Preparing your child to walk to school in Japan without you

By Kirsty Kawano

Perhaps the biggest and most immediate change that accompanies your child’s graduation from kindergarten to elementary school in Japan is his/her newfound independence.

No longer assumed to require around-the-clock supervision, their first step out alone will likely be the walk to school and home again. Although most kids are delighted by this sudden freedom, for most parents, and some children, it will take some time to come to terms with it.

When most soon-to-be first-year elementary school kids imagine walking to school by themselves they probably picture the sun shining, birds singing, friendly neighbors waving to them and many new friends and happy experiences along the way. Cautious children, however, may share the image that most parents see: a cold and cloudy day with speeding cars just around the corner and adults with dark thoughts lurking in wait. The real picture will usually be closer to the first image, but it’s the eternal possibility of an exception to the norm that makes parents worry. So what are parents to do? First, understand that it is rare for a child to meet with foul play on the way to and from school—millions of children commute safely every school day. Second, do what you can to prevent your child from meeting with danger. Let’s look at how to do that.

Practice makes confidence 

Before the new school year starts in early April, walk the route to and from school with your child. As you do so, advise your child on how to safely cross roads and intersections and to navigate footpaths that may be heavily used by bicycles. If possible, walk the route together at the time that your child will walk it—in order to arrive at school by 8:15 a.m.—and ideally do it on a school day. That way both of you will get an idea of how much road and people traffic there is then and also whether there will be other students walking nearby or not. As you walk, take note of stores and other public buildings that your child could flee to in case of an emergency, checking too whether they would be open around 8 a.m.


Some of these places will include shops and homes marked with the “kodomo 110-ban” (kodomo hyaku-tou-ban) sign. Children who seek refuge at such premises will be protected there until police arrive. Also, teaching your child to say hello to local shopkeepers and residents that she passes daily near your home and on the way to school will help train their eyes to look out for her, as well as help her to feel like part of her local community.

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© Savvy Tokyo

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When I was at primary school in England in the early 1970s, we used to walk to school on our own everyday, just as they do here in Japan, and we were fine. But times change and it's quite understandable that kids don't walk to school on their own any more. I imagine that pretty soon the same will be the case in Japan.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

I don't know what happens in the city, but in inaka, the school's PTA will be all over issues relating to walking to school. Other parents will be charged with helping you out, and you certainly do not have to hang out in parks etc. trying to chance upon a saviour as Savvy suggests. When your turn comes, you'll be expected to do the same to help other new pupils, which may be very time consuming and involve difficult dealings with other families/mothers.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

The hardest part of having your kid(s) walking to school on their own for the first time is yourself.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

SpeedApr. 3 10:39 am JST

The hardest part of having your kid(s) walking to school on their own for the first time is yourself.

Very true.

The most difficult time for me was when my child no longer wanted me to hold his hand as we approached his school. He did not want fellow classmates to see that. I was glad he was growing up, yet saddened at the same time.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

As long as your child isn't a female between the ages of 7-11, the walk to school should be safe as your child isn't a sex object openly glorified by Japanese mass media.

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Actually I just walked my son to Elementary School for the first time today, it was the entrance ceremony for first graders.

One thing that puzzles me about the article though is that kids don't actually walk to school alone in Japan (or at least with my school, but I think its standard at most). All the kids on our block converge at a given time in the morning and make the walk together, convoy-style. This is organized by the school.

So kids don't walk alone, they walk with the other kids in your neighborhood. Today was an exception since it was the entrance ceremony, but from tomorrow he is going with the older kids in our block.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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