Japan City of Akashi Inspires With ‘5 Free Programs’ for Kids

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Mothers and their children play at a facility in Akashi, Hyogo Prefecture, on March 6.

The city of Akashi, Hyogo Prefecture, is an inspiration to other local governments in Japan as they look to boost childcare support and increase their populations.

A recent survey conducted by The Yomiuri Shimbun asked prefectural and municipal leaders nationwide if there is a local government they look to as a reference when considering community development. Among the leaders of 47 prefectures and 1,741 municipalities, a total of 49 cited Akashi, Hyogo Prefecture. This city has strengthened child-rearing support with a focus on “five free programs,” providing free medical services for children and free nursery school for second and subsequent children.

Municipal officials pay monthly visits to families with children aged from 3 months to 1 year, to give them childcare-related items and offer counseling.

School lunches are free at junior high schools, as is admission to public facilities.

Akashi has experienced a net population influx since 2013, with the number of residents growing from about 290,000 in 2013 to about 300,000 last year. The inflow was particularly notable among people in the 25-39 age bracket, with many coming from neighboring Kobe and Osaka Prefecture.

The indoor playground Hare Hare, set up by the city in front of JR Akashi Station, is free for city residents, compared to ¥300 for non-residents.

“I’m grateful that the city provides a free place where children can play all-out,” said a 35-year-old housewife visiting the playground with her 5-year old daughter on March 6.

The birth of her daughter prompted her family to move to Akashi from Osaka Prefecture. “The fact that the city provides free medical services for children was attractive,” the woman said.

The second most popular choice in the survey was Higashikawa, Hokkaido, cited by 26 local leaders. The population of the town fell below 7,000 in fiscal 1993, but then began to increase. As of February, 8,589 people lived there.

Located at the foot of the Daisetsuzan mountain range, Higashikawa goal is to create a “sparsely populated” town with a moderate level of comfort in people’s lives. Higashikawa also promotes itself as a town rich in nature, “without the three networks” of a railway, national highway or waterworks.