Before we came, Dustin and I had discussed the option of placing Theo into Japanese preschool, or yōchien, so that he could learn the language faster. At the time, we thought it best to wait at least 6 months to let him adjust to the stress of moving before throwing him into a completely foreign Japanese speaking environment on a daily basis.
I have heard numerous times that children adjust to a major change in their lives extremely quickly. I was sure that Theo would adapt to our move rather fast, but I was surprised to find that he has had no adjustment period as far as I can tell. Sure, it took a few days to smooth out his sleeping schedule when we first arrived, but from day one he has been happy with the food, likes our apartment, loves to sleep on futons, and does not seem bothered in the slightest that he can only communicate with very few people. He hasn't seemed withdrawn, irritable, or in any way not his usual energetic self. Actually, in many ways he seems to be doing better here. You might think that he just isn't old enough to fully understand his situation, but I believe he does. He is aware that we are in Japan and that Canada is on the other side of the world, therefore we cannot visit family except on Skype. He knows we aren't going back anytime soon and seems perfectly content with that. It is almost eerie how well he has transitioned to life here, since I was fully expecting at least a month or two of abnormal behaviour.
In light of this, I began to inquire about preschools about a month ago. I discovered that in Japan all schooling under the age of 6 is completely voluntary. If you do choose some form of preschool or child care, you have two options: hoikuen (or hoikusho) and yōchien. Hoikuen is more or less equivalent to our daycares back home and take children ranging in age from very young infants to 6 years old. They provide full day care and do not usually have any sort of teaching curriculum, just free play. Unlike Canada, you are only allowed to enroll your child in a hoikuen if you can prove you are unable to look after them at home, i.e., if you are working full time, have a newborn baby, or are caring for a sick elderly parent. Yōchien is very similar to kindergarten or preschool in Canada. They are usually run privately, have shorter days, and some sort of curriculum that they use to teach the kids. Only children aged 3 - 6 are allowed to go to yōchien. Because they are private, they are usually more costly, have uniforms, and require that the parents are fairly involved with volunteering, activity days, etc.
Because I am not able to prove that I cannot care for him at home, yōchien was our only real option. I had no idea how to find them in our area or how even apply once I did find one. Everything seems to be completely word of mouth and I realized that I would never be able to find out which ones were better or had a curriculum that I agreed with. Finally I decided to enquire at the foreign resident help desk at our city hall. They basically located the closest one on the map, gave me the phone number and address, and told me that he could not be put in half way through the year, but had to wait until April (the beginning of the school year).
At this point I mostly gave up, hoping that by April my command of Japanese would be a bit better so that I could look around a bit more before commiting to a school.
To be continued...