Nursery waiting lists fall below 3,000 children

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
Children eat a meal at a nursery school.

TOKYO (Jiji Press) — A survey by Japan’s welfare ministry showed Tuesday that the number of children on nursery waiting lists in the country as of April 1 plunged 52.3% from a year earlier to 2,944, standing below 3,000 for the first time since the survey started in 1994.

The figure was only 11.3% of the record high of 26,081, set in 2017, and marked a record low for the fourth consecutive year.

The drastic decrease reflected a larger-than-expected drop in the number of preschool children amid the country’s low birth rate, as well as the government’s efforts to expand daycare options. The spread of the novel coronavirus also discouraged the use of nurseries.

The number of children enrolled at nurseries or other daycare facilities fell for the first time, the survey also showed. In line with a decline in the number of births, the number of nursery applicants also dropped.

Still, given the rising employment rate among women ages 25-44, demand for daycare facilities could increase in the near future, observers said.

In order to bring the number of children on nursery waiting lists to zero across the country as soon as possible, the ministry is pushing to develop nursery facilities for an additional 140,000 children over the four years from fiscal 2021.

The country’s total nursery capacity as of April this year rose by around 32,000 from a year earlier to around 3,227,000.

On the other hand, the number of nursery applicants stood at around 2,813,000, with nurseries in many areas seeing applicants fall below their capacities.

In response to the situation, the government is planning to make nurseries have multiple functions, such as temporarily accepting preschoolers who are not enrolled at nurseries.

According to the survey, about 60% of the children on nursery waiting lists were in densely populated urban areas, while 1,489, or 85.5%, of Japan’s 1,741 municipalities had no children on such lists.

Among all municipalities, the number of children on nursery waiting lists came to 100 or more in only three — Kagoshima, with 136, Yachiyo, Chiba Prefecture, with 119, and Akashi, Hyogo Prefecture, with 100.