2012 Volume 84 Issue 2 Pages 60-70
The goal of this study is to examine the background and characteristics of the childcare culture in Okinawa, Japan. Particular attention is focused on the implementation of policy changes by the Japanese central government in reaction to Japan's Child Welfare Act. Specifically, we clarify the historical background of the childcare culture in Okinawa, as well as discuss the conflict posed by the aforementioned policy changes. Okinawa's childcare culture came about as the result of international and national influences. In the international context, with the American occupation of Okinawa after the Second World War, American-style educational policies, such as the preschool kindergarten system, became a priority for the Okinawa government. In the national context, the application of the Child Welfare Act by Japan's central government, as well as a shortage of authorized nursery centers, was instrumental in formulating Okinawa's childcare culture. As a result, the majority of Okinawa's five-year-old children now attend kindergarten, making it possible for them to make friends and prepare for their future elementary-school education. Children in dual-income families, however, have faced difficulty in receiving after-school care, since many public kindergartens closed earlier than nursery centers did. Traditionally, dual-income families have received after-school care services after kindergartens closed; however, after 1997, institutionalization of after-school care programs by the central government led to a new problem. For full-time working mothers attempting to balance their respective job and family responsibilities, local-government-organized public kindergartens' extended services were found to be inconvenient. As a result, a conflict occurred in Okinawa between the local childcare culture and the central government policy.