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Cash for kids in Japan

A new government addresses a low birth rate problem with cold, hard cash.

Last October, more than 40,000 Japanese children were unable to register with government-approved day care centers, which are larger than their private counterparts and have better resources, such as playgrounds.

The DPJ proposed the allowance “as a bargaining chip to get elected,” Tokai said. “The government needs to overhaul the fundamental things. Finding child care is very, very difficult.”

Tell that to Mayumi Yamamoto and her American husband, Brad Horton, college professors who are raising a 6-year-old daughter in one of Tokyo’s most child-rich wards.

It took Yamamoto, 49, and Horton, 42, more than two years to find a spot for Shiori because their neighborhood center concluded that the couple was working only part-time at their universities and rated them as lower priorities than families with two working parents.

The ordeal was so difficult and protracted that the couple decided not to have a second child, Horton said. “That’s one less child living in Japan,” he added ruefully.

For working women who succeed in finding care for their children, the costs add up. Eiko Tanaka, who works in the Tokyo branch of a Danish pharmaceutical company, pays about $478 per month to send her daughter to day care each day from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tanaka recently returned to work after taking a year off to care for her second daughter, who recently entered a nursery.

Still, Tanaka said she and her husband can afford the costs, adding that the child allowance, which will be paid to all families regardless of income, should be limited to poorer families. “I don’t like that they are giving it to everybody,” Tanaka said. But Naoko Kaihata, 36, a senior consultant at the Tokyo office of CB Richard Ellis real estate firm, said she and her husband, who works as a research analyst at the Bank of Yokohama, welcome the stipend to help raise their 4-year-old daughter, whose day care costs more than $500 per month.

“It is not so much that we think we will spend more on our daughter’s stuff or family expenses, but this does help us feel more secure for our future,” Kaihata said.

She paused, then added that the government also must spur economic growth by creating incentives for businesses.

“If I can’t get a job in the future, a child stipend is not enough,” Kaihata said. “I will feel insecure and I will start to think I do not want any more kids.”