I will restrain myself this year. I will only ask readers to look at the MHLW press release (Link - J) and note:
- The total number of children attending public day care in Japan increased by 42,779. To put that in perspective, that represents the equivalent opening of 850 new day care centers (the newest one in my neighbor accommodates 50 children) in a single calendar year. This was the largest year-on-year increase in children ever.The struggles of Yokohama and Suginami to keep ahead of increases in demand and the failure of the nationwide numbers to plummet, despite record levels of new children getting incepted into the system (an annual increase double the number on the waiting lists!) -- illustrate the difficulties of inherent in meeting the challenge of what reader JC calls the "out of the woodwork effect" -- where increases of the supply of a good increases the demand for that good, even with rising prices.
- The actual number of new day care center that opened -- 327 -- indicates that much of the record increase in children was handled by existing facilities with excess capacity
- Only two prefectures have chronic day care deficits as represented by waiting lists: Tokyo and Okinawa. All other prefectures are either at zero children on waiting lists or are on a course toward that goal.
- Yokohama, the municipality that gets all the attention from the press and the politicians for zeroing out its waiting lists (Link) was not even in the top five among cities cutting back on its lists last year. The best performer in raw numbers was Nagoya, which managed to reduce its waiting lists by 73% in a single year. There were 1032 children on waiting lists in Nagoya in April 2012 but only 280 children a year later.
- Maintaining a reputation of success is costly. Keeping the promise to have no children on waiting lists within three years meant the Yokohama city government had to find or build public daycare accommodations for 3,740 more children in the last fiscal year. The Tokyo ward of Suginami, which won national recognition for its zeroing out of its waiting lists a decade ago, is still recovering from the consequences of earning a reputation of being "working parent friendly" and thus an attractive destination for young parents or would be parents. Of all the nation's municipalities Suginami had the largest raw increase in children on waiting lists.
- Despite immense efforts of local authorities, the number of children on waiting lists nationwide remained stuck above 20,000 -- though there was improvement, with the totals falling from 24,825 to 22,741.
Considering that local authorities have little ability to raise funds for specific projects, that the total and relative numbers of small children are declining, that both the national and local budgets have to accommodate rapid increases in costs associated with the elderly (who vote) and all levels of government face severe fiscal crises, the effort being put into increasing access to public day care seems very respectable.
Not that you would ever hear about these successes from demagogues fishing for the votes of women (Link) or worse from men who wish to show their sensitivity. For the record, public day care is used by families -- sometimes single-parent, most times not -- not women. In these families the men are very often equal partners in child rearing and the household. Indeed, in terms of beneficial social transformation of individuals, day care centers probably rarely make better mothers -- but they seem to make better fathers.