Tag Archives: ninsho

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 Basics: Private Day Care

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.



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.


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.

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.