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Last year I opted to move my daughter from her international nursery into a Japanese public daycare. It was quite a complicated process, but after two months on the waiting list we were successful in entering into a public “ninka” hoikuen. It is only ¼ of the cost of the international school which is excellent, and it includes free lunches and snacks. I will share my experience applying for daycare and initial thoughts on the daycare itself.

Step 1: Prepare your documents

In order to get a spot in a public daycare, ideally you want maximum points (as there are waiting lists throughout Tokyo). You gain points for:

  • No family members (ie. grandparents) residing nearby
  • Both parents are working full-time
  • Low family income
  • More than one child
  • Single parent
  • Child is on a waiting list to get into daycare

I do have two friends in my area who are not working and still managed to enter Japanese daycare however. One is a freelancer who had to get “permission to work” and submit proof of his work to the ward office. There are a few daycares in our area with spaces available, so he was able to enter one of those. The other friend is not working at all, but entered a “company daycare”, one created for employees of a company with free spaces going to members of the public. We also got accepted to two of these. Costs are higher, about 40,000 yen per month, but they are a good option if both parents don’t work.

In order to apply, you must fill out the application form. This includes a list of all the daycares you want to apply to, in preference order. We applied to six.

Along with this form, you must submit documents from your company stating your employment and working hours. You will need to ask your HR department to fill out and stamp this form. My husband’s company took two months to do this, so ensure you do this early.

Step 2: Check the list of daycares and availabilities and make your shortlist

You can find a list of all the daycares available in your ward on their website. They also publish data pertaining to availabilities. Often when they open a new facility, there will be many free spaces, so look out for new places opening. Otherwise your best bet is to apply for an April start as this is the start of the “year” in Japan. We applied in July and were able to start from October.

Optional: Visit daycares

You will need to call on the phone to organize this. You can ask questions such as what hours they are open, how much does extended care cost, do they offer meals, how often do they sanitise toys, what is their teaching philosophy, how often do they go outside etc. We did not do this since all the daycares we applied to were full and it was a matter of whichever we could get into.

Step 3: Submit your application

Make sure you check deadlines for this, the application for April closes in December! You can pick up the application form in your ward office, or by searching online for 保育所申請書 plus the name of your area. Submit this form along with the documents from the company of both parents.

After two months on the waiting list, I desperately went in to the ward office and added a 7th option to the end of our wishlist, and luckily enough the very next month we got into our 7th choice. Although it was our last choice, we accepted it as it is more difficult to get a new spot if you reject an offer.

Step 4: Wait for a result

You will not receive a rejection letter if you don’t get in, but the ward office will public a list every month stating how many people applied for each daycare in each age group, how many people put it as first choice, and how many people got in. So if you don’t hear anything, you did not get in. We found out thar we were accepted by a phone call two weeks before she should start. This was in Japanese.

Step 5: Entry interview and supply shopping

Once you accept your spot, the daycare will want you to come in for an interview to meet your child and discuss their school and entry procedures. We received a list of supplies we would need to prepare, which included bibs (3 per day), nappies, wipes, plastic bags, indoor shoes and clothes. We also had to pay 4000 yen for a hat and sheets. This interview was all in Japanese, although they had a “pocket talk” translator if necessary.

The first two weeks will be a limited schedule – just two hours from 9:00-11:00 the first few days, then building up from there. Be prepared to adapt your working schedule as necessary.

Our thoughts on the daycare

The cost saving is a big plus for us and the main reason we opted to apply for a public daycare. Another aspect I am enjoying is the fact that the school is providing all meals, meaning less preparation time for me. Every day I need to pack a change of clothes, a bib, a hand towel and nappies. Plus her clean sheets and hat on Mondays. It’s very simple and takes only a few minutes.

One strange point is the “renrakucho”, or contact journal. Every day we need to fill in what our child has eaten for breakfast and dinner, her mood, her temperature, whether she has been to the toilet (and the consistency!), what hours she slept and whether or not she had a bath. It’s a little strange, but easy enough. I fill it in in hiragana as I am not good at writing kanji. The teachers also write notes about your child’s day in this book.

The facility is very new and clean with good security, in both ways an improvement on her old international school. However they often do not go outside at all from 8am to 6pm, and as they don’t have a balcony and their windows are tiny and frosted, my daughter rarely sees the sun or any daylight at all, which is a huge negative point for us. We are lucky if they visit a nearby park even once a week. For this reason we actually chose to transfer her to youchien (kindergarten) once she is three years old. I have heard from others that many hoikuens have wonderful outdoor spaces however, so for working parents who could enter a desirable nursery it is an excellent and cheap option.

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