Applying to private day care in Tokyo is a very different game than going the public route. In most cases, the application process is far simpler. This is not to say that getting in is any easier, as there is still an issue of lack of space, but the process is not as bureaucratic as the ninka application process. The selection process is also very subjective—no point system here—which can work in your favor, depending.
However with private day care, you have to be diligent in choosing where to apply because there is a range of quality out there. You need to do your homework in visiting and checking out the day cares. The most general term for private day care in Japanese is shiritsu hoikuen, but when doing your research you want to know which of two categories the day care you’re looking at falls into: ninsho or mu-ninka. See here for more details on each. The former qualifies for government subsidy; the latter does not. The majority of private day care are the latter, mu-ninka. There is really a range with mu-ninka, some great and some not-so great. You have to do your homework when applying to these: talk to other parents to hear what opinions are floating out there; have a Japanese spouse or friend do a little surfing on the mama online forums to see what people are saying; drop by the school at a time when they’re not expecting you to “ask a question” and see how their operation is looking when no parents are around, etc.
With private day care, the selection process for applicants is wholly based on the day care. There is no point system as in the public application and the private application is usually far less involved. (See here for a sample.) You usually don’t have to prove anything in regards to your working status. You simply have to apply and somehow catch their eye so that they want you in—ie you have to appear as though you can afford it and you have to give them a reason to want your child (and you) at their school on a daily basis. If you apply mid-term, instead of for entrance in April at the beginning of the school year, at the popular private day cares it’s likely that there won’t be space, so you’ll be wait-listed along with other applicants until a space opens up. Sometimes the wait can be over a year. And sometimes you may get in right away. When researching day cares, you may want to ask how long the average wait to get in is.
Most day cares have an application deadline sometime in the autumn months for entrance in the following spring (the beginning of the school year in Japan). You’ll apply at this time and either be accepted or wait listed. If you get in, you then have to pay the entrance fee to hold your spot until spring. These applications often happen before the public system applications, so if you’re applying to both, you’ll likely find out about your application to the private day care months before the public one. You’ll then have to pay to hold your spot until spring—the fee is usually between 15,000 and 35,000 yen depending on the day care. If you then get into public and rescind your application, that money is not refunded. It’s a little tricky, but if you really need day care, it’s probably worth paying the fee to hold your spot in case your public application is not accepted.
If you’re in a situation where at least one parent is an English speaker, which is likely the case if you’re reading this site, in some ways this may put you at an advantage with private day cares, which is why it’s a good option for many if you can afford it. Many of the private facilities in Tokyo want to be seen as international—and having a bilingual child or a child with more than one ethnicity attending their school helps with this image. I realize this might not be ideal for some, to use this as an advantage, but it is what it is. If you’ve faced the typical obstacles that most families face when trying to get into day care in this city, such as being continuously rejected or wait-listed for over a year due to lack of openings, you’ll likely be happy to take whatever advantage you can get.
Private day cares usually cost at least 65,000 for 160 hours a month, but often the price is much higher, such as around 100,000 yen. If the day care is a ninsho, and you enroll your child full time, you’ll qualify for a monthly discount via a subsidy from the municipal government, usually around 20,000 yen.
Private day cares in Tokyo often don’t have as large of facilities as the public ones. Some smaller private day cares are categorized as hoiku-shitsu or hoiku-room (as opposed to hoikuen), which means it’s a one-room facility. A hoiku-shitsu can usually only accept a small number of children because their space is limited. Sometimes these are cheaper than the larger private facilities though. There are also licensed day-care providers who operate out of their homes. These caretakers are called hoiku-mama. They also only take a limited number of children but for some families an option like this works better than a larger day care. Your ward office will have information about both hoiku-shitsu and hoiku-mama in your area.
One last thing about private day cares is that many have part-time or semi-part-time programs. For example, four days a week or three days a week. Some may even do less than that, depending on the day care. The options at public ninka day care for less than full-time care are very minimal (see here for more), so private is a good route to go if you don’t need or want full-time care, as long as you can afford it.
With the dearth of day cares in Tokyo at the moment, new private day cares seem to be opening up everywhere. This is good because it gives us more options, but just make sure to do your homework about any new day care. Any private day care facility is, after all, a business, and some will for sure be more upstanding than others.