Expat families often choose international schools in Tokyo for their children. These schools cater to international students' specific needs, offering a continuity of education with curricula from their home countries. This makes the transition into life in Tokyo smoother.
Tokyo's international schools serve a diverse range of nationalities and adhere to various international curricula, predominantly American or British. The globally renowned International Baccalaureate is also a popular choice. There are over 40 international schools in Tokyo. Admission requirements, tuition fees and additional costs vary widely among these schools.
Local public schools in Tokyo are also an option – one that is generally best suited to families staying in Japan for the long term. The language barrier can be an issue, however, so families looking to take this route should only do so if their children have prior knowledge of Japanese or are young enough to pick up the language at school.
Public schools in Tokyo
For expat families with young children moving to Tokyo for an extended period, Tokyo's public schools can be a good option. These schools can help children integrate into Tokyo's local society and learn Japanese. Notably, as part of Japan's Free Education Policy implemented in 2019, education is free for children aged between three and five, including non-Japanese residents in Tokyo.
Tokyo's public schools also provide language support for students not fluent in Japanese. These efforts are enhanced by the Tokyo Metropolitan Board of Education's initiatives for multicultural coexistence education, aiming to support foreign children in their learning journey. That said, the school system in Tokyo is perceived as rigorous, with high academic expectations and additional commitments to after-school activities and jukus (cram schools).
For more on the national education system, see Education and Schools in Japan.
Private schools in Tokyo
Tokyo also boasts a diverse range of private schools. These institutions provide unique pedagogical approaches and follow the Japanese curriculum, often incorporating English language classes and global perspectives. They offer smaller class sizes than public schools and provide a variety of extracurricular activities.
Some private schools, like the Keio or Waseda schools, have a reputation for academic excellence and high university entrance rates. Although tuition fees tend to be higher than in public schools, many families consider the personalised learning environment a worthy investment. Admission can be competitive due to the high standard of education these schools offer.
International schools in Tokyo
With over 40 international schools in Tokyo, expat families have a diverse range of programmes to choose from, catering for different nationalities. Most of these schools teach in English and follow American, British or the International Baccalaureate (IB) curriculum, although some schools cater specifically for other nationalities, including French, German, Indian and Chinese.
One of the key advantages of these international schools is that they offer continuity of education for students. This ensures a smooth transition for those moving to Tokyo from abroad and provides a globally recognised standard of education in the home language of the school's sponsoring country.
Admission requirements vary widely among international schools. Many require prospective students to go through an interview process to assess their academic level and language proficiency. Schools might also ask for academic records, recommendation letters and standardised test scores where applicable. It's also important to note that some popular international schools in Tokyo have waiting lists, so applying as early as possible is advisable.
Tuition fees differ from school to school and often depend on the grade level. Additional costs may cover items such as uniforms, field trips, bus services and technology fees. Financial considerations are a significant aspect of choosing an international school, so parents should carefully review each potential school's cost structure.
Learn more about International Schools in Tokyo.
Special-needs education in Tokyo
Tokyo's inclusive approach to education means students with special educational needs are often accommodated within regular public schools. The Tokyo Metropolitan Government has been proactive in promoting inclusive education, establishing special education centres and deploying support staff to schools. The assistance offered depends on the severity of the child's needs, including resources like special-needs assistants, speech and language therapists, and physiotherapists.
Expats whose children have special educational needs should begin by communicating with their chosen school directly, providing them with as much information as possible about their children's conditions and the previous support they've received.
Some schools might require a formal diagnosis or an individual educational plan (IEP) to design appropriate support. Dedicated special-needs schools also exist for children with severe learning barriers or disabilities.
Certain international schools, as well as schools following the Waldorf-Steiner and Montessori methods, support specific conditions. They provide more flexibility in their teaching methods and often have additional resources to support students with special educational needs, though this often comes at an additional fee.
Tutors in Tokyo
Given the competitive nature of schooling in Tokyo, tutors are widely used. They can help with various areas, such as maintaining mother-tongue language skills, improving Japanese or adapting to a new curriculum. This can be especially helpful for children transitioning from one curriculum to another or needing extra help with language skills, whether improving their Japanese or maintaining their proficiency in their mother tongue.
Tutors can also assist with preparation for entrance exams, a common requirement for private and international schools in Tokyo. Some tutoring centres offer courses specifically designed to prepare students for these exams, and it's not uncommon for students to begin these preparatory courses a year or more in advance of the actual exams.
With numerous tutoring companies in the city, expats are advised to conduct thorough research and consult with their children's schools for recommended tutors. Many tutors in Tokyo are licenced teachers, and some tutoring centres offer special programmes tailored for international students. For example, some tutoring services focus on English-language learning for non-native speakers, while others may specialise in test preparation for entrance exams.
►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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