The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan

Kobe has a vision. A vision in which young talent gathers to create a place where everybody can perform at their peak. On August 20, a number of American Chamber of Commerce in Japan (ACCJ) member company employees with children aged five and younger sat down with officials from Kobe’s Child Rearing Support Department to discuss this vision and exchange views on the services offered by the city.

For officials, the goal was to share the intent and background of the measures taken by the city, understand unmet needs, and identify quick fixes. Employees came to better understand what’s available, to share what they really want, and to help the city identify where it can help. Employees representing working parents at Eli Lilly Japan K.K., Nestlé Japan Ltd., and Procter & Gamble Japan K.K. participated in the event, and employees from MetLife Insurance K.K. joined as observers.

The meeting was well received by city officials, who said it helped them gain different perspectives and agreed to consider some key ideas.

Both sides agreed that IT tools can help the city provide information to parents.

Currently, when women report their pregnancy, the city provides most materials related to services in hard copy, because this is the only touchpoint between them and parents. But, since all informa­tion is deliv­ered at once and on paper, the timing is not right and parents end up not knowing what is available when they need it.

The city is working hard to provide infor­ma­tion in a user-friendly manner and has developed a website and app. Many parents, however, are not aware of these, and some valuable information is not available through these sources.

Employees from multinational com­panies proposed the creation of an opt-in solution that parents can sign up for to receive information from the city when they really need it. This is simi­lar to how some educational companies conduct their marketing activities.

Despite city efforts to improve childcare options, more employees of ACCJ member companies are facing difficulty finding a nursery that works for them.

In Japan, the care of children and family is part of the social security system. Because of this, all initiatives are designed to provide essential support and the scope is then ex­panded based on the available budget. This means that the interests and needs of those with relatively high income (i.e., employees working for multinationals) are usually not taken into consideration.

One idea to come out of the meeting is the creation of a public daycare center targeting households with an annual income of more than ¥8 million. The local government would not fund such a facility—thus fees would be higher—but would assure the quality of service. While it may not be an idea that can fly immediately, city officers from childcare and business develop­ment both find it interesting.

This was the first attempt at this type of dia­logue, but it appears to be a good mechanism for addressing the needs of working parents. The challenge of advocating for childcare is that parents’ needs change as their children grow up. But, by leveraging groups formed in companies to help their employees, it may be possible to maintain momentum as the composition of such groups will always remain fresh. As the children of some parents grow up, new parents will enter.

The goal is not only to keep this dia­logue going but to start similar ones with different scopes to effectively advo­cate for better services and options on a wide range of needs facing our members.

Makoto (Mark) D. Kawai is government affairs director, Japan, for Zimmer Biomet and a member of the ACCJ–Kansai External Affairs Committee.
Kobe has a vision. A vision in which young talent gathers in the city to create a place where everybody can perform at their peak.