The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan

Advocacy | Viewpoints

November 2013
Expand Japan’s After-School Care (gakudo hoiku) System to Support Greater Workforce Participation by Women
Women in Business Committee


­The American Chamber of Commerce in Japan (ACCJ) applauds the stated policy objective of the Abe Administration of increasing the participation of women in the workplace. Both the aspirations of ensuring at least 30 percent of senior leadership positions in Japanese corporations are held by women and of improving preschool childcare facilities (hoiku-en) to enable parents of young children to remain in the workforce are important steps toward achieving this goal. However, the need for After-School Care continues once children enter the school system and is not currently being adequately met. To this end, the ACCJ recommends that the Government of Japan (GOJ):

  • Take additional steps to more rapidly expand coverage of public After-School Care (gakudo hoiku) from the current years 1–3 to include years 4–6 thereby enabling working mothers to accept management positions that they may otherwise have to turn down due to family considerations.
  • Expand the operating hours of After-School Care until at least 8:00 p.m. to provide parents with middle and senior management responsibilities the flexibility needed to pick up their children after they are able to leave the office.
  • Increase the number of publicly sponsored After-School Care providers (e.g. double by 2016; triple by 2020) possibly by involving individuals over the age of 60 who may not otherwise be employed but who are interested in part-time employment.
  • Offer a free-of-charge training course covering the information required to qualify individuals to provide After-School Care.
  • Provide subsidies for private organizations that promote or provide After-School Care and/or personal tax incentives for parents who use private After-School Care and After-School Care providers.

In order for women to progress in their careers as their families grow, care for elementary school-age children is as important as pre-school care. Although the Child Welfare Act Amendment of August 2012 has expanded the age of children eligible for public After-School Care (gakudo hoiku) up to year 6 (age 12) from April 2015, we encourage the GOJ to take additional steps to effect a more rapid and comprehensive increase in capacity.
There is no question that the capacity and scope of current public After-School Care is insufficient. There were 20,846 After-School Care facilities and 846,967 children who were attending these facilities as of May 2012. In the past 14 years, the number of After-School Care facilities has increased 210 percent, whereas the number of children attending these facilities has risen 250 percent. The current government-subsidized After-School Care is predominantly available to children from year 1 to year 3, with 50 percent of facilities not accepting children in year 4 and above. According to statistics from the National Gakudohoiku Association (Zenkoku Gakudohoiku Renraku Kyougikai), the number of children attending After-School Care drops off significantly between year 3 and year 4  and an estimated 500,000 children are currently on the waiting list for After-School Care.
There is little or no publicly sponsored support available for parents of children in year 4 to year 6, even though various experts, including the National Gakudohoiku Association and Professor Kazuo Yamaguchi of the University of Chicago, have noted that these children also require care and supervision after school. While private After-School Care programs are currently available, many covering both year 1 to year 3, as well as year 4 to year 6, most are too expensive for middle-income families.
In addition, the hours that After-School Care is available are very restricted. The limited hours of the current system inhibit the ability of caregiving parents, most often the mother, to hold a job with any middle or senior management responsibility because of the necessity to leave work early to retrieve children from After-School Care.
These shortcomings of After-School Care availability directly impact the ability of women to remain in the Japanese workforce and to rise to more senior positions, as many working parents of elementary school-age children, particularly mothers, are forced to make difficult choices or sometimes decline additional work responsibilities because they need to be available to care for their children. Thus, if the GOJ is serious about increasing the participation of women in the workforce and in middle and senior management positions, these issues must be addressed urgently.
Childcare in Sweden offers a successful example that Japan would do well to emulate. In Sweden, daycare is provided to all 6 to 12 year-olds. Daycare is guaranteed and government subsidized, and offered both before and after school. Sweden’s leisure-time centers, family daycare homes, and open leisure-time activities give parents the support and the flexibility to continue their work when school is not in session, whether in the morning, late afternoon or during school holidays.
Japan’s growing number of retirees may be of assistance in solving the After-School Care shortage. The aging population and the retirement regulations of many employers mean that there are a number of capable individuals over the age of 60 who are currently unemployed or underemployed. These individuals, who still wish to work and make a contribution to society, are an excellent resource to fill the need for increased after-school childcare at either public sector or private-sector After-School Care facilities. In addition to having a desire to work on a part-time basis, such individuals can share a wealth of knowledge and experience with the next generation. Because this work would be new and different for them, however, many would need training and possibly tax or other financial incentives.
One final way to increase the facilities for needed After-School Care and to make that care more broadly accessible would be to implement subsidies or tax incentives for private organizations that promote or provide that care. This could include offering subsidies or tax deductions to companies that pay the cost of private After-School Care on behalf of their employees and/or establishing personal tax incentives, such as a tax rebates or tax deductions for parents using private After-School Care or allowing After-School Care providers over the age of 60 to earn a specified amount of income tax-free or without impacting the national pension such individuals are eligible to receive.

It is important to consider the widest possible range of measures calculated to increase the capacity and usability of the current public and private After-School Care system, to offer working parents flexibility in choosing how to balance work and family considerations. It is worth noting that many women who are well qualified for middle and senior management positions are likely to have elementary school-age children and, if they cannot find suitable After-School Care for their children, they are less likely to be positioned to be selected for, and willing to accept, the senior management positions the GOJ aspires to see them occupy, or positions which will make them eligible to be selected for senior management positions in the future. For these reasons, the ACCJ respectfully urges the GOJ to take steps such as those recommended in this viewpoint.