• Kyodo

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Located near a train station, Sotetsu Genkids typifies the type of day-care center that working Japanese mothers favor to provide care for their children on weekdays and Saturdays.

While Japan is witnessing a fall in its birthrate, there are still too few officially recognized day-care centers entitled to state subsidies.

They numbered 22,200 as of April 2000, according to figures from the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, while there were 8,856 centers that had not received state approval as of April 1999.

Within a two-minute walk of Ryokuentoshi Station in Yokohama’s Izumi Ward, Genkids is one such facility not recognized by the state.

Its name is a coined term referring to healthy young children.

A wholly owned subsidiary of Sagami Railway Co. inaugurated the facility on April 2 to care for 39 infants. Takako Hasegawa, 30, is one of the facility’s clients. She sends her 1-year-old son, Kaito, there while she helps her parents run their family business.

She said she decided upon Genkids because its monthly fee, ranging from 50,000 yen to 57,500 yen, is “no different than that of an officially recognized care center.”

Hasegawa said that backing by a major railway puts her at ease.

And she may be fortunate to have a place to leave her son, as a considerable number of women are unable to send their kids to day-care centers due to the nationwide lack of such facilities.

The government has been trying to resolve this shortage, which has been attributed to the growing number of women who want to continue working after childbirth.

The Health Ministry’s five-year “Angel Plan” calls for an extra 100,000 day-care positions for children aged up to 2 to 680,000 by the end of the 2005 business year.

Under the plan, day-care centers get subsidies of around 90 percent from the state. Besides addressing the shortage of centers, the step was also designed to cope with the declining number of children.

The National Institute of Population and Social Security Research said children under 15 accounted for 14.4 percent of Japan’s total population as of April 1, the lowest level in the world, followed by Italy with 14.5 percent and Germany at 15.8 percent.

Moves are gradually afoot to open day-care centers at train stations or close to them in big cities.

In fiscal 1997, Yokohama began extending subsidies to nursery facilities not recognized by the central government after they met certain requirements.

The subsidy amounts to about 80,000 yen per month for each child aged 1 year or older, but is about 110,000 yen for those under 12 months old. Genkids is one of those facilities that receive this subsidy.

One Genkids staffer said: “We have already received applications from three people for next year. We would like to open similar facilities if there is any suitable place.”

There are 38 day-care centers similar to Genkids in the country, operating on railway property or near stations.

But the operator of such a facility in Hyogo Prefecture said he does not intend to apply for state-approved status, “because once you get the recognition, you are under many regulations. Also, because of the birthrate decline, we don’t know how many children there will be in the future.”

Deregulation of the establishment and operation of day-care centers paved the way for private corporations to join the care service beginning in April 2000. But the biggest bottleneck is the high rents near train stations.

A day-care center official said the government “should remove the framework of state-approved or unapproved day-care centers and extend subsidies to facilities where parents send their children for care.”

A Health Ministry official said, “the state’s position is that day-care centers recognized by the state be utilized to resolve the matter of children on waiting lists.”

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