That time we got into nursery school in Tokyo

Stella Interivew
Nursery school interview outfit. Yeah, you need that.

Anyone familiar with the situation of nursery schools in Tokyo will understand how triumphant it felt to get accepted. For those who are unfamiliar with it, simply put there are not enough daycare centers to meet the demand, with over 47,000 children being waitlisted just this year.

Our story begins at the local ward office. I approached them months in advance about the bureaucratic red tape, okay procedures, necessary to apply for ninka houikuen (literally authorized nursery school, somewhat like a public nursery school), which is what the above news story also refers to. I was told not to even bother as I only work part-time doing freelance translation and writing, and that only families with both parents working full time, or single parents, could really even stand a chance. So, what I am left to conclude is that the 47,000 waitlisted children are from families with both parents working full time, and that the number would be significantly higher if it included every family, even us lowly part-timers, who would seek a spot had they not been discouraged from trying at the very beginning stages. (By the way, I’d love to go full-time…if I had childcare. How Catch-22.)

They did refer me to a list of ninsho hoikusho (certified private nursery schools), with a kind of good luck and good riddance attitude. I called every nursery school within a 30 minute commute of my house, 10 in all, to get my name on a list for kengaku, or school explanation sessions. 1 had already accepted all the applications it would take for the year. Another did not do open school sessions, but informed me that in late December (I called in June) the information regarding how to apply for the school would be uploaded online so check there. And I successfully signed up for 8 sessions spread across the next 6 months.

The quality of the schools overall was fabulous. Pricewise they were all between 50,000 yen-70,000 yen (about $500-$700 US) per month, much cheaper than in the US, but a lot more expensive than those damn public schools. But I kept running into the same problem–“Oh, you’re child is almost 2? We only accept maybe 1-2 kids in that class a year, and there are already over 100(!!!!) children on the waiting list…but, please do apply and if anything comes up we’ll let you know.” The last few schools I visited were really just for show, so I could tell my hubs and his family that I was doing everything I could, even though I really felt it was wasted energy.

In a last ditch effort, I checked the website of the school that uploaded their details in December. It said beginning the following week they would accept phone calls for interview sign-ups. You better believe, first day the phone lines opened I started calling 5 minutes before opening, and every few minutes for 3 hours. I was lucky. I got through and secured an interview. 2 hours later a message was posted on the school’s site saying that, unfortunately, all interview slots had been filled….in five hours. Yikes, Tokyo. Interview day went well. I liked the school and the head teacher. She even mentioned she remembered how polite I was back in June when I made that first phone call. Score one for humility! She too remarked that they rarely accept 2 year olds, but if anything could be done she’d call.

Fast forward a few weeks and we get the official notice we’re moving to India. “No more stressing about nursery school,” was one of my first thoughts. The next day, in a strange twist of fate, we found out we were accepted into that last nursery school. Huzzah! Banzai! “Thank you so very much, we truly appreciate your kindness, but we’ve just found out we’re actually moving to India!”

Now, the saga continues, as I begin the search for schooling in Mumbai.


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