Japanese women have long struggled when it comes to choosing between working for a living or staying at home to take care of the children. With a lack of childcare facilities, many have opted for the latter.
Japan is considered one of the worst places for working women in the world, ranking 105th out of 136 countries in the World Economic Forum’s gender gap report in 2013.
Across the country, nearly 23,000 children are on waiting lists for enrollment at day care centers. But one city is going against the tide.
In Yokohama, the second largest city in Japan with a population of 3.7 million people, 160 new nursery schools have sprung up over the last four years.
The city reported that the number of people on their waiting list to enroll in nursery schools was down to zero in April of this year. This stands as a stark contrast from figures three years ago, when it was the worst city with the longest waiting list.
Nursery schools like Doronkokai, a popular day care center located at the top of a train station, makes it a lot easier for working mothers to drop off their children before heading to work and picking them up after.
The facility is practically at the heart of the local community.
“In this area, if you walk around you find that it’s filled with shopping arcades, so in the morning we spend time in nature, then in the afternoon spend time communicating with people and mingling with the local community, as in touring around the shopping arcade to see how the tofu workers, fish sellers work,” said Aika Yasunaga, president of Doronkkokai.
Yokohama has also introduced personalized enrollment services that significantly reduced its waiting lists.
“Before, the ward office sent a one-way notification stating the application (for a place in nursery school) has been received. We’ve decided to deal with each and every person. Over 4,000 people have received calls or have met our ‘nursery concierge’ and asked about their needs and recommended places.”
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has recently vowed to follow through on measures to create a suitable environment that would allow more women to rejoin the workforce, saying that women are the catalyst for the country’s economic growth.
By Maesie Bertumen
Image: pjan vandaele/Flickr