An Inside Look At Daycare in Japan

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If you are considering enrolling your child in a public Japanese daycare from April, you’ll want to start planning ASAP as applications go out in October.

The dates and process vary from municipality to municipality, but it’s best to get a head start. If you want to know what to expect, read on!

While this post is titled, An Inside Look At Daycare in Japan, it is based on three factors: my research for an in-depth article on the topic over on Best Living Japan; my experience working in a Japanese kindergarten; and finally, my experiences of having the monster enrolled in a (private) Japanese daycare since December 2017.

Inspiration for this post comes from my Twitter Takeover of @beingtokyo, when I shared my typical routine of getting the monster ready for daycare.

I was amazed at the responses to the world of Japanese daycare, so here’s an inside look at daycare in Japan.

Daycare Versus Kindergarten

First of all, let’s define the word “daycare.” You might call it daycare or nursery school, but daycare in Japan is hoikuen (保育園) and is reserved for babies 54 days old up to 6 years old.

This is not to be confused with kindergarten (幼稚園 | youchien), which is exclusively for kids 3 years old until they enter first grade.

Daycare falls under the umbrella of the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, while the Ministry of Education takes care of kindergarten.

To put it very simply, daycare is all about providing a safe and nurturing environment for babies and children while their primary caretaker is at work, hospitalized, etc

Kindergarten, on the other hand, focuses on preparing kids for first grade through academics (maths, Japanese), physical education classes, and other activities such as English and music lessons. (These activities are commonly available are private daycares.)

You’ll also immediately notice kindergarten kids by their cute uniforms and school buses whizzing around town in the mornings!

The typical kindergarten day is until 2 or 3 pm and while they do have “after school” services, there are very few kids who use this service …because an overwhelming majority of kids in kindergarten have a stay-at-home mother or a mother who works part-time.

Generally speaking, daycare schedules accommodate the working hours of full-time parents/guardians: Monday through Friday (sometimes Saturday), from early morning to late evening. They are typically closed on national holidays and Sundays.

READ:  Year 2 of Motherhood in Japan: (Re) Learning Japanese With My Child

Some daycare facilities open only at night to accommodate parents who work the night shift. Other facilities offer around-the-clock daycare or even offer temporary care (一時保育 | ichiji hoiku).

Because there’s so many options, you’ll definitely have to shop around and explore your choices.


A standard kindergarten day is from 10 – 2 pm, making it difficult for full-time working parents to juggle work and childcare. This is why sending kids to kindergarten isn’t going solve the daycare shortage in Japan.

For more on the struggles working parents face in Japan, read this article on The Huffington Post: 「保育園に入れなくて、仕方なく」。やむなく幼稚園に通わせる「隠れ待機児童」の親たちの悲痛な声

What Do Kids Do At Daycare?

Daycare isn’t just about making sure kids are in a safe environment.

Teachers (保育士 | hoikushi) help kids with the very basics as well as: improving social and motor skills, getting familiar with writing utensils, feeding themselves, how to wash their hands and wipe their noses, how to dress and undress themselves, and how to put on socks and shoes. Even toilet training is done at daycare recently.

Teachers and parents keep in contact with one another via a “communication notebook” (連絡帳 | renrakuchou). This notebook is so important that I will be writing a seperate, in-depth blog post about it.

READ: Renrakucho: Communicating With Your Child’s Teachers in Japan

All kids (even the babies!) have daily outside play, weather permitting. You might see daycare kids around town in their over-sized carts.  Babies will be in a carrier.

My daughter’s class often goes to a neighborhood park, the riverbank, or to a shopping mall near the train station. In the summertime, kids have pool play (水遊び | mizu asobi).

Another part of Japanese daycare (that I really enjoy) is the seasonal activities like Christmas and Halloween parties. There’s also events like Setsubun, Hina Matsuri, Tanabata and so on to teach the kids about Japanese culture. In addition to graduation ceremonies, there are also seasonal stage performances (お遊戯会 | oyuugikai).

READ: Hatsu Sekku: Momo no Sekku and Tango no Sekku

Japanese daycares also conduct monthly height and weight checks along with 2 or 3 health and dental checkups per school year. This is in addition to the scheduled routine check ups for kids in Japan.

How to Get Into Daycare – A Timeline For Going Back To Work

Entering a public Japanese daycare (区立 | ku ritsu or 市立 | shiritsu) daycare recognized by the government (認可 | ninka) is extremely difficult process. Please refer to my post on Best Living Japan for details and with your municipal office for paper work and deadlines.

Below is a very, very, very idealized schedule for a new mom planning to return to work after giving birth.

October:  Attend daycare information sessions/visit daycare facilities 

November: Submit applications

December to March: Acceptance letters go out 

April: Child goes to daycare

Mid-April: Child adjusts to life at daycare

Late-April: Start working a few days a week

May: Transition to full-time work

READ: Oh Baby! Pregnancy, Maternity, and Child Care Leave in Japan

You’re In- What Next?

Here’s all the gear you need:

Lunch related items go home daily. Other items like blankets and park hats and shoes (for kids 2-6 years old) go to school on Monday and return home for cleaning on Friday.

Everything goes to and from school in a big tote bag. Some schools actually require parents to make their own bags, including an indoor shoe tote bag, toothbrush pouch, and lunch tote along with the big tote bag to carry everything.

 The following embedded tweets are from my @beingtokyo takeover.

In case you missed it, everything needs to be labeled. Even with my class of older kids, I hate having to ask around, “Is this yours?” I can’t imagine what it’s like having a bunch of one year-old kids in my class!

Do yourself a favor and invest in a Japanese/English name stamp kit, replacement ink pad, and ink refill. After all, you’ll be labeling things (right down to pencils and erasers) up until your kids are old enough to do it by themselves.

These 4 items from Rakuten are what I use to make sure everything is labeled:


10 piece hiragana and kanji name stamp and ink pad set. It also comes with one colored ink pad of your choice and three picture stamps so your child can identify their belongings even if they can’t yet read their own name.


3 piece alphabet name stamp set (stamps only; no ink pad).


Replacement ink pad. The ink pad in the 10 piece set lasted me 5 or 6 months until I put it away without closing the lid. Now I keep a backup on hand.


Ink refill cartridge. An easy way to inject life into an old ink pad.

Another Look At Daycare and Kindergartens in Japan: Kodomo En

Ending this post with kodomo en (こども園), where daycare and kindergarten are integrated. I teach kindergarten at a kodomo en while the monster attends daycare at the same facility.

Kodomo en are mainly for older kids (3-6), though babies and toddlers do attend. Kodomo en help working parents who want to send their children to kindergarten, but aren’t able to pick them up after 2 pm.

My students (5 year old kindergarten) arrive at school sometime between 7 to 9 am. This morning care is daycare (hoiku).

From 10am to 2pm, they move to our classroom where I take over, and we have kindergarten lessons. Lunch is at 12pm and we eat lunch prepared on-site by a licensed nutritionist and cook.

After 2 pm until students go home is called daycare. From 2pm to 3:30pm is naptime, and 3:30pm-4pm is snack time. Then 4- 4:30pm is after school lessons/structured playtime (craft, music, Japanese). From 4:30pm until pick up is playtime.

What do you think about daycare in Japan? I’ll be expanding the “Motherhood in Japan” catergory to include more on my experiences working in Japan after giving birth.

An Inside Look At Daycare in Japan

Tokyo-based beautyholic and content creator. Mom to a monster and a furbaby. Driven by intense wanderlust and powered by limited edition snacks and drinks from Japan.

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