When applying to the public system in Tokyo, you’ll likely want have a strategy. With the dearth of available spots, the competition is stiff to get in, so you have to be smart when making your application. There are of course a number of points to consider, and how you strategize in your application will depend on your priorities—if getting in anywhere outranks everything else, or if location (i.e. proximity to your home or office) or getting into one particular facility is your foremost goal. Issues of safety and quality aside, proximity to home is a big issue, I think, for most of us, when choosing a day care. But with the lack of openings in public facilities in Tokyo right now, for most parents the goal is simply to do whatever they can to get their child in.
There’s been a recent change in the system that might let some of us have our cake and eat it too—by which I mean you get in, and get in where you want. I’ll get to the detail of the change in a moment, but first let me summarize the strategy: The basic idea behind this strategy is that you apply with a wide range of choices and list some brand new day cares and/or day cares that are re-opening after renovations. Once you are accepted, you then put your application back in the pool as a transfer application.
In the past in Shinjuku, you were docked 4 points, which would pretty much renders your application irrelevant, (See more on the point system here.) if your child was already in the public system but you were just trying to change facilities within your ward. But from 2013, they changed this rule. This is major and very noteworthy. Because they no longer dock you any points, your transfer application will be awarded the same points and therefore the same ranking in their applicant pool as your original, successful application did. This makes your chances of success again much much much (can I say it enough) more likely. I’m not sure if this change in rules was made city-wide or not though, so please check with your ward office and ask specifically about this. The rules are slightly different per ward–yet another frustrating part of this whole application process! If you find out that your ward does NOT dock points for transfer applications, you’ll be able to use this strategy.
To start with, list as many facilities as you can on your initial application. When listing the facilities that you are applying to on your application, you are provided space to write ten choices. You can list many more than this though. Just write a little note or draw an arrow and attach a page with the rest of your choices. The general thinking is that the more facilities you are open to sending your child to, even if location-wise it’s inconvenient for you, the more desperate you seem–and the more likely they are to take pity on you and let you in somewhere.
Of course in this case, there’s a good chance you’ll get in somewhere other than your first or second choice. Some day cares are definitely more popular than others, so you might end up at an older facility or some place inconvenient for you location-wise. But remember the hope, or plan, is that you will then later be able to get a transfer to the day care of your choice.
Tokyo is trying to get its act together. New public day cares are opening in most wards, and these will definitely be the easiest ones to get into off the bat because they have a completely open roster. Public day cares that are scheduled to open in the next two years are usually listed along with all the currently operating ones in each ward’s hoikuen book, which is available at your ward office.
In addition to brand new day cares, keep an eye out for day cares that are re-opening after a remodel or renovation. These facilities usually have many openings at first too, which will again make them much easier to get into.
It’s likely that in both these case, you can’t visit the facilities ahead of time to check them out, which may be a detractor for some, but remember we’re just strategizing here. The plan is not for your child to be at this day care long term. The goal is for you to get in the public system and then to transfer to whichever day care you prefer at a later date. Having said that, I have never been to a public facility here that I wasn’t impressed with—if it’s new, it won’t be awful. Probably the issue will be more convenience of location than anything.
Tokyo is trying to do what Yokohama did, where there is no waiting list for public day cares. This means that Tokyo too has started outsourcing the operation of more public day cares to private companies. What this means is that a number of ninka day cares are now run by private companies that also operate ninsho. If you are applying to any of these, you can check the company’s website to find out more information as well as visit another location to get a feel for the way they run their operations.
My daughter was accepted into the public system only because we listed one of these new places on the list. It wasn’t my first choice, it was our second to last choice in fact, as it’s farther away than any of the day cares that we listed on the application. However, now that she’s there I’m actually very impressed with the way this private company runs its day care. Once again, I haven’t really been to a public day care here that I’ve been disappointed in—their standards are high and the quality follows no matter who’s running the show.
Finding good child care is critical for us working families, but if it makes your life more difficult because the facilities is located no where near your home or work, it can be a real issue. And affect the quality of everyone’s daily life. It sometimes feels to me like the ward office is plotting to make the lives of mothers here more difficult! I know more than one parent here with two kid who have been placed in two different day cares in two totally different areas. This, to me, is totally ridiculous and unacceptable. They need to find a better way but until they do, we have to figure out how to navigate our own way through the system.
Once last time, here’s the strategy outlined step by step:
1. First, make sure to check if your ward docks points for a transfer application or not. Shinjuku did as recently as last year. They changed the rule in 2013. You’ll have to check with your ward to see how they handles transfer applications. If they are still docking points, this strategy becomes irrelevant.
2. On your application, list the day care you really want to get into first, but then keep listing all the day cares that you can possibly make the journey to every morning. Make sure to include any new day cares that are just opening within a reasonable distance from you. What that means is up to you, but for me it mean 10-15 minute cycle. Basically list as many day cares as possible, or as many new ones as possible, adding another sheet of paper to your application if necessary. You are not limited to the ten lines on the application. You can list as many day cares as you want. (With all the extra pages I added, for various reasons, my application was 30-pages thick by the time I was done with it!)
3. After you are accepted, if you don’t get into your top choice, agree to whatever you’ve been assigned in order to get into the system. Then quickly re-apply as a transfer application for your top choice. This will mean filling out the same application one more time, so it may pay to get two of every supporting document you need the first time around, and make copies, to help streamline the process and stay ahead of all the red tape.
Of course I can’t guarantee that this strategy will work. But I can share from my experiences that even though we had a pretty strong application in the end (42 points), we only got in once I added a new day care being built. It was my second to last choice on our list! I have not applied for a transfer because to be honest it turns out that we really like this new day care, even though it’s not totally convenient for me location-wise. I might still apply in the future though, as I have that option at any time and my daughter still has many years in the day care system before elementary school. If I do apply for a transfer, you’ll be sure to be filled in on the process.