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Heather Sanders, a Department of Defense Dependents School teacher at Misawa Air Base, Japan, hugs her daughter, Julia, 5, during a recent Parent's Day at private kindergarten Daiichi Yochien in Misawa city. Sanders chose Daiichi over on-base preschool for the language and cultural exposure.

Heather Sanders, a Department of Defense Dependents School teacher at Misawa Air Base, Japan, hugs her daughter, Julia, 5, during a recent Parent's Day at private kindergarten Daiichi Yochien in Misawa city. Sanders chose Daiichi over on-base preschool for the language and cultural exposure. (Jennifer H. Svan / S&S)

Japanese day care, or hoikuen, is divided into approved and unapproved centers; the primary difference is the level of government regulation. Approved facilities are sanctioned by local governments, can be public or private and typically are reserved for working parents, guardians or those who cannot look after their children for other reasons, such as an illness.

Approved centers in Japan and Okinawa must meet Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare standards based on Japan’s Child Welfare Law. The regulations generally pertain to building size, space for play and crawling, kitchen areas, safety features, and training and number of teachers, according to a report on Japanese day care by Child Research Net. Approved centers undergo annual inspections.

Provider-to-child ratios at approved day-care centers are similar to Defense Department CDC requirements for infants and young children but diverge significantly for preschoolers.

In a classroom for infants younger than 12 months, for instance, the Japanese approved day-care facility has one provider for every three babies, while DOD mandates one provider for every four infants 6 weeks to 12 months, with no more than eight babies per classroom.

For 3-year-olds, however, the required provider-to-child ratio in Japan is 1:20, and 1:30 for children 4 and older, compared to DOD’s 1:12 for 37 months to 5 years of age.

About 1.9 million children attend Japan’s 22,000 approved day-care centers, and about 180,000 children attend 7,000 known unapproved day-care centers, according to Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare officials.

Japan’s government does not track the number of status-of-forces-agreement or foreign national children attending Japanese day care. Because local governments administer day care, the policy on accepting foreign children varies by community.

In Misawa, for example, children whose parents are both SOFA members and do not pay taxes in Japan cannot receive care at approved centers, said a Misawa city official. “If one of the parents is Japanese or one works for a Japanese company and pays Japanese taxes, then they are eligible,” the official said.

But at day-care centers around Yokosuka Naval Base, about 50 children with either one or both parents who work at the Navy base near Tokyo attend off-base day-care centers, said Kenzo Honma of Yokosuka City Hall’s child support division.

Children of SOFA personnel are accepted just like any other Japanese applicant, he said.

Parents apply to approved day-care centers through the local city hall; unapproved centers accept applications directly.

Communities set different application dates for day-care programs. In Yokosuka, for example, parents need to apply by December.

If more applications are received than spaces available, government officials will interview parents to evaluate their need for day care, officials said.

Currently there are more than 20,000 children on day-care waiting lists throughout Japan, officials said.

Typically, day-care fees in Japan are based on a family’s income tax from the previous year. The central government sets general fees, but cost can vary among municipalities depending on how much national and local governments subsidize the programs. In the city of Yokosuka, for example, if a family paid 5,000 yen (about $50) or less income tax the previous year, the day-care fee is 17,100 yen (about $171) a month for children younger than three and 14,800 yen (about $148) for older children. Fees can scale upward to 61,500 yen (about $615) a month for higher-income families.

Unlike in the States, mainland Japanese and Okinawan kindergarten, or yochien, is for children ages 3 to 5 and usually is no more than four hours a day. Kindergarten in Japan is “intended to (take) care (of) young children, to provide appropriate surroundings and encourage growth of their mind and body,” according to School Education Law, which lays down basics of Japan’s schooling system.

“It is the first group living for the children,” said Naoko Kadono, an official at the kindergarten management assistance division at the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology.

Public kindergartens are required to submit teaching plans for the school year to the board of education annually. Private kindergartens are not required to do so.

The average tuition for Japanese public kindergarten is about $700 per year; for private kindergarten, $2,400 per year. Many kindergartens offer before- and after-school child care.

Most day-care centers and kindergartens in Japan serve a hot lunch of fish, rice, vegetables and miso soup, though at some, parents may chose to provide their own.

Kindergarten officials advise parents to make an appointment to tour the kindergarten before applying. Some kindergartens accept applications throughout the year, others only once a year.


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