What started out as a mother’s online rant about Japan’s notorious day care center shortage has evolved into a national movement, galvanizing angry mothers into staging a demonstration and online campaign blasting the government.
Titled “Hoikuen Ochita. Nihon Shine!!! (Didn’t Get a Slot in Day Care. Drop Dead, Japan!!!),” the blog post penned by an anonymous mother shed light on the continuing struggle with the day care shortage that has served as a disincentive for mothers to return to work.
The blogger asserted that the failure to address the problem belies Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s vow to “promote dynamic engagement of all citizens,” including women.
The Feb. 15 entry has since proved so popular that it has even made its way into Diet debates, with Abe forced to respond to the groundswell of public outrage.
Several dozen people inspired by the blog — mostly women — held a rally in front of the Diet on Saturday to call for an increase in the number of day care centers, media reports said.
Others who had noted the blog began an online campaign on the petition site Change.org demanding a systemic overhaul. They said Japan will “die” without improvements to child-rearing assistance.
Change.org announced that campaigners would submit the signatures — which topped 25,000 as of Monday evening — to Democratic Party of Japan lawmaker Shiori Yamao on Wednesday.
The vociferous reactions were a “total surprise,” the blogger told The Japan Times via email Monday.
“But the way things turned out also confirmed my views that not being able to enter day care is a huge problem for many child-rearing households,” said the blogger, who claims to be a Tokyo mother in her 30s.
“I guess lots of people are frustrated with the status quo despite (Abe’s) slogan to create a society where all 100 million people can play an active role.”
Abe has brushed off the blog’s criticisms, calling it apocryphal and citing its anonymous nature during a Lower House Budget Committee meeting on Feb. 29.
Abe instead stressed that the government has already set in place a batch of policies intended to boost capacity in day care centers and draw more nursery workers into the perennially short-staffed industry.
Indeed, welfare ministry statistics point to a steep rise in the annual number of newly established slots at day care centers over the past few years — 72,430 in fiscal 2013 and 146,257 in fiscal 2014 — in a result that surpassed even the Abe government’s initial goal to accommodate an additional 200,000 children in two years.
The fiscal 2016 budget draft, which passed the Lower House last week, also highlighted the government’s moves to address the situation. The draft proposes an investment of a combined ¥119.1 billion in, among other things, efforts to open another 200,000 slots over two years.
Despite these improved efforts, the number of children on waiting lists shows no signs of thinning.
Those figures remain flat over the past five years, totaling 23,167 nationwide as of April 2015, up 1,796 from the previous year — meaning applications are outpacing the number of slots.
Behind this is the fact that, despite the spike in slots made available, many day care centers have not been able to accept as many children as they have room for due to the staff shortage, said Hideki Sato, vice chairman of Zenkoku Hoiku Kyogikai (National Child-Rearing Association).
According to Sato, a “negative” image has long dogged the profession, with many nursery workers facing unstable forms of employment — including part- and fixed-time positions — as well as low wages that are hardly on par with the physically and mentally taxing responsibilities of the job.
As a result, many qualified teachers opt not to work in the sector from the beginning, he said.
“It is imperative their treatment and working style be improved,” Sato said.