Guide to International Schools in Japan

By Jessica Ocheltree

How many times have you heard people talking about finding a “good school” for their kids? But what exactly does “good” mean? Is it a school where average test scores are high? Perhaps it means one that has lots of extracurricular activities and student support. Or maybe a school with a really challenging curriculum? In all likelihood, it’s some mixture of these and other qualities. But if the formula for a good school is so complicated, how will parents ever know which school meets their needs?

That’s the question behind "Guide to International Schools in Japan," the new book by bestselling author and publisher Caroline Pover. Covering over 100 schools, the guide weighs in at an encyclopedic 659 pages.

“I’ve aimed to provide detailed information about a wide range of international schools throughout Japan,” says Pover, “in a consistent and easy-to-use format [to help parents] in making an extremely important decision.”

The story behind the book’s inception is almost as interesting as the content itself. Pover, who runs Alexandra Press publishing house here in Tokyo, suffered a series of strokes back in 2006 and 2007 — which, seeing as she’s still in her 30s, was downright shocking. After undergoing successful surgery in July of 2007, she was on the road to recovery, but cognitive damage made it seem unlikely that she would ever be able to write another book.

As her physical health improved, so did her mental acuity, and in the spring of 2008, she finally felt ready to tackle something new. Around the same time, Pover noticed that a lot of friends were having difficulty finding schools for their kids. Naturally, this is a big decision, but combine that with the obstacles inherent in living in a foreign country, and the whole task can become overwhelming.

And so she got to work compiling the guide, interviewing teachers and staff and collating all the necessary information. Of course, quotidian details like school hours, makeup of the student body, language of instruction, fees and uniform requirements are covered, but the book also details more telling information about the schools: their general ethos, a typical day’s activities, policies on discipline, and expectations about parental involvement.

“Each school has a personality,” she explains. “I hope it came through, so parents can find a school that matches the way they’re raising their children and their child’s personality.”

Indeed, some of the entries demonstrate the individual character of the schools. KAIS International School in Jiyugaoka, for example, shows a distinctly modern bent, providing each student with a MacBook and wrapping up each day with a yoga class. Global Kids Academy in Minato-ku focuses on language, offering total immersion programs in both Japanese and English. Jun International Preschool in Kumagaya takes a more laidback approach to early childhood education—a typical day includes a lot of playtime, trips to the park, games, art projects and songs.

While the current edition of the guide is in English, Pover says she and her team are working on a Japanese version so that the information will be equally accessible to cross-cultural partners. She then plans to release a revised and expanded second edition in 2011, possibly having a new edition every two years after that.

Pover hopes that the variety of schools and approaches to education covered in the Guide will help parents to realize that schooling can be about a lot more than hyper-competitive test preparation, which is often a focus in Japan.

“Parents need to step away from the idea of the ‘best school’ and find the best school for their children,” she says. “I sincerely hope that this book helps [them] to find the perfect school for their child, a place that will inspire in that child the same lifelong love of learning and education that I have.”

For more information on the "Guide to International Schools in Japan" or to buy a copy, see www.internationalschoolsguidebook.com.

This story originally appeared in Metropolis magazine (www.metropolis.co.jp).

© Japan Today

©2022 GPlusMedia Inc.

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just need $$$

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Just need 'en' (Yen, relation, connection, destiny).

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Wish I could get the same information on Japanese schools. Not every foreigner here has the ways and means to send their kids to international school - in fact, the vast majority don`t.

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hmm, this is good timing as I have twins on the way and am excited about planning their future.

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I feel they could have made this a 'tokyo-only' thing, as here in kansai the available schools are quite limited and it is not so hard to find out potential schools nearby then go visit them.

Also, I imagine a high % of people who use international school have it arranged by their company and just get to choose between 2-3 options presented to them.

If it becomes a bestseller, I will gladly put it in my pipe and smoke it however.

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among famous/rich people, it is becoming more like a "status" to send their kids to international schools here in japan.. and i always wonder if that'd cause any problems for those kids when it comes to aquiring japanese language to include writing, reading and comprehension. being japanese and not being able to use the language could cause big identity issues. it is good for the kids to be able to speak English but that is only true when the kids can handle their native language.

if the family is looking to relocate to an English speaking country, then sending kids to an international school would be a good preparation, but other than that, i personally think it'd be the parents' ego.

when it comes to choosing a "good" school, they need to see what's beyond their ego...

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All this information is on the net. Why buy a book?

Fishy, they do just fine with the Japanese language.

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I did some searches on "bestselling author" Caroline Pover. She's a very interesting lady.

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full immersion in a second language at school is effective. these international and immersion schools have amazing set ups to ensure that their students grow up bilingual.

fishy says its a "status" thing. of course it is. rich papas and stay home mamas send their babies off to international school between 8am and 6pm - lets not kid ourselves - its also day care. however, there are some parents who both work full time to ensure that they can give their child the best start in life.

fishy also wonders about kids ability to learn their own language. kids are more intelligent that adults: they learn language so much faster than we do that its almost shaming! "if the family is looking to relocate to an English speaking country, then sending kids to an international school would be a good preparation, but other than that, i personally think it'd be the parents' ego." I wholeheartedly disagree. even if a child is likely to stay in his native country forever and even stop learning english altogether - research has proven that the exposure to a second language stimulates, exercises and expands the brain much faster than a child only exposed to one language.

i for one intend to teach my own children several languages, even if i can't afford an international school. and yes, i do work in and fully believe in, an international school.

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in addition, i truly wish more countries believed in, aided and promoted growing up bilingually, even if the parent doesn't speak a language other than the native tongue.

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international schools are great in japan. public schools do not emphasize international study. I know what i am talking about because i used to be a public school teacher in japan. the public schools really do not teach that Japan is n0t the only country in the world. i used to work for public schools. it's a headache trying to teach something when you have ultra conservative dim-wit ,numb skull brainless , group thinking, non indivdual thinking crappy, follow the textbook to a T, and kiss up teachers blocking any creative out of the box idea. These kids really need to understand the world is big and learning a second language brings limit-less opportunities.

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while I think learning to speak Japanese is no problem at all, I'd like to second fishy's concern about the children learning to read/write Japanese when they attend an international school. Given the enormous amount of time they spend on teaching Kanji in Japanese schools, can the international schools keep up to the same standard? Anyone with first hand experience here?

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International Schools should grow and keep growing. sorry if i misspelled some words. i have a headache thinking about my past exeriences. International Schools will definitely make an impact in the child's welfare.

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I don't think there are 100 true International schools in Japan. Just because a school has the word International in it does not make it to the level that most would expect. Most true International schools maybe 10 in Japan are for students who intend to return to their home country at some stage. It can be good for Japanese to join with an all English school but speaking Japanese should come first. There is no point speaking ok English and broken Japanese.

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I know a pure Japanese lady who went to international school in Japan.

I would rate her language skills as follows: Japanese: 100% English: 85%

(for context, I'd rate JLPT 1-kyu as 70%)

This shows that international school doesn't negatively affect native language skill development.

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I am not saying international schools affect negatively, and if the parents speak Japanese at home to the kids, they are very much likely to be fluent in Japanese.. but what I'm concerned about is that there are so many bilingual people while biliteral people are rather rare.. I mean, being able to write hiragana, katakana and easy kanji doesn't count here.. I mean, for a Japanese person to go to an international school and learn English while acquiring high level Japanese language isn't always easy. I know one Japanese family that sent their son to an international school and the boy is literally a native English speaker while his Japanese reading/writing isn't as good as other college grad Japanese people. He has problems understanding Japanese newspapers and stuff like that.. Our son (8 years old) is bilingual, he goes to a japanese elementary school and he is learning kanji and etc, but when it comes to English (reading and writing), his level is lower than average native English-speaking kids around his age. I thought about sending him to an international school but then I wanted him to learn Japanese as well (not just speaking)... and I am still trying to figure out what is best for him and the concern I had shown in my first post is actually our immediate concern regarding our kids education. I'd appreciate people's opinions and advice here :) Thanx everyone.

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Its certainly a problem to be bi-literal. Did you look at Nishimachi? I understand they have a bi-literal / bi-lingual curriculum.

My kids (British father, Japanese mother) are at international school. I am very happy with the education experience they are getting. But damn, it really is expensive!

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best seller? sold like what 500? not even half the pele who bought it can read it? yeah its a real success...movin up in the world...

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Bootsy! haafu kids often don't have much problems becoming bilingual, but what I am more concerned about is the kids biliteracy.. A school that has a biliteral curriculum would be wonderful. I've heard of Nishimachi international school and I'd be very much interested in the biliteral curriculum they offer. My son already goes to a japanese elementary school but I'm thinking sending him to an international junior high to prepare for high school and university in the U.S might be a good thing to do as we might go back to America by then.. or might be better to finish japanese junior high and then send him to an international high school?... tough decisions to make.

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Im in the same position as you fishy, and I honestly dont know what the answer is, or if it is even possible to be completely bilingual AND bicultural. We are working on the "Japanese elementary school, international JHS, overseas HS" plan at the moment - but how will that bring our kids Japanese level up to adulthood levels? It`s a big problem, and the last thing I want is for the kids to be "mediocre" in both languages and unable to truly fit into any one of the cultures.

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and the last thing I want is for the kids to be "mediocre" in both languages and unable to truly fit into any one of the cultures.

I totally understand this.. that is my fear as well. Having 2 languages and 2 cultures is a precious gift that the parents from 2 countries can offer for the children.. We just need to figure out how..

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At the moment, I lean towards pushng the langauge and culture that will give them the most opportunities as a monolingual, with the additional languages/cultures as a bonus. For our circumstances, that would be English, but I am very open to changing that way of thinking depending on how Japan develops over the next few years.

We are lucky in that we still have a bit of time to figure it out as my kids are only just starting to enter the school system. But it is a tough one, compounded by the fact that we don`t have 200,000 yen per month per child to spend on international school, or rich, generous grandparents!

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I bit the bullet and sent my kids (and my J wife) back to Australia for a year in their primary school days. It was a hard 12 months for me but they came back fully culturalised, perfect English and fit back into J school perfectly. I would recommend it to anyone... better than International school!

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you can get discounts on some of these schools now. I spent the last two months researching and finally found one. there are so many hidden costs that you really have to do your homework. for example, negotitate fees for a second, third child in advance. i sent my son because i wanted him to learn english considering he is already speaking japanese with his jmother. plus, have you ever seen jkids at the park? they are so afraid of playing with other children. not sure if they learn this in jschools or not but it sure is odd. my son tries to play with foreign kids and usually they all play together. jkids run to mommy.

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dano2002.. Discounts?? Negotiate fees?? Oh wow... I guess I really have to do my homework, didn't know any of this.

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dano2002 thanks for this tip, i am also looking for an int. school right now.

my son is in japanese youichien now (he is 3yr 9m), but he is rapidly becoming fluent in japanese and it is becoming dominant. I teach him english every evening for 15-30 mins and he is starting to spell basic words, knows his letter sounds etc. but he cannot output many english sentences verbally. anyway, we are probably going to put him in an int. school from next sept, however it is a pain to throw so much money on it when i could get the same thing or better for free back home.

one other thing to consider...university costs in japan are extremely high. this is a huge factor pushing us to just go back to uk instead of staying here.

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Know a young american who was raised in Japan. Parents of course spoke English at home. Sent him through Sho Gakko at Japanese schools and then to Canadian Academy. He went to Stanford. He is Bi-literal. Speaks and reads both languages equally well. Even wrote a book in Japanese.

Now one might ask what is the future for our children? English offers America, Europe, India, Australia, perhaps China for the future. They will know enough Japanese to get around and could study it as a second language and pass the Japanese tests for the language.

Now the cost of an International school? 160 - 200 man yen per year per child. Even a private Japanese school is 100 man yen. Or a cheap Japanese public school where our children can go with the Japanese children who failed to get into a better school. I see no future for my children in Japanese system except at the bottom of the totem pole. And do I want them locked into a future where they have no life but work? I will use an online school out of California to keep my children current. Japanese will be taught as a second language. No bullying either for the school is at home via the internet. Cost: 500USD. High school will be about 1000USD per course, but it comes with a teacher on the other end.

What about socialization? Does it even exist in Japanese society? Do not the children have to go to jukus anyways. Are not the Japanese children too busy studying for their exams! No time for play or friendship. We really miss the wonderful school system in our hometown in the USA. Wish the children could enjoy a Prom, football game, debate club, dances, basketball games, soccer etc. People have time in the US to do volunteer activities for the children as well. Indoor soccer, lacross, swimming, golf, bowling, the arts, music. Wow.

However, our children will do well no matter what, as long as there is love in our families. This is probably the most important thing we can do for our children and future generations. Be present is an old chinese proverb.

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I attended an international school in Japan as my parents had sights of my attending an American university. That strategy was successful but it did have drawbacks toward reacclimating yourself back into Japanese society. It took awhile. It would be better served to finish up your Japanese secondary education while studying English as hard as you can there and then attend an international school as a sophomore or junior to become reasonably bi-lingual. I do not think there is anything to gain to become fully billingual unless you plan to work for the UN or become an English/Japanese teacher.

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5000 yen for a book that has information you can get from the internet? Some of the schools listed seemed like glorified eikaiwas. By the way, I wonder if Ms. Pover has model releases for all the children that are pictured in her book. I have a daughter in an international school and I would be quite upset if I saw her picture there.

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