Are you planning to send your child to a nursery school or kindergarten in Japan?
Many things may be quite different than in your home country. For example, in many daycares, even five-year-old children take a two hour nap!
We asked parents with children already in a Japanese institution what their number one tip is for surviving the school system.
1) “The first day, when they give you that little nametag cut into a cute shape, with the little slip of paper with your child’s name on it stuck in the little pocket, take the paper out, fill out the information on the back, then laminate that thing or mummify it in clear tape or something, because at some point you WILL forget to take it off their shirt, and it WILL go through the laundry.”
This parent gives us an excellent tip, because who hasn’t accidentally sent something important through the wash before?
2) “If your child doesn’t wear a uniform, don’t let them come with really nice and neat looking clothes, you’ll end up stressed out maintaining them. Send them in clothes that are okay to be soiled, hole-punched (due to the name tag pin) etc. Same goes for the change of clothes that the hoikuen/youchien will require you to prepare”
This is very true. Kids at daycare and kindergarten will play outside, and there is usually no grass. They play on dirt. So everything gets stained in said dirt. Some daycares also allow water and mud play – really fun, but really messy! Also washing machines often only use cold water here so it’s hard to get out the stains.
3) “If you want to extend your maternity leave just apply for 1 daycare”
In Japan you can take childcare leave on 65%, then 50% of your salary for one year. After that you should return to work. However if you want to extend it, up to two years, you can. Simply apply for a hoikuen that you know is full and you won’t get into. Then you will be rejected, and you can use this rejection to extend your childcare leave. You must fill in paperwork for this, speak to your ward and company.
4) “Order a name sticker which can be ironed on, or a name stamp, so you don’t have to label everything by hand”
In Japan they want you to name everything – every individual diaper, every sock, outfit, crayon and so on. Get a name stamp to stamp items like diapers, and order iron-on name patches for the clothes (with the name already written). Or you can buy the iron-on patches from DAISO for 100 yen and write the name yourself, which is still easier than sewing on the patches.
5) “Take a copy of all documents you fill out during the year. They all come back the next year so you just copy what you wrote the year before.”
You will quickly learn that in Japan, they like paperwork. Every year you will need to submit several forms to the school. Keep a photo/copy of them so that you can easily fill them in again the next year and you don’t need to worry about translating them. In fact, this applies to any application forms in Japan.
6) “If you can, volunteer story time or something at the school. I go about once a month to read to different grades. It’s a bit of work on my end but it really helped me connect with the teachers and students. Now, I feel far less helpless when I am unsure about something or do something incorrectly.”
This parent has found that giving some time to their child’s school has allowed them to develop a relationship with the other parents and teachers so that they feel much more included and confident. If you have the time, this could be a good idea. It is okay to read in English, they will love it!
7) “Don’t deviate from the specs they give you on supplies etc – you’ll need to buy the correct one in the end”
This wise parent has a simple but apt tip – buy the supplies that the school specifies. The other kids will all have them and you’ll find that if you deviate there may be a problem, like the strap is too long and trailing on the floor. It’s easier just to buy exact.
8) “Pick your battles… There are a lot of rules and customs, some of them may appear silly or weird, but you’ll build a better relationship with the teachers by being flexible wherever possible. Then leverage that relationship to fight on the issues that really do seem important to you.”
As foreigners many things seem strange to us, but this parent is right – don’t fight everything. Record how many times they have pooped, along with the time – make it up if you’re too busy. Do all of these silly requirements, and save your fight for important things, like when they say your pale-skinned-burns-easily child is not allowed to wear sunscreen during swimming because rules.
9) “If your nursery school has a bento day—do all the hacks from the ¥100 shops and YouTube. It doesn’t have to be the best but simple cute is good.”
You don’t need to spend lots of money to make those cute bentos you see on social media. Just go to the 100 yen shop and you will find cute picks, containers, decorations and so on. And if you look on Youtube there are many easy tutorials. But even better – choose a daycare that provides lunches! Many yochien do as well if you look carefully.
10) “Don’t forget to bring the indoor shoes home every week and wash them”
It is expected that the children bring their “uwabaki” home and wash them weekly. Although worn indoors, they get surprisingly dirty. The kids are supposed to scrub them, but really you can just throw them in the washing machine. The first week in our kindergarten, no one told us we were supposed to bring them home, so we didn’t do so and didn’t wash them. Woops!
I hope these tips will help you in your Japanese school journey. If you get overwhelmed, contact us to help you translate documents or interpret in your discussions with the school! If you’re moving to Japan, don’t be afraid of Japanese daycares, they can be very good!