Headquartered in Okinawa, Sony Business Operations Inc. (SBO) undertakes administrative work for companies in the Sony Group. The company occupied two business facilities in Tomigusuku City in the south of Okinawa Prefecture from the time it was established, but consolidated its operations into one office in the neighboring city of Nanjo in February 2019. Linked in with this years-long removal project was a plan to install a nursery school within the business facility's premises. This was the first such attempt by the Sony Group, and came to fruition with the opening in July 2019 of the AiAi Nursery School Nanjoen, a business-led nursery school.
Over 80% of SBO's 380 employees are women, an extremely large proportion of whom are in their 20s and 30s, i.e., of child-bearing age. At any given time, around 10% of employees are on childcare leave (the rates for both childcare leave take-up and reinstatement are close to 100%). After returning from leave, many employees make use of the short-time working scheme. In this way, the company is aiming to realize schemes and an environment that make it easier to work. (SBO acquired Kurumin certification in 2017, and Eruboshi certification in 2018.) For geographical reasons, most employees commute to the office by car, and since they are balancing work with childrearing, there is considerable latent need for childcare facilities within the company. When planning for the office move got underway in earnest, studies also started into establishing a childcare facility as a means of creating an extra advantage in the form of an environment that is easier to work in, thereby alleviating the extra burden on employees arising from the move.
The initial plan was for SBO to become a childcare business and manage the facility itself, but after further consideration, the plan was modified to invite childcare companies with good records from within Okinawa Prefecture to establish and manage the facility. Multiple childcare companies applied, but in the end it was decided to accept the application from Smiling K.K. because it already manages a business-led AiAi Nursery School in Okinawa City.
Smiling K.K.'s parent company is an obstetrics and gynecology hospital whose philosophy is to provide consistent support for childcare from birth through infancy and beyond. As such, it has adopted an operating structure that offers safety and security through tie-ups with medical institutions while also focusing on nutritional education. A 500 square-meter section of the first floor of the new SBO office is taken up with a facility that provides ample space and equipment for children of different age groups. Ultimately, the nursery school will accommodate a maximum of 70 children aged 0 to 5.
The initial plan was to open the school in April 2018 in line with the office move, but since it took time to obtain government approval, the plan was revised and the opening took place in July. As a result, day care operations started with a small number of attendees.
However, the number of users is expected to increase going forward. Interest among employees who are on childcare leave is high, and the company is proactively emphasizing the advantages of the workplace nursery school to new hires.
Okinawa is second only to Tokyo in the number of children on nursery school waiting lists, while Nanjo City has one of the largest waiting lists in Okinawa. The municipality has high hopes that the birth of a new nursery school following SBO's move will greatly expand the intake of local children. The nursery school is also likely to contribute to the local community because it allows people other than SBO employees to use it.
Operating a nursery school together with Sony is a truly motivational initiative. This is the first time we have experience working in a facility next to a corporate office, but it enables us to run things very smoothly, not least of all because it facilitates communications with parents. Since we have also started enrolments to fill the quota for local children, there has been a major uptick in community interest and response to the idea of a Sony nursery school, reminding us again of Sony's high name recognition. Our nursery school is putting considerable effort into mental training and cultivating artistic sentiment through reading picture books to the children. For the future, we are really looking forward to receiving Sony's help in encouraging the children to take a greater interest in science and technology. What a wonderful initiative that would be!