Education and schools in Japan

With a high standard of living, Japan is the destination of choice for many relocating families. We take a look at how international schools are meeting the needs of both locals and expatriates.

Education in Japan
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 Japan is the world’s third-largest economy. It has quickly become home to over two million expatriates – the vast majority from other countries in Asia – owing to its high standard of living and plentiful work opportunities.With the likes of Sony, Toyota and Honda headquartered in Japan and striving to attract global talent, a large number of highly skilled expatriates live in the country. This has driven demand for high-quality international schooling. However, while international schools are expanding rapidly in most of Asia, the growth of such schools in Japan has not kept pace, mainly thanks to the high standard of the country’s state education.According to ISC Research, which provides data on English-medium international schools around the world, Japan has 274 such schools, the vast majority of which (125) are in Tokyo. Between them, these schools cater for nearly 60,000 students.Membership organisations are an important tool for relocating parents, providing an assurance of high standards and internationally transferrable curricula. The Japan Council of International Schools (JCIS) has 27 members, 12 of which are in Tokyo. The Council of British International Schools (COBIS) has 2 schools and 19 schools are members of the Council of International Schools (CIS)School search and education advice - connect with our in-country experts

Early years provision

Good childcare options are available in Japan, but places are in great demand, thanks to the large number of working mothers. There are four options:
  • State-run nurseries (Ho-Iku-en)
  • Private Japanese nurseries (Yo-Chi-en)
  • International preschools
  • Full-time nannies and babysitters
Both Ho-Iku-en and Yo-Chi-en offer a high standard of care (in Japanese), with an emphasis on play and social skills rather than education. There are long waiting lists, particularly for under-threes, and priority is given to children of parents who both work full time.Relocating families considering these two options should note that they will be required to have a residential address in Japan before applying, such is the competition for places.There are quite a few international kindergarten and pre-schools in Japan, but many of them do not take children under three years old. One exception is Yoyogi International School, in Tokyo, which caters for children from 18 months to 11 years old. The school, a member of the Council of International Schools (CIS), has built its own curriculum, taking principles from the IB, the UK and the US curricula, and is a popular choice with expatriates.

Primary and secondary education

The majority of International schools in the country offer a US or a bilingual curriculum. The British School in Tokyo (BST) is a one of just six per cent of schools that offer the UK curriculum.The BST was founded in 1989, and has grown from 63 students to over 1,000, building a strong reputation among Tokyo’s international community. As a result, there are waiting lists in most year groups.
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There are now over 63 different nationalities at the school, but, as principal Brian Christian explains, families on short-term assignments are no longer the main demographic.“Our biggest demographic now is probably the more long-term stayers in Japan, often dual-nationality, where one of the parents is Japanese. Therefore, they see themselves as being a part of the school community for some considerable amount of time, perhaps all the way through from three to 18 in some cases,” Mr Christian says.The school is a COBIS member, and Brian Christian is quick to highlight the importance of this accreditation for relocating parents. “I would always say, look at the membership group of the school that you’re applying to. Particularly if you’re a first-time parent going overseas, it must be tremendously reassuring to have that.“Tokyo is such an amazing place to be, and our networks – through parents, through the British Chamber of Commerce in Japan, and through the embassy – are incredible.”It is through these networks that students from the British School in Tokyo were able to watch a Team GB wheelchair basketball match attended by UK Prime Minister Theresa May on her trade visit to Japan in August 2017.

Other international-school options

Founded in 1902, The American School in Japan follows the American school system and – at high-school level – offers over 22 Advanced Placement (AP) courses, as well as the AP Capstone Diploma. The school caters for students from kindergarten through to Grade 12. With over 1,650 students, it is one of the largest international schools in Tokyo.Another popular school is The Montessori School of Tokyo, which was Japan’s first Montessori elementary school. It caters for 150 students of 33 nationalities up to the age of 14.Seisen International, a Catholic girls’ school, has been in existence for over 50 years. At kindergarten level, the school follows the Montessori curriculum. At elementary and high-school level, it offers the International Baccalaureate.While academic achievement is central to life at Seisen, there is also a strong focus on social action. The school partners with several schools in developing countries, and supports local charities while educating the students about those in need.

UK-Japan trading relationship

On her visit, Theresa May led a business delegation that aimed to showcase the strength of British business and continue to build the UK-Japan economic relationship as the UK prepares to leave the EU.Japan is one of the largest global markets for UK goods and services, and the fourth-largest provider of overseas investment into the UK. Automotive manufacturing is a prime example: both Nissan and Toyota manufacture cars in the UK, the vast majority going to the EU. Mrs May is key to maintain this relationship post-Brexit.
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The Japanese government is equally keen to attract foreign talent to its shores, owing to the rapid decline in the working-age population. Recent initiatives, such as a points-based immigration system that actively encourages visa applications from skilled foreign nationals, have resulted in an influx of foreign workers in the past five years.

Science and innovation

Moving to Japan is not without its risks, however. As the most seismically active area in the world, the country is subject to frequent tremors of varying intensity and there is the ongoing threat from North Korea.In March 2011, following the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami, there was a major incident at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. The decommissioning challenge that remains is huge, and scientists from the UK and Japan are collaborating on projects that use ultrasonic imagery and robotics to remove radioactive debris.The Japanese are at the forefront of the electronics and robotics industries, something that will be evident to any visitor to Japan. This has a strong influence on education in the country, as Brian Christian, of the British School in Tokyo, explains.“The most popular courses for our students to go to would be STEM courses in London,” says Mr Christian. “Our expat students have no fear of maths and physics. We have no problem at all getting girls to do maths and physics, and to undertake engineering courses when they leave school. What is interesting to me is how hard it is to get boys to do biology-based courses.”
Relocate Education Guides are must reads for relocating families and those supporting them. Find out more here:
Guide to Education and Schools in Asia P
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