Childcare Options in Japan

Photo of Keiko Kimoto

Keiko Kimoto

Sales Associate at TokyoDev

Though arranging childcare in Japan can be tricky, there are a wide variety of options available. Services will vary greatly depending on your location, the ages of your children, and the time of year. This article explores all of the most common childcare offerings, to get you started in the right direction.

Note that throughout this article, age requirements are based upon the Japanese school year, which begins on April 1st. A child enters elementary school at six years old, so if your child is six on April 1st, they’ll enter the first grade. If they were born on April 2nd or later, they’d need to wait until the following year to enter.

Options for Children Under Six

There are two main kinds of childcare facilities for children under six: daycares (保育園, hoikuen), which can accept children as young as newborns, and kindergartens (幼稚園, yochien), which accept children from three years of age.

Licensed daycares

Licensed daycares (認可保育園, ninka hoikuen) are facilities that are accredited by the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare. They’re available to children whose parents are unable to take care of them for specific reasons such as work, school, or hospitalization.

Before a child can enter one, they need to go through a screening process. Children of a single parent or two working parents are given higher priority. In some areas, there are more applications than spaces available, so even if you qualify, there’s a chance that your child won’t be enrolled.

Licensed daycares are typically open from around 7:30 until about 18:30, but there are many licensed daycares that will take care of children until 19:00 if you pay an extension fee. These daycares are typically closed on weekends and national holidays, but they don’t have other long vacation periods, such as summer and winter break.

A licensed daycare typically accepts babies that are at least a few months old, though the exact age varies depending on the facility.

For children between the ages of three and five, the daycare is free of charge. Otherwise, the fees are set at the municipal level and depend on the parents’ residential taxes. According to one article, parents living in Setagaya-ku, Tokyo, pay between 43,000 and 57,000 yen a month, while in Nerima-ku, Tokyo they pay between 10,100 and 51,600 yen a month.

This only applies to the eldest child. For the second child, the fee is halved or free (depending on the municipality), and from the third child on, it is completely free.

Contact your local City Hall for information and to apply.

Unlicensed daycares

Unlicensed daycares (認可外保育園, ninkagai hoikuen) are not accredited by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare. Compared to licensed daycares, they are often smaller, have poorer equipment, and employ fewer staff. However, that’s not always the case, and some unlicensed daycares receive public subsidies from the government to provide better facilities.

Unlicensed daycares typically offer more flexible hours, including nighttime and weekend childcare, though these services can also be more expensive. Some are open up to 11 hours a day or even overnight. Like a licensed daycare, there are no long vacations such as summer or winter break.

These facilities typically accept children from a few months of age, and childcare fees are not based on the parents’ income. As these fees are unregulated, they vary substantially, but for a child under three years old, the average fee is 45,000 yen a month.

Contact the daycare directly to apply.

Small-scale childcare centers

Small-scale childcare centers (小規模保育, shokibo hoiku) operate on a smaller scale than a licensed daycare, with a capacity of between 6 and 19 children. Originally these childcare facilities were unlicensed daycares, but because of the long waitlist for children entering licensed daycares, smaller daycares began directly receiving licences from their municipalities in 2015.

They accept newborns and older, and fees vary depending on the region, the parents’ income, and other factors.

Contact your local City Hall for more information.

Kindergartens

Kindergartens (幼稚園, youchien) are facilities with the primary goal of providing education to young children. This is in contrast to daycares, where the focus is on providing childcare.

There are both public and private kindergartens. Public kindergartens are run by the prefectural government or municipalities, whereas private ones are operated by corporations such as school corporations (学校法人) or religious corporations (宗教法人). Each kindergarten has its own policies. Some kindergartens focus on teaching English, some prepare children for elementary school entrance exams, and some encourage children to learn through play.

Usually, kindergartens operate from 9 am to around 2 pm. However, kindergartens are increasingly offering childcare outside these core hours as well. Unlike daycares, they are closed for long stretches of time throughout the year, such as for summer and winter break.

Kindergartens accept children from 3 to 5 years old, and the fees are the same regardless of the parents’ income. Kindergartens are also subsidized by the government, who will cover up to 25,700 yen per month of their usage fees. However, there are other costs that aren’t subsidized, such as the school bus, lunch, learning materials, uniforms, and other activities.

You can inquire at your City Hall about public kindergartens. For private kindergartens, contact the schools directly to apply.

Certified children’s gardens

Certified children’s gardens (認定こども園, nintei kodomo-en) combine the educational focus of kindergartens and the extended childcare of daycares.There are two types of certified children’s gardens:

  1. Kindergartens that also function as accredited daycares by providing childcare services after-hours for working parents

  2. Licensed daycares that also serve as kindergartens by accepting students who don’t qualify for free daycare (such as those whose families are high-income or include a stay-at-home parent), and prioritizing education for the children

Contact City Hall to apply.

International preschools

International preschools offer childcare and activities in languages other than Japanese. Most international preschools use English in the classroom, but a few schools use French, German, Russian, etc.

These international preschools are typically unlicensed. However, a subsidy of 37,000 yen per month may be available if both parents work more than 46 hours per month, the school is an incorporated education institution (学校法人, gakko hojin), and the school meets other requirements set out by the municipality.

Fees depend on the facility, but are typically between 1 million and 2.5 million yen per year.

Contact the international preschools directly for information on rates and application requirements.

On-site childcare centers

On-site childcare centers (事業所内保育所, jigyosho nai hoikusho) are set up within an office to care for the employees’ children and also local children who need daycare. Previously this was only common within the public sector, but recently private companies have begun offering childcare services too. According to an October 2021 governmental report there are 7,906 of them in Japan.

The application process depends on the size of the childcare center, as well as whether or not you are employed by the company. If you are an employee of the company, consult HR. If you’re not employed by the company, contact your City Hall.

Baby hotels

Baby hotels (ベビーホテル, bebi hoteru) are defined by the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare as a facility that fulfills any of the following conditions:

  • They accept children after 20:00
  • They care for children overnight
  • More than half of the children are using the facility for temporary care

According to this government report, there were 1,032 baby hotels in Japan as of October 2021. The most common reason parents used baby hotels was the lack of vacancies in licensed daycares or other facilities.

Baby hotels typically accept children under a year old, but the starting age may vary.

Contact the baby hotel for information and to apply.

Childcare mamas

Childcare mamas (保育ママ, hoiku mama) are a public childcare service offered by individuals approved by a municipality in accordance with the Child Welfare Act. In order to be certified by the municipality, a childcare mama must meet certain requirements such as age and qualifications (nursery teacher, teacher, midwife, nurse, etc), as well as undergoing additional training. A childcare mama can take care of up to three infants or toddlers at their home or another location.

Childcare mamas are for children under 3 years old who need daytime care because their parents are working, etc. They’re available for up to 8 hours a day, and the schedule and fees vary by region.

Contact City Hall for information on local childcare mamas.

Childcare facilities for sick and convalescent children

Childcare facilities for sick and convalescent children (病児・病後児保育施設, byoji byogojihoiku shisetsu) are dedicated spaces set up in hospitals, daycare centers, and other institutions, where nurses will temporarily care for ill children. In order to use this service, you must register in advance with facility, and get a doctor’s note before arriving.

Fees vary depending on the region, but in most cases they range from 2,000 to 3,000 yen per day.

Register in advance directly at the facility.

Options for Children Aged Six and Above

Once your children enter elementary school, they’ll have a place to go for most of the day. However, if you’re working full time, you’ll likely need after-school care, and also childcare during extended school breaks. The following options are available for elementary school-aged children.

Public after-school childcare facilities

Public after-school childcare facilities (公立学童保育, koritsu gakudo hoiku) provide a safe space for children to spend time after school, on Saturdays, and during spring, summer, and winter vacations. Most of these programs are held in vacant classrooms, children’s halls, and community centers.

This childcare is operated by municipalities throughout Japan. Half of the operating costs are borne by the government, and the other half are covered by parents, so fees vary.

To qualify for after-school childcare, you must apply to the local government and pass a screening process. Most facilities require pick-up by 18:00, and additional fees are required after 18:00 and during school breaks.

In many cases you can apply through the school, but in some cities you may need to apply through City Hall instead.

Private after-school childcare facilities

Private after-school childcare (私立学童保育, shiritsu gakudo hoiku) exists to meet the demand that is unserved by public facilities. According to a 2022 survey by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, there were 15,180 children on the waitlists to use public after-school care. For these children, or in cases where parents can’t make the pickup time of 18:00, private care is an option.

If the facility is located far from the school, some operators will pick up children from the school by bus. Fees are set by each company individually. Most are more expensive than public after-school care, but can be helpful to parents, especially since some of them supervise children until late at night and also serve dinner.

Contact the facility directly to apply.

After-school programs

After-school programs (放課後子ども_教室, hokago kodomo kyoshitsu_) make use of vacant classrooms and other facilities at elementary schools to let children enjoy activities, including studying, sports, and cultural programs. Any child can participate free of charge, even if the parents do not work. However, these aren’t available everywhere, and they’re only open until 17:00 in summer and 16:30 in winter.

You can register through the school, or in some cases via City Hall.

Children’s halls

Children’s halls (児童館, jidokan) are facilities that any child under 18 years old can use for free. Professional staff (child welfare workers) are always present to assist.

Some children’s halls act as public after-school childcare centers, but if your child is not a registered user, the staff has no supervisory responsibility. The halls usually have some restrictions; for example, elementary school children cannot be at the facility unsupervised after 18:00.

Cram schools

Cram schools (学習塾, gashuku juku) provide supplementary classes, often to prepare for school entrance exams. Because they are held after regular school hours, they can also serve as a form of childcare. Many cram schools use apps that let parents know when their children enter and exit them. Some cram schools also provide a bus service.

Swimming and other lessons

Similar to cram schools, children can attend swimming, gymnastics, or other lessons after school. Some companies offer a bus service to pick up children directly from the school.

Options for All Ages

Babysitters

If you register in advance with a babysitter service provider (ベビーシッター派遣事業, bebishitta haken jigyo), you can request a babysitter as needed. The cost varies depending on the service provider, the ages of the children, and the hours, but the average hourly rate is around 1,500 yen. Although it’s more expensive than other childcare options, there are advantages to having a babysitter available when your child is sick or you have to work overtime.

If your company has been registered with the “Company-led support program for babysitter users” by the Children and Families Agency, they can offer you discount coupons for babysitting.

Contact the service provider to apply.

Family Support Centers

A Family Support Center (ファミリーサポートセンター, famiri sapoto senta) matches people wanting to receive childcare support from those who offer it. The people offering support are typically housewives, childcare workers, or other qualified individuals who have experience with children. They help with things like picking up children, looking after them before or after school, supervising them during school vacations, and so on.

Family Support Centers may be operated by municipalities themselves, or by private organizations on the city’s behalf. Fees vary depending on the region and what you’re asking for.

Apply directly at the local Family Support Center.

Importing a full time nanny

If you have a Highly Specialized Foreigner visa, and have children under the age of 13, you can hire a domestic servant as a full-time nanny. You may hire a foreigner in Japan, or bring in someone from abroad. However, it is stipulated that the nanny must be paid a monthly salary of at least 200,000 yen.

Conclusion

With the availability of full-time daycare for young children, many parents in Japan can continue working full time. However, in general, after-school care facilities for elementary school children close around 18:00, and many don’t offer extended hours. Elementary school children also leave home later in the morning than when they were in daycare.

This means elementary school children may still need supplemental childcare. However, when parents try to find a safe place for them to stay after school, there are fewer options, as well as long waitlists.

This difficult situation is called the “first-grade barrier” (小一の壁, shoichi no kabe), and has led many parents to consider quitting or going part-time. In the future, I hope Japan will offer more childcare options for children of all ages, and encourage parents to continue in their chosen careers.

More about the author

Photo of Keiko Kimoto

Keiko Kimoto

Sales Associate at TokyoDev

In addition to helping TokyoDev with sales and back-end operations, Keiko is the founder of MALOU, a company that leverages her previous experience in the food and household goods industries to provide planning and consulting services.

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