How are Japanese schools different from America’s?

29 Jul

The only experience I have with the American public school system is when I was a student in the ’70s – ’80s in West-central Florida.
But I’m sure Florida’s public schools aren’t too different from schools in other parts of America. And even though I graduated from high school in 1988 I guess American schools aren’t too different today (with the exception, of course, of fashion and music tastes. And there are probably computers in U.S. classrooms now.)

My experience with the Japanese school system is from having three teenagers who attended Japanese public schools from kindergarten to the high school they’re currently attending (college).

Some differences between these countries’ school systems are:

– In Japan, the school year begins in April and ends in March. In America, the school year starts around September and ends in June. Also, students in Japan have fewer days off than American students.

– There are no school buses in Japan. In Japanese public kindergartens, mothers take their kids to school (often by bicycle). Public elementary schools and junior high schools are close enough for the students to walk to* (*in urban areas, like Tokyo, students must walk to school…no bicycles allowed. But in more rural areas of Japan, kids are often permitted by ride their bikes to school.)
High schools in Japan require passing an Entrance Exam to attend…so these schools usually require the students to take a short commute by train.
(Private schools in Japan, on the other hand, aren’t usually within walking distance from the students’ homes…so kids who attend private schools (even elementary school) can be seen commuting by train with their classmates.)

– In Japanese public schools, elementary school kids wear street clothes to school (like in American schools), but starting in junior high, they must wear a school uniform.

– In Japanese schools, everyone must remove their shoes at the entrance and change into 上履き (indoor shoes).

– In Japanese elementary and junior high schools students and teachers all eat the same school lunch. There are no choices.
In most high schools, students and teachers are required to bring a 弁当 (packed lunch) from home.
And very few Japanese schools have a cafeteria. Students eat lunch in their classroom at their desk.
In American schools, there are “lunch ladies” who prepare the school lunches and then serve the students, but in Japan, the “lunch ladies” cook the lunch but students take turns serving lunch to their classmates.

– Japanese school children don’t take a shower after gym class.

– There are no janitors in Japanese schools. The students clean their school everyday.

– In junior high and high school in Japan, almost every student joins a after-school club or team.

– 夏休み (summer vacation) is about five weeks long in Japan. It was about twice as long in America, if I remember correctly.
And during summer vacation, Japanese students have to go to school many times for their school club / team practice. Also, Japanese students must do a lot of homework during summer vacation.

– In American schools, there are no 入学式 (“School Entrance Ceremony”), and 卒業式 (“School Graduation”) isn’t until high school has been completed.
But in Japan, there are both 入学式 (“School Entrance Ceremonies“) and 卒業式 (“School Graduations“) for kindergarten, elementary school, junior high school, high school and college.

– In America, school grades are counted as 1 -5 for 小学校 (elementary school), 6-8 for 中学校 (junior high) and 9-12 for 高等学校 (high school).
In Japan, 小学校 (elementary school) is six years (grades 小1-6), 中学校 (junior high) is three years (grades 中1-3 (equal to grades 7-9)), and 高等学校 (high school) is also three years (grades 高校 1-3 (equal to grades 10-12)).

There are many other differences…such as the way homework and tests are administered and checked, the manner that classes are arranged, the fact that Japanese students stand and greet their teacher at the beginning and end of each class, the way that students are trusted in empty classrooms alone…even in kindergarten.

I’d say that schools in Japan and America have more differences than similarities. And I think education and school life that my children are getting in Japan is superior to what I had in America.

613 Responses to “How are Japanese schools different from America’s?”

  1. That One Person November 29, 2016 at 7:04 am #

    I am writing a story based in Japan, about a exchange student who is in high school (11th grade). I have kind of run into a wall. The schools here in America are sort of scattered as far as classes, no one has the same class as everybody in their homeroom. Some schools make it to where your homeroom class is who is in all of your classes (Block schedules). I am not sure which one is traditional in Japan.?

    Like

    • tokyo5 November 29, 2016 at 7:56 am #

      >I am writing a story based in Japan

      For a book? I’d like to read your story!

      >I am not sure which one (school style) is traditional in Japan.

      In Japanese schools, students stay with the same classmates in every class all year. In most classes, they stay in the same classroom (the teachers come to their room). For some classes, such as P.E., cooking, art, music, etc., the students go to the designated room or field.

      Does that help?

      Like

      • That One Person November 29, 2016 at 11:11 am #

        This helps greatly! Thank you so much!

        Liked by 1 person

      • tokyo5 November 29, 2016 at 1:02 pm #

        🙂

        Like

  2. EJ November 27, 2016 at 5:33 am #

    Hi! This is interesting but I have a question! In high schools where kids wear a uniform, do they ever have times when they can dress more casually? For example, if there’s a school festival, or if they come to club activities during summer break, can they wear street clothes?

    Like

    • tokyo5 November 27, 2016 at 10:46 am #

      Thank you. No, junior high school and high school students in Japan must wear their uniform anytime they do anything school-related.

      Like

  3. Anton November 17, 2016 at 4:10 pm #

    This is quite interesting as someone who works in the Japanese education system and has been through the old education system in the US.

    When I was in school, it went like this:

    ES- 1-6
    JHS- 7-8
    HS- 9-12

    By the time my sister was in school two years later, the system had changed to what it is now.

    Thanks for taking the time to write this out. Obviously there are minor differences but I think you’ve given a rather comprehensive view of the two systems.

    Liked by 1 person

    • tokyo5 November 17, 2016 at 8:00 pm #

      Thank you! Was middle school only two years in America when you were a student?
      Do you teach at a Japanese school? In Tokyo?

      Like

      • Anton November 24, 2016 at 1:27 pm #

        Yeah, it was only two years when I was a student. More than that though, it depends on the state. In my state, the norm used to be 7 and 8 for JHS but they decided to change it after a few years. I guess their experiment failed. haha

        But I got to be a part of it and it was pretty cool. As such, I’m really accustomed to the Japanese grade distribution. More so than some other AETs I know.

        Yes, I work in some innercity Japanese schools in Kyoto Prefecture.

        Liked by 1 person

      • tokyo5 November 24, 2016 at 2:28 pm #

        Oh, Kyoto! It’s a beautiful city! It has become very crowded recently with overseas tourists. More so now than in years past.

        When did you live in Japan? Did you enjoy working at Japanese schools? Did you have a chance to visit Tokyo?

        Like

  4. Nihon Scope October 6, 2016 at 9:54 pm #

    Nothing but net here my friend!

    Like

    • tokyo5 October 7, 2016 at 12:20 am #

      Sorry, what do you mean?

      Like

      • Nihon Scope October 18, 2016 at 3:22 pm #

        It’s a well written informational post! From everything I know about the differences you got them and then some! So all net, 3 points!😀 I’ll be adding a bit to my own post about this when I get a chance I’ll be sure to reference over when I do that. The only thing is (at least how it was for me), Elementary is 1-6 and Junior or Middle school is 7-8 and 9 – 12 is High school.

        Liked by 1 person

      • tokyo5 October 18, 2016 at 3:28 pm #

        >It’s a well written informational post! From everything I know about the differences you got them and then some!

        Thank you. Do you have experience with both American and Japanese schools?

        >So all net, 3 points!

        Is it a basketball reference?

        > I’ll be adding a bit to my own post about this when I get a chance I’ll be sure to reference over when I do that.

        Thank you. Please tell the link to the post you’ve written.

        >Elementary is 1-6 and Junior or Middle school is 7-8 and 9 – 12 is High school.

        In America? Six years, then only two, and then four (6→2→4)?
        When I went to school in Florida, it was 5→3→4, and Japan’s schools are 6→3→3.

        Like

      • Nihon Scope October 19, 2016 at 7:17 pm #

        I’ve not had any direct knowledge of Japanese schooling except for what studies I’ve done: http://nihonscope.com/learn-japanese/japanese-schools-vs-american-schools/ – not much, I’ve done a bit more since then, then what’s listed here. I’ll update this hopefully soon in the future when I got some time… And yes, that was a basketball reference! And yeah, it is in some areas different in America, it’s not all standard across the board, but I’ve known more people to go through it like the 6 – 2 – 4… I guess in the end, it is what it is. It’s 12 years of school if you like it or not😛

        Like

      • tokyo5 October 19, 2016 at 10:45 pm #

        Thank you for the link. Very interesting! You’re right … eating in a classroom, outside of lunchtime, is unheard-of in Japan. As well as sitting on anything that wasn’t built for such (chair or stool).

        Like

  5. twintaku August 20, 2016 at 1:27 am #

    I enjoyed reading this, and actually posted a link through my blog for people who stumble upon it haha. I speak more from a humorous side and such, but your info was useful for inspiration! If you have a twitter, please hit me up at @Twintaku_Blog; I love speaking to people with real working knowledge of Japan, instead of those who just WISH they lived there haha.

    Like

    • tokyo5 August 20, 2016 at 9:27 am #

      Thank you for the link.

      No… I stopped using twitter. Didn’t like it.
      I use Instagram though. Do you use that?

      Have you been to Japan?

      Like

      • twintaku August 20, 2016 at 9:59 am #

        Unfortunately I have not been yet, though it is a destination my fiancee and I are saving up for! I want to see the gundam museum and she wants to see the ghibli museum, on top of all the beautiful countrysides.🙂

        Like

      • tokyo5 August 20, 2016 at 10:51 am #

        There’s an actual size Gundam robot in Tokyo. I have a photo on my Instagram.

        So, what you know about Japanese schools you learned from Japanese anime?

        Like

      • twintaku August 20, 2016 at 11:20 am #

        Well, some basic tropes mostly. It seems to be insanely important to do well as standardized tests seem to run everything. And, maybe you can tell me if this is real, the last few years of school seem to be treated like the end of your youth or childhood. I guess the schoolwork in college and other obligations take a very strong priority?

        Like

      • tokyo5 August 20, 2016 at 2:14 pm #

        I think students in Japan are more serious about their school life than American ones, in general … but I also think that the west has an over-exaggerated image of Japanese life, too.

        Like

  6. Lim Ano August 12, 2016 at 2:56 am #

    I enjoyed reading this! I’m not sure why some people are criticizing you for whatever reasons but thank you for the blog post!

    Liked by 1 person

    • tokyo5 August 12, 2016 at 3:09 am #

      >I enjoyed reading this!

      Thank you.

      >I’m not sure why some people are criticizing you

      I’m not sure why either…but I don’t mind. All comments, positive or negative, are welcome.

      Like

  7. Gabriel Alexander July 24, 2016 at 9:42 am #

    Thanks! This really helped me understand anime better.

    Like

    • tokyo5 July 24, 2016 at 10:06 am #

      I almost never watch anime … but I’ve wondered if people who aren’t familiar with Japanese culture get confused by it.

      Like

  8. shiloh June 20, 2016 at 4:14 pm #

    It seems like children in Japan have alot more respect for their school’s and teachers whan I was 12 l had a chance to go and stay with a good friend from Tokyo and visit her school and stay with her family sadly was not able to go 😢 is it hard for American children to fit in at school there

    Liked by 1 person

    • tokyo5 June 20, 2016 at 4:41 pm #

      >whan I was 12 l had a chance to go and stay with a good friend from Tokyo and visit her school and stay with her family

      Oh, do you have a friend from Tokyo? How did you meet?

      >sadly was not able to go

      That’s too bad. Have you ever visited Japan?

      > is it hard for American children to fit in at school there

      There weren’t any children from America (or any other “western” countries) at my children’s schools when they were students. Nor at my wife’s, when she was a child, either.
      But, I imagine, Japanese students would be very welcoming. It would be difficult for a foreign student to attend school in Japan if they weren’t able to understand the Japanese language very well, though.

      Like

    • derptrain November 10, 2016 at 4:00 am #

      i liked it=)

      Like

      • tokyo5 November 10, 2016 at 8:12 am #

        >i liked it=)

        Liked what?

        Like

  9. Убер Мразиш June 15, 2016 at 6:05 am #

    Whoa, that 11 month school year is tough. In Russia we have only 11 grades (10 when I was a student in 1997-2007) and the summer vacation is 3 months. But the education level is a lot worse than in good countries like USA or Japan.

    Like

    • tokyo5 June 15, 2016 at 2:07 pm #

      Oh, Russian schools have a three-month summer holiday like they do in America. I didn’t know that.

      I don’t think the Japanese school year is “tough”. My daughters enjoyed their school life.

      Like

      • Suckmyduck June 30, 2016 at 6:34 am #

        Why are you hating on everyone’s comment chill😄

        Like

      • tokyo5 June 30, 2016 at 7:27 am #

        What is your definition of “hating on”? Disagreeing? Replying to?
        Because I don’t think I’ve “hated on” a single comment. But I have disagreed with some, and replied to all.
        And you’ll have to excuse me if I don’t take constructive criticism from someone who writes juvenile insults as their username and, obviously fake, email address.

        Like

  10. Anonymous May 25, 2016 at 9:37 am #

    I think this is very informative. But there are quite a few differences in American schools, at least depending on where you live. My high school lets out in late May, quite early in the year, and most of the state I live in is the same, but we begin school in August. I know my cousins that live a few states away from me follow the September/June pattern though. A lot of schools have also recently been switching to year-round schooling, where all the breaks are slightly longer- except summer break, which is shortened- and school is in session for most of the year (hence the term ‘year-round schooling’). Many public American schools are switching to having uniforms as well.

    Also, there are some students that attend private schools, where people pay tuition even in grades k-12. These schools often require uniforms, and are also often religious schools. I.e., a Catholic school where, because it is not a public school and people pay tuition, there is no ‘separation of church and state’ and they can teach their religious beliefs (although some people that attend those schools aren’t that religion, but by paying the tuition they are basically consenting to being taught those beliefs).

    Many people do sports and clubs here too. I actually just finished the school year, and my final English paper was about school sponsored sports. There are lots of other activities people can do too- student government, national honors society, language clubs (french club, german club, etc) and even performing arts. I’m in the color guard, which is part of marching band but we also have our own season where we perform indoors called winter guard (if you want a good example of winter guard, there’s actually an independent Japanese winter guard called Aimachi that you can look up on youtube).

    One last thing- not every American rides buses. Some do, but some people’s parents take them every day. Some people carpool and their parents take turns driving them. Some also ride bikes or walk, depending on how close they live. And because most teenagers get their drivers license at around 16, when they’re typically still in high school, some people drive themselves, and sometimes their siblings or friends as well.

    I swear I’m not being overly critical or something, just your average friendly American high school student trying to share some knowledge. Basically, the facts are generally correct, more or less, but everyone trolling the comments section should understand that even if this is a generalization of American schools, it’s impossible to cover all the details and nuances of an entire country’s school systems in roughly 10 paragraphs. I would also like to point out that I’m sure the same 10 ish paragraphs don’t cover all the details of Japanese schools either.

    Liked by 1 person

    • tokyo5 May 25, 2016 at 10:12 am #

      >I think this is very informative.

      Thank you.

      >But there are quite a few differences in American schools, at least depending on where you live.

      I’m sure there are…but, they’re mostly minor differences, I think. I wrote this as general differences between the school systems in the two cultures I know.

      >My high school lets out in late May, quite early in the year, and most of the state I live in is the same, but we begin school in August.

      But you still get the same three months of summer break…which is considerably longer than the summer holiday in Japanese schools. Also, I’m sure, your school year ends at summer break…in Japan, spring break is the end of the school year.
      That’s the point I was trying to make…not the exact dates.

      >A lot of (American) schools have also recently been switching to year-round schooling, where all the breaks are slightly longer- except summer break

      So, the number of school days is still the same, right? The Japanese school year has more school days than the U.S. one.

      >Many public American schools are switching to having uniforms as well.

      That’s something quite different from when I was a student in America! Do even elementary schools have uniforms? In Japan, public school students don’t wear uniforms in elementary school…just junior high and high school.

      >there are some (U.S.) students that attend private schools, where people pay tuition even in grades k-12. These schools often require uniforms

      I think that’s the same in most every country. Japan has private schools, as well. Those students wear uniforms beginning in kindergarten.

      >(U.S. private schools) are also often religious schools.

      There are some religious private schools in Japan, too. Most Japanese private school aren’t religious, though.

      >Many people do sports and clubs here too.

      In Japan, almost 100% of students are in a club or team. There are no “try-outs” nor a minimum grade point average to join, as there are in American schools.

      Also, Japanese school team sports don’t have “seasons”. Japanese students join a club or team at the beginning of their first year of junior high and stay with that club all year for all three years….once they begin high school, they may join the same club or choose to join a different one for the next three years.

      >not every American rides buses.

      I know. I have ridden the school bus when I was a middle school student in America…but I rode my bicycle to elementary school…and I drove myself to high school after I got a drivers license.

      My point was that Japanese public schools don’t have school buses. Japanese students walk to school* (*bicycles are permitted in some rural areas…and beginning in high school, many students take the train to school.)

      >most (American) teenagers get their drivers license at around 16

      As a parent, I feel that sixteen is too young to drive a car! I drove at that age…and I know that my friends and I weren’t very safe drivers. I’m glad that the age to drive is eighteen here…and it’s not as easy to get a license.

      >it’s impossible to cover all the details and nuances of an entire country’s school systems in roughly 10 paragraphs.

      Thanks. I wasn’t attempting to cover every detail and nuance.

      Like

  11. anonymous May 20, 2016 at 8:46 am #

    The first is that for example in Japan the students are cleaning the school, and that in america is not done, not even in Europe.

    Like

    • tokyo5 May 20, 2016 at 9:06 am #

      Yes, that’s right. Students in Japanese schools clean their school everyday.

      Like

  12. Anonymous April 21, 2016 at 7:10 am #

    Some of these people are quite ungrateful and rude. I think you did a good job informing us tokyo5. Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

    • tokyo5 April 21, 2016 at 8:35 am #

      >Some of these people are quite ungrateful and rude.

      I don’t mind. Doesn’t faze me. I appreciate all comments on my blog.

      >I think you did a good job informing us

      Thank you.

      Like

  13. Anonymous March 19, 2016 at 5:10 am #

    Well, it’s not what I would call very minor details… it’s the truth about the system. Either way, you were definitely inaccurate about what time we get out of school: It’s pretty much always June, it can’t go into July, in nearly every region. So that is, by definition, an incorrect assumption, not a simple minor detail. It’s a MAJOR detail, if that’s what you were implying, and seriously incorrect. No offense, by the way. People always disagree with me… it’s annoying.

    Like

    • tokyo5 March 19, 2016 at 9:19 am #

      I didn’t make any “assumptions” in this post either … I only wrote what I know.
      But you’re right, I should’ve written that the summer holiday at the schools I attended in Florida began in June every year. I don’t know why I wrote “July”… mistyped, I guess.

      Thanks for pointing it out.
      I’ll change it ASAP (I changed it).

      Like

    • Maya Cotton March 31, 2016 at 9:14 am #

      Interesting……. for the last 2 years not counting this one, Iv’e gotten out of school in early July, as in the first day. I guess it is just the region or where you live.

      Like

      • tokyo5 March 31, 2016 at 9:33 am #

        Oh, really? What part of America do you live in?

        Like

  14. Anonymous March 18, 2016 at 9:59 am #

    Inaccurate. Here in the United States we tend to have 2 and a half months of summer vacation to almost 3 months, at least in the north. This is longer than 10 weeks, around 12, typically. You implied a 2x ratio to Japan having five weeks. Also, we get out of school early to mid JUNE, depending on the number of snow days. And we usually get out of school very late August, persay the 27th.

    Like

    • tokyo5 March 18, 2016 at 10:19 am #

      >Inaccurate.

      Thank you for clarifying…but I wouldn’t say what I wrote above is “inaccurate“…I wrote about America’s school system in generalities – based on my experience growing up in Florida.

      Also, your corrections are to minor details, not inaccuracies.

      Like

      • anonymous March 23, 2016 at 12:52 pm #

        “The only experience I have with the American public school system is when I was a student in the ’70s – ’80s in West-central Florida.
        But I’m sure Florida’s public schools aren’t too different from schools in other parts of America. And even though I graduated from high school in 1988 I guess American schools aren’t too different today (with the exception, of course, of fashion and music tastes. And there are probably computers in U.S. classrooms now.)” is a HUGE generalization that is inaccurate nowadays as it is now 2016. To say that all of the huge expanse that is America has the same system from the 80’s an egregious declaration. As a future educator who is aware of the school system of both America and Japan (from this century as I have been through it) I recommend looking elsewhere for information if you aren’t interested in what happened in the 80’s.

        Like

      • tokyo5 March 23, 2016 at 2:29 pm #

        Are you the same “Anonymous” who wrote these comments?

        >a HUGE generalization

        It’s a generalization (as I’ve said a few times that this post is), but not really a “huge” one.

        >inaccurate nowadays as it is now 2016.

        Other than my minor mistake where I said that summer vacation begins in July in American schools (when it’s actually June), what else that I’ve written is “inaccuate”?

        >To say that all of…America has the same system…(is) an egregious declaration.

        The U.S. school system should be the same throughout the country, with the curriculum decided on a federal level. That’s how it is in Japan.

        Anyways, I didn’t say that “all of…America has the same system”. I said that “I guess they aren’t too different”. I acknowledged that it’s not exactly the same, but I believe that there are generalities, and those are what I wrote about.
        No “declarations”, and certainly not any “egregious” ones!

        >As a future educator who is aware of the school system of both America and Japan

        You attended school in both America and Japan? Please elaborate. And please explain the differences between the systems as you see them.

        >from this century

        Hahaha! The ’80s weren’t that long ago, and I’m not that old, ya whippersnapper!😉

        > I recommend looking elsewhere for information

        By all means. I never claimed that this blog post was anything other than my opinion (of which, you haven’t convinced me is incorrect.)

        Like

  15. patricia March 7, 2016 at 7:37 am #

    congratulations

    Like

    • tokyo5 March 7, 2016 at 8:14 am #

      “Congratulations”? For what? Anyways…thanks.

      Like

      • Anonymous May 21, 2016 at 2:41 am #

        congrats for informing us? Idk lol😛

        Like

      • tokyo5 May 21, 2016 at 9:05 am #

        In that case, “thanks” would make more sense than “congratulations”.

        Like

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