While this post is titled, An Inside Look At Daycare in Japan, it is based on three factors: my research for an in-depth article on the topic over on Best Living Japan; my experience working in a Japanese kindergarten; and finally, my experiences of having the monster enrolled in a (private) Japanese daycare since December 2017.
The need for daycare in Japan is a topic that frequently makes the news. Public daycare, while affordable, is notorious for its waiting lists and private daycare can be prohibitively expensive.
This post covers the following:
The difference between daycare and kindergartens in Japan
A look at public and private daycare
Typical day at daycare and a look at yearly events
What your child needs for daycare
Alternatives to daycare (kodomo en and gakudo)
An Inside Look At Daycare in Japan
Inspiration for this post comes from my Twitter Takeover of @beingtokyo, when I shared my typical routine of getting the monster ready for daycare.
I’m so fascinated by daycare in Japan! Our daycare (Long Island) now provides diapers but all I used to have to do is write her name on the box I brought in. Do you also have to keep a log of her schedule at home? I’ve heard others in Japan do this.
— Alyson Caraway | Nerd & PNR Author 🌙🌹 (@alycaraway) June 22, 2018
I was amazed at the responses to the world of Japanese daycare, so here’s an inside look at daycare in Japan.
Daycare Versus Kindergarten
First of all, let’s define the word “daycare.” You might call it daycare or nursery school, but daycare in Japan is hoikuen (保育園) and is reserved for babies 56 days old up to 6 years old.
This is not to be confused with kindergarten (幼稚園 | youchien), which is exclusively for kids 3 years old until they enter first grade.
Daycare falls under the umbrella of the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, while the Ministry of Education takes care of kindergarten.
To put it very simply, daycare is all about providing a safe and nurturing environment for babies and children while their primary caretaker is at work, hospitalized, etc.
Generally speaking, daycare schedules accommodate the working hours of full-time parents/guardians:
Monday through Friday (sometimes Saturday), from early morning to late evening. They are typically closed on national holidays and Sundays.
Some daycare facilities open only at night to accommodate parents who work the night shift. Other facilities offer around-the-clock daycare or even offer temporary care (一時保育 | ichiji hoiku).
Because there’s so many options, you’ll definitely have to shop around and explore your choices.
If you are considering returning to work after maternity leave and are aiming for an April start, plan ASAP as applications go out in October. It’s not unusual for parents to even apply as soon at their child is born!
The dates and process vary from municipality to municipality, but it’s best to get a head start.
Kindergarten, on the other hand, focuses on preparing kids for first grade through academics (maths, Japanese), physical education classes, and other activities such as English and music lessons. (These activities are commonly available are private daycares.)
You’ll also immediately notice kindergarten kids by their cute uniforms and school buses whizzing around town in the mornings!
The typical kindergarten day is until 2 or 3 pm and while they do have “after school” services, there are very few kids who use this service …because an overwhelming majority of kids in kindergarten have a stay-at-home mother or a mother who works part-time.
A standard kindergarten day is from 10 am – 2 pm, making it difficult for full-time working parents to juggle work and childcare. This is why sending kids to kindergarten isn’t going solve the daycare shortage in Japan.
For more on the struggles working parents face in Japan, read this article on The Huffington Post: 「保育園に入れなくて、仕方なく」。やむなく幼稚園に通わせる「隠れ待機児童」の親たちの悲痛な声
What Do Kids Do At Daycare?
Daycare isn’t just about making sure kids are in a safe environment.
Teachers (保育士 | hoikushi) help kids with the very basics as well as: improving social and motor skills, getting familiar with writing utensils, feeding themselves, how to wash their hands and wipe their noses, how to dress and undress themselves, and how to put on socks and shoes. Even toilet training is done at daycare recently.
Teachers and parents keep in contact with one another via a “communication notebook” (連絡帳 | renrakuchou).
This notebook is so important that I will be writing a seperate, in-depth blog post about it.
All kids (even the babies!) have daily outside play, weather permitting. You might see daycare kids around town in their over-sized carts. Babies will be in a carrier strapped to sensei’s back.
My daughter’s class often goes to a neighborhood park, the riverbank, or to a shopping mall near the train station. In the summertime, kids have pool play (水遊び | mizu asobi). Several field trips also take place throughout the school year.
Another part of Japanese daycare (that I really enjoy) is the seasonal activities like Christmas and Halloween parties. There’s also events like potato digging, Setsubun, Hina Matsuri, Tanabata and so on to teach the kids about Japanese culture.
In addition to entrance and graduation ceremonies, there are also seasonal stage performances (お遊戯会 | oyuugikai).
Japanese daycares also conduct monthly height and weight checks along with 2 or 3 health and dental checkups per school year. This is in addition to the scheduled routine check ups for kids in Japan.
How to Get Into Daycare – A Timeline For Going Back To Work
Entering a public Japanese daycare (区立 | ku ritsu or 市立 | shiritsu) daycare recognized by the government (認可 | ninka) is an extremely difficult process.
Please refer to my post on Best Living Japan for details and with your municipal office for paper work and deadlines.
Below is a very, very, very idealized schedule for a new mom planning to return to work in April after giving birth.
October: Attend daycare information sessions/visit daycare facilities
November: Submit applications
December to March: Acceptance letters go out
April: Child goes to daycare
Mid-April: Child adjusts to life at daycare
Late-April: Start working a few days a week
May: Transition to full-time work
You’re In- What Next?
Here’s all the gear you need:
View this post on Instagram
Nursery School Prep 👶🏼👜👶🏼👜👶🏼👜👶🏼👜👶🏼 Here's all the stuff the monster will be needing for school. Mind you, she only goes to daycare ONE DAY A WEEK. Can you believe this? . 👶🏼 . Apparently lots of moms make handmade bags but I'm not bout that life. Plus EVERYTHING needs to be labeled…but I cheated and ordered some custom made name stamps 😎#aintnobodygottimeforthat . 👶🏼Diapers & wipes (oh and her name had to be on ALL the diapers) 👶🏼Communication book 👶🏼Name tag & park hat 👶🏼Boxes of tissues for classroom . 👶🏼Barley tea (because she will probably not drink formula) 👶🏼Formula (because I can't send in milk but I could probably nurse her at lunchtime) 👶🏼Spare clothes (2sets) . 👶🏼Blankets for nap time 👶🏼Lunch bag 👶🏼Bento box 👶🏼Spoon & fork 👶🏼Lunch Apron 👶🏼Water bottle with strap, . 👶🏼Giant bag to put it all in (from the clinic where I gave birth)
Lunch related items go home daily. Other items like blankets and park hats and indoor shoes (for kids 2-6 years old) go to school on Monday and return home for cleaning on Friday.
Everything goes to and from school in a big tote bag. Some schools actually require parents to make their own bags, including an indoor shoe tote bag, toothbrush pouch, and lunch tote along with the big tote bag to carry everything.
The following embedded tweets are from my @beingtokyo takeover.
Friday I shared what all comes along with me on my commute. Today I’ll share what goes inside my daughter’s daycare bag.
— Being Tokyo (@beingtokyo) June 17, 2018
Next is her lunch tote: bento box, utensils, wet tissues, smock, hand towel, soup cup and water bottle. These go to daycare everyday.
Most kids fill their bottle with barley tea and teachers refill it with water during the day. pic.twitter.com/WQWLMR9JpQ
— Being Tokyo (@beingtokyo) June 17, 2018
And now for my secret weapon – the stamp set! Everything needs to be labeled, even down to each individual diaper.
Three stamp sets (romaji, hiragana, kanji) in several sizes. I expect to be using this throughout elementary school. pic.twitter.com/Uf5BlwJHUH
— Being Tokyo (@beingtokyo) June 17, 2018
In case you missed it, everything needs to be labeled. Even with my class of older kids, I hate having to ask around, “Is this yours?” I can’t imagine what it’s like having a bunch of one year-old kids in my class!
Do yourself a favor and invest in a Japanese/English name stamp kit, replacement ink pad, and ink refill. After all, you’ll be labeling things (right down to pencils and erasers) up until your kids are old enough to do it by themselves.
These 4 items from Rakuten are what I use to make sure everything is labeled:
10 piece hiragana and kanji name stamp and ink pad set. It also comes with one colored ink pad of your choice and three picture stamps so your child can identify their belongings even if they can’t yet read their own name.
ローマ字だけの3本セット！お名前スタンプ 【ローマ字セット】 英会話教室などのス…
3 piece alphabet name stamp set (stamps only; no ink pad).
【送料無料】 おなまえスタンプ専用マルチインク スタンプパッドお名前スタンプ/お…
Replacement ink pad. The ink pad in the 10 piece set lasted me 5 or 6 months until I put it away without closing the lid. Now I keep a backup on hand.
Ink refill cartridge. An easy way to inject life into an old ink pad.
Another Look At Daycare and Kindergartens in Japan: Kodomo En and Gakudo
Kodomo en (こども園) are facilities where daycare and kindergarten are integrated. I teach kindergarten at a kodomo en while the monster attends daycare at the same facility.
Kodomo en are mainly for older kids (3-6), though babies and toddlers do attend. Kodomo en help working parents who want to send their children to kindergarten, but aren’t able to pick them up after 2 pm.
My students (5 year old kindergarten) arrive at school sometime between 7 to 9 am. This morning care is daycare (hoiku).
From 10am to 2 pm, they move to our classroom where I take over, and we have kindergarten lessons. Lunch is at 12 pm and we eat lunch prepared on-site by a licensed nutritionist and cook.
After 2 pm until students go home is called daycare. From 2 pm to 3:30 pm is naptime, and 3:30 pm-4 pm is snack time. Then 4- 4:30 pm is after school lessons/structured playtime (craft, music, Japanese). From 4:30 pm until pick up is playtime.
Another option offered at daycares in Japan is gakudo (学童) formally called gakudo hoiku (学童保育). It’s an after-school program offered at daycares for students who have graduated (or live in the area).
Like daycare, the primary purpose of gakudo is to provide a safe environment for children while their primary caretakers are unavailable. Elementary schools, particularly in the lowet grades
Gakudo kids at my school arrive between 2-3pm by school bus or train if they’re old enough. They do homework and socialize and eat snack together around 3:30.
After snack time, they have one hour of subject studies like Japanese, crafting, social studies, mathematics, etc. This is followed up by homework and socializing until parents arrive.