Academic journal article Childhood Education

Hoikuen or Yochien: Past/present/ and Future of Japanese Early Childhood Education

Academic journal article Childhood Education

Hoikuen or Yochien: Past/present/ and Future of Japanese Early Childhood Education

Article excerpt


For more than a century, Japanese early childhood education programs have been divided into two main institutions: hoikuen (child care) and yochien (kindergarten). Hoikuen is operated under the auspices of the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, whereas yochien falls under the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology. Infants as young as a few months old are eligible for hoikuen, while no children younger than 3 are accepted for yochien. While kindergarten education is not compulsory in Japan, a majority of children--over 95% of children between the ages of 3 and 6--attend some type of early childhood programs (WebCrews, Inc., 2009).

Recently, another type of early childhood program was developed with the main goal of offering a more comprehensive service to children and their families in an attempt to meet each family's unique needs (Rengo, n.d.). Clearly, an effort has been made to provide better services for young children, given the increase of working mothers. Still, Japanese early childhood education professionals continue to face a serious challenge in defining the best practices for young children and their families.

When defining best practices, it is important to understand the evolution of Japanese early childhood programs and re-examine the true purpose of Japanese early childhood education. Such information also would benefit early childhood educators in other parts of the world as they consider ways to improve their own practices.

Thus, this article aims to delineate major historical transitions in Japanese early childhood programs, describe current trends and challenges, and provide implications for future directions.



The first form of hoikuen was launched in 1890, not long after the first yochien was established in 1876. In the early 1900s, many child care facilities were built for children whose fathers were at war and mothers at work. The years after World War I saw an increased need to provide services for working mothers and their infants. In response, a hoikuen for newborns and infants opened. In 1919, the first public hoikuen opened. Two years later, the city of Tokyo established a child care ordinance; children attending hoikuen were to be cared for and educated according to the yochien's (kindergarten's) standards. As a result of a major earthquake in 1923 that severely affected the Kanto region (which includes Tokyo), many new child care facilities were built in order to assist children who lost their families.

Most child care facilities had temporarily closed by the end of World War II, due to damage from air assaults. In 1947, two years after the end of the war, the "Child Welfare Law" was established. As a result, hoikuen was recognized as one of the welfare facilities for children ("History," n.d.).

As the Japanese economy improved during the 1950s, more women became recruited into the workforce, leading to increased demand for hoikuen. In 1963, the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Welfare jointly expressed the distinction between yochien and hoikuen: "The purpose of yochien is to provide schooling for children, and that of hoikuen is to provide care for children who are not otherwise cared for. Therefore, these two entities clearly serve different functions" ("History," n.d.). In the mid-1960s, the Ministry of Welfare established guidelines for child care services. These were merely guidelines, however, and were not legally binding.

In 1990, modified guidelines for child care services were enforced, and the government made a major effort to meet children's individual needs. By 1999, the Ministry of Welfare had again revised guidelines for child care services, focusing on: 1) the unification of care and education, 2) care that respects the whole child, 3) the environment as an agent for child care, 4) broadening child care functions, and 5) the importance of caregivers' roles. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.