Japanese schools have an interesting and unique system that not only teaches students academic value but also how to be respectful and behave accordingly for Japanese society. There are of course similarities to western schools, but several aspects of Japanese schooling may surprise you.
Many visitors describe the country as ‘different to what they’re used to’, but it’s this exact reason that Japan’s culture and customs are so fascinating.
Education in Japan has been held important for a long period of time. Even in the Edo period, over 70% of children went to school. Today, 99% percent of the population can read and write, and school is seen as an important milestone in early life.
If you’ve ever been curious as to just what school life is like in Japan, here are 20 amazing facts to explore.
Students take turns serving other students lunch
Each week there is a select few students who serve lunch to the rest of the students. They are in charge of equally distributing the food to everyone.
They wear white fully protective kits, which after Friday they take home to wash. The next week the kits will be passed on to the next students in line to serve lunch.
After all of the students have received their meal, a student leader calls out to their classmates and says “please put your hands together, Itadakimasu (I humbly accept this meal)”.
This is always said before the students eat. It is a Japanese manner that shows appreciation for the food they have received and those who made the food. After lunch, the students all brush their teeth before returning to their school work.
There are no janitors
Schools in Japan do not depend on janitors to maintain cleanliness. Instead, this job also comes down to the students. With the help of all the school staff, even the highest rankings in the building, they work together and clean every part of the campus.
The schools allow a certain amount of time for cleaning each day, this is called ‘souji’. Each person is given their own designated area, and through this process, the students not only learn to clean up after themselves but also how to be responsible members of Japanese society.
Some students will even sit in silence for a couple of minutes before they clean, wearing a tenugui (bandana), to prepare their minds and bodies.
Students have mandatory morals classes
Between the ages of 6 and 15 years, it is mandatory for students to attend morals classes. Here they will learn about what types of behavior make others happy or upset, and encourage them to do the right thing as a person.
Uniforms must be very strictly followed
Students do not make alterations to their uniforms in Japan, nor do they attempt to wear anything other than their given uniform.
In some countries, uniforms are not compulsory or are simply ignored, but Japanese students follow a strict uniform code. Boys have to wear long black suits and girls wear skirts (often with a check pattern), commonly with a white shirt.
Everyone eats the same meal
Many countries will supply school students with a daily lunch menu where they can pick and choose their favorite meal.
Japanese schools on the other hand provide the same meal to all, regardless of personal preference. Students are trained to eat this way, and at many schools, lunch boxes from home are not allowed except for on some special occasions.
The meals usually consist of rice, fish, chicken, seaweed, or vegetables. One of the benefits of this method is to ensure healthy eating amongst students.
In most schools, there is no cafeteria dining area, and students are not allowed to eat outside of their classroom. They must take their lunch back to class where they eat alongside their teacher.
There are no substitute teachers
Substitute teachers are used when a teacher is sick or otherwise cannot attend their class, but in Japan, there is no such thing. You may think that this is a good thing for students, as they can do what they want all day… but this isn’t the case.
In the absence of a teacher, students have to study the entire day in complete silence. So actually, not having a teacher is a bit more of work for the students.
For the first 3 years of school, there are no exams
In Japan, it is believed that people should first be tested on their character before academic ability. For this reason, students spend their first 3 years of school without undertaking any exams. Instead, they must focus on their personal development and the greater importance of this.
Students travel to school independently without their parents
When students turn 6, they start walking or taking public transportation themselves to school without their parents’ help.
For the children to get used to it, there is typically a community walking group program provided by the school, where the older children of the neighborhood accompany the younger children to the same area as their school.
The program is particularly important during natural disasters like typhoons or earthquakes when the children need to quickly get back home.
Not attending class or being late for class is very rare
Students will not skip classes, show up late, or fail to attend school. In fact, the Japanese school system has an impressive attendance rate of 99.9%.
High school students in other countries are prone to sneaking away and passing the time elsewhere for subjects they don’t like, or sleeping in and blaming it on traffic.
But in Japan, students are punished for being late. They will need to stay after school hours where the teacher will catch them up on everything they missed. Only once this is done are the students able to leave the premises.
The test of courage
The test of courage is rarely if ever used in recent years due to security reasons, but in the past teachers would take the students on a ‘horror school trip’.
Here students would walk around at night in the pitch black, teachers would then creep up to the students pretending to be ghosts. The aim was to surprise or scare them and see how each reacted and develop courage.
Students cannot fail a grade
This is perhaps one of the best perks about attending a Japanese school. Unlike the United States or most countries, if the student’s grades are not passing, they will not need to repeat the year.
It is common practice in many places that students get held back a year to improve their skills, but in Japan, they will advance to the next grade regardless of their test results.
Even if they fail their final year, they will still be able to attend their graduation ceremony. The downfall of this system comes in when high school students apply for university.
Entrance exams must be taken before being accepted into a university course, and if students have been underperforming, they may not be able to pass.
Sleeping in class is not reprimanded
Japanese students pretty much work all year round, even on vacations they still get assigned some homework to complete.
So with this, school clubs, extra education, and personal activities students can become very tired. Being a student in Japan requires a lot of determination, which unfortunately leaves them with very little time to rest or sleep.
As a result, it can become impossible for students to fight off fatigue during class. You’d think that with their extensive education system, teachers would be pretty unforgiving of this.
In fact, it’s the opposite. Generally, teachers understand the pressure that students are under and sympathize with them. If a student does happen to fall asleep during class, teachers will often overlook this if it’s a rare occurrence.
They have separate indoor shoes
Students must bring separate shoes to wear indoors than they would wear outdoors. This is to maintain cleanliness and prevent any dirt from being brought inside the school.
Japan is well-known for being a land of harmony, believing that no particular person should have a stand-out behavior above anyone else. Because of this, students must also dress in similar shoes to everyone else.
Students use the same school bags
Nearly all of the students in Japanese schools use a school bag called ‘randoseru’. In the past, boys could only have black ones and girls could only have red. If someone bought a different color, they might be bullied for it.
Currently, the bag is still just as commonly used, but students can have any color they want such as purple, green, pink, blue, or yellow.
Some secondary schools will present the students with a specific bag designated to that school, which has the school logo on it.
They normally also come with reflective strips to prevent road accidents when the students walk home near sunset or after dark. Either way, students all have the same backpack design.
Relationships are prohibited
High school sweethearts are common in western countries, and often, couples continue sharing their lives together into their adult years. However, romantic relationships are not allowed in Japanese schools.
Students will actually be punished if they are caught engaging romantically with each other within school grounds. Hugging and kissing are both banned in schools, even if they are simply intended as gestures of friendship.
Students bow to teachers
Manners are taught from a young age, and respecting your elders is a popular culture in Japan, regardless if they are only a few years older than you. To express this, students bow each time their teacher enters the classroom.
The student leader will call “Stand up! Bow!”, and all other students follow the command.
Unlike western schools, students remain in the same classroom all day, and it is instead the teachers who swap around between each subject. Therefore, students will bow each time they begin a new class.
Calligraphy classes are mandatory
In primary and secondary school, it is also mandatory for students to take calligraphy lessons. Here students will learn the traditional way of writing.
After the new year, all the students take part in a calligraphy contest called ‘Kakizome’. In order to win this, the students will keep practicing their calligraphy skills during the winter vacation.
Extra education is very common in Japan, whether it be online learning, before or after-school tudoring, or weekend classes. But there is another type of school which has shown great success through its students.
A Cram school is a private school that offers supplementary and advanced lessons. Students often attend Cram schools if they want to achieve higher grades and pass entrance exams.
This usually happens after the regular school period. Cram schools are far more intensive, and due to this students who take part in this program have been proven to have a better performance levels compared to those who don’t.
There are strict appearance rules
As well as following strict uniforms, the students also have strict requirements on how their general appearance should be.
For example, only natural hair color is accepted for school children, and in many places, boys are not allowed to have long hair. Instead, it must be short and neat.
Rules for the girls include; no nail polish, no make-up, and no jewelry. Often schools require you to wear black or white socks, so if a student turns up to school with an item that is not allowed, such as brown socks, the school will confiscate it or contact parents for the rule violation.
The dropout rate is very low
We previously talked about the high attendance rate that Japanese schools have, so for this reason, it should come as no surprise that their dropout rate is also significantly low.
On average, Japanese schools experience a dropout rate of 1.27%. To put this into comparison, in the USA the average dropout rate is 4.7%.
Final Thoughts On The Japanese Education System
Japan has created its own education system which has carefully molded its youth into a harmonious society. Having this insight helps visitors of Japan understand more of the Japanese culture and why it is somewhat of a tranquil society.
Student life is not an easy process. It requires a lot of willpower and hard work, but it does prepare them for the hardships of life and motivate people to succeed regardless of their situation.
Experiencing High School In Japan