Tag Archives: kodomoen

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: 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

The Basics: Ninka, Ninsho, Mu-Ninka

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.

Ninka (認可)
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.

Mu-ninka(無認可)
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.