40% of Japan Nursery Schools Fall Short of Capacity

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
A teacher, center, speaks with a parent and child at a nursery school in Ota Ward, Tokyo, in October.

At least 40% of nursery schools in urban areas failed to meet their April 2023 enrollment quota, due partly to a shrinking demand for childcare as a result of the declining birthrate, according to a Yomiuri Shimbun survey.

The survey was conducted in February and March on a total of 109 prefectural capitals, government ordinance-designated cities, Tokyo’s 23 wards and heartland cities. There were 103 valid responses.

The 40% figure relates to the first round of admission screenings for April. In addition to the falling birthrate, the shortfall is believed to be linked to such factors as a dearth of childcare workers and parents’ preferences for certain facilities.

Of the roughly 18,000 nursery schools overseen by 103 local governments, about 6,800 failed to meet their intake quotas in the first round of screenings.

The number of applicants fell 2.3% from last year to a total of 286,400. Some 71 municipalities logged a decrease, with 57 citing a “declining preschool population” in response to a multiple-responses-allowed question.

When asked what the challenges were regarding capacity issues, again, with multiple responses allowed, 43 municipalities said some nurseries were unable to fulfil their capacity due to a lack of childcare workers.

The non-selection figure — calculated by subtracting the number of acceptances in the first round of offers from the total number of applicants — was around 59,600, a 2% year-on-year increase.

Fifty-seven local governments registered an increase in the number of unsuccessful applicants, while 45 saw a decrease.

This was likely because applicants tend to plump for certain facilities that are easier for their children to attend.

One of the government’s goals is to eliminate waiting lists by the end of fiscal 2024, and about 80% of the local governments stated that the issue was “already solved” or “expected to be solved” by the end of fiscal 2023.

As part of its “unprecedented measures to deal with the declining birth rate” announced at the end of March, the government proposed the creation of a system that would allow all preschool-age children to attend nursery schools, regardless of whether their parents work.

The government is looking at using vacant capacity in existing facilities but resolving the shortage in childcare workers is likely to prove a related challenge.