Education and schools in Japan

With a high number of Fortune Global 500 companies and a standard of living to rival the UK’s, 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 there.

Seisen International School Tokyo

Seisen International School, Japan

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.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.However, according to ISC Research, international schools in Japan are beginning to experience record enrolment numbers not seen since the country’s 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster. International kindergartens are on the rise, as Japanese parents seek to develop their children’s English language skills early.Business and foreign workers are entering the country as a result of the Rugby World Cup 2019, the Olympic Games 2020 and in response to drives to address Japan's ageing society, which has increased the demand for places at international schools.As of March 2019, ISC Research found there were 284 English-medium international schools, with an enrolment of 71,178 and 7,039 teachers.School search and education advice - connect with our in-country expertsUniversities in Japan now accept the IB and offer courses in English, especially as they are much less expensive than the UK and US. The demand for Japanese universities is very high which, in turn, is creating a need for more international schools as a route to entry.

Early years provision

Good childcare options are available in Japan, but places are in great demand, thanks to a 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.

International schools: primary and secondary

Seisen International, a Catholic girls’ school in Tokyo, has been in existence for more than 50 years. At kindergarten level, the school follows the Montessori curriculum. At elementary and high-school level, it offers the International Baccalaureate (IB).“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. In Tokyo it is easy to find a ‘good’ school,” explains head of school, Colette Rogers. “All twelve schools in Tokyo that are members of the Japan Council of International Schools provide an internationally recognised education. The focus should be on finding the right school for your family’s needs.”Seisen is the only school in Japan that is a member of the National Coalition of Girls' Schools. It has a co-ed kindergarten, but is girls only from Grades 1-12. Rogers explains, “An all-girls school provides a nurturing environment where girls fill every leadership position in every group. This environment is designed to give girls the unique support they need to achieve their highest academic potential.”The majority of international schools in Japan offer a US or a bilingual curriculum. The British School in Tokyo (BST) is one of just six per cent of schools that offer the UK curriculum.The BST was founded in 1989 and has more than 1,000 students, building a strong reputation among Tokyo’s international community. As a result, there are waiting lists in most year groups. There are now over 63 different nationalities at the school, but 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,” BST says.The school is a COBIS member and the BST is quick to highlight the importance of this accreditation for relocating parents, “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.”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.

UK-Japan trading relationship

On her trade visit to Japan in August 2017, former UK Prime Minister 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 and Mrs May was keen to maintain this relationship post-Brexit.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 the BST explains, “The most popular courses for our students to go to would be STEM courses in London. 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.”
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