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The Issues of Childhood and Parenthood in Modern Japan - 6. Creating a Parenting-Friendly Society: Examples of Municipal Initiatives

When I decided to move to a ward in Tokyo to pursue a better environment as a working mother, I coincidentally encountered new jargon, "child-care immigrants," in a featured article of Yomiuri Weekly (2004 Feb. 8), "Supporting working women: the ranking for parenting-friendly communities."[1] The coined term was used for those who decided to relocate based on the availability, accessibility and affordability of child-care services offered in different municipalities.

Though the number of "child-care immigrants" in a strict sense may be limited, the availability and contents of municipal services coupled with the environment of localities certainly have substantial impacts on people's relocation decisions.

In fact, now is the time for families with children to take a look at the lines of services at different localities, because each municipality is preparing for a series of strategies to create a children- and parenting-friendly environment suited for the needs of their residents.

Introduction
What can municipalities do to create a children- and parenting-friendly society? Needless to say, parents have the answer.

In response to a question, "what is the hardest thing about raising a child/children?" in "Public Opinion Survey on the Citizen's Lifestyle" conducted by the Cabinet Office, Government of Japan(2002), the answer "anticipated financial burdens on education" (43.9%) topped the list followed by the "patience and physical energy required for child-rearing" (31.0%), "loss of one's own free time" (31.0%)," and "the heavy financial burden for childcare when children are young" (24.1%). [2]

Based on the results of this survey, "parenting-friendly society" can be described as a society which shares the financial and mental/physical burdens to raise healthy and well-rounded children with the parents.

In the following, I touch upon the availability of different types of financial aid for childcare/rearing according to one's locality, followed by a list of on-going innovative projects at different municipalities around the country.

Financial Support
There are different types of financial support available for households with children in Japan, including child allowance, parental allowance and maternity allowance. Though most require some pre-conditions to be entitled as recipients, they are usually not affected by one's locality.

For instance, child allowance is income-tested, and those parents whose household income does not exceed the limit set by the national government can receive 5000 yen per month for the first as well as the second child, and 10,000 yen for the third and the subsequent child until a child reaches the end of third grade academic year.

However, a few financial aid programs differ profoundly depending on each municipality. The most critical and controversial one is "Financial Aid for the Medical Expenses of Young Children." This aid is offered by all municipalities, but implementation varies substantially at each municipality in terms of age range (e.g., only infants and toddlers or up to high school children), the amount of support (e.g., free or partial support/in patient or out patient), and whether it is income-tested or non-income-tested.

Another common but discretionary aid is "Childbirth Money Gift" which is given in some municipalities but not in others. The pre-requisite for aid-recipients as well as the amount of money entitled varies among those municipalities practicing this system. In many municipalities, Childbirth Money Gift is only given to those people who meet the certain residency requirement, starting from the third childbirth in an amount ranging from 100,000 to 300,000 yen.

Children- and Parenting-Friendly Projects
Though supporting parents in monetary term is not mandatory, municipalities at all levels must formulate and file their actions plans, entailing strategies to make their communities children- and parenting-friendly by March 2005, prior to the enactment of the Law for Measures to Support the Next-Generation in April 2005.[3]

To facilitate the planning procedures, various guidance has been prepared by the government, which includes a release of a reference document entitled "Best Practices related to the Support of the Next-Generation (2003)."[4] The document consists of an extensive list of children- and parenting-friendly projects already undertaken at different municipalities and summarized according to the seven categories set for the development of action plans.

In the following, I outline the aforementioned list to demonstrate the wide range of existing project examples, targeting not only working mothers and their children, but also all mothers, fathers, and children alike, around the country.

Examples of Municipal Initiatives
Note: The number in brackets after each category indicates the number of projects presented in the original document, and the Japanese name in brackets shows the name of municipalities. Please keep in mind that there may be other municipalities implementing similar projects under each item but unmentioned in this summary.

1) Community-based childcare / rearing support (41)
Providing gathering space/facilities for parents and young children where parents can get consultation on childcare from experts, attend seminars, and/or meet with other parents and children (Koutou-ward, Tokyo; Fukuoka-city, Fukuoka).
Supporting the startup and running of a "childcare network" among parents, pediatricians, nutritionists, counselors, teachers, municipal employees, and in some cases, police officers to discuss their concerns and expertise and to plan some events (Kitakawa-village, Kouchi; Kaizuka-city, Osaka).
Offering cost effective after-school programs by utilizing facilities such as a kindergarten (Chiba-city, Chiba) or unused retail stores at a local shopping district (Adachi-ward, Tokyo) instead of looking for new spaces for rent/purchase.

Other innovative projects include setting up a 24-hour child-care center (Yokohama-city, Kanagawa; Jyouetsu-city, Niigata) and a 24-hour telephone hot-line for child-care consultation (Itami-city, Hyogo), and arranging affordable home-helper (doula) service after the childbirth (Chiba-city, Chiba; Koganei-city, Tokyo).

2)Maternal and child health (17)
Offering classes and counseling sessions for new mothers on how to play with and take care of her baby (Nishio-city, Aichi; Takahama-city, Aichi).
Supporting premature babies and their parents by offering diverse informative sessions/events that are organized by experts from different fields (Kobe-city, Hyogo; Ishikawa pref.).
Setting up a telephone consultation hot-line for adolescents within the department of obstetrics and genecology of a prefectural hospital as a part of effective sex and health education measures (Yamaguchi pref.).

Other unique projects include arranging classes on strategies to quit smoking for pregnant smokers at an early stage (Hirakata-city, Osaka) and sending interpreters for heath checkups of non-Japanese infants when needed (Komaki-city, Aichi).

3) Educational environment that assures children's healthy growth in body and mind (29)
Creating and distributing a childcare handbook for fathers (Shizuoka pref.) or scheduling school events that appeal to their interests on Sundays (Zentsuji-city, Kagawa) to get them involved in childcare activities.
Providing counseling services for children who are victims of bullying (Ijime) as well as children who refuse to go to school (Nagaoka-city, Niigata).
Providing counseling sessions by a clinical psychotherapist for parents of young children to low-teens regarding their concerns on child-rearing and/or discipline (Okabe-cho of Shida-gun, Shizuoka).

A couple of peculiar examples are the marriage guidance services (Shiga-village of Matsumoto-city, Nagano and Kazuno-county, Akita), as communities give priority to the issue of declining birth rate while recognizing the presence of many unmarried people who may want to get married and have children.

4) Living environment appropriate for families with children (4)
Providing incentives for construction companies to build children- and parenting-friendly buildings by establishing a certification system for apartments which accommodate childcare/rearing needs, and by providing subsidies for some particular features (e.g., 100 million yen subsidy for common children's room) (Sumida-ward, Tokyo).

Other three examples given (Taito-ward and Shinagawa-ward of Tokyo, and Kawanabe-chou of Kawanabe-county, Kagoshima) all deal with municipalities' housing policies which favor families with children.

5) Reconciliation of work and parenting (5)
Providing some subsidies to the companies with generous maternity leave systems when their employees actually use the system (Kagawa pref.).
Allowing some degree of flextime for prefectural employees who have young children (Ehime pref.).
Providing workshops for company executives, parents, and municipal employees on the importance of the father's involvement in children's lives (Sasebo-city, Nagasaki).

6) Children's safety (12)
Updating the prefectural ordinances for creating a safe and secure community for children by developing preventive measures particularly in and around schools, residences, commercial districts, streets and parks (Hiroshima pref.; Osaka; Tokyo).
Subsidizing some costs for changing the lock or installing an additional lock at a residence to prevent burglars (Asagiri-city, Saitama; Itabashi-ward, Tokyo).

7) Detailed support initiatives for children who are at risk (23)
Supporting single-parent families by providing consultation service (Kagawa pref.), or financial aid (Noda-city, Chiba), or by sending relevant helpers in time of difficulties (Kawasaki-city, Kanagawa).
Developing preventive measures as well as aftercare for child-abuse cases by strengthening a network among all the people concerned and involved in children's lives (Sapporo-city, Hokkaido; Hamaoka-cho, Shizuoka; Otsu-city, Osaka).
Making and distributing manuals which state the way to prevent and/or identify child-abuse cases for teachers, public health workers or people who have frequent contact with children (Itami-city, Hyogo; Nagoya-city, Aichi).

Conclusions
Despite the problematic issues that may possibly coexist (e.g., equity regarding some services), the list of on-going initiatives indicates a wide range of possibilities that municipalities can have in their own action plans when creating a children- and parenting-friendly community in accordance with the local profile and community needs. Concurrently, the project list reminds us of some of the issues that are prevalent in Japan, such as issues of gender equity and equality, and frequently reported cases of child abuse and burglaries. Hopefully, official recognition and determination to tackle these will take us one step further in achieving a genuine "children- and parenting-friendly society" which will benefit not only each child and parent, but everyone in Japan.

[1]. Note that the original article is in Japanese, entitled "Hataraku jyosei o shien: kosodate shiyasui machi ra-n-ku." I translated the term "hoiku-imin" as "childcare immigrants."
[2]. The original title of the survey is Kokuminseikatsu ni kansuru yoronchousa. Note that multiple answers were allowed for this question. In response to a question "Is raising children more of a joy or a burden?" the 3,265 respondents who replied that "the joy and burden of raising children are almost equal" (38.6%) and those who answered that "raising children is more of a burden than a joy" (6.5%) were then asked what they found particularly burdensome. (In the survey, 42.9% answered "raising children is more of a joy than a burden.")
[3]. The Next Generation Law will be effective for 10 years, starting from April 2005 until March 2015. The action plans by municipalities will be implemented in two five-year terms, enabling municipalities to review and modify the original set of action plans by the end of first term. Municipalities at all levels refers to to-dou-fu-ken (e.g., prefecture) as well as shi-cho-son (e.g., city, village, county).
[4]. The original Japanese title of the reference document is, Jisedai ikusei shien ni kakawaru senshin teki torikumi jirei. See the reference section for the source of the complete document.

References

In English

Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare
http://www.mhlw.go.jp/english/index.html

National Institution of Population and Social Security Research
http://www.ipss.go.jp/index-e.html

Quality of Life Policy Bureau, Cabinet Office, Government of Japan
http://www5.cao.go.jp/seikatsu/index-e.html

Specific Documents

Cabinet Office, Government of Japan (2003). Annual Report on the Japanese Economy and Public Finance 2002-2003: No Gains Without Reforms III. Retrieved August 5th 2004 from the World Wide Web http://www5.cao.go.jp/zenbun/wp-e/wp-je03/03-00301.html

Chitose, Yoshimi (2003)."Chapter 2: Policies Targeted to Families with Children: Policy Responses to Declining Fertility." 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: http://www.ipss.go.jp/English/childPJ2003/childPJ2003.pdf

Doteuchi, Akio (2004). Toward a Prosperous Society with a Declining Birthrate - Enhancing the Social Environment for Childcare Support. NLI Research Institute. Retrieved August 5th, 2004 from the World Wide Web: http://www.nli-research.co.jp/eng/resea/life/li040421.pdf

Katsumata, Yukiko (2003)."Chapter 3: Social Security Expenditure for Households with Children." 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: http://www.ipss.go.jp/English/childPJ2003/childPJ2003.pdf

In Japanese only

Cabinet Office, Government of Japan. The section that gathers official documents related to coping with the declining birth rate and ageing society. http://www8.cao.go.jp/kourei/index.html

Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, Shoushika Taisaku (tackling the declining birth rate).
http://www.mhlw.go.jp/topics/bukyoku/seisaku/syousika/index.html
This home page has links to various official documents related to the declining birth rate, including amendments to the Child Welfare Law in 2003 as well as the Basic Law on Measures for the Society with a Declining Birthrate and the Law for Measures to Support the Development of the Next-Generation.

Nyuyoji iryou zenkoku net
[National network of medical care for infants and toddlers]
http://www1.doc-net.or.jp/~babynet/

Specific Document

Cabinet Office, Government of Japan (2002) Kokuminseikatsu ni kansuru seron chousa [Public Opinion Survey on Citizen's Lifestyle]. Public Relations, Cabinet Office, Government of Japan. Retrieved on September 16th from the World Wide Web: http://www8.cao.go.jp/survey/h14/h14-life/

Jisedai Ikuseishien Taisaku Suishin Hou [The Law for Measures to Support the Next-Generation]. Retrieved on September 7th, 2004:from the World Wide Web: http://www.mhlw.go.jp/topics/bukyoku/seisaku/syousika/030819/dl/5.pdf

Jisedai Ikuseishien Taisaku Suishin Hou: Koudou keikaku sakutei shishin (2003) [The guiding principles for the development of the action plan]. Retrieved on September 7th, 2004:from the World Wide Web: http://www.mhlw.go.jp/topics/bukyoku/seisaku/syousika/030819/dl/2.pdf

Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare (2003). Chiiki koudoukeikaku sakutei ni atatte no ryuiten (2003) [Reminders for development of action plans by municipalities]. http://www.mhlw.go.jp/topics/bukyoku/seisaku/syousika/030819/dl/3.pdf

Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare (2003). Jisedai ikuseishien ni kakawaru senshinteki torikumi jirei [Best practices related to the support for the next-generation]. Retrieved on September 7th, 2004:from the World Wide Web: http://www.mhlw.go.jp/topics/bukyoku/seisaku/syousika/030819/8.html

Takabata, Motohiro, and Umezaki, Masanao (Feb. 8th, 2004). Hataraku jyosei o shien : Kosodateshiyasui machi ra-n-ku [Supporting working women: the ranking of parenting-friendly communities]. Yomiuri Weekly, pp. 10-19.
Profile

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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