In a spacious sunlit room, an infant is dawdled by his smiling nurse. Two toddlers fidgeting quietly in their sleep are patted by their doting teacher. Shelves are lined with infant formula, puzzles and a picture library that includes “The Hungry Caterpillar.”

These are not the typical scenes at the headquarters of one of the world’s largest banks. But for the tots at Citi Kids Garden, which opened in early January and is located on the first floor of Citi Japan’s headquarters in Tokyo’s Shinagawa Ward, playing while mom or dad are at work is becoming business as usual.

Though there are now more than than 3,000 corporate day-care centers in Japan, more than 60 percent of them cater to medical professionals and are housed in hospitals and other medical institutions.

As recently as five years ago, corporate day care in Japan was the realm of a very few enlightened corporations. Most, such as cosmetics company Shiseido, had a predominantly female staff. In 2003, however, concerns about the declining birthrate led to the passage of the Act to Promote Support for the Fostering of the Next Generation, a law that required all companies with more than 300 employees (including temporary and contract employees) to come up with child-care action plans, including on-site day care.

Citi Kids is the second of a series of public/private ventures underwritten by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government to encourage corporations to provide in-house care for their employees. (A day-care center for bag-maker Samantha Thavasa is the first). Under the program, building costs and operating expenses for the first three years of operation are underwritten by the Tokyo government. Osaka also has a similar program.

Given the problems with waiting lists for public and private licensed day care, corporate day care is a popular concept. A 2005 survey of company employees of corporations housed in Yokohama’s Landmark Tower found that one-third wanted their companies to provide day-care services.

According to Fumihiko Miyahara, vice president for human resources at Citi, the day care was also a result of a clear demand from Citi employees. “Some female employees have said it would make it easier to return to work (after childbirth),” he says.

The center, managed by Poppins Corporation, one of the first for-profit child-care companies in Japan, currently looks after 14 children from five different countries (including Japan), reflecting Citi’s global workforce. Many of the teachers speak English. Meals, including lunch, dinner and snacks, are prepared on site and mom and dad are welcome for an impromptu lunch date.

The center also offers flexible hours reflecting the reality of overtime and is open until 10 p.m. Because of the center’s combination of flexibility and convenience, Miyahara expects that applications will soon exceed the centers’ capacity of 20 children.

But opening the day-care center is not an end unto itself, says Miyahara. Supervisors have been encouraged to adjust shift times for parents using the day care to avoid taking children on crowded rush-hour trains. Citi also offers subsidized baby-sitting services through Poppins.

“The day-care center can’t solve all of our employees’ work-life balance issues,” says Miyahara, “but it is part of the total solution.”

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.