Childcare in Japan
Tuesday, May 21, 2019
How childcare works and how to find support and information in Japan
At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland this January, Prime Minister Abe spoke of his mission for Japan’s “womenomics” to increase the number of women entering the workforce. He reported that the number has been increased to 67%, an encouraging figure that surpasses the US and boosts the number of working women by 2 million.
Though this may sound like a great accomplishment, many of those roles are limited in skillset, as highly educated women may fill menial positions or part-time roles because they’re the primary caretakers of their family. Now, with a declining and aging population, Japanese employers are facing a severe labor shortage. Close to half of these working women are part-time workers, and more than half are on temporary contracts, causing a significant pay gap between men and women. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, less than 1 percent of employed women are in managerial roles, compared with an average of 4.6 percent in other advanced nations. One of the biggest setbacks to women advancing in their careers is the disproportionate amount of household responsibilities and childrearing that is expected of them. Men in Japan do fewer hours of housework and child care than any of the other developed countries. This dependence on the woman of the household keeps them away from better jobs and holds back the economy. With domestic responsibilities still being primarily the woman’s realm, the gender disparity continues.
Parental leave becomes an important consideration for new parents. Maternity leave in Japan covers a period of 6 weeks prior to the expected arrival of the baby and for 8 weeks following the birth. Parental leave starts a day after maternity leave ends until the day before the child becomes one year old. The duration of leave that each parent can take cannot exceed one year. During maternity leave, social insurance will cover up till 2/3 of the base salary while parental leave payments will be covered by labor insurance.
Even though paternity leave is an option for new fathers in the workplace, many feel pressured to not take the time off and continue working. According to Japan Productivity Center’s fiscal survey in 2017, about 80 percent of newly hired male workers wanted to take paternity leave. But often they are concerned about repercussions on their work and performance reviews. To remedy this, the Liberal Democratic Party is planning to form a caucus to make taking paternity leave mandatory. The meeting will be held as early as June 5, and was formed because creating an environment where men felt more comfortable to take paternity leave will hopefully contribute to reviving the birthrate, improve corporate culture, help further women and their roles in society, as well as save marriages by lowering the divorce rate. The group has been studying mandatory paternity leave systems adopted by countries such as Finland. Measures could include granting parental leave to men without applications or drafting a law to have companies encourage their workers to take the leave.
Although birth rates in Japan are at an all-time low, another significant fact affects female participation in the workforce and economic growth – the shortage of daycare facilities in Japan. Paternity leave has been a problem for many Japanese families for decades, as the shortage of daycare options force many mothers to put their careers on hold to take care of their children. In 2016, a harsh critique of Japan’s nursery school in the form of an angry blog post by an anonymous mother went viral. Encouraging families to have children while not having the proper facilities in place to take care of the children resulted in families finding it impossible to have children and contribute to the workforce simultaneously.
This post eventually spurred a social movement resulting in a two-day protest outside of the National diet and an online petition. Until March 2015, the government authorized and subsidized nurseries that had more than 20 children, and ones with fewer children had to collect higher fees from parents. Parents who couldn’t afford these fees couldn’t send their children to day care, but they didn’t have many other options. Japan doesn’t rely as much on babysitters as the US does, and according to an article from the Stanford Social Innovation Review, only 2 percent of Japanese working families use babysitters, in comparison to 41 percent in the United States.
Though getting admitted could be a challenge, parents have a few options in terms of day care. Entrance to a government-subsidized day care is by a point-based system. Admittance to a ninka-houikuen (entrance ages 0-5) is based on many factors, with entrance is on a need-basis. The point system also favors those living in that ward and paying taxes there. The ninsho, nintei, and ninkagai-hoikuen and preschools (also entrance ages 0-5) aren’t subsidized. Ninsho and nintei have been approved by the government, and the fees are more than a ninka. Finally, yochien (kindergarten, entrance ages 3-5) is run by the Ministry of Education. Daily hours may be shorter than a hoikuen.
Additional options for childcare would be ichiji-azukari (“one time care”), a temporary option to leave your child in a facility for several hours at a time. There is also an option to finding a babysitter, with services like Kidsline allowing parents to connect with babysitters on an online platform.
The government introduced a plan in 2013 for the elimination of daycare waiting lists. Though the initial target date was to reduce the waiting list to zero by 2017, this has been pushed back to the end of the fiscal year 2020. In April 2018, the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare reported the first decrease of children on the waiting list in four years, and at 19,895 children, it was the first time in a decade that the number of children was under 20,000. Around 70% of children on daycare waiting lists are concentrated in the highly urban areas like Tokyo and Kinki region with Osaka and Kyoto, which makes it more difficult and costly to increase the number of daycare facilities to meet the heightened demands.
This month, legislation was enacted to make preschool education free as part of the drive to expand childcare support. The planned consumption tax hike (to 10 percent from 8 percent) in October will be used to run the education program. Though the bill met some criticism that the government should first focus on reducing the waiting list for daycares, this measure is hoped to relieve the financial burden on younger couples by making education free.
If you are looking for childcare options in Japan Izanau recommends these websites.
Information on government-subsidized daycare:
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