Japan Today



Salarymen families assess pros and cons of international schooling


With more companies expecting new applicants to take the TOEIC (Test of English for International Communication) examination, and others making a high TOEIC score a prerequisite for promotion, Nikkan Gendai (Sept 6) reports that growing numbers of Japanese families are taking a proactive approach to their children's education by enrolling them in international schools.

"With the background the globalization of corporations, more children in the families of rank-and-file salarymen are being enrolled in international schools," says Miwa Nakamura, a journalist who covers education. "Quite a few parents want their children to master both English and Chinese, and Chinese schools are also becoming popular."

That said, international schools in Japan are essentially aimed at educating foreign children, and Japanese children who graduate from them may not be recognized as having completed compulsory educational requirements.

"There have been cases where Japanese high schools wouldn't admit them," says Nakamura. "And those who go to international schools all the way through high school may not be qualified to enter a Japanese university. Certainly attending an international school will give a child foreign language skills, but there are numerous other demerits."

Since the foreign schools are attended by the children of Japanese executives employed by foreign companies, as well as the offspring of celebrities in the entertainment world, they have a certain aura of glamour about them. But culturally and academically, they are worlds apart from Japanese education and the Ministry of Education has been unable to grasp their actual status.

As a result, although some international schools have obtained certification at the prefectural level, they are classified as specialty institutions, in the same category as cram schools, language conversation schools, driver's education schools and so on.

Some 80 international schools in Japan have obtained Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) accreditation that would enable graduates smoother entry into Japanese universities, but the others must pass a high school graduation equivalency test to gain entry.

An unnamed Japanese educator also points out that the international schools' curriculums, if anything, tend to be even more lenient than the laid-back "yutori kyoiku" policies adopted in the 1990s that have been largely discredited in recent years.

"What is particularly bad is that some of these schools appear to have brought in instructors who were working part-time at some of the big English conversation schools -- free-timers who couldn't land regular full-time jobs. I wonder how qualified they are to teach."

Another issue facing families thinking of sending their child to such schools is their considerably higher tuition fees.

"There are some differences in costs, but parents should expect to pay between 1.5 million to 5 million yen in tuition per year," says the aforementioned Nakamura.

At the American School in Japan where singer-songwriter Hikaru Utada was educated, for example, these costs were around 2.2 million yen per year. The Seishin International School, attended by Mari Sekine, charges around 2.02 million yen. But since these schools are accredited, the costs are deemed reasonable.

Still, in comparison, 12 years of public school education from primary through high school ought to cost a family about 5 million yen, even with supplimentary costs such as cram school tuition and extracurricular activities added.

Still, an education that helps nurture diversity can't be all bad. Or can it?

"Just as there are children who speak Japanese fluently but who have trouble with grammar and composition, a child's ability at a foreign language doesn't necessarily substantiate academic achievement," the aformentioned educator remarks. "Some kids who go to the international schools never manage to pick up kanji, and quite a few of them can't read a Japanese newspaper. With an incomplete education, it's common that some fail to gain university admission and they wind up as deadbeats."

Parents who decide to go the way of international schooling need to be on their guard, warns Nikkan Gendai, or they might wind up with a lout who just happens to be adept at speaking English.

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Hmmm, this is a really pertinent article for us right now, as we have been considering international v Japanese education from Junior High onwards.

First of all, I would say that the international education curriculum is not necessarily more "laid-back" than the Japanese one at all - rather it has a different emphasis, particularly on critial thinking and independant research, whereas the Japanese style is more on rote learning, memorisation and regurgitating facts (generally speaking).

Looking more specifically at individual schools, i was surprised to find that many private junior and senior schools here specialise in particular fields, even returnees and international eduation, whilst retaining their status as a "Japanese" school.

Our biggest concern was that giving our children 6 years of Japanese and 6 years of English would ultimately hamper them in both languages. So we are leaning now towards Japanese-only education, with lots and lots of opportunity for English at home and on holiday, and maybe doing high school in the UK if that is what they want to do. I am happy for Japanese to be their "native" language, because I think English-speaking countries are far more tolerant of not-quite-native english speakers, whereas Japanese are not used to Japanese who cant read and write fluently and tend to look down on them, in my friends experiences.

I do also think (within Tokyo anyway) that the international school fees are pretty exhorbitant for the service they provide. Two kids in the international system will cost you over 400,000 a month! Much rather go to a school with a heavy emphasis on international education, and part of the curriculum taught in English for 60,000 a month.

Or if you are really set on an international eduation and cant affors it, just homeschool! There are many many great correspondant courses now, leading to the same diploma as if you were already attending a bricks and mortar school. That is still an option for us if our kids really want to go down the English education route and we havent won the lottery by then!

6 ( +6 / -0 )

This is pig ignorant thinking by some old fogey. Trotting out the same old tosh again and again to feel superior over teh ghastly foreigners. If you are in Japan and want the best for your children , no cram school and little of no after school clubs. You can teach them more at home after school than these places. Childhood is for fun, not for leaving home at 8am and returning at 10PM as i have seen many do.

There are good and bad schools everywhere, the generalisations here are meaningless.

Ms Washida; There is a lot you can achieve in a small amount of tiem everyday. One on one learning with a family member is more fun and you know the childs strengths and weaknesses. Don't feel to much pressure to pay for a certain education though i would recommend an International school or homeschooling once at JHS age.

5 ( +7 / -3 )

After marrying and deciding to buy a house and understanding that the missus and I would be having kids and staying in Tokyo for the long term, I figured I would be faced with this "dilemma" one day. As such, I started doing my homework long ago and have heard from a number of people in international marriages about their kids going through a Japanese education system (avoiding "the" as I don't think all schools are the same) or an international school. Many have told me much depends upon the personality of the child. Some seem to fit better in the non-Japanese learning environment and others seem to hate it. In the end, I think it is easy to assume that the Japanese schools are horrible, but many friends have sent their children to local schools from K-12 and are very impressed with the results. And of course, going through the schools here doesn't preclude kids from attending a university in America or other countries. In the end, I wonder how much of this is just "akogare" on the part of some parents in Japan thinking that a child who speaks English fluently is "better." Personally, I find that way of thinking despicable.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

If your kids intend to have a life based in Japan, it seems sensible to make sure that they have a proper Japanese education, for the reasons Nicky gives. If on top of that you want them to have a head start in your native language and to develop critical thinking skills, then as a parent you're ideally placed to give them that. If a parent is confident enough to consider home-schooling, then spending a few hours a week of structured time with the kid should be no problem - plus of course the normal kid-and-parents-just-having-fun-together time (if you can blend the two together, especially when the kid is small, all the better).

It might be worth considering moving out of Tokyo to get the child into a good private school - fees are half what they are in Tokyo, there seems to be less competition for scholarships and from my own personal observations, the end result turns out better. You have to make sure before you commit that the school does offer what you're looking for, though: 'private school' covers a whole range of quite different beasts.

The idea of Japanese parents based in Japan sending their children to international school strikes me as being a bit sad. In many cases they're just throwing (a lot of) money at what they perceive to be a problem. I'm not sure they'll get out of it what they hope they will - a bit like the parents who buy humungously expensive 'home learning courses' and then just leave the kid to get on with it. Parental input is an absolute necessity.

4 ( +6 / -2 )

Japanese is something which can only be acquired in Japan; English can be acquired anywhere in the world, and eventually will. For businesspeople with no Japanese spouse and no long-term ties to Japan, an Int'l school might make sense, but if your child has ties to Japan, now is the time to develop them. As such, I agree with all of the comments above.

My kids attended a standard kindergarten and elementary school, but we are fortunate to have nearby the Kumamoto Kyushu Gakkuin Lutheran JHS and HS. The religious component is slight - and useful, too, as most Japanese are clueless about Christianity (disclaimer: I am not Christian, but I feel an understanding of it is important); moreover, there are several native speakers hired full-time directly from the States to assist in the instruction. Also, there is absolutely no bias against "half" kids; in fact, my son was elected Student Council president of his JHS. Their tuition is also reasonable at about $400,000 yearly.

You might want to look into a Lutheran or other relatively progressive Christian school in your area. Or you could move to Kumamoto.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Laguna 400,000 Dollars a year!!! Think most of us in Japam are trying to get away from all the religion stuff, personally anything to do with Christianity rather annoys me. If it works for you fine, but i think you are paying well over the odds.

-2 ( +2 / -4 )

Ms Washida; There is a lot you can achieve in a small amount of tiem everyday. One on one learning with a family member is more fun and you know the childs strengths and weaknesses. Don't feel to much pressure to pay for a certain education though i would recommend an International school or homeschooling once at JHS age.

We are doing this right now - "afterschooling" - and we are loving it! We have so much fun and the kids are doing really well. My daughter is focusing on English as she gets everything else at school. She will be doing her Eiken 5 next month, at the age of 7, bless her! I really couldnt care less about her result (although I already know she is going to pass) but the intention is that doing a "proper" exam and passing it will give her a big boost and encourage her to go on.

My son (5) does English Hiragana and Maths with me at the moment. I push the English on him a little I admit, but the Maths and Hiragana is his choice - he loves Maths and he is interested in Hiragana since starting kindergarten and seeing it everywhere. I know once he starts elementary school it will be a little bit harder to sit down with him so I am trying to give him a good grounding in English before he starts.

We homeschooled through the summer holidays and had a great time. We got a day of work done in no more than a couple of hours and were free the rest of the day.

I think we are very lucky in that, because the MOTHER is a furriner as opposed to the father, I am in a better position in our case to teach the kids English because I am home when they come home from school. When I was teaching English eikaiwa, I had quite a few kids who were half American, UK, Australian and what have you, but it was the dads who were the furriner and they rarely had the time to sit down and really do English with the kids. The kids had barely any English at all.

A friend of mine (American in Japan) homeschools full time, and it has so many benefits. They can go to museums and suchlike on "field trips" when other kids are in school so it is totally uncrowded, and fly home to the US during term time when it is cheaper, and work through the summer holidays when it is too hot to be outside anyway. It works well for them, and I certainly wouldnt write off homeschoolers as hippies or religious nuts these days - all kinds of people do it for all kinds of reasons.

I have already researched the various homeschooling options for us should we decide to take that route, and there is a good one out of the UK that teaches KS3 and 4 leading up to GCSEs, with dedicated tutors and email/skpe support. They can then do their A levels/university in the UK if they choose. Whislt homeschooling, you are allowed to register with the local Junior High so you can still "graduate" Junior High even without actually attending, but a lot depends on how receptive individual schools and BOEs are to that plan. I know of some that are very accommodating, and othrs that are not.

The only thing that really worries me about a Japanese education in the long-term is that, the way things are here with employment (lack of benefits, permanent work) labour laws (and lack of enforcement), women in the workplace (lack of respect and equal treatment), crazy long working hours and so on, I am not convinced I want my children living and working here when they grow up. But that is their choice, not mine. All I can do is provide them with all the opportunities and info i can to enable them to have the choices available to them. Thats my job as I see it.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Laguna - do you mean 400,000 yen???! or 4000 dollars??!

On the religious education side: I went to catholic schools as a child. My Mother tried to claim that they were "better" schools, but the truth is, she is just rabidly catholic and wanted the same indoctrination for me. I took no notice quite honestly! Compulsory RE was a "bonus" GCSE I just coasted through and told them what they wanted to hear in the answer papers.

Again I see the role of education as explaining the various religions and beliefs and why people think the things they do, providing a child with the information to eventually find and follow their own path. Any school (such as mine) that pushes a theory on a child is wrong, in my humble opinion.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

From experience, I have found that Japanese who have gone through the Japanese school system fare better in the work world here in Japan. This is because it took them 20 years to thoroughly learn their own language ... and even if they have done so, they are still learning as they work with it throughout their working life. Those who have gone to international schools do learn both languages, but their ability to gain full knowledge of the Japanese language, especially the written part, is limited. One Japanese boss I had went to a Catholic school in Yokohama, and his English was among the best around. However, he admitted to me more than once that his Japanese was far from perfect ... and he couldn't read all that many Japanese characters. He said if he had gone through the Japanese schooling system his Japanese would have been much better. He has long since died, but his experience ... and that of others like him ... is engraved deeply in my mind.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Ms Washida; Also went to Catholic school for a while, nothing more put me off Christianity and unfortunately put me off school ending in lots of traunting.

I think there is too much emphasis on going to University. Studies have shown that it is only of real benefit to about 20 of the population. About half of children aged 15 plus would benefit more from training in certain job after learning the three R's. This is something you do not find in Japan ot indeed most countries anymore. The best chance a less academic child seems to have of receieving this kind of training is at reform school after breaking the law, which is well meaning but should apply to good kids also.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

Because I work all day and my wife's English is barely there, our kids weren't speaking English at all at first, though they understood mine. Eventually we put them into an international preschool in Tokyo at a cost of about 50,000 per month. The results were stellar. Their English quickly zoomed past their Japanese.

Now we live in rural Japan. The kids are at regular Japanese kindy and elementary school, and it is very good. But their English is slowly withering away. As much as I hate mindless TV for kids, I've been able to prop up their English ability with extra idoot-box time on foreign shows via Apple TV and SkyPerfect.

As for reading, they are far behind their US peers. I was despairing of them ever learning to read English until it came rolling around in Japanese middle school, when I found out that they can already do it at Kumon. They started English at Kumon about three months ago, and now are learning to read just fine. It's only a few thousand yen per month for the two of them. It's not the same way kids "back home" learn to read English, but at least they're keeping a foot in and things will all be easier for them later on if we leave Japan.

As for the future, I'm with steve@CPFC. College is overrated, and I say that after having graduated from Yale myself. I'm not sure I want my kids on that treadmill. Unless you are already rich and connected, the "best schools" seem to lead mostly to yuppie-slave type jobs and lifestyles, such as lawyers and accountants thrice divorced and working 70-hour weeks even their 50s. Most of the happy and rich folks I know didn't go to "top" schools. In fact, some of them didn't even graduate from high school. I think having internationally-minded kids who went to school in Japan and also speak native-level English already have a huge leg up in life.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

I don't know what "salaryman" this article is talking about, but I don't see how a typical salaryman earning 5-6 million yen a year could ever afford to spend that amount on schooling.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Sorry - obviously that should have been yen. My point is that these types of schools ARE fully-accredited Japanese schools; the curriculum is taught in Japanese, and the kids participate in life as those at any other school - with the exception of a greater emphasis placed on English and an emphasis on a larger world-view, and consequently, more space for kids who are different.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Lots of good thought out commets/opinions above, hope those with kids make as good a choices as they can.

Personally, I am glad the wife & I dont have kids here, seeing what your run of the mill kid has to go through frankly I wouldnt wish it on anyone except my worst enemies, I know there is no way I would have wanted to go through J-schools, I would have likley gone insane & likely would have caused the same for some teachers & classmates.

While it kinda works for the locals, the utter waste of childhood for J-kids alone leaves me thankful I never went through it, add in all the stupid testing to get into ALL the levels of schools & how its done, all I see is a lot of wasted youth for next to nothing tangible. I find it all rather sad.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

"...the Ministry of Education has been unable to grasp their actual status."

That just about explains everything.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

GW, it's not that bad - in fact, my kids love their school and even don't mind cram school: there is a large social dimension. I agree that some parents put their kids through hell, but that is not required by society; that is their choice.

2 ( +2 / -0 )


Appreciate yr point of view, but the fact cram school here EVEN EXISTS, shows there is a lot thats wrong.

Ask yrself this question. If you could change your past, would you go back in time & change the schools you went to as a kid to schools in Japan?

I will start, NO WAY. Your turn.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

I always remember a conversation I had with a half-Indian/Japanese guy I once met. He had spent his whole life in Japan but he said he felt like he didn't have 'a place' or a sense of identity because he had been educated at an international school. He said he never had any long-term friends like other kids because his classmates would typically spend only a few years at school and then move back to their home countries when their fathers got transferred back. That was what put me off looking further into international school for my son.

Nicky, if you are going to leave it up to your kids to decide if they live/work in Japan in the future then I can see a significant advantage in them going to a Japanese school - they will learn the nuances of Japanese culture, and your British influence will add an extra dimension to their awareness of other cultures. Even 'kikokusei' (returnees from abroad) who come back to Japan and into JHS and HS sometimes have a hard time 'reading the atmosphere', and then there is a problem with kanji and so on.

Steve, I know these days in Britain 'people' are re-evaluating whether so many people need to go to university. Personally, I see that as a weak excuse by government for the tripling of tuition fees. Sure, go to technical college if you are going to become an electrician or into skilled labour, but so many companies these days require a degree as a basic. For many people who want to get on, they have no choice but to go to university. There is also the advantage of having flexibility in a turbulent job market. If you were qualified for a trade (but no degree) and that industry went belly up, it could be very difficult to find another job in another industry quickly - no degree no job.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

hatsoff; degress are not needed for most jobs. Fee increases have nothing to do with it. Universities may help people do specialists jibs but don't give degress in common sense. you have fallen into teh trap thinking University is a must , no way pedro. Find something you are good at and work hard and by the time people graduate with huge debts you are earning good dosh. A trade does not go belly up, people always want plumbers , HGV drivers, yoiu name it,.

Never let the majority grind you down because of where you came from or where you have been. Teaching kids to be independent and strong is better than making them a one size fits all J salaryman who is a slave to a company. Teach them if they are not accepted by some. to prove they are better. No need to accept mediocraty whcih is what J schools mostly produce fro JHS onwards.

Free thinking, sod what is considered "normal", work hard at what you love and treat others fine and you will do better than you could imagine. We should teach this to our kids, give them confidence and realsim, don't let them think they will be an actor or singer if it will never happen. Get the best out of them, let them enjoy childhood, no cram schools, no over pressuring or bullying from parnets either. If you cannot afford expensive school or Univwersity don't worry, teach them the right way and the benefit of hard work,

Of we all stayed in education until early 20's would be a rubbish life.

0 ( +3 / -3 )

My son attended a Japanese primary school for the first three years of his schooling. It was OK, but he was always complaining it was boring and the pace of the lessons was too slow. I could see his point as one lesson I observed they spent 45 minutes discussing what 6x7 was. This is great for the slower children, but if you already know your times tables it's excruciatingly tedious.

It seems to me that the Japanese schools are good at turning out young adults who are literate, numerate and able to follow instructions. Such people make ideal factory workers, but lack the ability to question anything they are told or to think for themselves. Unfortunately, much of the factory work is moving overseas so the education system needs to change to produce people who are creative and innovative. Alas, the bureaucrats in the education ministry are unable to see this and are completely fixed in their ways.

Eventually we moved our son to an international school where he was much happier and now he is at a UK boarding school. He still has the option to return to Japan when he is older and hopefully it won't be to take a job in a company that insists you work all hours and never take holidays (what a great "reward" for all those years of study that is). After all, I have a good job here, I'm home by 6 pm every day and I didn't need to study like crazy to get into the "best" school, the "best" university and all this nonsense that Japanese children are faced with.

However, I have a Japanese friend who took his daughter out of the international school once she got to junior-high age so that she wouldn't have any issues with entering university here in the future. It's probably true that the best option for a child with two Japanese parents is to stick with the system and hope that you live near a good school.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

GW is onto something. The schoolday here is too long and too much rote, grinding homework. Kids need to be kids and play. That isn't wasted time. Most kids will follow a hobby or be developing something, a view, a social skillset, problem-solving or analytical ability, evolving and refining common sense. But if they are stuck in school and juku until ten pm from grade 1 onward, then this never happens. I think we all know the cultural generalizations that follow from this.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Hi, GW!

If you could change your past, would you go back in time & change the schools you went to as a kid to schools in Japan?

Very difficult question. It seems to me that schools in both countries are staffed with professionals who really have the kids' best interests at heart but are too hemmed in by scheduling and whatever to single kids out and pay attention to their individual issues. Parents come into play in an important way here, of course, but parents are generally not experts at the variety of subjects taught, and turning a parent-child relationship into the type of strict teacher-child relationship required for success harms the former, I believe. Thus, "cram schools" do play an important role, that of focused attention on areas where the child is weak; also, they are for-profit, so they have to succeed not only in satisfying the parents by delivering results but in satisfying the child by making them happy. I have a vast reserve of sympathy and respect for juku teachers.

School in the States was a blast for me. I had much fun - perhaps too much. When something got over my head, I faked my way out of it, and my teachers let it slide. Some might have briefly questioned this behavior, but their job was to teach a class, not to teach me, and being raised by a single mother did not leave me with the resources I needed to excel.

I find myself now in the role of encouraging my kids to relax, to go to bed early and take naps and play; they do their homework and choose to watch "educational" shows on TV because they like it. Perhaps if I had grown up in such an atmosphere, I would have been the same. So in answer to your question, GW, I guess I'd say I'd have rather grown up in this particular Japanese town and gone to my kids' particular school.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Scrote, are you basing your generalisation of Japanese schools on your experience of three years at one public elementary school?

Granted the public schools up to JHS do tend to go at the pace of the average-or-lower pupil, but your choice isn't between 'Japanese public school' on the one hand and 'international/overseas' on the other. Some public schools are better able than others to deal with brighter pupils, and there is always the private route, where you can choose a school that caters for your child's level of academic competence.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

What a lot of interesting experiences! And it just shows that it's a mistake to generalise. I think the role of the parents is key to how successfully children handle the education system they find themselves in, and everyone's comments show this. Personally I thought the article was a load of tosh, with a load of blanket statements and a complete misunderstanding of the place of international schools in international education. Not one mention of the IB! How can you discuss students' options without this?

Sure this is Japan and we all know change is at a snails pace here, but I truly think higher education here has its back to the wall because of the ageing population and falling school rolls, so they're going to have to change fast or go belly up. Unfortunately, I think the mindset and the post-university Japanese job market awaiting graduates is the real nightmare scenario.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Interesting article...In my experience, it is true that many Japanese students in International schools have less ability in their own language. If they plan on staying in Japan, getting into Japanese universities, it does present a problem. However, many of these students now go overseas for post-secondary, (mainly the US, Canada and England), as it is these environments in which they feel most comfortable. Often, parents send their children to intl schools here in order to make sure they'll be able to go to universities overseas. I do find it sad sometimes, that these children are less knowledgeable about their own language. However, they are, for the most part, receiving a well-rounded and international education, which will go far in today's globalized society. And yes, IB can and will take them anywhere!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Nicky, if you are going to leave it up to your kids to decide if they live/work in Japan in the future then I can see a significant advantage in them going to a Japanese school - they will learn the nuances of Japanese culture, and your British influence will add an extra dimension to their awareness of other cultures. Even 'kikokusei' (returnees from abroad) who come back to Japan and into JHS and HS sometimes have a hard time 'reading the atmosphere', and then there is a problem with kanji and so on.

Yes, I agree. We will almost certainly take them through the Japanese system as far as Junior High, depending of course on many factors such as what THEY want to do, whether they have issues with bullying etc. By the time they are 15, I am hoping(!) they may have figured out some direction and based on that we can figure out which place would be better for them to finish their education.

I agree with Steve that for most jobs (obvious ones such as medicine excepted) you dont need a degree, but unfortunately a degree is still often necessary to open doors for you, especially if you are not old enough yet to have built a reputation/contacts for yourself within the field. But it is getting to the point where universities are outpricing themselves for the benefits they offer.

Personally if I had a choice I would rather they were completely fluent in Japanese but working and living in the UK, just because I would hate to see my sons 20 years from now working 18 hour days, no holidays and getting bullied and pushed around by their seniors while my daughter is asked to pour tea for her male colleagues and asked when she is going to get married and quit her job (I know, horrible generalisation but I am sure you understand my point). I hope things have changed by then, but I doubt it.

But it is up to them. I feel very lucky and very privileged that we are even able to think outside the box, consider J school, UK school, a mix of the two, even homeschooling and not be worried about stepping off that escalator and being "different". A good friend of mine and I regularly talk about this (our daughters are in the same class) and she watches while I make all these plans and ideas (we are about to start a big Biology project on plants which is going to incorporate turning the balcony into a garden! Never let it be said that I use my children for slave-labour! I am paying them 100 yen an hour to help me!) while her husband tells her the only way to get on in life is Juku, Juku and more Juku Waseda JHS, Waseda HS and Waseda university.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Cleo: we looked at a local Japanese private school for my son. It is supposed to be for able students and has high academic standards. However, the "example day" of a 13 year-old student in their prospectus consisted of getting up at 6 am, study, tennis, breakfast, school, lots of study, tennis after school, more study, bed at 11 pm. To me there just seemed to be too much focus on study and the maths lesson we saw at that school involved going through worksheets at a frantic pace.

Another thing I don't like is the emphasis on learning facts, rather than thinking for yourself and questioning things. They sometimes publish junior-high school entrance exam questions in the paper and the humanities parts are always things like "what is the largest lake in Japan?", "how far is it from Sendai to Hachinohe?" etc. Where are the essay questions that require thought and planning to answer? They don't seem to exist. I don't want my son to become an automaton, only able to spout useless facts. This country needs more people who ask questions, especially of their politicians and bureaucrats. But this isn't what the bureaucrats want, so nothing will change for the time being.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

The proudest moment of my life : the day my son said to me "Thank you for sending me to the French school"... He reads, writes and speaks perfect Japanese and French, not to mention English too... As a divorced mother, it cost me a fortune but it's something I'll never regret having done... Unfortunately, his older brother - separated from us by the divorce - attended a Japanese school and had his left arm broken (he is left-handed) by his school "friends"...

0 ( +0 / -0 )

PS... Anyone with a computer - and half a brain - can write Japanese ! Even me ! And I never had a chance to learn the language... I learnt the same way babies learn how to talk - they : from their parents, me : from Japanese TV... and I have served as interpreter for French-English-Japanese on several occasions...

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Utada went to Seisen at first, but they gave her a choices. Study with us, but no show business, or go else where. She went TO ASIJ

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Jacqueline Miyagaya: You bring up something interesting. You say "anyone with a computer - and half a brain - can write Japanese. You are right. I can text in Japanese (kanji included) and quicker than in English. But...give me a piece of paper and a pencil and ask me to write Japanese (kanji) and I would be lost. It's easy on a computer and cell phone because the kanji presents itself and if you can remember the kanji by recognition, you can usually select the right one. Though my grammar may be off, it gets the message clear across. So, yes Japanese is easy via texting, but unless you really know the kanji by heart, not "anyone" can "write" Japanese, even with a full brain. Just saying'.

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Interesting article and really great comments. I really wanted to add my 2 cents but have been way to busy with my job. My daughter was born in Japan to a Japanese mother, so I want her to be raised as a Japanese girl. She's partly American, or white, but looks Japanese for the most part. The reason for this is I want her to have a country she can refer to as home and feel comfortable in. I don't want her to suffer the identity issues that so many TCKs have, not to mention the 7 year itch. Of course I want her to have an above average English ability and a broader view of the world, but these are things I can help with. I've seen way too many "half" kids (I hate that word) or returnees who think they can speak Japanese when in fact they can't. It's quite painful to watch. I want my daughter to master her own language first, and then worry about other languages (though I don't expect her to learn any useful English in Japanese schools).

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There are lots of ways to come at this topic. I was in one of the big Tokyo Softbank stores where they have plenty of bilingual staff. Our helper appeared to be mixed Japanese/white, and her nametag showed a common English surname, written in katakana. We started out in Japanese, and she was clearly a perfect, native-level speaker. At one point in the contract talk part, I said something in English, and she just looked at me blankly. I said it again, very simply and slower. She finally replied in Japanese, "sorry I only speak Japanese..."

I was actually taken aback and had mixed feelings about this. At first I felt sorry for her having missed the opportunity to be raised bilingually. I wondered if maybe her parents had divorced or separated, so she was raised fully Japanese. Later, my Japanese wife shook her head and said "She's 'half', but can't speak English!!"

On the other hand, in the USA, there are plenty of people of different races and colors and nationalities who speak only English, and not a word of whatever language is used in the country their grandparents or parents might have come from. Some immigrants even raise their kids that way on purpose. And you don't think "what a waste" if they can't speak Chinese or Italian or whatever as well as English.

Being bilingual is great, and very useful if you have relatives in two different countries/cultures, or travel a lot. But it's reductive and materialistic to consider the bilingual issue only with respect to getting into the best schools and getting a "good" job. There are plenty of other, more important things than that. And in my work experience, apart from translators/interpreters, many bilingual workers are actually pegged lower than their monolingual peers, since they are pushed or fall into assistant and translator-type jobs for higher-ups, are secretly suspected of having "gone native" or being outsiders or spies, and don't get any extra pay, reward or even consideration for their ability or additional work.

I guess I like the approach of bicultural in the post above. You work on the extra language as you can, but the priority is to get one main language down pat.

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My point was : Most jobs these days use computers... People don't need a piece of papeer and a pensil to write - even job applications ("Hello Work") are done by computer.

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Zichi; My immediate family from UK all left school at 16 and we all did well without University. The University of life served me well. Universities do not teach common sense, hard work, ethic, empathy and respect. That is why so many who go to Universities leave to do crappy jobs and have a huge debt to pay.

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International school....mmm which people can afford it, only the very rich and expats, which brings me to the main problem; I cant decide for my sons where they should live in the future..but if they (highly likely) decide to live in Japan then the usual "dokyusei" relations are major important. Relations which are hard to make if your schoolmates keep leaving and moving to other countries which happen a lot at international schools. Brush it off as not important..for japanese it IS important. Fluent English is an overrated skill and not worth paying 2 mill a year for, good English will get you anywhere too. "Good "schools are overrated too in my opinion, what matters too are your kids abilities and strengths and your faith in them, if they have the ability to do so, then they will end up in Todai, if not well then they have to go somewhere else .....who cares?dont forget that all those japanese politicians graduated from Waseda, Keio and other prestigious uni`s....

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Scrote - You looked at 'a' private school? I couldn't tell you how many private japanese schools we looked at for our son. Most of them didn't meet our standards, in the main for the reasons you give. Some of our friends sent their children to some of the 'very good' schools we dismissed out of hand, and were quite happy with them. The school we eventually chose was one that our friends didn't even have on their list of maybes; it wasn't 'good' enough for them because it didn't have the emphasis you describe of filling every hour of every day with sports, rote learning and drills. They couldn't understand why we chose the school that we did; it stuck to a 5-day week when the other privates were all doing 6 days, it frowned on kids filling their evenings and weekends with juku, and encouraged the kids to develop a skill or interest that was totally unrelated to school and academic study. We could not have made a better choice; he was treated as an individual, in small classes, no sports clubs unless he chose to (he chose not to), lessons involved lots of discussion and pounding out of ideas, and despite studying hard he still had time to develop his love of music. He ended up getting into a much better uni than his friends who went to the 'good' schools, spent time abroad and did a post grad course, is fluent in Japanese and English and can make himself understood in 3 more languages, and now is doing very creative work that he loves.

You cannot judge all schools by looking at just one, though I admit it can be tempting. I visited an international school once (on an errand, no intention of putting my kids there) and noticed classrooms with kanji taped up on the walls - and a good quarter of them were upside-down. After that it was very tempting to believe that international schools are not the place for kids who need to know Japanese as well as/more than English, but then that was just one school.

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Cleo, what school was it? Sounds worth checking out.

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Cleo: the school you describe sounds ideal. Unfortunately, my wife, who tends towards the all-out study approach to learning, would probably side with your friends and claim it's not "good" enough. And when it comes to making such decisions I rarely prevail.

It's also true that Japanese language teaching can be poor in international schools. My friend sent his daughter to juku to keep up her Japanese whilst she was at the international school.

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Tom Demicke,

I suspect many Japanese have the same problem, likely less than your average foreign type, ie hand them a pen & paper & start writing & I bet many cant remember LOTS of kanji, but on the computer as it spits out the options they can nail it. I think many older Japanese dont like that computer use now leaves the young ones with difficulty putting pen to paper so to speak

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badmigraine - dunno that it's ethical to actually name names here, but it's a very well-known school in Utsunomiya. Giveaway hint : They did very well in the Koshien High School baseball this year.

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College actually does teach a lot of those things. Hard work? Try studying 50-100 hours a week for finals while also working a 20 hour a week part time job and attending classes five days a week.

I also remember more than a few ethics classes. And in college, you are often forced to have an extremely close working relationship with not only your peers but your teachers, especially in classes focusing on your major, which are often much smaller - I can't imagine you'd get far in an environment like that without showing a little respect.

That's not to mention that statistically you're far more likely to land a good job with a college degree (although grad school is better), and there's no putting value on a good education.

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I would say the bi-lingual education is not the same bi-cultural education. I think it is better for a child to learn a second language as early as possible. If the parents have different native languages, then they should teach the child both languages. Kids are good with language and early exposure can never be match later. As for Japanese schools, I'm sure they teach many subjects well but foreign language isn't one of them. It's unlikely that a teach of a foreign language ever attend school in a country that spoke that language. If the teacher can't pronounce the words correctly how can the students? There are some private schools that do a good job but you have to know those schools and their history. Just know that if the kids stay in Japan, they may not be able pickup some of the nuance of the foreign language. Language is not just vocal.

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Im with Human Target, certainly a good education helps a young person be more open-minded and progressive, as well as being able to land a much better job than without it. Leaving school at 16 leaves massive holes in a young person's education and reduces their options.

Considering your views, Steve, on women and the family, perhaps university might have helped you be more progressive and tolerant. Not all women want to stay at home with babies and have no ambition, and further education means you have options - you can always start your own business, but that is not all you can do. To be honest, in the UK, a kid leaving at 16 is more likely to just end up on the dole for life, than anything else.

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In response to the comments about Japanese-language teaching being poor in International schools, I disagree. All teachers are qualified Japanese teachers, and teach in similar ways to Japanese schools. The 'kanji upside down' comment I find a little strange; why would a Japanese teacher do that? (I dislike when people automatically assume things when they don't know the background!) I think the reason for poor Japanese levels, is their lack of desire in a lot of cases, to study a language which they feel they already know. Also, in school these kids speak English, and often socialize outside of school in English. I have heard students say, "my mom told me I was more like a gaijin than Japanese", to which one student responded with, "you sent me to international school; it's your fault."

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The 'kanji upside down' comment I find a little strange; why would a Japanese teacher do that? (I dislike when people automatically assume things when they don't know the background!)

I also found the situation strange, pointed it out to my friend who was a teacher at the school, and she was appalled. She got it fixed immediately. My point was not that Japanese-language teaching was poor in international schools: I was attempting to illustrate that you cannot take one isolated incident and generalise from that that 'all Japanese/international/public/private/whatever schools are the same'. Or even that one lapse in a school is proof that that particular school is no good. A lapse is just a lapse.

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Would I prefer my child to know English or Japanese to an advanced level?

Well. in terms of choice and opportunity in education,careers and employment, English would be the one to go for. Also,the future of Japan looks looks particularly difficult these days, so it would have to be English

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In Japan, the friendships and bonds made at school and especially at college or university, will last a lifetime. There are many times when you might need to call upon those relationships, such as, a guarantor for rent payment or a bank loan

That is if you only stay in your small circle and never grow. I have great friends from childhood and college, but as you grow and mature, you find other interests and meet new people. Nothing can replace those friends from long ago, but I don't circle my life around them and only keep in contact with them.

I guess part of the problem I see is the whole process of guarantor for rent. Not sure why that happens in Japan. I have great friends from the past, but I would not co-sign for anyone (including family) for a loan.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

kurisupis' (crispies?) comment above is interesting. It brings to mind the often seen disclaimer in investment prospectuses: "Past performance is not a guarantee of future results." Chinese anyone? Or will it be Swahili in 50 years? But we have to go with what we know: English, or Japanese, with possible side orders.

When I was participating in an education-abroad program in Japan one fellow student at university could communicate quite well in English, German, and Japanese. But he was not fluent in any of them, making loads of grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation mistakes in all three. He was technically trilingual but he could not be said to be a native speaker of anything. So, it is possible to allow, or force, children to spread their languages too thin. And we have all seen how even some monolingual people butcher their one language of semi-expertise with poor education.

Just a word of caution, is all.

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Thinking further: Because you live in Japan, if one parent or both are Japanese then the primary educational language should be Japanese because that is the language of the society you are living in. The ideal would be an excellent English program in conjunction, starting at the earliest age possible. But I suspect that died with Prime Minister Obuchi's sudden death. I hope that I am wrong (often am) and that it is possible for children to become as bilingual in Japan as in Western Europe.

Only if both parents are non-Japanese and they do not plan on spending the rest of their lives in Japan should their children's education be centered on English or another language.

OK, that leaves the Utada Hikaru exceptions. Good for them!

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Or, if you ever want your kid to go to US or UK Univesity.

Honestly, I think many of you that claim that Japanese schools are ok are just saying so because the cost or international schools is ridiculously expensive. I cut the budget in other areas to make it work. Plus, I called every school near my home and asked for a discount. Finally, one accepted.

Now, my son is bilingual as my wife is Japanese. If not, I wonder how he learns English? from daddy on the weekends?

In my case, i just moved to Singapore and my son was able to easily transition. Many of my transferred Japanese co-workers can not send their kids to English speaking schools so they send their kids to Japanese school here. This is more expensive that the English speaking ones.

So, those of you with kids in Japanese schools I will say this. Be prepatred to either live in Japan forever or have a really tough time for you kid adjusting. And, this is both for language and culture.

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dano2002 - As you say, international school is ridiculously expensive. Those families where Dad is Japanese and Mum non-Japanese (by far the majority of 'mixed' marriages) don't need to pay those ridiculous fees if Mum is prepared and able to teach Junior her language and culture. Then there's no need to cut the budget in other areas.

Can't say I see the difference between having to pay more for International school in Japan, and having to pay more for Japanese school in Singapore. From your Japanese co-workers' point of view, I would imagine a solid grounding in Japanese was more important.

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Yes, in the case of a stay at home mom then probably you are right. But, if the sole breadwinner is non Japanese and working quite late (get home at 8 or so) then it is hard for the kid to learn English. Especially, when mom is Japanese, school is Japanese and country is Japanese.

A solid groundwork in Japanese where they live in Singapore yet ONLY speak Japanese and only have Japanese friends. Can't watch TV or go see a movie in another country.

The difference is that my child speaks both languages.

I see a very large difference in both the teaching and behavior of the kids.

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If the kids are going to be spending an extended period of time in Singapore (or anywhere else) it stands to reason they'd do better being able to speak a language other than Japanese. But if the family will be moving back to Japan in a year or two, unless there's a strong interest in learning another language on the part of the child, it probably isn't that big a deal. Japanese schools abroad are like international schools in Japan - for kids who aren't planning on staying.

I'm also not entirely convinced by the 'but Dad works late' argument. There are logistical problems of course, but given the whining we get on JT about Japanese Dads not spending enough time with their kids, you'd think all the non-Japanese Dads were already spending gallons of quality time with their kids. Personally I think input from both parents is important, regardless of what language or mixture of languages is involved.

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I know this post is 9 years old now. But I just wanted to add that if you’re Japanese with family / roots in Japan, do your kids a favor and put them in a Japanese school. I’m a Japanese kid who went to international school starting in kindergarten up until 12th grade. We did get Japanese language classes for 1 hr once a week starting in junior high but that was it. I ended up going to a university in the US and landed a job there as well. I‘m now stuck here and don’t feel like I have a choice. It’s not ideal as the entirety of my family and relatives are in Japan. I’m alone here.

My advice to all the parents out there is as follows. Optimize your kids education for where the family will be. Otherwise you’ll set them up for lifetime of trauma.

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