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Koji Ishii works while his son plays a piano at their house in Chiba City. Photo: REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

Out of school, Japanese children are isolated by coronavirus policy

By Akira Tomoshige and Chang-Ran Kim

At Stella Kids daycare in central Tokyo, school children spend the day sitting at separate individual tables, spaced far apart, and facing away from their peers.

They sit there for hours playing, studying and eating in the same seat from as early as 8 a.m. until their parents come to pick them up after work in the afternoon or evening.

The extreme measures are a result of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's request that all schools in Japan be closed starting this week to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

The policy has been roundly criticized as counterintuitive, disruptive and risky given it has pushed tens of thousands of pupils into daycare centers instead.

That's left many private and publicly subsidized after-school care facilities, called gakudo, improvising measures to try to stop children contracting the illness.

Children are seen at Stella Kids, a daycare center in Tokyo. Photo: REUTERS/Stoyan Nenov

"We have the children spend all day at the same seat, eating their snacks and lunches there too," Ikuyo Kamimura, Stella Kids manager, told Reuters. "They face the same direction so they don't get infected by droplets," she said.

About 1.3 million children across Japan are registered to use gakudo, according to the government, and it is unclear how each center is handling the situation.

In big cities, where real estate prices are high, dozens of children can share a single room playing with communal toys, and not allowed outdoors due to a shortage of staff to supervise them. And children are now potentially in those small, shared spaces for several hours longer than usual.

Parents, caretakers, medical experts and politicians were left gobsmacked when Abe announced the nationwide school closure on Feb 27. Some municipalities have chosen not to comply, but the majority of schools across the country have agreed to the request to stay closed until the new academic year starts in early April.

"The classrooms are empty but the children are packing into after-school care facilities. What's the point?" Tetsuro Fukuyama, secretary general of the opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, asked Abe in the Diet this week.

Abe repeated the government's stance that it took the drastic step to contain the virus over the critical one to two-week period.

Japan has recorded more than 1,000 coronavirus cases - the majority from a cruise ship quarantined last month and a handful of children - and six deaths excluding those from the ship.

Abe has been criticized for Japan's seemingly slow response to contain the outbreak, including a failure to administer tests to detect the virus fast enough. A state visit from Chinese President Xi Jinping due next month has been postponed and Tokyo has announced tighter travel restrictions on visitors from China and South Korea.

On television, social media and around town, parents worried about children falling behind in school, or infecting the more vulnerable elderly tasked with babysitting their grandchildren for a month.

"There was no consultation as to whether (school closures) would be effective," Nobuhiko Okabe, an epidemiologist and head of Kawasaki City Institute for Public Health who is on a council set up to advise the government on coronavirus issues. "It was a political decision."

Meanwhile, parents who were able to work from home had their own worries.

"It's good my company is letting me work from home, but I was befuddled at first because I wasn't sure how to look after my son all day," Koji Ishii told Reuters between housework, looking after his 6-year-old son and working on his laptop in Chiba City, east of Tokyo. "I'm concerned about the constraint on my son's daily life."

© Thomson Reuters 2020.

©2020 GPlusMedia Inc.

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oh no! parents have to actually be parents! the horror!

3 ( +24 / -21 )

"They face the same direction so they don't get infected by droplets," she said.

Really now? Boggles the mind the type of nonsense ppl believe.

19 ( +22 / -3 )

I see more children playing outside due to schools closing. I feel sorry for parents who can't take time off of work due to many companies not allowing paid leave. English schools and jukus are still operating on their normal schedules. Seems like the idea just shifted where children are during the day and not really limiting there risk of exposure.

16 ( +18 / -2 )

Sorry, with all the teenagers loitering at the park there's literally nothing to do in the city if you have a young child. You can huff and puff all you want but it's going to be at least 4-5 weeks of this and, well, if you can keep a 5 year old busy all day inside every day without them losing their minds - you must be a magical parent. Kids need fresh air, running around and playing with friends. If you live in the city the only place to do this that isn't closed right now is the park and all of the parks within a 20 minute walk from our house are occupied by bored middle school/high schoolers.

Sorry but this is rough, especially if you have young children. It's only been a week and my 6 year old daughter is already sick of doing crafts and playing games with me. She wants to see her friends... she wants to go to her swimming lessons... she wants to play on the jungle gym - but she can't. It has nothing to do with 'not wanting to parent your kids'.

18 ( +22 / -4 )

I don't think they've read the reports on children. Children tend to be unaffected by the virus and when they are, they most likely show the mildest of symptoms. Also, they are currently rethinking the transmission methods of the virus after several new cases in New York.

0 ( +4 / -4 )

I’ve been reading about Italian parents being very stressed out as they struggle with school closures. It’s not just a Japanese thing and it’s not about not wanting to parent.

2 ( +9 / -7 )

Keep calm, wash your hands and it seems Netflix has good programs.

And BTW I tried to book a golf tee-off: all fully booked till next weekend.

Home office seems to be at its full, ahahaha!

0 ( +3 / -3 )

oh no! parents have to actually be parents! the horror!

Comments like this always come from people who have ever raised kids. It's easy to be an expert when you don't have to do it yourself.

5 ( +15 / -10 )

As we've been concerned, how we as adults get children who stay in their home to be motivated to study. According to the interviews featured in TV news programs, lots of children fall in playing video games or other hobbies during the day, because they are suddenly excluded from school due to virus concern. What many of them was said is to "study for themselves". Even I cannot come up with any good idea if I were said "study for themselves" without being given extra suggestions or useful materials. A lot of parents are forved to be responsible for having their children study, which actually all of them have to do that to some extent. However, parents are not teacher who have been trained on how to get children motivated to studey, so they are still probably be confused and embarrased.

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

Comments like this always come from people who have ever raised kids. It's easy to be an expert when you don't have to do it yourself.

ever? never? Which is it?

I've raised two of my own kids. People are so used to having someone else take care of their kids (school, juku, club, etc.) that when something happens, they are unable to cope with being a parent 24/7. Never suggested it was easy. I'm just saying it's the parent's job to be responsible for their own kid(s).

2 ( +10 / -8 )

@savethegaijin @commanteer thank you both. And don’t worry Commanteer, there were plenty of times on this site alone that I‘ve made typos.

And the ironic part about what you were saying, is that I myself sometimes take the position that parents should be more involved in their children’s lives, and that they often seem to have an expectation that they don’t have to do so. Yet despite this, I still agree with both of you, simply because of all the stuff that’s closed due to this virus. I think one of you said it yourselves, you can only keep a child inside so long before affects their sanity.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Parents have been delegating the responsibility for raising children for years. Gen X are the original latchkey kids so for them it is normal to raise children in such a way. Boomers have a lot o answer for.

0 ( +3 / -3 )

Does anyone know what exactly is critical about these two weeks? Is this based on science?

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Completely blows my mind. My kids go to an English school here in Okinawa and they all are on the 1:1 program with individual Chromebooks. The school shut down for all of March, but they still have to report on Google Classroom at 8:00am as we just shifted to "Online School". All subjects and classes progressing for 450 kids and the teachers have a Dashboard to see all of their students and what they have up on screen.

This isn't new by any standard... 1:1 programs have been put into place for over a decade. I'm just amazed at the nosedive the educational programs have taken here in Japan.

8 ( +8 / -0 )

@Bungle, you're wrong. Boomers are the original latchkey kids, not Gen Xers. I know, I'm a Boomer latchkey kid, and there were a lot of us, in the early '60s. And I raised my daughter alone, and she was a latchkey kid until I began working from home full-time when she was 10.

This whole issue is getting out of hand, and keeping kids from school, when they are the smallest cohort for the threat of serious complications from the virus is absolutely nuts. Every school in Japan should have told Abe to shove it.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

Nonsense cubed!

the most at risk are the grandparents who are having to look after the kids not in school.

this virus seems to kill seniors rather than kids who could be asymtomatic carriers.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Hogwash. A few might be, yes, same as they might be alienated despite being with peers at school, but to suggest all kids are in this situation? ridiculous. Go tell that the the 10 or so sitting at a four-person table at the McD's near my apartment, or the seven more on four chairs at the convenience store food corner, let alone those playing tag and Pokemon card games in parks or around closed community centers.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

Kids head to the local Parks - one big all-day playtime break... so this quarantine effort clearly does not appear to be going to plan. What next ?

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

How to be a parent in Japan?

No manual for that....

1 ( +1 / -0 )

For those who work for Companies that allows their Employees to work from home - I wonder at what point those Companies will decide that they don't really need big Offices space after all....

3 ( +3 / -0 )


This Covid-19 might be a game changer worldwide re home office.

A huge opportunity for Japan Inc that really want to move that way.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

There is a reason why virus spreads more successfully in wintertime. It's because most people are all in close proximity indoors together. So one child, or teacher, infected with a virus has a statistically very high chance of infecting every other human in a classroom/school environment. And that's why Abe has closed the schools.

Meanwhile, if a virus infected child or teacher interacts with other people in the outdoors the chance of spreading virus is greatly reduced as they are outside.

Therefore, the safest thing for working parents to do with their children is either order them to stay isolated at home or spend the day in the local park.

Being in any form of classroom or daycare enclosed environment is almost guaranteed to spread virus.

And whilst children may not be dying from this Corona virus...they will be delivering it to their elder grandparents. That's if they are exposed. So Abe was right. And parents need to think about the virus exposure they have forced upon their children.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

Is this based on science?

100% hard no. All that the government cares about is saving their precious Olympics people's lives be damned.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I guess you can see why there is a cultural aversion to make decisions and spring into action when the time calls. This is an example of an attempt. Just reeks of top down incompetency, with a nice little side dish of lack of consideration and foresight.

You’d think it’d be best to just send out a bunch of health care professionals to help schools rather than cancelling them, but no you silly underling, we must be “seen” to be acting boldly and decisively.

As a side note, it does send a strong message to the populace that they will have to deal with the situation themselves; as the boys at the top won’t be much help. Hope they can at least try to pick their game up as this thing progresses, but I won’t hold my breath. Who knows this could finally be the end of paternalism in the national psyche. But then what?? awkward side glance

Either way we are all going to see what we are made of.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

@Bugle Boy of Company B

It seems that there are a few who don't agree with you. I get your point. And I'm confident to add my name to the "expert" list insinuated by some on here. May I add, seriously, there is no such thing/person as an "expert" parent - there are those who aim to be "responsible"; though, no matter the challenges and circumstances.

I was a single parent since my children were 1 year with one while the other 3 months old. I was fortunate to have permanent placings for both during the start and right rough their primary school years and part of their secondary years. But there were many sacrifices from our part as a single-parent family, and from the employer that put food on our table for 18 years. There were times I had to take the children out of Care due to lice outbreaks, flue epidemic at the Center or carer's quitting because of many reasons - but never ever did I complain if my little ones cannot be left in the care of the childcare center. The bottom line was and still is: they are my family and responsibility. The aims were - if I had to give my children a reasonable roof over their heads, warm food in the winter, descent education and many things "needed" (not "wanted") to grow them into descent adults, I would work hard and well and be responsible for them, no matter what (until they become adults). I searched for and paid babysitters so that I could go to work. There were challenging times where one-third of our monthly salary was designate to pay the Carers, and it got better when my little ones started attending school. It saddens me to hear/read comments of inconveniences from parents (oh yes, there were complaints from other parents who couldn't leave their children in the Center (for whatever reasons) during those 18 looong years too).

This time with the Virus and with the infection circumstances being highly apparent, wouldn't it be regarded as a time for us parents and individuals to be vigilant in care and "responsibility" instead of complaining who would look after our families next if we need to work?

0 ( +1 / -1 )


Excellent post. You have made sacrifices. It’s not always easy.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Comments like this always come from people who have ever raised kids. It's easy to be an expert when you don't have to do it yourself.

@commanteer - I've got 6 kids from ages 10 to 27 and I'm now a grandparent. I can honestly say @Bugle Boy of Company B is 100% on the money with his comment. Parents these days have shifted so much of their responsibility to others - never accepting blame for their bad parenting. This is even more prominent here in Japan. (I've lived split time between here and California for the past 28 years now).

I'm guessing you haven't lived here very long or you don't interact with parents and schools. The parents in Japan absolutely dread even getting involved with school activities and the PTA is considered something of a prison sentence by so many.

There are so many kids being dumped into Juku's and Hoikuen (admittedly some out of necessity) but in the end the parents just complain and blame the schools for everything. Even these days everyone is screaming about "ijime" over the stupidest stuff.

It's seriously sad to see how little parenting really happens -- those putting in real effort are just few and far between...

0 ( +1 / -1 )

I'm a father of 3 loving the quality time with our kids, rest of school year with school, jukus, clubs, events, ballet piano lessons I hardly get to see them.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

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