Thursday, July 17, 2008

JJNN Thursday: Culture - 02

Welcome again to JJNN for Thursday July 16th, 2008. Today I will be looking at Japanese culture though the looking glass of schools.

Today I want to talk a little bit about the education system in Japan. I always like to talk about education in Japan because I have been dealing with the education system here in Japan for years. Sure I am not a full fledged teacher, but because of that I have been to many schools and was able to learn a lot about how teachers and students think.

So, first comes the question about the differences between schools in Japan and schools in other countries. I am from America and I know the American system so when I make comparisons it will be to American schools. Feel free to leave a comment if you are from another country and say how it works in your country. Also, I am going to skip pre-school in this post, because I still can't quite figure it out because different kids can start pre-school at different ages. Elementary school starts at about age 5 and goes for 6 years. That is a year longer than in America. Jr. High School is 3 years long. As soon as students graduate Jr. High they are done with the education that they legally have to take. Not a lot of people drop out after the Jr. High graduation, but it does happen. High school is only three years in Japan. A year less than in America, but if you do the math it adds up to the same number of years.

The basic classes in Elementary and Jr. High School are gym/health education, math (arithmetic for elementary school), home economics, music, art and industrial arts, science, Japanese, and social studies. In Jr. high the kids also have English as a subject. There are two special subjects that are in both schools. These are the moral education class and integrated studies. Personally I am of the opinion that normal people do not need a school subject to learn morals, but I guess it never hearts, right? The integrated studies class is one in which the students have to use information they have learned in all of their subjects to think about things like environmental problems, handicapped people, and other such things. Also, English education for Elementary schools fall into the integrated studies class because they have to think about other cultures using the information from everything they have learned so far (that and it doesn't fit any other type of category heading).

I spend most of my time in Jr. High school so I want to talk about that for a little while. Every day there is homeroom in the morning and in the evening. The style of the homeroom depends on the teacher, but it is usually run by the students. They do things like report on the schedule for the day and check the general help of the students. Because of the large class size (this depends on the school, but at mine the number of students in one class gets up to 35 or so) the homeroom is really needed. Also, depending on the school, the students all have to read a book for 5 to 10 minutes every morning. Every Monday when I go to my Jr. high school we also do and English broadcast so the students can practice their English listening.

After the morning homeroom and other morning activities there are 4 classes that are 50 minutes long (sometimes they are only 45 minutes long, but this can be rare). After the 4 classes it is lunch time. In most schools there is no cafeteria so the students eat in their class room. Also, the students take turns passing out food to the other students. The homeroom teacher usually eats with the students. After the students eat the students clean up the area and take an hour or so off to play in the gym or in their class room. After that they clean the school. Yep, the students are the one that clean the schools in Japan. And, mostly, the teachers watch over them like hawks to make sure they do a good job at it. After that there is either one or two afternoon class and then the afternoon homeroom. After that the students usually go to club activities for hours on end and than finally go home or go to cram schools to study more.

A lot of kids go to cram schools in Japan. You may be asking yourself why a normal healthy kid would want to study more after school. That is a good question, but there is a good answer. In most schools there is no automatic movement from Jr. High School to High School. That is because kids in Japan do not have to go to High school. This means that all the High Schools give entrance exams. If you fail the exam to a school that you want to go to, you can not go to that school. That drives some kids to study hard, but it drives the parents of all kids to make their kids study hard. The competition for High Schools and Universities (especially the privet ones) is intense. There are students that fail the exam and refuse to give up on a particular school (or they fail all of their entrance exams) so they are stuck in the system for a year until the next round of exams. They call those students "ronin." Ronin used to mean a samurai with no master, or a wandering samurai, but now it refers to those students.

There are a lot of other minor differences. For one, the students never move unless they have to go to a special class room like the science room or the home economics room. The teachers go to the students. The students all have inside and outside shoes. This makes it a long ordeal to move the kids outside for gym or some other reason. It is also very rare for a teacher to stay in the same grade every year. Normally they are moved around to go with the students or to fit a certain need. The teachers also change schools ever 3 to 7 years. The teachers are employed by the government of an area, not by the schools.

I could go on, but I am going to leave it at this. Let me know if you have any questions.

Any way, it is now time for the word of the day. Today's word is 学校(がっこう). It is pronounced gakkou and means school. I like teaching in Japanese schools. A day spent teaching at a school is much better than a day spent sitting in my office and staring at the wall across the room.

That's it for today. See you next time at JJNN.


  1. When we visited your schools in Japan, I was amazed at how different the schools were set up but when the principal heard I was a special education teacher and took me to see the special education classroom, it seemed exactly the same as the united states. I'd like to know more about how special education is structured in Japan

  2. I don't really know a lot about special education in Japan. I know that some schools have special education classrooms for their students, but not all schools have this (because there are not students that need special education in every school). In my city there is also a special education school. It covers students from elementary school to high school. I just went to that school last week. I don't know how class is normally run, but their English lessons are based under music class so we use a lot of English songs and the like. I can't really say more than that.