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Friday, Oct. 11, 2002


What's a working mom to do with her kids in Tokyo?


An entrepreneur in central Tokyo, is up in arms. One of her Japanese assistants is about to have a baby and wants to continue working afterwards. But so far her assistant has been unable to find public child-care facilities for children under the age of 2.

She has been to the Shibuya Ward office, also the office in Ikebukuro where she lives. Neither can help. "It means women are forced to sever their careers," Meriel fumes. "How many companies are willing or able to re-hire a female employee -- any employee for that matter -- after a two-year gap? Why are there no government subsidized nurseries?"

Well, there are. But you have to put your name down in December for the following April (the beginning of the new fiscal year), and even then there is no surety of getting a place.

A representative of Tokyo Metropolitan Government -- a very helpful woman in the Foreign Residents Advisory Center (03-5320-7744) called TMG's Child Welfare Services Promotion Center, which suggested the mother-to-be checks out the wards adjoining those where she works and lives, being eligible for their assistance.

There are apparently several kinds of facilities in the city's 23 wards, including subsidized public nurseries (ninka hoikusho), some of which accept newborns. Applicants are means tested: someone on welfare will pay nothing, those in full-time employment may have to cough up the maximum charge of 57,500 yen a month. Nincho hoikusho are private nurseries, with a ceiling of 80,000 yen a month.

Muinka are unapproved nurseries. There is also a system by which applicants can wait for a place in an approved nursery and keep on working in the meantime. A hoiku mama is a motherly type, taking two or three children into her home; hoiku shitsu mind up to 30 babies and toddlers.

Long waiting lists more than suggests there is a desperate need. The truth is that decisions to build more facilities and provide more places are made mostly by men, who feel a woman's place is in the home, with her child.

The only other suggestion I can come up with is age-old: take advantage of parents or in-laws and ask them to help.

Joining a club

Newly arrived Swiss banker Alexander wants to join a club. "But so many are exclusive. I'd like to find a centrally located all-comers-welcome club for business lunches and meetings, preferably with a good resource center."

I suggest he takes a look around the Foreign Correspondent's Club of Japan, situated on the 20th floor of Yurakucho Denki Building (North Wing), at 1-7-1 Yurakucho, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo 100-0006 (03-3211 3161, fax 03-3284-1688. Web site: (www.fccj.or.jp)

The great thing is you don't have to be a journalist, or any other kind of media person for that matter. There is a initiation membership fee plus a refundable deposit (much more affordable than in the past), then monthly dues, and you buy books of chits at the front desk for paying bills. No money actually passes hands inside the club. Get in touch with the club or check out their Web site for details.

FCCJ originally opened its doors in 1945, as a base for the 170 journalists who followed Gen. Mac Arthur to Japan in the postwar occupation.

Today it offers a broad range of professional and social facilities to 400 international journalists and 1600 associate members, many of whom are Japanese.

You can attend headline-grabbing events (bumping into leading politicians, business leaders and media personalities in the restrooms), receive and leave messages, make use of the library on the 19th floor, organize seminars, hang out in the bar, eat sushi or take advantage of the main dining room.

I suggest Alan E-mails (info@fccj.or.jp) for more details, and takes out a one-month guest membership to get a feel of the place and start networking.

After that there will be no turning back.

Weather wear

Can you believe it? Here we are sweltering as cherry trees give up their final leaves to autumn. Japan used to be so predictable, weatherwise, but not these days.

I say this because an Online reader in Vancouver is wondering what the weather will be like later this month.

Generally speaking, October is still subject to the occasional typhoon swinging up from the south, but in the main comfortably cool and dry -- such a relief after the fearsome heat and humidity of high summer. Best to pack a light jacket for evenings and cooler days.

Honest grub

Finally an English resident, in Akiya, Kanagawa Prefecture, teaching what he calls "traditional English cooking," is looking for an industrial food processor, "strong enough to take a battering and large enough to feed an army." I'm on the case.

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