Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s efforts to help women juggle work and family are hitting an obstacle: opposition to building new day care centers from residents who fear that the sound of children playing will spoil their quiet neighborhoods.
The number of Japanese children is falling due to the low birthrate, but many preschoolers are nonetheless on day care waiting lists because of the chronic shortage of facilities.
Abe has vowed to fix the problem as part of plans to get more women working to offset the shrinking, aging population and boost economic growth.
Doing so, however, may not be easy given that locals often greet plans for new day care centers with a NIMBY — or “not in my backyard” — reaction of the sort typically associated with proposals for facilities such as military bases or prisons.
Take Setagaya Ward, Tokyo, which has the longest day care waiting list in the nation, with more than 1,000 kids.
“We are trapped between parents who are crying out ‘we want day care centers built as soon as possible’ and those who say ‘we don’t need day care centers in our quiet neighborhoods,” Setagaya Ward Mayor Nobuto Hosaka in a recent blog entitled “Are Children’s Voices Noise, or the Sound of Hope?”
Setagaya Ward needs to build between 70 and 80 new centers over the next four years to accommodate an estimated 6,500 additional children who will need day care, according to Kota Tanaka, head of a 15-person team set up to speed up the process.
But complaints from noise-allergic residents are an obstacle. “They say children’s voices are too loud and are wrecking their quiet neighborhoods,” Tanaka told reporters.
Some residents elsewhere have filed suits seeking compensation for “noise pollution” from nearby day care centers, prompting Hosaka, a former Diet member, to suggest Japan learn from Germany and change laws to prevent such lawsuits.
“The number of children is declining so people think day care centers have nothing to do with them and see them as something that could cause unpleasantness in their lives,” Kansai University professor Fumiharu Yamagata told NHK.
The noisy children problem could, however, resolve itself if steps to boost the birthrate fail.
A government think tank has forecast that just 7 percent of the nation’s population will be under age 15 in 2060, in a worst-case scenario that sees the total population shrinking by more than a third to less than 80 million.