Tag Archives: Tokyo

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.

 

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The Application Process: Notes For Freelancers

If you are a full-time freelancer, you have a slightly harder road ahead when applying to the public system (ninka) simply because you have to do more groundwork to prove that you’re actually working 40 hours a week. This proof can come as copies of work contracts, tax forms, bank statements, or any other documents that help show how much you are working. It’s important to understand that for the public application, how much you make is not as important as how many hours you work each week. You need to be able to show that you work at least 40 hours a week by proving you have enough contracted work. Income-wise, full-timers only need to make a minimum of 860 yen an hour in Shinjuku-ku, which works out to 34,400 yen a week and 137,600 yen a month (based on a 4 week month). You don’t need to be making a lot, and it doesn’t make a difference if you do make a lot as far as the application process goes–what matters is how many hours you work.

Freelancers can fall into a couple of different categories on the point scale. Remember, the number of total points you have determines your position on the waiting list, so it’s key to get the maximum 20 points for your work situation. The ward office determines your point total based on your work and life situation as presented in your application. You can pick up additional points here and there (as well as lose them) depending on your family’s life circumstances, but the foundation of your point total will come from your work situation. If you work full-time for a company, and have this verified by your company’s seal on the employment page of the application, the conversation stops there and 20 points are rewarded to you. This is why it’s so much easier for corporate workers to get into the public system. It’s just easier to prove the hours that you work.

The work situation of freelancers, on the other hand, is not as straightforward. You have a few options as to how you present yourself in the application, but each affects your point total. If you work for a number of different companies, you can present yourself as a part-timer at each. In this case, you need to make copies of the employment page of the application (usually there’s only one page for each spouse) and have each of your employers fill it out with your work details and sign/stamp it. In this case, though, you’ll be presenting yourself as an employee. And if your categorized as a employee who works part-time at multiple places, even if your total work hours add up to 40 hours or more (ie full time), you will fall into the freelance employee or contract worker category and you don’t get 20 points. Even if you work 40 hours a week for a variety of places, you will only be rewarded 19 points if you work in an office (or on sight at the business) and 18 points if you work from home. This is where it gets tricky being a freelancer. (It’s also tough for those working in family businesses because unless you are the owner, you are considered an employee and subject to these rules as well. So even if you work full-time, you’ll only get 19 points if you work in an office and 18 points if you work at home.)

However, if you declare yourself as self-employed, and present these places where you work as your clients, then you can get the full 20 points as long as you work at least 40 hours a week and make more than 860 yen per hour. But you have to be seen as independent, i.e. a self-employed individual who has clients—and not be seen as someone’s employee. This requires that you fill out the employment page of the application with your name (or your business name if you have one) and your address (or if you have an office, that address) in the fields designated for employer information. You write and sign the form as your own employer. And then you attach documentation to prove that you have enough clients and work to warrant at least 40-hours of childcare a week. Most likely, this will be copy of work contracts and/or proof of income. The latter can be tax forms or bank statements or any other proof that’s current. You need to prove that you make at least 860 yen per hour (this is the minimum income amount in Shinjuku ward at the moment but this figure probably changes often and may differ per ward, so make sure to double check). Finally, you are required to fill out the weekly work schedule form included in the application with a sample of your weekly work schedule—ie what clients you work for or what projects you’re working on each day. The schedule will show that you always work at least 8 hours a day, and what you’re working on. (The application for Shinjuku gives you two schedules to fill out, one is to show what your current work schedule is without full-time childcare and the other is what it will be once you have full-time day care. If your child is already in private day care, you only need to fill out the schedule for those with childcare. If you are working without childcare right now, fill out both schedules.)

A final note for freelancers who work for companies outside of Japan: you should include a basic translation of your work content and contracts. By basic, I mean simply translate the company’s name, the type of work you do for them, and the important dates or information in the contract that show how much you will work for them. Make it as easy as you can for the ward office to understand your work situation and see that you are indeed working at least 40 hours a week as a freelancer.

This may seem a lot of work for an extra 1 or 2 points, but it can really make the difference. In Shinjuku ward and probably most of Tokyo, it’s pretty hard to gain admittance to public day care if you don’t have at least 42 points. This means you and your spouse need to first get 20 each for you work situations, and then pick up an additional 2 points somehow. For most families, this is done by gaining admittance to a private day care first and enrolling your child full-time to show the ward office that you are truly in need of full-time care. Although there are other ways to get extra points. See here for more on the point system and scale (scroll down to the third and last chart for details on how to pick up extra points).

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.

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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.

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.