TOP > Papers & Essays > Parenting > The Issues of Childhood and Parenthood in Modern Japan - 2. Japanese Daycare Centers: Approved (ninka) and Unapproved (muninka)

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The Issues of Childhood and Parenthood in Modern Japan - 2. Japanese Daycare Centers: Approved (ninka) and Unapproved (muninka)

Until the end of March, my son attended an unapproved (muninka) daycare center located in Funabashi city, a suburb of Tokyo, as there was no room available at an approved (ninka) daycare center at the time. Opened in 2001 and housed in a residential home, the center accepts children from 0 to 2 year olds up to fifteen. Though the center appeared to be an ideal environment for infants and toddlers, the term "unapproved" made me feel uncomfortable at first, especially after recalling a widely publicized child death that occurred at an unapproved center a few years ago.1 Soon after, however, I realize how fortunate we were to encounter this center in every respect: its home-like environment, quality care, and flexible services that accommodate parents' needs. Though we had to pay 63,000 yen per month, and even had a chance to transfer my son to an approved center later, we decided to stick to this center.2

Each parent has different childcare experiences to tell. However, my experience is not uncommon due to the inherent nature of Japanese daycare system.

In principle, daycare centers can be classified into two types: approved (ninka) and unapproved (muninka) (hereinafter "approved" and "unapproved" respectively) .3

Approximately 70% of daycare centers are approved; about 55% of these are public, that is, operated by the local government, and the rest by private organizations, mostly non-profit organizations.4 Unapproved centers are run by private organizations or individuals; they include small-scale daycare rooms (the majority), facilities at the workplace for employees (approx. 36%), and baby hotels (approx. 12%).5

Approximate # of Daycare Centers: 32,000
22,355 as of April 1, 03
9,645 as of March 31, 02
12,255 (1,075,404)
10,100 (914,891)
-Facilities for employees: 3,534 (51,904)
-Baby hotels: 1,184 (26,442)
-Others, such as small-scale daycare centers/rooms: 4,927 (142,679)
* ( ) indicates the number of children enrolled.

Approved Centers
Approved centers are considered to be social welfare institutions, providing care for infants, toddlers and pre-school children whose parents both work or cannot take care of their children during the daytime due to pregnancy, injury, caring for other family members, or some other critical reason.

Hence, approved centers must meet the minimum standards set by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare based on Child Welfare Law. By and large, these regulations pertain to the environment of childcare facilities, such as space, play areas, kitchens, safety features, and training and number of teachers. The strict supervision, in turn, assures a certain degree of quality childcare at any approved center.

Further, approved centers have little freedom in management as national and local governments subsidize a large share of operational expenses. Foremost, each municipal welfare department determines the service fee and admission procedure. Consequently, anyone wishing to apply to an approved center submits the required documents to the local welfare office, which then screens the applicants for admission. In addition, until the amendment of Child Welfare Law in 1997, the local welfare office was responsible for assigning children to a particular center. Now parents (or guardians) can select preferred centers, but in areas with a shortage of daycare centers, the municipal office continues to assign children based on the applicant's working status, family resources, and individual needs.

The fee schedule varies widely depending on the particular municipality. However, within the same municipality, the fee is uniform for any approved center and determined according to applicant's household income, age of child, and the number of siblings.

Unapproved Daycare Centers
Speaking broadly, unapproved centers are concentrated in urban areas, where the demand for approved daycare centers exceeds supply.

Due to the lack of government scrutiny of standards and financial support, the quality of unapproved centers varies substantially, and users usually incur higher service charges. In response to a series of unfortunate incidents that occurred at unapproved centers, baby hotels in particular, all the unapproved centers are now required to notify the local government of their childcare services after an amendment to Child Welfare Law became effective in October 2002.6 However, this does not suggest unapproved centers are inferior or mediocre since some are popular for the unique and quality childcare they provide.

People use unapproved centers for multiple reasons. For one, it is because they could not or cannot enter an approved center. Also, some people prefer flexible services, which approved daycare centers are unable to offer.

The current dichotomy in childcare, with the coexistence of approved services on the one hand and unapproved childcare services on the other, is arousing a political debate that aims to assure both quantity and quality of daycare services. We can thus expect continuous changes in standards and regulations which will affect the modalities of childcare centers, and ultimately the lives of young children in Japan.

1 The child's death was the result of abuse by the director of the center in Yamato, Kanagawa prefecture in 2000.
2 The monthly charge for this center is 85,000 yen. However, in Funabashi city, for example, users of unapproved centers can receive a maximum subsidy of 22,000 yen from the municipality.
3 In some official documents, the terms, ninka and muninka, are translated as "approved" and "unapproved," or "licensed" and "unlicensed," respectively. I use "approved" and "unapproved" throughout the article.
4 In April 2000, policy reform took effect permitting private providers (for profit) to become approved daycare centers. As of Oct. 2002, there were only 20 approved centers operated by private companies, such as Benesse Corporation.
5 A facility is categorized as baby hotel if it has one of the following characteristics: 1) provides childcare service during the nighttime; 2) provides childcare service for overnight stays; 3) more than half of the children are non-regular users.
6 Childcare facilities with fewer than five children and the facilities within companies are still not required to report to the local government.


In English

Economic and Social Research Institute, Cabinet Office, Government of Japan

Funabashi City official site

Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare

National Institution of Population and Social Security Research

Tokyo Metropolitan Government

Specific Documents
Boling, Pat(2002). "Family Support Policies in Japan: memo prepared for seminar on working mothers in Japan at Yale, 7-22-02." Department of Political Science, Purden University. Retrieved March 8, 2004 from the World Wide Web:

Niimi, Kazumasa (2002). "An Economic Analysis of Market-Needs Oriented Childcare Reform" Japan Research Quarterly, Autumn 2002. The Japan Research Institute, Ltd. Retrieved March 8, 2004 from the World Wide Web:

Noguchi, Haruko and Shimizutani, Satoshi (2003) "Quality of Child Care in Japan: Evidence from Micro-Level Data." ESRI Discussion Paper Series No. 54. Economic and Social Research Institute, Government of Japan. Retrieved March 8, 2004 from the World Wide Web:

Oishi, Akiko (2003)."Chapter 4: Childcare System in Japan." In National Institute of Population and Social Security Research (ed.), Child Related Policies in Japan. National Institute of Population and Social Security Research. Retrieved March 8, 2004 from the World Wide Web:

Tokyo Metropolitan Government (2003) Social Welfare in Tokyo. Bureau of Social Welfare, Tokyo Metropolitan Government. Retrieved March 8, 2004 from the World Wide Web:

In Japanese only:

Hoiku o kangaeru oya no kai
A site created by a group of volunteer parents who are concerned about childcare

i-kosodate net
A site providing up-to-date information on every approved daycare center in Japan.

Specific Document
Zenkoku Hoiku Dantai Renrakukai and Hoiku Kenkyusho [Institute of Child Care Research](2003). Hoiku Hakusho 2003 [White Paper on Childcare 2003]. Tokyo: Soudobunka.

Teruko Kagohashi
Teruko Kagohashi is a researcher in the field of education/international development. She received a dual master's degree from the Teachers College and the School of International and Public Affairs, Columbia University in New York in 2000. Ms. Kagohashi has extensive overseas studying and/or working experiences in the United States, Germany, Australia and Bolivia. She currently resides in the Tokyo area with her husband and three-year-old son.
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