Jun 26, 2018

What items do you need to take to childcare in Japan?

There's no getting around it - your kid needs to take a bunch of stuff to Japanese childcare, hoikuen. Some of it only goes to childcare at the start of week and returns at the end of the week, some of it depends on your laundry practices, and some of it comes and goes every day.

Here, I'm going to outline the things my son needs to take to childcare each week. Because he is still fairly young, the focus will therefore be on what the younger children (i.e. 0-2 year olds) tend to use. I'm expecting some variation when he hits the older class next year, but not a reduction!

The Basics

What items do you need to take to childcare in Japan? photo

1. A “futon”

This is not a full-on futon set, which you might be able to tell without even looking that closely! It’s actually made up of a quilted cot cover and a simple bath towel. Yes, a bath towel. It serves as a blanket for nap time and is more than adequate on even the coldest days. From 1 year old onward, he sleeps on a “cot”, and that is what the cover is for. The cot looks a bit like a stretcher, still very close to the floor but providing just a bit of elevation and a clearly delineated space for him. The cover was available for order at the start of the school year for about 2200 yen, though it is possible to sew some elastic to the corners and convert another bath towel to serve the same purpose. 

2. Oshibori (hand towels) 

These are a collection of small hand towels used to wipe hands before meals (and, given his age, probably after meals as well). I use actual hand towels, but I’ve seen other parents using gaze (muslin cloths) and even tea towels. He uses two per day, one with his lunch and one with his snack.

3. Changes of clothes

Exactly what it says! The number of outfit changes recommended depends on the age of the child. The babies, for example, are supposed to have five outfits on hand, whereas the older children are only required to have one or two. On any day when the weather is fine enough to go outside, my son will change his clothes at least once, namely when he goes inside from his morning play. This might not always seem necessary, but I suppose it does give him the freedom to get as dirty as he wants when he’s playing outside and still be reasonably clean when I pick him up!

4. Bibs

Used by the younger children from 0-2 years. They’re worn at mealtimes and we were required to purchase a specific style at the beginning of the year he started. While they weren’t expensive, I did raise my eyebrows a bit at the choice of pure white material! They also came with his identifying koala picture ironed on them, but they didn’t hold long beyond the first couple of trips through the washing machine and I needed to sew them back on.

5. Shoes

This is one that definitely varies between childcare centres and isn’t necessary at all of them. At my children’s childcare, though, they are required to have a pair of shoes that they keep at childcare during the week and use while they are playing outside there. The children go barefoot inside and they keep the shoes they go to and from home in at the entrance, whereas these ones live on a shelf on the verandah near the yard. A shoe bag for transporting the childcare shoes to/from home is expected, though the size is unspecified. I think I picked up that bag from Daiso.


6. Hat

Each age group wears hats in a particular color. The children are thus not just protected from the sun when they’re playing outside, but also easy to keep track of! These are also available to order upon enrollment and at the start of each school year. The children keep their hats through all the years they are at childcare, using the same color each year. By pure chance, my son has ended up with a pink one and my daughter a blue one. 

7. A cup (and accompanying bag)

The one and two year olds are required to bring a plastic, one-handled cup (not pictured, I think it was still in the dishwasher!) with a bag to transport it to/from home. The cup goes home each day. 

8. Renrakucho (notebook)

This is where the parents and childcare teachers write notes each day regarding the child that it definitely goes to and from home each day! A pretty cool website concerning these can be found here.


What items do you need to take to childcare in Japan? photo

For the younger children, nappies are essential. The policies on how to bring and keep them vary a lot between childcare centres and it’s definitely something to confirm with your specific one. Beware, if you're really unlucky, you might be required to take the dirty ones home with you.

Last year, we were required to send a full pack of nappies, each one labelled with our child’s name in either hiragana or katakana. If you’ve ever really looked at how tightly a packet of disposable nappies is packed, you might be able to appreciate just how annoying this task was. When the packet started to run out, the childcare would let us know and we would have to bring in another one.

This year, they have changed their storage arrangement and we’re only required to have a few nappies there at a time that are stored with the rest of their things. The labeling is still required, but the packing is not! The number varies and seems rather approximate; think the amount your child needs to get through the day at a minimum.

We’re also required to provide a packet of oshirifuki (bum wipes). Again, the childcare lets us know when they are running out and then we send another one.

Other Things

What items do you need to take to childcare in Japan? photo

A bag for carrying all that stuff!

While the 3-5 year olds are required to have a backpack, it's entirely up to the parents of the little ones as to how they get all this stuff to (and from) childcare. This is another instance where Daiso came through for me (you might be noticing a theme here) and I picked up what is basically a reusable vinyl shopping bag. It zips closed, which stops things from falling out and is especially useful when the weather is bad.

Earthquake shoes

This might be another thing that is unique to my children's childcare. In the event of an earthquake or other natural disaster, the staff keep pairs of shoes stored with their emergency kits, presumably to save time in the event of an evacuation. These shoes basically live at hoikuen; they only come home during the new year's clean-up or if we request them.

Plastic bags

The children's dirty clothes, oshibori and bibs are put in these each day to make transport home easier. They're put in a basket assigned to each child - imagine a bin liner sort of thing. I've observed some parents using laundry nets instead.

Towels and swimwear

In the summer, water play is a big thing at childcare. As the weather gets warmer, the children need to bring towels to use after they shower off when they return from playing outside. As the weather gets even hotter, they get to play with water a whole lot more. What they do depends on their age, but swimwear is required for ages 2 and up.

And there you have it! You get used to it and figure out what works for your family but the fact remains - it's a whole lot of stuff to be named, lugged to childcare, and lugged home again!



I'm Australian and married to a Japanese (post)man. We live in Chiba with our two children, where I work as an English teacher. I try to post something here once a week, and I also have a personal blog over at http://lyssays.wordpress.com/


  • edthethe

    on Jul 1

    I have two stepdaughters and when I met them, they were both in kinder. I was shocked at how much was required to go and come and how much the parent was required to remember. There were so many times we were scolded for missing a napkin or cup.

  • Lyssays

    on Jul 5

    @edthethe Urgh, I know. We actually get charged if we forget to send a cup and my son has to use a paper cup - it's only 10 yen or something, but still! I know they have actual porcelain cups there so I'm not sure what the logic is.

  • edthethe

    on Jul 6

    @Lyssays elementary school makes us replace reusable chopsticks and tissue. The kinder made us replace a pair of underwear. They keep an extra pair (also clothes) just in case someone has too many accidents in one day, which happened, but we couldn't just wash them. they had to be completely replaced.

  • Candiajia1

    on Jul 6

    @ Lyssays Whew! Just reading through the list and the things you have to do( labeling each diaper!!?? That’s work!!) made me exhausted! Reminded me of when I had to check in for delivery of the little one.

  • Lyssays

    on Jul 6

    @edthethe Wow, that's annoying - and so wasteful!

  • Lyssays

    on Jul 6

    @Candiajia1 Haha, yes, it is a bit like that. Maybe the maternity hospitals are trying to set you up for all the preparation you'll have to do in the future!