Japanese college students during a job-hunting rally in Tokyo, January 2014.
Yuya Shino / Courtesy Reuters

Four years ago, Hiroki Komazaki came up with a novel way of making up for Japan’s striking lack of child day care centers, which has long been an obstacle to Japanese women pursuing careers. His innovation was to turn vacant space in Tokyo’s apartment buildings into small-scale nurseries. But Komazaki’s plan violated government regulations that protected existing providers from new competition -- a familiar problem in Japan. Instead of giving up, however, he did something uncharacteristically Japanese: he did it anyway. 

In setting up his first “home care” nursery, Komazaki demonstrated that his idea could work, and

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