Tag Archives: Daycare

The Application Process: Strategy

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.

 

The Application Process: Sample Private Day Care Application

The following is a sample application for a fairly competitive private day care in Tokyo. It’s one page, and they don’t ask for any additional documentation. This is it! It’s an interesting comparison with the 10 plus pages of the application for public day care. Note that this day care facility makes their decision based solely on this single piece of paper–there is no interview.

As you can see below, all they ask for is: the names, address, and work details of each parent; the name and age of the child; your requested weekly schedule for childcare; and finally a brief explanation of your child-raising philosophy and your purpose for wanting entrance to that specific day care.  It’s a pretty breezy application compared to the hefty public one. For some, the absence of red tape and headaches in the application process might be worth the extra monthly cost of going private! However, if public is your ultimate goal, it’s good to know that applying to a private as a back up will not be as tiresome a process as the public application. Again, this is just a sample of one private day care–each facility of course has their own application paperwork and procedure. Some day cares do require interviews, and others may have much more involved application forms than this one.

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The Application Process: The Point System

All applications for public day care (ninka) in Tokyo are assessed based on a point system designed by each ward. The more points you have, the higher your ranking on the waiting list to get into the public day care of your choice. The point system is supposed to be an objective way of prioritizing those with the greatest need for childcare, but it’s not as clear cut as it seems, and those families that get in often figure out how to manipulate the system in their favor so they have more points.

The following is a sample of a recent point chart that I have on file. The wards update their point scales pretty regularly, and each ward has their own scale, so please only use the below to gain a general understanding of how the point system works. A copy of the most up-to-date point chart will be in the application form you pick up at your ward office.

Most successful applications for public day care have a point total of 40 or more. In the case of two parents working full-time, an application is awarded 40 points total (20 for each full-time worker). However, since pretty much all applications have 40 points, as for the most part people only apply to the public system if both parents are working (because entrance is so competitive), families then try to give themselves an edge by adding extra points. See the last chart below for details on this. But for an example, the most common way to add points above and beyond the 40 is to have your child already enrolled in private day care. If you are already paying for full-time childcare in a private facility (or otherwise), you’re awarded an extra 2 points, which would then give you a total of 42. (The thought process behind this from the ward’s point of view is that if you’re paying for private care, which will be more expensive than public day care, there’s no uncertainty about whether you are really in need of day care or not.)

The first part of the scale is simply based on working hours. You’ll see in looking it over that corporate/company workers seem to be favored over self-employed or family businesses. If you’re self-employed, you can be awarded the full 20 points only if you’re a business owner–but what this exactly means is not clear. If you’re self-employed or work for a family business but are not the business owner or head, then you can’t get the full 20 points. So two spouses working together cannot both get 20 points. And the ward also awards less points to self-employed people working at home as opposed to those in an office or place of business. It doesn’t make a lot of sense, really. It seems that there’s probably some leeway in how you define your job type, but just remember you do have to provide documentation and proof for everything. However, if you work for yourself from home and are technically the owner of your “business,” then you should be able to be awarded the full 20 points.

Job Type Working Hours Points

Company Employee

Working 20 days or more per month
40 hours , 5 days/week, daytime 20
40 hours/week 20
more than 35, less than 40 hours/week 19
more than 30, less than 35 hours/week 17
more than 20, less than 30 hours/week 16
Working less than 20, up to 16 days/month
more than 32 hours/week 16
more than 24, less than 32 hours/week 14
more than 16, less than 24 hours/week 13
Business Owner

(Self-employed, Family-run Business)

up to 20 points (depending on hours, see above)
Self-Employed, Family-run Business Employee

(Not Owner)

Working 20 days or more per month Work in an

office

Work from

Home

more than 40 hours/week 19 18
more than 30, less than 40 hours/week 16 15
more than 20, less than 30 hours/week 15 14
Working less than 20, up to 16 days/month
more than 32 hours/week 15 14
more than 24, less than 32 hours/week 13 12
more than 16, less than 24 hours/week 12 11
Seeking Employment If you’ve found a job and are looking for day care, as long as you can submit proof of having secured employment, your points will be calculated based on the above scales, but 4 points will be subtracted from your total. See above, minus 4 points
If you are currently seeking employment but have not yet secured a job. You are required to find work within 2 months. 7

For families where one spouse is not working due to special circumstances, the following shows how points are given based on those circumstance. For families eligible for these points who have successful applications, in most cases one spouse will already have 20 points for working full time (see above chart) and then for the non-working spouse with special circumstance, points will be awarded as detailed below. Single-parent households also pick up more points here.

Special Circumstances Points
Pregnancy/Maternity Leave Over a total time of 5 months. Points won’t be awarded after applying under this category for more than 5 months. 12
Illness or Injury bed rest 20
infectious disease, Grade 3 mental illness (based on Tokyo Mental Illness Grade Scale) 20
Mental Illness less than Grade 3 15
Disability (based on Tokyo Illness Grade Scale)

Grade 1, 2

20
Grade 3 16
Grade 4 12
Primary Caretaker for a Sick Relative Full-time caretaker 18
Staying with Hospitalized Person 16
Taking Person to Hospital Every Day 14
Visiting Care/Nursing Home Facility Daily 14
Continuing Education Currently enrolled in classes 12
Natural Disaster 20
One-parent Household Parents are divorced or one parent is deceased. 20
Other Special Circumstances Parent attends Japanese language school 7
Parent works 8-hour night shift Use above company worker scale for hours, then minus two points
Other Circumstances to be considered case by case by ward office and awarded points accordingly.

The last part of the chart below shows you how extra points are added and subtracted to an application’s total. Remember, most successful applications already have the 40 points for having two full-time workers in the family, but then it’s a matter of finding a few extra points to give you an edge over all the other dual income families in the application pool. Those points are picked up (or lost!) for reasons outlined below.

Situations for Addition or Subtraction of Points Points
Location Related Non-resident of ward but planning to move to the ward in which you’re applying for public day care -2
Non-resident of ward but employed there -4
Non-resident of ward, not employed there -6
Non-resident of Japan -2
Relocating wards, already have child in public day care in former ward 2
One-parent Household Divorced or one parent deceased with no care-taking assistance 4
Divorced or one parent deceased with care-taking assistance 2
Parents living separately due to job transfer 2
One parent is hospitalized for over 6 months 2
Spouse is not registered resident of same ward -4
Already Have Private Childcare Child is in private day care or being taken care of through other means of paid child care

(proof required)

2
Maternity Leave Pregnant, have a child in day care, plan to go back to work 2
Re-enrolling older child after taking them out for maternity leave during new pregnancy 4
Family Assistance Grandparent under age 60 living within 1km -2
Employee of Public Day Care Facility Applying to have your child in the same day care that you work in -1
Requesting to move from one public day care facility to another  You have multiple children at different public day care facilities and request they be assigned to the same one 2
Other reason -4
Disabled Child 2
Special Circumstances To be considered on a case by case basis by the ward and awarded points accordingly 1 to 6 points

Part-time Day Care: Public Options

In some ways, you may find more obstacles in securing a reliable part-time daycare situation here than full-time, especially an affordable one. But there are options, and I’ll try to outline what I know below.

Japan’s public system (ninka) is really set up with an all-or-nothing attitude. You bring your child 5-days a week from 9am to 5pm or longer. The public system is made to support full-time working parents, and unfortunately has little flexibility for those with careers that fall outside of that box or who only need part-time care.

If you need reliable part-time day care, your best option is probably private day care. Although this isn’t always the most affordable choice, so it depends on your family’s personal needs and requirements. There are a few part-time public options—my daughter is currently enrolled in one such program—but they take some hoop jumping to get into. I’ll talk strategy in more detail in another post, but first let’s just go over the options.

Pretty much every day-care facility in Japan offers a full-time system, but not all offer part-time programs. Here’s what’s out there for public facilities:

Public, one-off day care
(ichijihoiku, 一時保育)
Some, but not all, public day cares in Tokyo (both hoikuen and kodomoen) offer part-time care. Of those that do, most have a sort of one-off system called ichijihoiku.

Unlike the ninka application for full-time care that goes through your ward office, the ichijihoiku applications are done directly with the day-care facility. This requires that you find a ninka day care near you that offers ichijihoiku, go to pick up an application (usually a simple one-page form), and then arrange a time to bring it in and meet with the head teacher for an interview (mensetsu) to answer some questions about your child, mostly in relation to eating and sleeping habits. The application process is not strict or lengthy, and as far as I know, they accept all applicants with children in the correct age range.

The kids in the ichijihoiku program are cared for in a separate room from the full-time kids at the same public facility, although in most cases they will likely interact somewhat during the day. Each ichijihoiku program has a limit to the number of kids it will take in one day, usually around ten children, and have quotas for how many kids are allowed from each age group. These limits are set at the beginning of the year. In most cases, the majority of space is for kids that fall in the age range of 1-2 years old.

At public day cares, the ichijihoiku reservation system is a monthly one, which means you have to apply one month in advance for the days you want. Also, you are not guaranteed to get the days you request because who gets what days is decided by a monthly lottery known as a chusenkai. As the ichijihoiku system is not specifically for working moms, anyone can sign up, and every month all the applicants get put in the same lottery pool together.

Note that this means that if a non-working parent can easily get a better lottery number than a working one and get more days for that month. Depending how many people are signed up at a day care and your lottery draw, there are months when you may get only one day or no days at all, so it’s quite a tough system unless you have a very flexible work life and can theoretically go a whole month without doing any work. There is usually a maximum number of days allowed as well for ichijihoiku, ranging between 3-10 days per month, set by each facility. Sometimes the maximum is set by the ward and so each month you’re only allowed a certain amount of days combined at all public facilities in that ward.

The way the lottery system is run varies per facility. Some of them ask a parent to come each month for an open lottery where you pick a number out of a bag or box and then everyone lines up according to their number order and submits their hoped-for days. In other cases, there’s an open period of two weeks or so when you can bring in the application/desired schedule for that month, and at that time you pick a number from a box or bag. Then after the application period closes and the applications are ranked based on the lottery numbers, you receive a letter from the ward office that tells you what days you got. For the former system, if you can’t make it on the day of the open lottery, you can request the facility act as a proxy and have a teacher pull a number for you.

One good thing about the ichijihoiku system is that you can sign up at as many day cares as you like at once. This may help maximize your chances of getting enough day care (it did for us for a while), but it requires a lot of running around to the various facilities to apply every month, not to mention you need a child who adapts easily to new environments. However, the cost is quite reasonable, usually somewhere from 2,300 to 3,600 yen for the entire day.

We used this system for about a year because I have a very flexible work schedule. It was great for us as long as I pulled good numbers in the lottery, but when I had a stretch of consecutive months with bad numbers in which I only received one or two days of day care a month, I felt the crunch badly. We then ended up enrolling my daughter in ichijihoiku programs at three different day cares, which meant I had to do a lot of running around every month submitting and picking up applications. And even then, there were months when we got almost no day care. It seemed like it was either feast or famine for us with ichijihoiku.

I don’t think ichijihoiku is a realistic long-term solution for working moms, but it can help for the interim, as it did for us. The application process is quick and easy, and once your application is accepted you can start applying for days the following month, so you have nothing like the lengthy wait that full-time applicants do at public or private day cares.

Tip: Many of the ichjihoiku programs have more availability in the first few months of the school year from April. This is because kids previously enrolled in ichijihoiku start new schools or day cares and spaces open up. If you’re planning to try it out, you can usually find more openings then.

Public, part-time, one-year contract in three-month installments
(teiki-riyou hoiku 定期利用保育)
A small number of public day cares offer a more reliable part-time option, although these are really quite few and far between in Tokyo at the moment. Some kodomoen have a program called teiki-riyou hoiku, which involves a three-month contract with a set weekly schedule. You can apply for care for anywhere from 1-6 days a week, for anytime during 9am-5pm. If you apply at the beginning of the school year for April admittance, you are given a three-month contract with the option to continue to renew for the entire year. Every three months you need to resubmit your application, and at that time you can adjust your request for more or less days.

This program gives priority to families with two working parents, and especially those who have applied to the full-time public system but haven’t been able to get in yet. They also give priority to families that need more time rather than less, so there will be kids enrolled who go every day and those who go two or three days a week.

The application process runs every three months, but once you apply and are accepted you can renew your application every three months over the next school year to extend your child’s stay. This program just started in Shinjuku ward this year, and my child is enrolled. Currently it’s only available at two day care facilities in Shinjuku, but this has been a sort of pilot year, so hopefully they will increase the facilities that offer teiki-riyou hoiku from next year. It is certainly a much better option than ichijihoiku for working moms. I think there is a program similar to this in Chiba-ken called tokutei-hoiku, although I am not familiar with the details.

The teiki-riyou hoiku application process requires that you show proof of both parents’ work contracts, as well as write out a sample weekly work schedule for cases where you have more than one employer or are self-employed, etc. If you work for a company in Japan, your employer will have to fill out a form to verify your working hours, and sign it with their seal (hanko/inkan) as is also necessary for the full-time ninka application. If you work for companies outside of Japan (as I do), you need to show proof of your work contracts and translate the most relevant points. Finally you are asked to submit a schedule request form (provided) with the exact days and hours you need over the three-month period.

The application for teiki-riyou hoiku is due in March, after the announcement is made about whether those who applied into the full-time ninka system have gotten in or not. After you submit your application, the ward office ranks you somehow in relation to need (with those needing more hours getting higher ranking), but they still use a lottery system in the final decision or who gets in and what days of the ones you requested you get. The goods news is that it’s not a long wait; you find out the same week that you apply if you got in and what days you got. In Shinjuku, this system is still young, in its first year, so they may still make adjustment to it as it grows in popularity. If you don’t make the first application period in March, it opens up again every three months. In Shinjuku, the application periods are the first weeks of March, June, September, and December. You apply directly at the kodomoen facility but the applications are handled by a ward office official who comes in for that week.

Unlike the full-time public ninka system, where your cost is based on your income, the cost of teiki-riyou hoiku is set and based on the hours needed. In Shinjuku, for 2013-2014, they charge 52,800 yen for up to 192 hours a month (essentially full-time), 44,000 yen for up to 160 hours a month, 35,200yen for up to 128 hours a month, and so on. Unlike the full-time public program that has early and late hours, the kids in teiki-riyou hoiku must attend between the hours from 9am to 5pm. The can come later or be picked up earlier, of course, just not the other way around.

The teiki-riyou hoiku class is separate from the full-time kids and combined with the ichijihoiku class. It will be a mixed age class. In Shinjuku, the breakdown is currently one infant, four to five children in the 1-2 year age range, and one (or none) in the 3-5 age range. Again, this program is only offered at two day cares right now, but will hopefully grow from next year. There is certainly a need for a  reliable and affordable part-time program like this. We have been using this program since it’s inception in April and have been very happy so far.

Tip: The more days you need, the easier it will be to get into this program.

Just Starting Out? Advice.

Making your way through the day-care system in Japan involves a pretty steep learning curve. There are a number of things I wish I had known early on, as in before even starting out. Here are my top pieces of advice for those just starting out:
1. Start early.
The best advice I can offer is to tell you to start early with your day care search AND your applications. And by early, I mean baby-in-the-womb early. I know this may sound overwhelming–I mean who wants to think about putting your child in someone else’s care before the baby is even born? No one. Certainly not me. But avoiding that uncomfortable fact landed me in some dire straits when it came to the time when I needed to find childcare. It is not a quick process in Tokyo to find good and affordable childcare, especially if you’re hoping to go the route of public day care. Starting early is going to be one of your best tools for success in this process.

If your goal is public day care (ninka), start with your backup plan—because you will need one. This means finding at least one or two private day cares (ninsho or mu-ninka) near you that you like. Then get your applications in early. You can always cancel an application, or turn down an offer of admission, but if you don’t have any application in, you’ll have to start from zero, and for many of the good private day cares, the wait can be over a year. So if you apply when your child is born, you still likely won’t get in until after your child’s first birthday.
The public day care application process is complicated by the fact that you have no chance of getting in if you don’t have a full-time job already—and even then it may take a year or more on the waiting list. Private day cares don’t care so much about whether you’re working or not as long as you can pay. (If you are looking to take advantage of the government subsidy for those attending ninsho, you will have to prove that you’re working full-time, of course.)

So for working parents who need day care and don’t have the time for the lengthy wait for ninka, you’ll need to first find a ninsho or mu-ninka day care with an opening and keep your child there until a spot opens at the public day cares. This also helps to up your points, which is a whole other game we’ll talk about soon. If you’re confused at all by all this ninka, ninsho, muninka talk, read a quick overview here.

2. Be very organized.
You really have to have your act together when applying to day cares here. There is a lot of paperwork, and it gets confusing and complicated no matter who you are–Japanese native included. Not to mention that you’ll likely end up applying to multiple places with different deadlines and requirements. The paperwork alone may do you in if you don’t keep on top of it. The more organized you are, the easier all of this will be. Go get some binders or folders or files—whatever system works for you. They will get filled up quickly.

3. Talk to mamas in your neighborhood.
As many of you probably already know, when you have a baby here, your world opens up quite a lot. The neighborhood folk warm to you, and you’ll find yourself being approached and engaged in conversation likely much more than before baby. You’ll also start to exchange nods and pleasantries with other mothers of young children in your neighborhood. As you get to know these moms on your walks around, or at the jidoukan, or in the playgrounds, ask them about what they know about day care. Tell them you’re looking for a good one in the neighborhood, or share what you know.

There is a mother in my neighborhood with a child just a few months younger than my daughter. She doesn’t work and her daughter is not in day care but still she has researched the system exhaustively and has been a source of really great tips and information for me. Because I’ve stopped to chat with her along my walks with my daughter, she knows I’ve been struggling to find childcare. Now, every time I see her she asks how things are going and tells me any new information she’s gathered. And in turn I share whatever information I have. Mamas like to exchange information. Especially if you can’t read Japanese and online searches are going to be timely and difficult for you, word-of-mouth is going to be an important resource for you. If you don’t speak Japanese, don’t let this thwart you. Most Japanese people speak better English then they let on; you’ll never know if you don’t ask.

4. Bug the heck out of your ward office.
You will need to visit the day care section or your ward office multiple times during this process. It really helps to get yourself known to these people. First go to get the application paperwork and ask questions. Then go back to have them check over your application before you submit and ask more questions. Then go back again to check on your application or to appeal to them and tell them why it’s so important that you get into the public day care system. While the decision-making process is mostly based on an objective point scale (more about that here), there seems to be some room for subjectivity in the selection process. And all successful applicants pretty much have the same point count in the end, so there’s got to be something that tips the scale in one family’s favor over another. It’s really worth getting the people at the ward office on your side, or making them feel like they want you out of their hair! I’ve heard both approaches work….