Day Care for Kids

  • Peter Barakan


    Born in London in 1951, Peter earned a degree in Japanese from the University of London's School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). An expert on diverse forms of popular music, Peter is also a well-known TV and radio presenter. He has lived in Japan for 40 years and has a deep understanding of the language and culture.

  • Matt Alt


    Born in Washington D.C. in 1973, Matt's interest in Japan was kindled by robot toys in his childhood. He worked as a translator for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office before co-founding a company that produces English versions of Japanese comics and video games. He also writes extensively about cultural trends including yokai, ninja, emoji, and more.

  • Mika Ikemoto

    Main guest

    A chief researcher at the Japan Research Institute, Ikemoto investigates childcare, education and employment policy, and social security. She also conducts surveys into childcare professionals’ working conditions, as well as childcare in other countries.


December 8, 2016

Day Care for Kids

*You will leave the NHK website.

Japan is known as a largely harmonious society, where great importance is placed on behavior that fits in with group norms.

Orderly queuing is a part of everyday life, even when using the often-crowded mass transit networks of the large urban centers; table manners are generally impeccable; and bowing to show respect to one’s counterparts is so much second nature that people even do it when talking on the phone.

As we discovered in episode #20 in this series of Japanology Plus, high school club activities provide a grounding for teens and tweens in the ideals of cooperation and social etiquette that will prove indispensable in adult life, especially upon entering Japan’s rigidly hierarchical workforce.

But the training in social mores begins even earlier, often at the day care facilities that look after preschool-age children while their parents are at work.

Here the little ones learn to line up and wait patiently, return greetings, tidy and clean their classroom, dress themselves, and put away their things.


Orderly behavior is a must in Japanese society, something these kids learn from an early age.


Here, children even clean their own indoor shoes.


Peter is amazed to see these nursery school kids scrupulously cleaning their own classroom.

At lunchtimes (often eaten in homerooms) the children wait until everyone has been served before tucking in. After joining in a unison call of the traditional Japanese pre-meal grace (“Itadakimasu,” which literally means “I gratefully receive”), they eat alongside their teachers who offer gentle guidance and encouragement with respect to table manners. After the meal, each child dutifully tidies away their own dining utensils.

In an average week, a curriculum that features various activities designed to build confidence will also often include a trip to a local park or playground. On weekdays, snaking columns of amazingly well behaved boys and girls wearing colorful caps according to their class or group are a common site in quiet residential streets. And on this journey to and from their destination, the handful of staff present will also take the opportunity to raise the children's awareness of the basics of pedestrian safety.


A variety of activities are designed to build children’s confidence.


Outdoor play is also a vital part of the experience.

It is not always that easy, however, for parents to find their offspring a place in day care. The number of households where both parents work is on the increase as more and more women eschew the traditional role of homemaker to re-enter or remain in full-time employment.

In many cases this is to supplement family income. But Japan’s government also sees a large, highly educated female population as a vital resource through which to reinvigorate an aging workforce.

One consequence of this situation is that, especially in the large urban centers, competition for places at publicly run day care centers can be exceptionally fierce. Many local governments have been forced to introduce a points-based system using various criteria to discern each family’s relative need and eligibility.

And although some companies have introduced in-house day care facilities to meet the needs of their own staff, with inner-city space at a premium, it is often difficult for businesses to free up the necessary room to implement such measures. 

More provincial areas, meanwhile have the opposite problem. As young people move to the cities in search of career opportunities, and Japan’s overall fertility remains in the doldrums, many provincial day care centers simply don’t have enough children to warrant continued service, and recent years have seen widespread closures.

It is not all doom and gloom, however. As we see in this week’s edition, some areas are fighting back against population decline through steps to encourage young couples to relocate and raise large families. These measures include subsidized housing and discounted, or even free, childcare for second and subsequent children.


Matt makes some small talk over lunch.


Staff eat together with the children every lunchtime.


Children learn good table manners as they eat freshly prepared, nutritious meals together.


*You will leave the NHK website.