Schooling for non-Japanese kids in Japan

Schooling for non-Japanese kids in Japan

- Written by Yogi (Yogendra PURANIK), Tokyo Edogawa City Councillor on 2-March-2021.

Schooling for the non-Japanese kids, the double-blood kids, and Japanese kids returning from overseas, has always been an issue of great concern in Japan, one of the biggest reasons why these kids and their parents shy away from Japan. I call this phenomenon as a reverse brain drain (gyaku zunou ryuushitsu), as these parents, including me, came to Japan as a brain drain from all parts of the world and our next generation, i.e. our kids, are draining away from Japan.

Few parts of Japan, like Tokyo and Kanagawa prefectures, offer wide variety of choices when it comes to the education of these kids.

  • Nursery and kindergartens - Choice of public (kouritsu, ninka and muninka) and private (ruiji shisetsu) nurseries (hoikuen) and kindergartens (youchien).
  • Mandatory schooling - Choice of public elementary and middle schools (kouritsu shou-chuu gakkou), Japanese private schools (shiritsu gakkou), high-end international schools (offering curriculums like Baccalaureate and IGCSE) and regional schools like Indian, Chinese or Korean school. There are also special attention schools (tokubetsu shien gakkou) for kids not adjusting in normal schools for any reason from physical to mental to personal.
  • High schools - Choice of public schools (kouritsu koukou), technical schools (kougyou koukou) and international schools. There are also public schools that focus on specific activities like sports.
  • University/under-graduate - Choice of normal Japanese universities, through a central competitive test, or private universities, either through a central test or through recommendations. Some universities offer programmes in English.

There are a few underlying issues when it comes to the choice of education.

The low-income group usually avoids bringing children to Japan. They rather choose to keep the kids with their family in their homeland and offer the kids a better education available there. This way the kids get good education however miss out on living with their parents.

Those low-income parents who dare to bring their kids to Japan, usually send their kids to Japanese kindergartens and schools, without the parent him/herself knowing enough Japanese language and is thus unable to support the kids’ education well. These parents are cut off from all the communication from/with the schools as all communication from the public schools is only in the Japanese language. As a result, when the kids reach middle school, they face challenges in gearing up for the difficult Japanese language, many a time giving up going to school.

The higher income group usually opts for international education in the lack of a firm plan of living in Japan for the long-term. This would help them to easily relocate back to their home country or any other country. The Japanese public schools are completely Japanese language-oriented and in case the kids attend a public school in Japan, it won’t be so easy for the kids to settle into the flow of education overseas in case of relocation.

On the contrary, in the international schools in Japan, kids do not get an opportunity to learn enough Japanese language or the culture and etiquette of Japan. This takes away the opportunity for these kids to join mainstream life in Japan. These kids get no opportunity to mingle with the Japanese kids in the neighborhood and are thus unable to make any local friends. Also, these kids are not geared up to take the competitive exams to join the Japanese universities, the reason because which most of the non-Japanese kids travel overseas for higher education.

My son Chinmay was born in June 2002. I and my wife worked and lived in different countries. So, I raised him in Japan as a single father. Chinmay went to the Japanese public hoikuen (nursery), then to the international schools (including Indian schools in Japan) until grade 6, then to Japanese public school from grade 5 (downgraded as per age) to the mid of grade 8. After that, he got a scholarship to study in the UK. Whenever he came back to Japan on vacation, he attended Japanese public middle/high school during the daytime and worked at McDonald's for the rest of the time. He will pass his A levels (high school) in June 2021 and plans to enter a university in the UK.

Chinmay learned to keep tidy (okatazuke) when he attended the Japanese public nursery. He would play with his toys and put those back into the basket while singing 'okatazuke, okatazuke, sa sa minna de okatazuke' meaning ‘let's clean up, lets clean up, oh lets together clean up. I would also sing with him.

Once when I shifted home and applied for a public nursery in the new location. Chinmay was placed on the waiting list. I could not go to work for a week. I had to fight with the local administration to get his seat. Public nurseries in Japan do not have enough seats to intake all the needy kids. While on one side steep fall in birth rate has been a serious issue in Japan, for years, the Japanese government has failed in solving the waiting list (taiki jidou) issue in the nurseries.

From the age of 5 Chinmay attended the Indian international schools (two schools) in Tokyo for 6 years. The fees that time was around 65,000 yen a month. These schools were focused on English and mathematics education through rudimentary teaching methods. The Japanese language was taught hardly for an hour a week which meant nothing. In the after-school hours, Chinmay would learn karate and piano. I tried putting him into a swimming school however his admission was denied as Chinmay could not speak enough Japanese language.

While Chinmay was fortunate to have a good class teacher and a couple of compassionate teachers, most of the teachers lacked training on teaching methods. The kids in Indian schools came from all different locations in Tokyo which meant Chinmay did not have any local friends to play with when he came back home. He would spend time at home either doing his homework or making a painting or folding origami papers.

The school lacked discipline. The Japanese kids in Chinmay's class often bullied him and other Indians kids and that crossed acceptable limits at one point in time. I tried talking to the school management but in vain. This was the main reason, I decided to try the local Japanese public school when Chinmay passed the 6th grade at age 11.

Japanese schools accept a kid who has completed 6 years of his/her age as a grade one student. So Chinmay was demoted to attend grade 5 in Japanese public school at the age of 11. He got a very compassionate class teacher, who would make him sit next to her in the after-school hours to teach him the Japanese language and help him finish his homework. There was no bullying currently.

In the after-school hours, Chinmay would spend 2 hours at the Sukusuku school, an arrangement at the public schools for the kids to spend time at the school doing whatever they like to do. Now they also have another arrangement called Gakudou, wherein kids are engaged in organized activities. The difference is that Sukusuku is open for all, whereas some kids will have to be cleared for entry into the Gakudou.

Many parents ask my opinion regarding the school/schooling they should choose for their kid. I was closely related to the schools participating in the PTAs. I participated in the school activities in the best possible way. I was closely connected with the parents and also the local community. So, my suggestion to those having mid to long-term plans in Japan will be as follows.

Send your kid to the public nursery (hoikuen), if your kid is accepted. The applications start around Oct-Nov for the period starting following April. Usually, Indians fall short on points due to higher incomes. If you were not lucky with the public nursery, you have the choice of private nurseries which could be as expensive as 60,000 to 100,000 a month.

The early education in Japanese hoikuen teaches the kids to take care of themselves, manage schedules and time. Your kids will learn the Japanese language which will help them be independent when they grow up. They will learn public safety rules, basic community etiquette, and so on. Here they will get full sports facilities, music, and other co-curricular experiences. They, and you as a parent, will also get local friends. Usually, bullying does not happen at this level.

Teach English and mathematics at home. As you would be saving the school fees, use it on your kid or save well for the future. I would recommend private English, music, swimming, karate classes. You can also choose a sport in which your kid can excel. The budget could be 10,000 to 12,000 yen per activity per month.

I sent my son to Kumon to practice English, mathematics, and Japanese. It was very useful. Their drills are very good for repeated practicing and firming the basics. Kumon charges around 7000 yen per subject per month. I also taught him Sanskrit mantras at home. You can decide on the next educational course from around grade 4. International schools will accept your kids even from this level. For that teach them English and mathematics at home. Make sure that you do not offer TV or video games to the kids. These things just spoil their mind. Rather give them outdoor or logical activities or let them learn nature.

My son experienced severe bullying from his grade 7 teachers in the Japanese public school. It was too much for us. Normal Japanese public middle schools lack everything from studies to discipline, and to sports, depending on the school. You will have to research on a good school in your area or otherwise shift to an area that has a good school. The public school that your kid will attend is decided based on your address.

At this stage, luckily one of my community friends shared UK scholarship exams information. My son gave the exam, got selected, and went to the UK when he was 13. His school fees were fully supported whereas I just needed to pay around 120,000 JPY per month for the boarding.

I have studied in India, Japan, China, and France. The level of education in UK schools is amazing. I think they mastered the techniques of Vedic Indian schools. I have seen my son grow as a good individual, with leadership qualities and practical knowledge. I am amazed to read the essays that he writes now.

If you wish to push your kid in sports, to the level of state, national and international competitions, as of the current limitations, depending upon the sport, you will have to send your kid to Japanese public middle and high school. They cannot participate in state and national competitions through private or international schools. It’s a loss for these kids as well as for Japan. To change this, we need to handle this matter at the community level. The Japanese government must introduce some arrangements that will offer equal opportunity to non-Japanese kids.

I believe that this is the time when cities having a high population of foreigners or planning to welcome more foreigners must create clear policies for the education of the non-Japanese kids, the double-blood kids, the Japanese returnee kids, and those Japanese kids who could be the human resource to support the growth of Japanese businesses in overseas. This would ideally mean that public international schools are set up to offer a good mix of education offered by Japanese public schools and international schools at a price affordable to high-income as well as low-income foreigners.

Also, the national government must create policies to set up public universities or programs that offer a variety of courses in English and other languages at affordable prices. Education in Japan is very expensive even for the Japanese people. Unable to take the financial burden, many kids unwillingly leave schooling after middle or high school. While educational loans are offered at negligible interest rates, Japan must subsidize its education to offer more and more learning opportunities to its kids and youth.

List of international schools in Tokyo

List of international schools in Japan

Outline of The Education System in Japan

The modern education system in Japan was inaugurated in1872 and has a history of over 100 years. The system underwent a major reform in 1974 when its present framework was formulated. As it is seen from its being often referred to as the 6-3-3-4 system, it consists of 6 years of elementary school, 3 years of lower secondary (middle) school, 3 years of upper secondary (high) school, and 4 years of college or university. In Japan, the new academic year starts in April.

Japanese Elementary and Secondary Education

The Japanese public elementary and secondary schools come under the jurisdiction of city education boards. These schools accept the foreign children free of charge if the parents/guardians wish to enter the kid/kids, and the opportunity of receiving the same education as Japanese students is guaranteed to foreign children.

The term of elementary and secondary school

Children enter elementary school (shou-gakkou) in April following their 6th birthday and study there for six years, after graduating from elementary school, students enter junior high school (chuu-gakkou) for a further three years.

Tuition and Textbooks

Tuition of public elementary and secondary schools is free. Textbooks used in elementary and junior high schools are free of charge. However, you have to pay as to the cost of school lunch and school supplies every month.

Financial Assistance

Financial assistance can be received from the board of education of cities, towns, or villages for school supplies and school lunches if it is determined that there is a need for this.

School Subjects

In elementary school, pupils study Japanese (kokugo), social studies (shakai), arithmetic (sansuu), science (rika), life studies (seikatsu), music (ongaku), drawing and crafts (zuga kousaku), home economics (katei) and physical education (taiiku). Other subjects such as moral education (doutoku), special activities and integrated studies are also taught. In junior high school, students study Japanese (kokugo), social studies (shakai), mathematics (suugaku), science (rika), music (ongaku), art (bijutsu), physical education (taiiku), technical arts and home economics (gijutsu katei) and foreign languages (gaikokugo-usually English), etc. Students also study moral education, special activities, and integrated studies.

A Day in the Japanese public school

The number of class hours varies depending on the day of the week and the grade. There are usually no classes on Saturdays and Sundays. One class period is usually 45 minutes in elementary schools and 50 minutes in junior high schools. In elementary schools, the class teacher teaches most of the regular subjects. In junior high schools, the teacher changes according to the subject.

Lunch Hour (Kyuushoku jikan)

In most elementary and junior high schools, school lunch is provided as part of the school’s educational activities. For the students to set and clear the table afterward is normal. Through eating a well-balanced meal while having fun together, the students learn the proper way of eating and having good relationships, different ways are devised to enable the students to have a healthy life all their lives. The parents or guardians pay for the cost of the lunch. *If due to health or religious reasons there is food that cannot be eaten, please consult the class or homeroom teacher.

Cleaning Hour (Souji jikan)

In Japanese schools, students share the responsibilities of cleaning

the classrooms, school grounds, etc.

Club Activities (Bu katsudou)

Those who wish to do so can join athletic or cultural activities after


PTA Activity

There is a group called the PTA that consists of parents/guardians and teachers. This group offers activities such as "Safety Guidance for Travelling to and from school", etc. The parents' active participation is desirable.

Admission procedure for entering Japanese public schools

Parents/guardians need to go to the residence registration counter to submit a moving-in notification to the city office, and then inform the city office and the Board of Education that they want their child to enter the elementary school or junior high school (middle school). Then decide the school and do the procedure. Parents/guardians should go to the school with their child/children to discuss the prospective course of their child's school life with the Principal and the teachers.

Grade level promotion

In Japan, there is no system for skipping grades for students in elementary,

junior high schools, senior high schools, and schools for special needs education. A student advances from one grade to the next. After completing their compulsory education, to get into a senior high school, students are usually required to pass an entrance examination.

Japanese Language support for foreigner students (Nihongo gakkyuu)

As it is not easy for foreign kids to settle down in a Japanese language bases curriculum the city education boards offer Japanese language support classes in few selected schools in the city. A kid bunks his/her usual school to attend these Japanese language classes. In some cases, the city education board also offers one on one interpretation support staff who sits with the kid in the regular classrooms and interprets what the teacher is teaching.

Schools for Special Needs Education

In schools for special needs education, aside from education conforming to kindergarten, elementary, junior high school, and senior high school education, a special guidance course to improve and overcome the difficulties of having a disability called [self-reliance activities (jiritsu katsudou)] is taught. A flexible educational curriculum can also be made to suit the condition of the disability of the child.

More details about the public schools and academic year

The nine years of elementary and lower secondary schooling are compulsory. However, high school education is so prevalent that it seems compulsory; over 97 percent of the lower secondary students go to upper secondary schools.

High school

The high schools come under the jurisdiction of state / prefectural education boards. In high school, the students study the subjects Japanese (kokugo), geography and history (chiri rekishi), civics (koumin), mathematics (suugaku), science (rika), health and physical education (hoken taiiku), technical arts (gijutsu), foreign languages (gaikokugo), home economics (katei), and information technology (jouhou). Senior high schools that have specialized subjects teach subjects that conform to their specialty.

Financial Assistance for High School

Regardless of the school being public or a private one, school aid for senior high school tuition is available (there are conditions for qualifying). If attending a private senior high school, the amount that can be received will depend on the income of the family. Repayment is not required. Application forms are available at the schools. For families with low income, each prefecture also has scholarship projects aside from the scholarship benefits given to senior high school students for other school expenses (expenses to buy textbooks, learning materials, school supplies, etc.) besides the tuition fee which does not need repayment, contact the person in charge of senior high schools at your local municipal office

Some public high schools in Tokyo accept foreigners.

  • Tokyo Metropolitan Kokusai High School
  • Tokyo Metropolitan Asuka High School
  • Tokyo Metropolitan Fuchu Nishi High School
  • Tokyo Metropolitan Minamikatsushika Senior High School
  • Tokyo Metropolitan Tagara High School
  • Tokyo Metropolitan Takenodai High School

Private high schools that accept foreigners

  • Kanto International Senior High School
  • International Christian University High School
  • Keika Gakuen
  • Otsuma Tama Junior and Senior High School

Higher education is also popular among young people, more than 50 percent of that age group are enrolled in colleges, universities, and junior colleges.

Higher Education

There are four types of institutions of higher education in Japan: junior colleges, universities, colleges of technology, and specialized training colleges. The foundation for qualification to apply for admission to universities and junior college is to have completed twelve years’ worth of primary and secondary education. Such a qualification also applies to applicants from abroad who have completed.

a course of 12 years of formal education in a country other than Japan.


Universities are centers of learning where students broaden their knowledge, learn in various specialized fields, and engage in research. The requirement for admission to universities is the completion of upper secondary schooling or its equivalent.

A university has one or more faculties. It takes 4 years to complete an undergraduate course for most disciplines (6 years for medical and dental: the courses aiming at cultivating the practical capability applied to clinical among the courses studying pharmacy and veterinary courses). The students who have successfully completed the undergraduate course are bestowed with a bachelor’s degree.

Many universities also have graduate schools where advanced study and research are conducted. The requirement for admission to the graduate school is graduation from an undergraduate course or its equivalent. There are two study tracks in the graduate schools: a master’s course of two years of study and a doctoral course of five years. The doctoral course consists of two parts: the 2-year first part equivalent to a master’s course and a 3-year upper course. The graduate schools in medical and dental which courses aiming at cultivating the practical capability applied to clinical among the courses studying pharmacy and veterinary courses, and veterinary sciences offer no master’s courses and have 4-year doctoral courses only. Those who have completed graduate courses successfully are awarded master’s or doctor’s degrees.

Moreover, since 2003, a system of professional graduate schools is being arranged to specialize in cultivating high-level professionals. A professional degree program based on a two-year completion standard has been established at the professional graduate schools, and professional degrees are to be bestowed upon those who complete the program.

Junior colleges

At a junior college, the students learn about various specialized subjects, either related to their future careers or useful in actual living. The requirement for admission to a junior college is the same as that to a university: completion of upper secondary schooling or its equivalent. Junior colleges graduate’s degree is awarded to the graduate from a junior college in October 2005 and afterward. Junior colleges offer both two-year and three-year courses, depending on the discipline.

Colleges of technology

A college of technology is an educational institution that offers courses in specialized subjects and helps students to develop the abilities required for their future vocational lives. A college of technology admits graduates of lower secondary schools and offers both five-year courses and five-and‐a-half-year mercantile marine courses.

Specialized/professional training colleges.

Specialized training colleges offering postsecondary courses are called professional training colleges and are one of the institution types classified as higher-education institutions. These colleges provide the know-how, technology, and skills useful in one's future job and life as well as an improved education. In addition to diploma courses that require two or more years of study, there are advanced diploma courses that require four years or more.

Characteristics of education at a professional training college

Professional training colleges can be broadly divided into eight fields: 1) medical care, 2) technology, 3) culture and general education, 4) business, 5) hygiene, 6) education and social welfare, 7) fashion and home economics, and 8) agriculture.

Examples of occupations that you can acquire the necessary education for at a professional training college include interior designer, architect, system engineer, automobile mechanic, nurse, nutritionist, chef, pâtissier, beautician, certified public accountant, interpreter/translator, flight attendant, hotel staff, nursery school teacher, home helper, fashion designer, animator, movie director, producer, game creator, jewelry designer, etc.

Special courses for foreign students in Japanese private universities

Jasso scholarships for studying in Japan.

MEXT study in Japan


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