They turned instead to the government-subsidized child care centers, where their collective needs led to a nationwide waiting list that is now more than 25,000 places long. The government estimates the waiting lists for all types of day care would be tens of thousands of names longer, but that many families have given up.I do not know where Ms. Tabuchi is getting her numbers. It is clearly not from the authorities. Had she taken the time to look at the relevant government publication (Link - J) she would probably have noted somewhere that insufficient public daycare slots are a Tokyo Metropolitan District problem. Yes there are some 25,000 (maybe) children on waiting lists nationwide. About a third of that national number, however, will be on waiting lists inside the TMD.
Increasingly, families try private unsubsidized day care centers, which can be twice as expensive despite sometimes offering lower standards of care. But in Japan's cities, even private centers are hopelessly oversubscribed.
Some families are so anxious to get into public day care that they upend their lives, moving to districts known to have the shortest waiting lists.
Now that the lack of spots exists inside the TMD is relevant for managers of non-Japanese companies who intend to employ Japanese women, as most of these foreign representative offices and subsidiaries are located in Tokyo.
To talk about the TMD's problem as Japan's is a misrepresentation.
Second, Tabuchi fails to nail down the reason why competition for spaces in public daycare facilities has increased in Tokyo. Rather than rely on statistical evidence, she relies on the anecdotal evidence from one parent whom, when one reads the article, one realizes to be a bit...extreme in her attempt to secure a spot for her daughter -- and the testimony of advocacy groups, which, while better than nothing, still tend to be in support of particular narratives.
Birth statistics for the TMD seem to indicate, furthermore that the narrative of women being forced into the workforce by the decline in the economic security of their spouses and partners is probably a false one.
Here is the graph of births in the Tokyo Metropolitan District, by age cohort, from 1960 onward.
(Source -- click on the image to enlarge)
Look at the upward swoop in the births for women in the 20-24 and 25-29 cohorts until the mid-1960s (I have marked the two curves with a red circle and a green triangle, for clarity), and the incredible collapse of the numbers since the late 1960s.
By contrast, look at the number of children being born to women in between the ages of 30 and 34 (the dotted line): basically unchanged since 1980 (Showa 55).
Meanwhile the number of children born to women in the 35-39 cohort has risen rapidly, while at the bottom, the number of babies being born to women in the 40-44 years of age cohort now exceeds the number of babies being born to Tokyoites in the 20-24 cohort!
What is going on then? There is a decline in the number of women under 30 years of age, meaning there are fewer women in the youngest cohorts. However, the decline of the number of young women in Tokyo is in no way commensurate with the collapse in the number of births among Tokyoites under 30 years of age.
Most likely we are seeing a strong correlation of childbearing not with population, work or wealth but with marriage and fertility. The stigma against out-of-wedlock births and the crushing of potential earnings such births normally provoke are strong incentives toward delaying initial births until after marriage -- which for Tokyoites means sometime after one is 30 years of age.
What happens when women are in the work force for a decade before they have their first child? Those women will have careers -- which means that these women will be in jobs they want to keep. It also means women must squeeze a lifetime's worth of births into not just a shorter span of time, but a span of time when their fertility is falling.
So demand for daycare has risen rapidly, even as the total number of births have stayed steady and total number of births per woman have been declining.
Where Tabuchi's article really fails the reader is in giving a sense of how hard national and local governments have been working to expand public daycare over the last two decades. The buildout since the bottom in 2001 (Link-J) should be a source of national and local pride. That the number of centers, workers and spaces available has increased, shrinking the waiting lists even as the number of children seeking places increases 3% per year and the demands for services from senior citizens -- the folks who turn out at the voting places on election day -- are increasing even faster, is simply astonishing.
A crisis? A problem? Actually, daycare in Japan is an example of the system working, despite enormous odds.
Of course, a more accurate account would not fit into global master narratives of the sexism of Japanese institutions, Japan's inability to change, Japan's unresponsive and flailing government...