For anyone stepping into the labyrinth of Japan’s day-care system, a basic understanding of how the system works is key. It’s a complicated, bureaucratic system that can be clumsy to navigate, even for native Japanese speakers.
Japan’s day-care facilities can be loosely categorized into one of three classifications.
Facility operation: Public Funding: Subsidized
As public facilities, standards tend to be quite high at ninka day cares. Teachers are all licensed and have passed a series of exams to work there. Fees are on a sliding scale based on income, which vary per ward. (In Shinjuku-ku, fees start around 7000 yen a month and are capped at around 70,000 yen a month for those in the highest income brackets.) Household with average incomes tend to pay around 50,000 yen a month for full-time day care, five days a week, for a child in the 0 to 2 year old range. For the most part, ninka day cares are the cheapest option but they are also the hardest kind to get into in Tokyo. Once you’re in though, the fees actually decrease every year, as your child ages, which is another reason why families across the city are scrambling to get in.
The application requirements for ninka state that you must be working at least three days a week, but the reality is that both parents have to be working full-time to have a chance of getting in as families are awarded entrance based on need and the competition is stiff.
To complicate things, there are two types of ninka facilities: hoikuen (保育園） and kodomoen （子ども園）. These are both municipally-run. Please see here for an explanation on the difference between the two. The majority of public day cares are operated by the ward municipal governments, but there are also some ninka that are privately operated, usually by religious or academic institutions. Although privately-run, these ninka are still public facilities since they can only be applied to through the public system, which means are subject to the same application process and fees as the ones run by the municipals.
When applying to ninka, you only need to fill out one application form, in which you are asked to rank the public day cares in your ward that you hope to gain entrance to. You are encouraged to list numerous facilities, as it’s often quite difficult to get your first choice.
The strength of your application is judged on a point scale that’s based on how much you work and your lifestyle circumstances. (This is explained in more detail here.) Once submitted, your application goes into the system and is good for 6 months. If you do not get in within that time frame, you have to reapply. For a rundown on the ninka application process, click here.
Ninsho（認証） Facility operation: Private Funding: Partially Subsidized
The ninsho day cares are privately owned and operated facilities that are recognized by the government, which means that most enrollees are eligible for a government subsidy to help offset the extra cost. The fees for most ninsho start around the top tier of the public system’s sliding scale–somewhere in the range of 70,000 yen. Many ninsho day cares also have a one-time entrance fee (nyuukaikin 入会金) as well, usually starting around 20,000 yen, but sometimes more depending on the facility.
Most ninsho day care offer a few different course options, based on the amount of time you need per month. However, most are all still geared toward full-time working parents. The one in my neighborhood starts at 160 hours per month (approximately 8 hours a day, 5 days a week) for the minimum sign up. This varies per place, of course, in general they want full-time enrollees, although many have programs for 3 days a week or 4 days a week too. However, most aren’t as strict about whether you have to be actually working full-time or at all. (But you will need to prove you are working full-time to be eligible for the government subsidy.) If you have the money to pay the higher fees at ninsho, and the patience to go through the application process and wait as long as it takes (it may be over a year), you’ll eventually get in somewhere.
In the case of ninsho day cares, the application is done directly with the facility. This requires you going at least once for a visit and to pick up the application, and then again to submit it. Some ninsho may also have required meetings that parents must attend before applying.
Facility operation: Private Funding: Non-subsidized
The mu-ninka day cares are all privately owned and operated. Families enrolled here are not eligible for any government subsidy. A range of different day cares fall into this category, and their standards of care and fee structures vary widely.
There are definitely a number of good mu-ninka out there, but you need to do your due diligence and research and visit them before applying. Also, be prepared to pay more than you would at the ninka or ninsho. Like the ninsho, you don’t have to be working full-time to have your child accepted full-time here; as long as you can pay the fees, and they have space for you, you should be able to get in. Some parents use these as a temporary solution while waiting for entrance to a ninka. Some mu-ninka will offer part-time programs as well.
In the case of mu-ninka day cares, the application is done directly with the facility. This requires you going at least once for a visit and to pick up the application, and then again to submit it. Some mu-ninka may also have required meetings that parents must attend before applying.