[Japan] Japan's Early Education and Child Care Departing from Their Foundations - Projects



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[Japan] Japan's Early Education and Child Care Departing from Their Foundations


This article first explores the distinctive nature of kindergartens and day-care centers, by tracing the social background and history of their establishment. At the beginning, the kindergarten aimed to be an educational facility for young children that would “link play and learning” in contrast to the day-care center which was to be a home-like care facility for infants who lacked parental protection. In postwar Japan, day-care centers as a facility for child welfare and kindergartens as a place for pre-school education have assumed an important role in child care and education, like “two wheels of one cart.” However, these two types of facilities have been supervised by different ministries, and this, as a result, has led to dual systems of early education and child care in Japan. Taking into consideration the growth and development of young children, “care” and “education” are both necessary, regardless of whether children are at home, at a day care center, or at kindergarten. Moreover, the emergence of an aging society resulting in fewer children has changed the life patterns of female and male parents. Consequently, early education and child care, which influence the future of our society, are now facing a significant transformation.

Keywords: day-care center, Kindergarten, "care" and "education", dual systems of early education and child care

>>Basic Data of Japan japan

Over the past 64 years since the end of World War II, Japan's education system has maintained two kinds of institutions for pre-school education: kindergartens and day care centers. Kindergarten is a school established by the School Education Law, enacted in 1947, and under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Education (currently Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology). Meanwhile, a day care center is a child welfare facility created by the Child Welfare Law, also enacted in 1947, and under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Health and Welfare (currently Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare). Although various countries had enacted laws concerning school education at the time, Japan was uniquely progressive in the area of child care facilities, with laws that clearly set forth the purpose and obligations of child welfare facilities including day care centers, as well as the minimum standard in such facilities. Kindergartens and day care centers became widespread in Japan. They existed side by side, operating in tandem, but if anything, kindergartens played a leading role.

However, Japanese society has seen significant changes during the past 64 years. Firstly, an aging population is emerging with fewer children, and secondly, due to women's increased social participation, the life pattern which centered on child care by mothers has changed.


1. The history of kindergarten and day care centers in Japan

1) Kindergarten as an ideal educational facility for young children

The kindergarten was introduced from overseas as part of the government's efforts to introduce advanced American and European culture into Japan, in a process of modernization in the Meiji era. Between 1871 and 1873 (Meiji 4-6), Fujimaro Tanaka of the Education Ministry traveled as a commissioner with the Iwakura Mission to the United States and Europe, with the aim of examining their educational systems. Before returning to Japan, he visited and was impressed with women's normal schools and a kindergarten established by the German pedagogue Friedrich Wilhelm August Fröbel (1782-1852). In 1874 (Meiji 7), Tanaka submitted a document for approval to Sanetomi Sanjo, then Chancellor of the Realm, proposing to establish a women's normal school in Tokyo. The following year, after being made Vice Minister for Education, he also submitted two further documents, in July and August, for approval requesting to establish a kindergarten. Consequently, the Tokyo Women's Normal School was founded on November 29, 1875 (Meiji 8), and in 1876, Japan's first kindergarten attached to Tokyo Women's Normal School was born.

The concept of "kindergarten" education, created by Fröbel, spread across Europe and the United States after his death. This kindergarten movement was particularly widespread in the United States during the 1870s, and in 1873 the first kindergarten was opened as the lowest grade in public school in Saint Louis, Missouri. When the United States Centennial International Exhibition of 1876 was held in Philadelphia, the Meiji government sent many officials, including Tanaka, and again, he was greatly impressed by the kindergarten system in the country. The Home Ministry at that time had prepared for the Exhibition by collecting a list of exhibits from the period around the end of 1874, and the list included the "four boxes of kindergarten gifts" (for children's educational toys). This fact implies that the education bureaucrats of the Meiji government had been collecting kindergarten materials from early on.

The purpose of the establishment of the first kindergarten in Japan proposed by Tanaka was (1) to earn public recognition of the benefits of kindergarten education for young children, (2) to provide a good model of kindergarten education and promote its development in Japan, and (3) to contribute to the experimental and practical training for students of the Tokyo Women's Normal School. Around the same time, the prominent liberal democratic educator Masanao Nakamura also insisted on the significance of interactions between groups of children and introduced the kindergarten education system.

The first director of the kindergarten attached to Tokyo Women's Normal School was Shinzo Seki, who had a good command of English. He translated a manual for kindergarten education written by an educational reformer Carl Daniel Adolph Douai that was published in the United States. He also wrote other books such as "Kindergarten Diary (1876)" and "Kindergarten Manual: the 20 different types of toys (1879)." In terms of actual practice of child care, the head nursery school teacher Klara Matsuno from Germany is said to have trained, using the English language, Fuyu Toyoda and Hama Kondo to be the first Japanese kindergarten teachers.

As described above, what makes the Japanese kindergarten distinctive from those of other countries stems from the fact that first, it was based on the Fröbelian pedagogy introduced from the United States, originating from the Fröbel's idealistic conception of kindergarten education; and second, it was the first public kindergarten established by government initiatives.

In 1887 (Meiji 20), there were one national kindergarten, 52 public kindergartens, and 14 private kindergartens (total 67); however, by 1909 (Meiji 42), the number of private kindergartens became greater than public kindergartens, with one national kindergarten, 208 public kindergartens, and 234 private kindergartens (total 443). In 1926 (Taisho 15), the Kindergarten Ordinance was enacted, and kindergartens gradually spread throughout the nation. Nevertheless, although school enrollment was increasing at that time in Japan, very few children went to kindergarten: school attendance rate was only approximately 10% of the total child population (maximum 9.62% in 1943).


2) Day care center as a child care facility to rescue and protect orphans

The day care center arose out of the need to protect and care for orphan babies, who were innocent victims of the rise of working women and the impoverished classes during the Industrial Revolution in Europe. In Japan, too, day care centers were created to take care of pre-school children in order to relieve women of their child care burden or to protect babies who were abandoned or orphaned due to poverty. The first day care center was established in 1890 (the 23rd year of Meiji era) by the Akazawas (Atsutomi and Naka) within their Niigata Seishu Private School.

The Japanese industrial revolution took place later than in Europe, and advanced during Sino-Japanese War (1894) and Russo-Japanese War (1904). It raised the demand for female factory workers, and as a result, additional day care centers were established within factories such as the Tokyo Spinning Company (1894), Tokyo Kanegafuchi Cotton Spinning Company (1902), Mitsui Mining Cement Tagawa Plant in Fukuoka prefecture (1906), and several match factories in Kobe.

In addition, during the Russo-Japanese War, wartime child care centers were set up for families of soldiers at the front and bereaved families, which remained as child care facilities after the war ended. The rapid development of Japan's industries and economy had generated a new impoverished class in addition to increased demand for a female workforce. Under these circumstances, in 1900, Yuka Noguchi and Mine Morishima, young graduates from the nursery school teacher's training course of Tokyo Women's Normal School, opened Futaba Kindergarten for deprived orphans in Yotsuya, Tokyo, which later, in 1915, was renamed as Futaba Day Care Center.

While there was a strong call for the need to protect young children and more day care centers were formed by private citizens, the Home Ministry in 1908 was determined to provide subsidies to day care centers as official aid in a "Reformative Relief Work Project." In due course, several public day care centers were established in major cities, first in Osaka (1919), then in Kyoto (1920), and in Tokyo (1921). In 1926 their numbers reached 65, and by 1929, had exceeded 100. In rural areas, seasonal day care centers opened in the busy farming season for farmers under the government's support of agricultural policies, and by 1940, the number of such facilities increased to 22,758. However, there was no legislative framework for day care centers, even though, for kindergartens, the government had already issued the Kindergarten Ordinance.

As seen from the above, there is a clear difference in the way that kindergartens and day care centers each evolved. Even before WWII, there was debate about the relationship and treatment of these two types of facilities, but the idea of unifying them was hardly considered.


2. Establishment of dual systems of early education and child care in the postwar period; and their current contradictory situation due to social transformation

1) Day care centers and kindergartens supported the development of postwar society together

In the postwar period, kindergarten became the basic stage of school education stipulated by the School Education Law (1947), supervised by the Ministry of Education (currently Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology), while the day care center became a child welfare facility under the Child Welfare Law (1947), supervised by the Ministry of Health and Welfare (currently Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare).

In the beginning, the purpose of kindergarten was to offer child care to young children as the basic stage of compulsory education, and to support their mental and physical development. In contrast, day care centers were required to help and care for babies or children, who lacked proper care from their own family and had been entrusted to outside facilities. Kindergarten teachers, like teachers of elementary, junior high and high school, had to complete the education curriculum stipulated by the Education Personnel Certification Law at universities and junior colleges. Nursery school teachers (initially called a "nurse" or "nanny"), on the other hand, were to be trained at training institutions designated by the Ministry of Health and Welfare.

From the beginning, day care centers, like kindergartens, were incorporated in the official education schemes. This meant day care centers were required to meet minimum standards for child welfare facilities in order to receive authorization and subsidies from the central as well as local government in prefectures, cities, towns, and villages. Since day-care fees were set according to the income of parents, these subsidies were necessary for day care centers to cover their management costs. Furthermore, the government formulated child care guidelines for day care centers in line with the teaching guidelines for kindergartens. Such schemes for day care centers were not instituted in other countries at that time except in socialist countries.

During the period of postwar reconstruction, followed by a period of rapid economic growth, kindergartens and day care centers in Japan worked in tandem to advance the development of preschool education and child care.


2) Emergence of an aging society resulting in fewer children and a change in women's life pattern: higher demand for child care centers and a decrease in kindergartens

Like many other advanced industrial countries, Japan has faced a rapidly declining birthrate in recent years. The number of childbirths reached 2.09 million in 1973 (the second baby boom), the second postwar peak of population growth. A downward trend followed, and by 2006, it had dropped to 1.09 million. As a matter of course, this trend of fewer children affected the number of children in kindergarten. Until the 1980s, in order to sustain enrollment, private kindergartens introduced a three-year program in their curriculum (starting from three years of age); while public kindergartens retained a two-year program and some introduced a three-year program. Nevertheless, the number continued to decrease throughout the 1990s, and some kindergartens, in many parts of the country, were forced to shut down or merged with another kindergarten.

In contrast, the number of children in day care centers has inversely increased. The driving force in the latest calls for child care centers is obviously the increase in working mothers, and behind this has been the promotion of women's participation in society. From a long term perspective, we can see a significant change in the life pattern of women. While raising several children was the main goal in life for women in the past, today women live much longer, and their life consists of more than raising just one or two children. In addition, the economic condition of households requiring two incomes has probably changed the traditional gender roles and the division of labor in the family, as demonstrated by the fact that the demand for additional day care centers is noticeable among young nuclear households in large and medium-sized cities. It is reported that currently 20,000 children in Japan, mainly in major cities, are on the waiting list to enter a day care center.


3) Setback in public education and child care

The kindergarten, which was established with great enthusiasm in the Meiji era by people who recognized the importance of early education and sought to create an ideal education system, has developed steadily, gaining in popularity and support across the country from the end of the period to modern times. Because kindergartens were not part of compulsory education, their operation had to be covered by child care fees and enrolment fees. In particular, public kindergartens, as public institutions, were unable to charge a high fee, and thus had to rely on municipal budget outlays.

With local governments under financial pressure, a privatization movement arose which diminished the role of public kindergartens, shifting it to private kindergartens. Private kindergartens, however, were also facing financial difficulties amid worries that if kindergartens only focused on business, child education would be fatally compromised . It was clear that without official support, child education would eventually face a critical situation.

According to the School Basic Survey 2008 (by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology), the total number of children in kindergarten nationwide was 1,674,163. Of these, 324,924 children attend public kindergartens, and 1,349,236 children attend private kindergartens. This disparity between public and private kindergartens is widening every year.

On the other hand, authorized day care centers, whether public or private, can receive subsidies from the government, thus to some extent official support can be secured. However, their management budget is still tight. Until 1985, eight-tenths of the welfare fee per child less child care fees had to be paid by the central government, one-tenth by prefectural governments, and another one-tenth by municipal governments. Since then, the system has changed: currently five-tenths of the amount incurred by municipal governments less child care fees is to be paid by the central government, one-fourth by prefectural governments, and another one-fourth by municipal governments. The central government, in this regard, withdrew its public financial support. Therefore, municipal governments are facing further financial difficulties, and the privatization movement of public child care centers is rapidly growing, no less than that of kindergartens.


3. Current status of Japan's young children and various corrective measures

1) Current status of child education and child care

Then, where do pre-school children go? Table 1 shows the number of children in day care centers by age and the percentage of the total population of children by age in 2005. (The most recent data is based on a survey conducted by the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare in 2005.)


Table 1. The number and percentage of children in day care centers by age

* Figures are approximate, by converting the national statistics data of "Population Census by Age (as of October 1, 2005)" into the equivalent data as of April 1, 2005.
** Figures are approximate, by converting the number of children in day care centers by age as of October 1, 2005 according to the "Survey of Social Welfare Institutions" by the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare into the equivalent data as of April 1, 2005.


Next, Table 2 shows the corresponding data of children in public/private kindergartens in 2008.


Table 2. The number and percentage of children in public/private kindergartens by age

* Figures are from the "School Basic Survey 2008" by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology.
** Figures are calculated using the total population of children by age as a parameter, after converting the national statistics data of "Population Census by Age (as of October 1, 2007)" into the equivalent data as of April 1, 2008.

Both Tables 1 and 2 indicate that currently two out of ten children under three-years-old (aged zero to two) are, on average, in day care centers. In addition, 77% of children aged three, 90 % of children aged four, and 95% of children aged five receive early education and care in a kindergarten or a day care center, outside of the home.


2) Measures taken by the central government

In responding to the shortage of day care centers and the decreasing trend of children in kindergarten, several measures have been taken, by mutual consultation, between the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology and the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare. These include the "Guidelines for Shared Use of Kindergarten and Day Care Center Facilities" issued jointly by both Ministries in 1998. Currently, kindergartens are promoting child rearing support including extra child-care-hour services, which day care centers generally offer, and the opening of their own facilities to pre-school children (aged three) of local communities. Thus, kindergartens increasingly tend to play a similar role as day care centers.

In contrast, for day care centers, the government has implemented measures to ease authorization standards and facilitate the enrollment process. At the same time, they emphasize "child care" and "education" as two functions of day care centers under the New Guidelines for Day Care Centers. In particular, guidelines state that day care centers should conduct their education in five areas, in the same manner as kindergartens stipulated by the Kindergarten Education Guidelines (2008). The relationship between day care centers and primary schools is also under consideration. Thus, the characteristics of day care centers serving an educational function will, in the near future, become quite similar to those of kindergartens.

This situation has led to the joint review conference between the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology and the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare. As a result, the "Act on Advancement of Comprehensive Service Related to Education, Child Care, etc. of Preschool Children" was enacted in June, 2006. The purpose of this act is mainly to establish a certified 'kodomoen' (a daycare-kindergarten facility). Certified kodomoen can be divided into four categories; (1) daycare-kindergarten collaboration type (An authorized kindergarten and an authorized day care center collaborate to manage comprehensive operations.); (2) kindergarten type (An authorized kindergarten with day care center functions, for example, to ensure child care hours for children who lack family care.); (3) day care center type (An authorized day care center with kindergarten functions, for example, to accept children other than children who lack family care.); and (4) local discretion type (unauthorized local educational/child care facilities with necessary functions as a certified kodomoen).

By August 2007 after the enactment of the act, 105 kodomoen were created and received official certification. However, this educational reform has failed to achieve groundbreaking results, and ended up merely adding a third facility to the traditional dual systems, despite the enormous efforts that both Ministries had devoted to legislation in the Diet session. As of April 2009, there were 358 certified kodomoen in Japan. The reason that the number of this new type of facility shows sluggish growth is that, in the end, there is not much support from the government, except for the collaboration daycare-kindergarten type, which receives a small amount of financial aid. There then seems no advantage to changing an existing facility to create a certified kodomoen. Both Ministries are currently making an all-out effort to review the kodomoen system.

The Liberal Democratic Party, which took a control of the government during this reform, once submitted a draft plan for unification of early education and child care, as well as a plan for free education system for children aged three or older. These plans were withdrawn within a few days.


3) Efforts at local level

Early education at kindergartens, child care at day care centers, child rearing at home, etc., vary considerably from one region to another. Statistics conducted by the prefectural and municipal governments clearly display regional disparity in the percentage of nuclear families, child population, percentage of public and private kindergartens, the number of children on the waiting list of day care centers, and so on. If policies and measures do not meet the needs for early education and child care in each community, they will never see success. For example, the Tokyo metropolitan government had to set up its own standards of authorization to provide subsidies for day care centers, because the shortage of day care centers was serious and the stricter national standard itself would have threatened their survival.

Various efforts on such issues are being carried out in each local community, and I would like to provide one example here. Kobe Municipal Yuki Kindergarten, located in a residential area of Kobe City, has been popular among Kobe citizens for generations for its long history and community-oriented education. People loved its spacious play yard and two-storied building with a children's playroom. However, this kindergarten recently found itself with a number of empty rooms due to a decline in students. At the same time, Kobe municipal government faced the problem of long waiting lists to enter day care centers. Consequently in 2003, Kobe City formulated the "Procedures for Kindergarten and Day Care Center Collaborative Operations Using Municipal Kindergarten Facilities," which then allowed Dream Day Care Center, a private facility, to use the vacant nursery rooms in public kindergartens. The kindergarten installed a branch of the day care center in its second nursery room, accommodating a class of 30 children aged one to three. The main building of the day care center is located diagonally across from the kindergarten on the other side of a park, a few minutes away on foot. This attempt has yielded some positive results in the five years since it began. First of all, children between the ages of one and five are able to interact with one another when they play together in the yard, and participate in seasonal events, etc., which means that they form relationships with children both younger and older. In addition, nursery school teachers of the day care center and Yuki kindergarten were able to exchange classroom observations and learn about educational practices from one another. The fact that the director of the day care center was previously a director of another municipal kindergarten may be a factor critical to its success. Lastly, parents of children who attend the day care center or the kindergarten as well as local residents have gradually developed a sense of trust and and confidence in both facilities.

This is just one of the many successful outcomes that have resulted from local efforts, and there should be various ways to solve these issues by region.


4. My suggestion to solve the current educational problem in Japan

Here, I would like to venture my own rather extreme suggestions on how to improve the present situation.


1) Children under three: group child care or family child care?
--- Consider the needs of child development

Currently, about 20% of children below the age of three receive child care at a day care center. From the perspective of the needs of the developing child, is it appropriate to spend such long hours in a facility? The answer is no. A child, between the ages of six or seven months through the age of two, will develop a strong relationship with his/her rearer (in most cases, the mother). This is called "attachment." Without a rearer, attachment cannot be formed between a child and a day care center teacher. This is why day care centers try to encourage parents to understand the importance of developing a relationship with their child at this critical time. The same can be said for the remaining 80% of the children below the age of three who are cared for at home. It is essential for parents who struggle to raise children of this age at home to obtain advice from an experienced professional. Therefore, I would propose a system where either male or female parents can be granted paid child rearing leave for a certain period (maximum three years) or alternatively be given an adequate subsidy (for three years) to prevent the need for a dual-income household. I understand very well that the government needs to consider many other issues from the viewpoint of labour and economic policy, but such a conclusion is inevitable if we think about the needs of child development. In fact, some countries in North Europe have already taken this approach*.


2) For children between three and five years old: a shift to quasi-compulsory education

Among children between three and five years old, about 80 to 90% receive child care at kindergarten or a day care center. I believe that a child aged three or above should experience relationships with other children. In this age of fewer children and siblings, children should ideally play with a group of children outside home, to the extent possible. Playing at kindergarten or in a day care center will give them the valuable experience of interacting with other children. If the current early education system for children above the age of three has been regarded as quasi-compulsory, the government should allow kindergartens and day care centers, public or private, to provide free education. All the costs (including costs of labour, facilities and equipment, and training) should be covered by the government.


* A message from CRN editorial

There are various ideas and opinions regarding this issue. One example is a large scale project of National Longitudinal Survey, undertaken by the National Institute of Child Health and Development (NICHD) in the United States. CRN held a symposium in 2000 to exchange opinions regarding ideal child rearing between researchers of Japan and America, based on NICHD's survey reports.


This survey by NICHD has been undertaken for more than ten years, drawing keen attention from around the world. Reference details to introduce this survey are as follows:

"NICHD Long-Term Follow-Up Study: Quality of Child Care and the Development of Children" edited by Japanese Society of Child Science, translated by Masumi Sugawara and Satoko Matsumoto, and issued by Baby and Mother Publishing Co. in September 2009