Just before the recent Lower House election in October, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pledged to make public day care services and kindergartens free for children between the ages of 3 and 5 and free for children below the age of 3 if they were from lower income households.

It was an obvious ploy to win votes, and Abe offered few details as to how the government would pay for such a policy. All he said was that a good portion of the projected consumption tax hike would be diverted into social services, one of which would be free preschool care.

Whether the gambit was instrumental in securing victory for the ruling party is hard to tell, but in any case after the election was over the chickens came home to roost. The most persistent problem with regards to day care in Japan is not the cost but rather the availability. Many children living in cities are on waiting lists, and as a result some go to unauthorized day care centers. Such centers are private facilities that have not been certified by the proper authorities and thus can't be considered "public day care," which requires things like minimum interior floor area and employees with credentials.