In Japan, the daycare/ childcare for small children is called hoikuen. These schools are for children either 0-3 or 0-6 years old. Most of them are either managed by the government or affiliated with the government. They get a lot of government support and the cost is subsidized for parents, based on your household income.
Recently, childcare for children 3+ is free – totally subsidized by the government. It is hard to get a spot in these schools because there isn’t enough supply for the demand. Each area holds a lottery every year for their open spots and families apply to the schools they want their child to go to. Each family is given points based on different factors like single parents get more points than a family with both parents at home and grandparents close by, for example.
When it’s time to apply, the families rank the schools in preference order and hope for the best. You can usually list up to 10 or so schools (depends on the area). You have to be careful not to put a school you don’t want, as you will lose points if you reject a school you got into since many families won’t get a spot at all.
There are many types of schools or hoikuens that fall within the government system. And, there are some schools that are totally private, outside of the government lottery system. This is good for the families who don’t get a spot, but these schools are not regulated by the government so they can be more expensive and you will not necessarily get the same quality care (for better or worse).
The schools that only go up to 3 years old means you have to find another school for 3-6 years old (kids start elementary school at 6 years old in Japan). These schools are called youchiens.
The system is rather complicated and there is so much more out there on the subject if you’re interested!