Whether due to abuse, neglect, or bereavement, nearly 45,000 children are living in alternative care in Japan. Unlike in most OECD countries, the vast majority of these children are placed into institutional care (residential care), rather than family-based foster care or adoption. Further, Japan uses baby and infant institutions for children aged under two years of age, despite this being understood by the UN and WHO as damaging to children.

Current explanations as to why the practice in Japan goes against the global practice, embodied in the UN Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children, normally refer to a homogenous Japanese culture. These explanations cannot account for the considerable regional variation between local authority in policy implementation.

After outlining this, this chapter outlines the comparative ethnographic research methods and data analysis, which focuses on the decision-making process of street-level bureaucrats. The author also outlines the personal motivations for conducting this research.