Most expats send their children to international schools in Tokyo. Though this is a more expensive option than Japanese schools, international schools are generally better equipped to deal with the needs of foreign students. In many cases, expat children can continue studying the same curriculum as they did back home. This eases the transition into life in a new country.
Public schools in Japan
Parents of very young expat children might consider sending their children to local Japanese schools, which are free even for foreign children. The advantages of these schools are that children will learn Japanese and will integrate into local society more easily. Still, this is usually only an option for expats planning on moving to Japan for an extended period.
The Japanese school system has a reputation for being strenuous. Expat parents might find the performance pressure placed on young children a bit daunting. If factoring in after-school activities and near-obligatory lessons at jukus (cram schools) children could face a full day in class, with homework still waiting to be done later.
International schools in Tokyo
International schools in Tokyo offer a wide range of programmes, as well as tuition fees, from those aligned to numerous foreign curricula to integrative approaches combining Japanese and international educational models. While most institutions teach in English and follow an American or British curriculum, some schools cater specifically to French, German, Indian and Chinese expats, as well as some other nationalities.
Admission requirements for international schools differ widely and, of course, depend on the school. Tuition and costs also vary and, aside from basic tuition costs, there may be additional costs for things such as uniforms, field trips, bus services and even technology fees.
Special-needs education in Japan
The Japanese government is dedicated to creating an inclusive society in which educational needs are met for each individual student. In line with this, the vast majority of children with special needs are taught in regular public schools. The method of assistance in Japanese public schools will depend on the child’s disabilities and the severity thereof. Some will be taught in regular classes with certain adjustments while others may attend special resource rooms a few times a week. In some cases, these students will attend special-needs education classes within a regular public school.
Children with acute disabilities may benefit from attending dedicated special-needs schools. These schools have classes from kindergarten to senior high school.
A number of international schools also offer support for certain conditions or disabilities, though usually at an additional fee. There are also schools following the Waldorf-Steiner and Montessori methods which have a more flexible approach to education and are known to cater to individual students’ needs.
Tutors in Japan
Schooling in Japan is competitive and tutors are commonly used. Students will often have multiple tutors for different school subjects. Having a tutor in Japan can be especially useful for expat children. A tutor can assist with mother-tongue maintenance or help them improve their Japanese. If a child is attending a school with a new curriculum, a tutor is an excellent way of catching up and adjusting.
Tutoring is popular in Japan, which has led to plenty of tutoring companies popping up across the country. Though expats may be spoilt for choice, they should do thorough research on all options before choosing a tutor. Schools will often be able to recommend trustworthy tutors.
►See our list of recommended International Schools in Tokyo
►Our Education and Schools in Japan page contains more information about expat schooling options
"It’s tough to start out in Japanese schools if your kids are older and don’t know much Japanese. The best thing is to start in Japanese kindergarten – but be aware that non-Japanese children never fit in 100 percent in Japanese schools; it just isn’t possible. Get used to not fitting in – it’s not always such a bad thing!" US expat Di shares her experiences in Japan in her Expat Arrivals interview.
"There are excellent American, British, German and French schools in Tokyo." Read more of British expat Jonathan's Expat Arrivals interview about living in Tokyo.
Are you an expat living in Tokyo?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Tokyo. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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