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Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2011

Insurer offers vacant venues for day care

Staff writer

Dai-ichi Life Insurance Co., one of Japan's leading life insurers, plans to lease its vacant buildings for use as government-approved day care centers, aiming to accommodate some 2,500 children over the next several years, the company said Monday.

The first two day care centers, for children up to age 5, will open in Shinagawa and Suginami wards in Tokyo in April. The facilities will be run by two major day care businesses — Poppins Corp. and JP Holdings — the company said.

Although Dai-ichi has not yet arranged to lease any other buildings to the outfits, convenient sites in large cities such as Yokohama and Nagoya are under consideration, spokesman Yasufumi Maruyama said.

"We have some 60 facilities that are located in convenient places, such as within walking distance of train stations . . . so as soon as those places became vacant, (we) will release them first to day care center outfits," Maruyama said.

The Insurance Business Act bans insurers from doing business in other fields, so Dai-ichi can only lease its buildings to day care centers, Maruyama explained.

Noting that demand for day care facilities is rising with the increase in dual-income households, the life insurer wanted to use its properties to benefit society, Maruyama said.

According to the labor ministry, there were 25,556 children on waiting lists for day care centers as of April 1, up 6,006 from April 2008. Waiting lists are especially long in large cities like Nagoya and Yokohoma, where 1,275 and 971 children, respectively, are waiting for openings.

Although the number of government-approved day care facilities rose from 22,909 in 2008 to 23,385 in 2011, it was not enough to keep pace with demand.

Poppins Corp., one of the first for-profit child care companies in Japan, with more than 100 day care centers nationwide, said the difficulty in satisfying all the criteria set by the central and local governments for state approval, such as sufficient floor space, lavatories and qualified staff, is behind the sluggish growth of new facilities.

A day care facility that meets all the criteria can get subsidies from the central government and municipalities.

"It's difficult to secure enough qualified staff . . . and also the criteria for receiving subsidies are complicated and it's not easy to meet all the requirements," a Poppins representative said.

Although the government relaxed regulations in 2000 to allow stock companies to set up state-approved nurseries, as of April only about 1 percent of nurseries were run by such companies.

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The Japan Times

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