Life at Japanese Public Daycare (Hoikuen)
Researched By Cornelia [8 June 2001]
This page will encompass about a one year experience at hoikuen, with lots of added details. It is by no means complete at this time and I really hope that others of you out there will feel free to contribute at any time. I've set myself the goal of putting in something every month roughly in chronological order.
I'll be writing primarily about my experience at a hoikuen in Bunkyo ward, Tokyo City. I will happily include examples from elsewhere when I receive information from other parents.
Applying for Entry:
The Japanese day care year runs on the same schedule as the school year, that is from April 1 through March 31. As a rule applications are accepted from about January and decisions are made by early or mid-March. There are circumstances in which applications are accepted mid-year. Public daycare systems are administered by local governments so the services differ from community to community. In Tokyo, pregnant women are entitled to put their older children under age six into public daycare for the last 4 months of their pregnancy and another 4 months after the birth of the newborn, provided there is space available and need. There are also supposed to be ways to get your newborn in mid-year, provided space is available. I have not heard of anyone successfully doing so. If someone has, PLEASE let me know by writing me directly.
Day Care Hours:
Japanese public daycare hours vary. In Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo, the earliest time for children to arrive is 7:15. All children are expected to be there by 9:30. If your child arrives later, he or she may miss an outing called an osampo. If it is raining you don't have to worry about that.
All children are to be picked up by 18:15. However, there is an extended care program (enchoban) until 19:00 which costs an additional 10% of your assessed fee (which is weighted according to your income). The first two years that I was participating, the pick-up time was 18:00, so there are minor changes from year to year. (Vocabulary: hayaban = early shift, osoban = late shift)
Saturday care is also available and included in your monthly fee, but not all Saturdays are fully available. For example, twice a year fumigation takes place on Saturdays so there is no child care on those days. Generally, Saturday care does not extend much past 5:30 pm. I'm not sure if this is official or an unspoken courtesy to the daycare staff.
NOTE: the private day cares will not have exactly the same hours as the government operated day care centers.
As in Japanese elementary school and kindergarten, each age group in the hoikuen
has a name. At my hoikuen the babies are in "Dream" class (Yume - maximum number 10). The one and two year olds
are in Tsukushi and Tampopo (Dandelion - maximum number about 16) classes. The three younger
classes are on the second floor with a gate at the top of the stairs and an air
conditioner in each room. There is a large hallway and a common space as well as a
large open toilet room with toddler sized toilets and two urinals. This makes toilet
training pretty easy since the caretakers can observe more than one child at a time and
the children learn very quickly immitating each other. Each room has child sized wash
basins at toddler height. There is also a fair sized veranda with a tall wrought iron
fence painted a neutral color.
On the ground floor are the Risu, Kuma and Mori (Squirrel, Bear and Forest) classes as well as a large common room, toilet room with urinals and toilet stalls with doors, the kitchen, the entrance way and the staff office. The rooms for the older children are about half the size of the rooms for the younger children, and the maximum number of children per class is increased to about 18.
Food and Nap Time:
Meals are prepared by the cooks and are basically very healthy with portions of vegetables, a meat (generally fish or chicken), often noodles or bread instead of rice, miso soup and milk. The day's meal and afternoon snack can be seen in a glass case in the entrance way when the children are retrieved at the end of the day. There is also a monthly menu included in the monthly newsletter. Parents only supply a lunch box on scheduled picnic days, which only applies to the oldest three classes.
The Dream class receives their food first at 10:30. When they are still tiny they get formula or pumped breast milk from the freezer (supplied by mother) and they receive this again after their nap. Their diet is changed according to their age. Then the rest of the upstairs gets their food by about 11:00 am. The downstairs classes all eat the same thing and pretty much get their lunch by about 11:30. After lunch there is a diaper/clothes change and cleaning up, and then it is nap time. The caretakers are very patient and work hard to instill this habit in the kids. The younger kids are allowed to sleep until they wake up on their own (which can be as long as 3 hours!). The downstairs kids all sleep in the big common room where the futons are stored. They all awaken after about two hours, and the room, which has ceiling fans and an air conditioner, is made available again for play.
There is an after nap snack served with a beverage (mugi-cha or milk) and in the hot months there is water or mugi-cha served in the entrance way for any kids that get thirsty while racing around outside.
Diaper and Toileting Policies:
Diaper policies seem to vary widely across local systems. I've heard of daycares that have a rule to allow only cloth diapers, for example. In the case of the daycare where my daughter attended, both cloth and disposables were acceptable. Dirty diapers were collected in a labeled bag provided by Mom (standard plastic supermarket bag with my daughter's name written on it with magic marker in katakana) and had to be taken home at the end of the day. This included disposable diapers as well as cloth diapers.
Toileting was pretty easy going at hoikuen. There wasn't really any pressure to attain a certain level of skills by a certain age. By and large the kids were all more or less competent at using a toilet by the time they were in Squirrel class, though they all had accidents time and again, particularly during naps. Not a problem, since mothers are there for the purpose of washing the futon sheets mid-week and supplying umpteen changes of clean clothing (never mind that the whole point of having the kid in daycare is so that mother can hold down a job). A lot of mothers have mentioned to me that they felt that the demands on mothers were pretty high. In retrospect, I think this was more likely to be heard from a working first-time mother who ultimately did not realize that, in the first years, child-rearing is a heap of maid labor, and that the daycare system is not an exact replacement for full-time "mothering". In other words you are expected to keep up your end of the grunt work regardless of whether or not you work outside the home.
I nicknamed the place the "Imperial Hoikuen" when I noticed during the first year (age zero) that half the diapers in the bag at the end of the day were not even wet! The diapers were changed on the hour every hour regardless of whether or not a change was needed. So was the clothing. At some point I got smart and switched back to cloth diapers. I also sorted the "dirty clothes" into two piles: "actually dirty" and "obligatory change". The second pile went back into the backpack for the next day. Age zero class required 5 clean changes per day (as well as 5 washclothes/oshiburi, 5 gauze clothes, 10 diapers, 2 bibs with pocket in front, etc., etc.)
Incidentally, I was the only mom who packed all this stuff into a backpack. The bag of choice for the Japanese moms was a rectangular open canvas or vinyl bag with short handles so it could not even be slung over a shoulder and definitely did not fit properly into a bicycle basket. This may be because that was what was described with a small drawing in the list of items to prepare for the first day. So people just followed instructions. I, on the other hand, was not going to go out and buy a bag when something I had on hand looked suitable enough for the job. Fortunately, this time I was not gently reminded to get the item described.
You will receive a description (in Japanese) of all the stuff you need to prepare for your child's entry into daycare, and what is needed on a daily basis. This differs widely across systems and age-groups. For example, at my public daycare, clothing changes were constant until age 3 when the incessant "cleanliness" finally slowed down a bit.
You must pay dues to the parents' association (which in my case was Yen 1,500 twice a year).
You are expected to attend certain meetings, basically one meeting with all the parents and the staff for your child's class which will also be attended by the encho-sensai, the parents association meeting at least once a year and two "one-on-one" meetings per year with the daycare staff directly responsible for your child.
Sooner or later you may feel pressure to serve on the parents committee for your child's class. I volunteered during Squirrel class because I was sure I did not want to end up doing it in the last year for Mori class. My main duty was to buy and wrap the Christmas presents for the 18 kids in that class. I managed to get another mother who spoke English to volunteer with me, so I had better than usual communication.
You will receive papers (in Japanese) on everything with great regularity. These include monthly newsletters, menus, the odd bits from the daycare staff union, flyers for pertinent performances (suitable for very young children) taking place at the local city hall, and finally various notices churned out by the parent's association. I'm probably missing something. In fact, I know I missed a lot, since I am Japanese illiterate. I often did not find out about something until the day before it was scheduled. In fact, it was about a year before I found out that so-an-so's mom spoke really great English. After 5 years with the same core group of kids, I finally came to understand that there were at least about 7 moms very fluent in English in my daughter's class. They did a great job of keeping it secret for a long, long time. Two moms approached me and were helpful from early on, one of whom didn't even have a kid in the same class. I want to be clear on this, I do not think there was any deliberate plan on their part to "hide" their ability from me. I think it just never occurred to them that I might be seriously floundering; or they assumed that I had a Japanese husband who would be helpful, since my daughter can easily pass for Japanese.
Sample One Year Schedule:
In the first week there is the Yuenshiki which could be translated as the Welcoming Celebration for all newcomers. (Parents need not attend.)
First Saturday of June fumigation takes place so there is no day care available to children. All possessions are removed from cubby holes and drawers and taken home on Friday.
Also in June, the government sponsored worm test is handed out and parents collect a stool sample at home. The second test just calls for a pressure imprint around the child's anus two mornings in a row (this is where some worms lay their minuscule eggs). Return must be punctual since all the samples are collected only one time to be taken to the lab. A week or so later parents receive the results.
Click here to see the instruction form for Test type one and here to see the instruction form and English translation for Test type two (for thread worm). The tests have your child's name printed on them in advance to prevent any mix-ups.
A man shows up one day with piles of bamboo, and over the next 10 days two bamboo shade awnings are erected, one over the sand box and one over the second floor veranda.
About now, we are asked to bring in two towels, labeled with the child's name. First, a larger one to be used as the summer blanket during nap time (should be about the same size as the child futon) and, second, one not too much smaller to be used when the kids get showered off on a particularly hot day. The weather in June is still variable between 20 and 29 degrees centigrade. You know when your kid had a mid-day shower, because she will get a clean set of clothes after, meaning your take-home bag will have extra laundry in it. This also means that you will see mud stains on the clothes because water is introduced into the sand box and the play yard. Check out the "cleaning page"!
In this month the swimming pool (about 2 by 3 meters) is opened for the older three age groups. The younger three age groups get to play in little plastic splash pools up on the balcony of the second floor. This means that you have to provide a bathing suit and cap daily, as well as the shower towel that you already started bringing in June. The swimming pool is filled and drained every day so chlorine is not added (there is already plenty in the city tap water!) The kids LOVE this and I have heard of no serious accidents. The toddlers are heavily supervised and there is a caretaker in the swimming pool with the older kids. Each class has to take turns since the pool is so small.
The Tanabata Festival is celebrated early in the month. A bamboo branch is erected in the foyer and decorated by the children.
Also, the PTA arranges a small summer festival about mid-month always on a Friday which
starts at about 16:00 and ends at 18:00. The parent is supposed to come early (at 4:30)
, and accompany the child through the various activities of the festival. Depending on
what the activities are, the time it takes to complete them varies from year to year.
This festival includes invited daycare "alumni" who are now in elementary school, so the
yard can get pretty crowded! If it rains, the festival is set up inside and activities
inappropriate for indoors are dropped from the agenda.
At the end of the month the pool is closed for the season.
There are two holidays in September.
The first Saturday of October is Sports Day (Undokai). There is no day care
available after the festivities and class photos are taken afterwards. The whole
affair is done by noon. Parents are strongly encouraged to attend, though I did not
attend even once until my daughter's 5th year in October of 2001 and it was not so bad.
My kid was pleased. Parents who attend are also asked to participate. They will play
at least one game paired off with their child. And there will be one parents only game
which will make their kids laugh.
A travelling petting zoo comes for a 2 hour visit before lunch. Animals include white
mice, guinea pigs, chickens, ducks, an American turkey, a goat, rabbits and a dog. The
older children remind their parents to pack a couple of cabbage leaves or carrot sticks
the night before. In case of rain, the visit is resheduled before Christmas.
A Christmas Party is arranged. The PTA arranges gifts for each child (and pays for it
out of the dues that were previously collected. The child minders will make sure that
the gifts get to the kids in a fun way. Maybe one of them will dress as Santa.
There are a lot of holidays in January so it is a short month! At some point the
travelling laundry truck comes and cleans all the futons and blankets right there in
the truck! The children are treated to a traveling puppet show (the troup consisted of
a man and three women who sang songs and manipulated a huge assortment of hand puppets
on 31 Jan. 2002).
Sotsuenshiki, receiving diploma
Some time this month the Sotsuenshiki is scheduled which lasts about 2.5 hours.
Parents are highly encouraged to attend. This is the graduation ceremony for the
children leaving to start elementay school, and all the children put on little skits
and shows, even the babies who can all walk by now. Formal class pictures including
the parents might be taken depending on what the PTA arranged in terms of photography.
Also this month the 3 oldest classes will probably do one more big outing together
which means that a complicated bento must be arranged by mom or dad.
Japan With Kids - Hoikuen in Japan (Nursery, Day Care, Child Care
Japan With Kids - Forums: Daycare in Japan
Japan With Kids - Forums: Private Daycare -- Hoikuen, Hokushitsu
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