Japan PM Abe's growth plan hits new obstacle: Daycare NIMBY

Thu Oct 9, 2014 10:47pm EDT
 
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By Linda Sieg

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's efforts to help women juggle work and family are hitting a roadblock: opposition to building new daycare centers from residents who fear noise from children playing will spoil their quiet neighborhoods.

The number of Japanese children is falling due to a low birth rate but many pre-schoolers are nonetheless on daycare waiting lists because of a shortage of facilities. Abe has vowed to fix the problem as part of plans to get more women working to offset a shrinking, aging population and boost economic growth.

Doing so, however, may not be easy given that locals often greet plans for new daycare centers with Japan's version of the phenomenon known as NIMBY - "not in my backyard" - frequently associated with facilities such as military bases or prisons.

Take Setagaya ward in western Tokyo, which has the longest daycare waiting list in Japan, with over 1,000 kids.

"We are trapped between parents who are crying out 'we want daycare centers built as soon as possible' and those who say 'we don't need daycare centers in our quiet neighborhoods," wrote Setagaya Mayor Nobuto Hosaka in a recent blog entitled "Are Children's Voices Noise, or the Sound of Hope?".

Setagaya ward needs to build between 70 and 80 new daycare centers over the next four years to accommodate an estimated 6,500 additional children who will need daycare, said Kota Tanaka, head of a 15-person team set up to speed up the process.

But complaints from noise-allergic residents are an obstacle. "They say children's voices are too loud and are wrecking their quiet neighborhoods," Tanaka told Reuters.

Some residents elsewhere in Japan have filed suits seeking compensation for "noise pollution" from nearby daycare centers, prompting Hosaka, a former MP, to suggest Japan learn from Germany and change laws to prevent such lawsuits.   Continued...

 
Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (C) plays with children as he inspects a daycare center in Yokohama, south of Tokyo, in this photo distributed by Kyodo May 21, 2013.  REUTERS/Kyodo