The demands of work life in Japan can prohibit parents from providing the necessary time and attention to their child in their early years. Luckily, Japan offers plenty of reliable daycare centers throughout the country. Daycare Centers provide childcare to those with working parents, allowing them to develop their social skills, motor skills and discover their own creativity through activities hosted by the daycare centers.
This guide will provide you with all the information you need for you to prepare to enroll your child to a daycare center for both Japanese daycare and English speaking daycare centers in Tokyo.
This article is a part of our series, the Ultimate Guide to Life in Tokyo.
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What is a Daycare Center?
Daycare Centers (also known as nurseries, nursery schools or childcare centers) are institutions whereby children are in a safe, high quality environment supervised by caregivers during the day whilst their parents/guardians go to work, hospitalized or simply unable to give the necessary care to their child. Daycare Centers often provide educational activities, a place for children to socialize with other children. Divided by different age groups, daycare centers in Japan have a structured daily itinerary to allow for the children’s growth in physical being, artistic creativity, musicality and developing social skills with the help of their peers and caretakers.
What is the difference between enrolling in a Daycare center versus enrolling in a Kindergarten?
Daycare Centers (hoikuen) in Japan are intended for children (aged 56 months to 6 years old). Daycare Centers fall under the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare as Daycare centers are created to nurture and offer a safe environment while their parents/guardians are occupied with work or anything else that prohibits childcare.
Kindergartens (youchien) in Japan are intended for children aged 3 years old until they enter their first grade of school. Kindergartens fall under the Ministry of Education as it is intended to provide a space for education.
Both Hoikuen and Youchien have classes that are divided by age group. With that, older students will be exposed to more responsibility such as tidying up their bags into their own cubbyhole, serving themselves food etc. While younger children may not have as many responsibilities.
The majority of hoikuen daycare centers operate from as early as 7am-9am for drop off until 5pm-7pm for pick ups, allowing for children to be supervised by caretakers while parents work.
Types of Daycare Centers
There are different types of Daycare centers in Japan. The level of flexibility, cost and facilities differ from each different type. In order to understand this article better, below are the key terms that are important.
Daycare Center/Nursery School
Hoikuen - 保育園 - ほいくえん
Youchien - 幼稚園 - ようちえん
Public Daycare Centers
Ninka Hoikuen - 認可保育園 - にんかほいくえん
Unlicensed Daycare Center
Mu Ninka Hoikuen - 無認可保育園 - むにんかほいくえん
The three different types of daycare centers are:
Public Daycare Centers - Ninka Hoikuen
Public Daycare centers are operated by the Japanese Government. Public Daycare Centers follow a set standard for their policy and environment, this can lead parents to the sense that there is perhaps a lack of flexibility in their services. Fees are significantly lower than the other types of daycare centers which come with the cost of high competition to enroll and there are likely no English services available.
Private Daycare Centers
Private Daycare centers are owned by education corporations and are independent. These daycare centers are owned and operated as a company. Meaning they have the opportunity to make their own policies and can create a flexible environment for both the child and parent. Private Daycare centers in Japan are known for their flexibility in their meals, programs and facilities for parents. Private Daycare Centers may often offer bilingual services, beneficial for expats looking for English speaking daycare centers.
Unlicensed Daycare Centers - Mu Ninka Hoikuen
Unlicensed Daycare centers are childcare facilities that do not meet the government standard for the reasons of facility size, number of staff and hours. Despite that, these daycare centers are certified and authorized by the local governments within the city to operate as a childcare center.
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How to Enroll your child to a Daycare Center
The process of enrolling your child into a daycare center can vary depending on the type of daycare center you’d like them to enroll into.
Enrolling to a Public Daycare Center (Ninka Hoikuen)
In order to be successfully admitted to a public daycare center, Japanese Daycare centers use a point system to ensure your child can be admitted. As the Government is highly involved in the operation of Public Daycare Centers, the language spoken and used is only Japanese.
The point system for admittance to a public daycare center in Tokyo is strict and can be followed as:
- No family members (including grandparents) residing nearby.
- Both parents are working full-time or the parent is currently on childcare leave and is going to return to work.
- Low Family Income
- More than one child
- Single Parent
- Child is on the waiting list for a daycare center
- Child is currently enrolled in a unlicensed daycare center
The more you and your child check off in this checklist, the higher the chance of admittance to the public daycare center. Despite operating as a government supported daycare center, a fee of roughly ¥6,000 is required for the cost of your childs’ required equipment.
If you believe that you and your family do not meet the requirements for a high chance to be admitted to a public daycare center, ninka hoikuen, enrolling your child to a mu ninka hoikuen, unlicensed daycare center is another option as it increases the points to being admitted to a ninka hoikuen.
In addition to that, ninka hoikuen follows the Japanese school system. A timeline for application and school year follows:
- First round of applications begin first week of November
- Second round of applications begin first week of December
- Following year, in April, the new school year.
Much like the school terms in Japan, the term for Hoikuen begins in April until March of the next year.
Further inquiries about the daycare programs and the availability can be done all year round at your Ward Office or City Hall.
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Enrolling to a Private or Unlicensed Daycare Center Mu Ninka Hoikuen
In terms of enrolling to a private or unlicensed mu ninka hoikuen, the application process is far less competitive. Due to the lack of competition, it is easier for parents to go to visit the daycare center to ask questions and even have your child do a trial session. Both private and unlicensed mu ninka hoikuen are more expensive compared to authorized public daycare centers (ninka hoikuen) as their systems of operation differ. This is seen as applications themselves for private and unlicensed mu ninka daycare centers are to be paid for. Here would be a good place for a sample price; e.g. One of the daycares we looked at charged 1000 yen to apply, while another charged around 500 yen.
The application timeline for both private and unlicensed daycare centers will differ as they are all independent. Be sure to check with the daycare centers you are interested in regarding the deadlines and other requirements for a successful application.
Both Mu Ninka Hoikuen and private hoikuen are more flexible compared to ninka hoikuen, if necessary, you and your child may sign up for trial lessons to experience the facilities and services that are available for you and your child.
When looking to apply to Hoikuen, be sure to ask various questions when looking for the right Hoikuen for your child to attend. Questions that would be crucial to ask include:
- How much are the daycare fees per month? Are there any additional costs?
- What are the hours of operation? What is the earliest drop off time? What is the latest pickup time?
- How many children are in one class?
- What is the daily itinerary? How many meals are served?
- What are the numbers of waitlisted children?
- How many caretakers are in one class?
- Are there any activities where parents need to also participate?
- What are the evacuation procedures in response to an emergency, natural disaster etc…?
- Is the daycare center open on Saturdays?
- What is the menu of food served? How does the daycare center accustom to those with special dietary needs?
- How often is the daycare center cleaned and sanitized?
- What supplies are provided by the daycare center? What supplies are necessary for the child to bring?
- What are your childcare policies? Do they align with yours as a parent?
Another recommendation is to sign up for a trial class and/or tour of the daycare center to observe the interactions between caretakers and children, interactions between children as well as the safety and cleanliness of the facility.
How much do Daycare Centers in Tokyo cost?
Prices of daycare centers in Tokyo vary depending on the type of daycare center it is categorized under. As mentioned earlier, public daycares (ninka hoikuens) are supported by the government, therefore, fees can be kept to a minimum.
Monthly Fees for Ninka Hoikuen also depend on your family’s income as well as the fees being taxable from the child's parents monthly income. Monthly fees for ninka hoikuen usually come to ¥10,000 per month on average. For those who are on a budget or looking to save money, ninka and mu ninka hoikuen would be the best option for you and your child.
In some cases, unlicensed daycare centers, Mu Ninka Hoikuen can be more costly compared to Ninka Hoikuen. Depending on the daycare center, Mu Ninka Hoikuen fees can be subsidised by the government, in addition to that, NPO mu ninka hoikuen can potentially be cheaper than ninka hoikuen.
In regards to private daycare centers, as many of them operate as for-profit companies, fees will be substantially higher than both ninka and mu ninka hoikuens. In this article, 3 recommendations of English speaking private daycare centers have been listed along with the fees. Fees for private daycare centers can range from ¥50,000 to ¥70,000 monthly. As the facilities and services of private daycare centers differ from ninka hoikuen, it is understandable that the fees are significantly higher.
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What do children do in a Japanese Daycare Center?
Daycare centers in Japan, much like in other places, have a daily itinerary scheduled so both the parents and children know what to expect on a daily basis. Generally speaking, a daily itinerary of a Japanese daycare center would consist of arts and crafts, meal times, singing, learning the melodica, going to local playgrounds and nap time. Additionally, children are able to improve their social and motor skills during their time in the daycare centers as caretakers encourage the children to socialize with their peers while giving them the opportunity to use their hands to create various crafts during their time at the daycare center.
Both traditional Japanese and western celebrations are celebrated throughout the school year for both leisure and educational purposes. For example, Christmas parties, summer festivals, Halloween parties, setsubun, hina matsuri, etc…
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Since children as young as 18 months are present at the daycare center, potty training is also done at the daycare centers by the caretakers. Regular health and dental checkups are done throughout the school year provided by the Government.
Daycare Centers usually open between the hours of 7:30 to 9:00, allowing for parents to either drop off their kids or have a bus pick them up before work. Daycare centers allow for parents and guardians to pick up their child between the hours of 16:30-18:30. Some centers allow for parents to have the ability to extend their time at the daycare center by paying an additional fee. The standard hours for the daycare services are typically from 9:00-17:00.
As itinerary and services may differ depending on the daycare center, be sure to confirm the details with your child's daycare center.
How to prepare your child for Japanese Daycare
After acceptance into a Hoikuen, there are numerous required items for your child to bring with them to the daycare center daily. Items required may vary depending on your child’s development and age.
- Formulas and Bottles
- Water Bottle (with straw)
- Lunch Box
- Cutlery Set
- Soup Cup
- Hand Towels
- Indoor Shoes
- Outdoor Shoes
- Blankets for Nap time
All of the items listed above are to be packed in the standard set of 5 lesson bags used by nurseries and kindergarten students in Japan.
All items, including their clothes and diapers should be labelled with your child’s name either using name stamps, name stickers and name iron-on patches.
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Daycare Centers in Tokyo
Public Daycare Centers are all Japanese speaking. In order to apply to enroll in a public daycare center, it is required that you visit your Ward Office or Cityhall to get more information on the different daycare centers available in your area. A notable public daycare center is Azalee Group located in Edogawa-ku.
Azalee Group offers childcare, rehabilitation and care homes in multiple wards of Tokyo. Azalee Groups’ children's daycare center was featured on the YouTube Channel “Life Where I am From” with the video titled “What a Japanese Childcare Center is like” gaining over 7,000,000 views. Azalee Groups’ videos can be found on their Youtube Channel.
Private English Speaking/Bilingual Daycare Centers:
English speaking Daycare Centers are rare as English speakers are the minority in Japan. Despite that challenge, here are some English speaking pre-schools and nurseries that offer similar services as daycare.
Stars and Stripes offers nursery, kindergarten and tutoring services. Founded by an American Japanese couple, Stars and Stripes is intended to help your child have a bilingual education.
Cost: estimated ¥12,000 per year or ¥2270 per hour for non-members one time use.
Location: Japan, 〒183-0055 Tokyo, Fuchu, Fuchucho, 2 Chome−25−21 ファインクレスト府中 1F
Languages: English and Japanese
Availability: Open for applications all year round
2. Kids Duo
Kids Duo is another option for an entrance bilingual education. Kids Duo offers free trials and a school tour for those who are interested in sending their child to their school. Starting with a toddlers course, Kids Duo allows children to be in an environment fully spoken in English. Kids Duo offers childcare from morning until 20:30 which is not covered by the course fee.
Cost: Contact for more details
Location: Kids Duo has a total of 34 branches in Tokyo.Services available in 7 different prefectures.
Availability: Open for free trials and applications all year round.
3. Aloha Kids
Aloha Kids is another daycare center which also offers a full day of English and Japanese speaking daycare with the availability to extend childcare with an additional fee.
Cost: Enrollment Fee of ¥64,000 + Annual Fee of ¥21,500, prices of Monday-Friday classes vary by number of days and hours.
Location: 1 Chome-1-10 Taishido, Setagaya City, Tokyo 154-0004, Japan
Languages: English and Japanese
Availability: Available for trials with a cost of ¥11,680, all year round.
It is evident that there are only a small number of English speaking daycare centers in the Tokyo area. With that, joining parenting Facebook groups can be beneficial for those looking for other recommendations and making connections with the expat community in Tokyo. Facebook Group for parents in the Tokyo area include:
Looking for English Speaking services in Tokyo? Read our articles on:
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It is crucial to consider your personal wants and needs for your child's development and finding a center which aligns with what you believe is best for your child. Finding a daycare center in Tokyo may feel tedious but with the large variety of services available, the process can be completed with just a matter of time.
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