The Japanese childcare system can be quite confusing. Maybe you’re not sure what is best. I will cover the options in basic detail.
1) International school – These operate in English so joining them will be simple. They are quite expensive, with even daycare usually costing 80,000 yen or more per month. You can find many of these in expat-friendly areas like Minato-ku, but there are quite a few located all over if you look for them.
2) Japanese “hoikuen” (daycare).
There are several types –
“Ninka” – Public daycare. You must apply through your ward office. They are cheap, usually provide lunch and are open until about 7pm. The main problem is that they are very popular and it is often hard to get a spot.
“Ninsho” – Semi private daycare. They have to follow the standards set by the ward, but they are run by private companies, so they will be a bit more expensive than fully public daycares. They are also quite hard to get a place in. You generally apply through the ward to enter these, but not always (see, it’s already confusing!)
“Muninka” – These are private daycares that don’t need to meet the government regulations. There is a wide range of offerings and quality, so it is recommended to research these thoroughly. It is easier to get a spot in these facilities, and you don’t need to be working full time to apply.
Company-run – Many companies offer a daycare service for their employees. If there are still empty spaces, they are made available to the public. This is one of the easiest ways to find a spot in a Japanese daycare.
3) Japanese “yochien” (kindergarten)
These are for kids aged 3-5. Some focus on play, some on sports, some on academics. The kids wear a uniform and have lessons and it’s much more like school than the hoikuen system. They often finish at 2pm, so if you work you’ll need to ensure you choose a yochien that offers regular extension hours and has little PTA demands. Some yochien provide lunch, some require you to make a bento every day. Due to government subsidies, the cost of yochien is very cheap, although it costs about 100,000 yen to enter. Kids will need to take an “interview test” in order to enter, and applications must be submitted on a particular day.