Guide to Navigating the Hoikuen System – Application Process and Tips

Guide to Navigating the Japanese Hoikuen System

If you are planning to return to work after taking some time off to bond with your little one, you are more than likely weighting the daycare (保育/ほいく/hoiku) options available in Japan. You’re perhaps also well aware of the daycare shortage the nation is facing, particularly in major cities like Tokyo. Still, you need not give up hope. There are several daycare options available in Japan, ranging from public nurseries to private English daycare as well as temporary child care services. This guide will explain the the differences, the application process, and alternatives to consider.

Please note: The following information in this guide is based on information obtained at Edogawa Ward and at the Japanese parenting website Mamari. Procedures may differ at your place of residence, so please do not hesitate to contact the appropriate officials for further information.

*** Navigating the Japanese Hoikuen System ***

Types of Hoikuen Facilities – Ninka,  Mu-ninka, and Ninshou 

Let’s start with the type of nursery school facilities. They fall under two very broad categories, ninka and mu ninka. There also exist Ninshou hoikujo which lie somewhere between the two.

Ninka (認可/にんか)/Authorized daycare facilities

While ninka schools are government funded, you will come across both kouritsu (公立/こうりつ/public) and shiritsu (私立/しりつ/public) schools that fall under the umbrella of ninka. These facilities follow guidelines set by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare that regulate class size, student to teacher ratio, and classroom dimensions, among other criteria. As these schools are publicly funded, monthly tuition is set on a sliding scale based on the taxable incomes of parents/guardians. Because of this, parents can expect to pay anywhere between 0 yen to upwards of 60,000 yen per month.

Entry into a ninka facility is based on a points system, which aims to fairly allocate new admissions to households which are unable to care for their children due to illness or work. Single parent families and families where both parents are full-time workers are given priority. Families with a child already enrolled in a school are also given priority.

Applying to ninka schools is a tedious process which involves much paperwork, trips to municipal offices, and the schools of your choice. It is not uncommon to receive an application booklet that is between 20-30 pages in length!

*** Navigating the Japanese Hoikuen System ***

Mu Ninka  (無認可/Mu Ninka /むにんか)/Unauthorized Daycare Facilities

Also known as ninka gai (認可外/にんかがい), these facilities do not follow the guidelines set by Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare. Therefore, you’ll come across a variety of schools that differ greatly in their facilities, class size, curriculum, and so on. Unlike ninka daycare facilities where your application form can only be processed through government channels, mu nika schools give you flexibility as you can apply directly to the schools of your choice with little hassle.

There is a common misconception in Japan that mu ninka equals abunai (あぶない\dangerous), but that is often not the case. Firstly, mu ninka schools do not restrict enrollment based on a parent’s circumstances, so anyone can apply. Additionally, mu ninka schools have options like extended hours day care, evening daycare, and holiday day care. Most mu ninka facilities will keep a sick child whereas a parent with a sick child in a ninka facilities would have to leave work early to go pick up their child. Another draw of mu ninka schools is that they may offer classes such as English and rythmique. Finally, monthly fees of mu ninka tend to be higher than that of ninka schools. You can expect to pay anywhere between 50,000 yen to 70,000 yen. Some municipalities offer financial assistance (補助金/ほじょきん/hojokin) in helping with mu ninka fees. Inquire at your municipal office for details.

Ninshou /認証/にんしょう/Government certified daycare centers

These daycare centers are in Tokyo Prefecture, and there are two types: facilities near train stations and facilities that have a home environment. Their purpose is to address the shortage of daycare facilities by offering services that cater to the individual needs to Tokyo residents as well as providing care for even the youngest of  infants. Government certified day care centers also offer extended daycare hours. Applications are made directly to the facility and monthly fees are determined by each facility.

*** Navigating the Japanese Hoikuen System ***

*** Navigating the Japanese Hoikuen System ***

More About Ninka Facilities

When to Apply  

Nearly all Japanese parents aim for April entrance as it’s the start of the school year. Company employees also start anew in the spring. When it comes down to ninka facilities, there are two rounds of applications, typically the first week of November of the previous year, followed by another round held the third week of December. Entry for the April 2018 school year is referred to as 平成30年4月入園/へいせい さんじゅうねん しがつ にゅうえん/heisei san jyuu nen shi gatsu nyuu en.

You can also apply for admissions on the first of every month. Openings at all ninka facilities are posted on a municipality’s official home page as well as inside city or town hall.

Point System 

Admittance to daycare are determined by a points based system. The below graphic is a simplified version of the point criteria in Edogawa Ward, where both mother and father can earn up to 50 points each, as well as extra points for special circumstances. The point scale changes yearly and varies by municipality, so be sure to consult with your government officials.

*** Navigating the Japanese Hoikuen System ***



*** Navigating the Japanese Hoikuen System ***

Tips For Getting In 

Visit as many hoikuen as your schedule will allow, especially if you are an expecting mother. You’ll want to check for these points:  indoor and outdoor space, clean facilities, teacher/student ratio, park and outdoor time,

As ninka operate on a points system consider entering a mu ninka first. By having a child enrolled in a school, you’ve already established that you need daycare for your child in order to work, thus netting you extra points on your ninka application.

If your child is not able to attend your top choice, enroll at the daycare which is offered to you. Afterwards, quickly re-apply as a transfer to your top choice.

Another option is to apply for the 1st of the month at a school with an opening and then later submit an application to your desired ninka school.

Be persistent! Make frequent phone calls to your municipal office and desired day care to see if/when an opening will be available.

If getting back to work is a priority for you, consider moving to another ward or city with more spaces.  Openings at all ninka facilities are posted on a municipality’s official home page. Check out your desired ward and plan accordingly.

Lastly, do not underestimate the importance of mama tomo – The shorthand form of mama tomodachi,  mommy friends in your neighborhood can provide you with invaluable information on which hoikuen are best and which to avoid.

*** Navigating the Japanese Hoikuen System ***

Alternative Day Care Options in Japan

Temporary child care- called ichi ji hoiku (一時保育/いちじほいく) , this flexible option is available on an hourly or daily basis. Inquire directly at ninka, muninka, and ninshou facilities.

Private English daycare like Growing Trees, Kids Duo, Aloha Kids, Stars and Stripes, etc. are just a few of the many, many English schools available. You may also want to think about Japanese community center classes, too. Finally, check out our posts on Facebook Parenting groups and  helper/nanny services for additional options.


Navigating the Japanese Hoikuen System


P.S. Visit our Top Recommended Baby Posts

If you have a question please leave it in our comments section below.


Guide to Navigating the Japanese Hoikuen System


Written by: Teni Wada. American by birth, Japanese by choice, and traveler at heart. Tokyo-based content creator who enjoys browsing combini shelves for limited edition drinks and snacks. Discover her travel adventures and life as a first-time mom on her lifestyle blog and Instagram @wadateni.



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