old schoolchildren, which is expected to cost about 260 billion yen a year. “We need to show people the beginning of the fee waiver program in fiscal 2014 under the Abe Cabinet,” said the Education Minister Hakubun Shimomura during the meeting of government and ruling party officials.

“As of now, all day care and school fees for the third or subsequent children are shouldered by the government. Half of the second child’s school fees may also be covered but only if three or more children from the same family are attending a day care all at the same time. Household income requirement has also not been imposed. As for those who go to kindergarten, the same is being observed but the subsidy given varies on household income and the school children’s age.

“The government plans to waive kindergarten fees for all children from families on welfare in 2014, the year the program begins. Officials also said that the new program intends to fill the gap of the nursery and kindergarten support. Under the new program, about 300,000 out of 1.6 million kindergartens will have reduced education fees, which may also be removed. National and local government expect in the first year to shoulder 30 billion yen. According to the Education Ministry, an estimated cost of 780 billion yen per year will be required.

“The new program will surely require a big cut on the national budget, but the cost seems to be of secondary concern by the ruling parties. The Liberal Democratic Party, where Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is the president, together with New Komeito pledged free education during their campaigns for the December House of Representatives elections. The new program may also help encourage the younger generation to start a family and bear children earlier than the current trend. This can serve as an assurance that the government is keeping its platform promise and is providing assistance to parents, including those who plan to become parents, when it comes to a child’s education.

Elementary School Entrance Exam in Japan

Exam hell and competition to get into the right school begins at a very early age for some Japanese children, whose families invest large sums of money to prepare them for entrance exams for prestigious kindergartens and elementary schools that in turn prepare students for exclusive secondary schools and universities. Japan’s 52 national universities have 73 elementary schools affiliated with them.

The kindergarten entrance exams tests children on their knowledge of shapes, the color of fruit, number sequences and polite behavior. An estimated 500,000 per-schoolers are enrolled in cram schools to prepare them for the tests. Some children begin studying for these exams when they are 6 months old, learning activities like how to open and close their hands.

Toshiyuki Shiomi, an education professor at the University of Tokyo told AP: "To pressure kids who can't even express themselves yet to do something they don't want to do will end up warping Japanese society."

Some families make large “donations” to exclusive schools. Waseda Jitsugyo, an elementary school affiliated with Waseda University, revealed that parents on average donated $33,000 to the school in addition to normal tuition fees and expenses. In some places parents have camped outside school offices to get into schools. In Yokohama, parents camped out 10 days to enroll in private kindergartens in Kohuku New Town in Tsuzuki and Aoba wards.

Parents often form lines in front of exclusive kindergartens and elementary schools in the wee hours of the morning to submit applications for the schools even though they are told that waiting in line like that gives them no advantages and admission is determined by performance on a test and by lottery.

Unifying Day-Care and Kindergarten

The Japanese government plans to integrate kindergartens and child day care centers in 2013. The plan is opposed by many parents, kindergartens and child day care centers who fear standards will be lowered and the emphasis will put on making money.

"Yo-ho ittai-ka" is term used to describe the integration of day-care and kindergarten in Japan. "Yo-ho" is an abbreviation of "yochien-hoikusho." Yochien means kindergarten, and hoikusho means child care centers. "Ittai-ka" refers to integration.Both kindergartens and child care centers are attended by preschool children. Children at child care centers mostly come from two-income families, and children at these facilities, including babies under the age of 1, are taken care of from about 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Kindergartens look after children aged 3 or older from 9 a.m. to about 2 p.m. In many cases, their mothers do not work outside the home. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, March 13, 2012]

“The government is seeking to create a new early childhood education system involving facilities called "sogo kodomoen" as early as 2015. "Sogo" means general, and "kodomoen" means centers for children. These facilities would take care of preschool children for as many hours as child care centers do, while also providing education programs comparable to those at kindergartens. The government hopes to see many kindergartens and childcare centers transformed into "sogo kodomoen.”

“Why is the government doing this? Many child care facilities have no vacancies due to an increase in the number of working mothers. This explains why an estimated 26,000 children are on waiting lists for admission to child care facilities nationwide.The government believes setting up "sogo kodomoen" will contribute greatly to taking preschool children off waiting lists. Nearly all child care centers will turned into "sogo kodomoen" be, but a number of kindergartens want to remain as they are. They fear they will be overloaded with work looking after children under the age of 2 if they are turned into "sogo kodomoen." To encourage kindergartens to become "sogo kodomoen," the government will probably have to extend financial aid.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: Source: Miki Y. Ishikida, Japanese Education in the 21st Century, usjp.org/jpeducation_en/jp ; iUniverse, June 2005 ~; Education in Japan website educationinjapan.wordpress.com ; 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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