When you move your family to Japan, there are many things to consider when enrolling your child in school or daycare. One of the biggest decisions is whether to go for the international system or to enrol your child in a local Japanese school. Many people immediately opt for international school as the Japanese system seems too overwhelming, but we assure you that it is easier than it looks at first, and both systems are an option for you even if you don’t speak Japanese.
When deciding whether to go with international school or Japanese school, you may wish to consider the following:
Age of the child
The age of your child is a big factor when considering where to enrol them. If your child is kindergarten or nursery school age, then schooling is mostly play based and they are young enough to pick up the language fairly easily. Kids at that young age don’t notice the difference between themselves and other kids as much, and will most likely easily accept your child even when they can’t communicate at all.
Once your child is elementary age or above, the decision is harder. Tokyo and many other cities will provide Japanese support from elementary school, which is either a teacher aide in class, or two private Japanese lessons per week at school. First graders have not learned any kanji, so there is minimal catch up to do and shouldn’t be much problem, but from fourth grade the learning gets more serious as kids start going to cram school to prepare for junior high, so there will be a lot of catch up to do regarding language and kanji.
Money & Costs
This point is simple. If you want to save money, you should go for a local school. If your employer is covering schooling, then international school would be great.
The cost of international school per year is 2,000,000 – 3,000,000 yen per year plus about 1,000,000 in other fees. This varies by school of course, there are cheaper and more expensive options.
The cost of Japanese daycare is roughly 30,000 yen per month, including meals and care until 6 or 7pm. Subsequent kids are discounted. Once the child turns 3, the country covers costs and you only need to pay for things like school bus, meals and extended care (if in “yochien”; “hoikuen” extended care is free). If you go to a private Japanese daycare, it may cost more like 40,000-60,000 yen per month. It also depends on where you live, as some places do not subsidize daycare as much as Tokyo does.
From elementary school, the cost is free besides meals and materials.
Consider what language/s your child speaks currently, and whether you would like them to learn Japanese or not. Learning a language is a valuable skill that can be very useful in their future, but not every family will maintain the language which is acquired in young childhood. Nonetheless, exposure as a child will still make it easier to learn in the future.
If your son or daughter does not speak any Japanese, then it may be difficult for them at first if they go to a Japanese school. For babies under 2 years old, this will be very minimal and you need not do any preparation as they will learn naturally and quickly. Kids between 2-6 might have a tougher time at first as they might get frustrated not being able to communicate and will not understand the teachers. But from the experience of many parents who have been through this situation, the kids almost always adjust within 6 to 12 months. They may not be fluent in Japanese by that time, but they’ll know enough to feel more relaxed and communicate with other kids.
As for the parents, you may not speak any Japanese, so will find the forms and paperwork quite overwhelming. You’ll want to enlist a service like Omakase Helper to help with all the initial enrolment paperwork and meetings, as these can be quite a lot. After that, translation apps are your friend. The daycare might want you to fill in a daily “renrakucho” (communication book) about your child, from things like when they slept, their temperature to what they ate for breakfast. Every page is the same, so we can tell you what to write the first time and it will be easy after that.
For me, the worst thing is that I cannot be as involved as I would like in the kindergarten. I’d love to volunteer more and speak to the other parents a lot, but my Japanese is limited so I can only participate on a surface level. That was one advantage to international daycare.
If your family plans to leave Japan fairly soon, or has no interest in being part of the local community, then you might decide that international school is easier and less stress.
What facilities are important to you?
Many international daycares have no outdoor space despite the premium they charge.
Also, many Japanese daycares are very small with no outdoor space.
If you want outdoor space, you should apply for a public hoikuen. These are usually in very old buildings, but they have gardens.
When kids turn 3 years old, they can attend “yochien” which is kindergarten. These are private and almost all have nice playgrounds, vegetable gardens and so on.
If your child goes to local school, they will know other kids in the area and will be able to play with them in the park. You may even get to know other families in the area.
If your child is in international school, other kids might live quite far away. But if you live in an expat neighbourhood like Hiro-o or Meguro, then this may not be an issue.
Aptitude and personality of the child
You must consider your child when choosing their school. Most kids will be able to pick up a second language through immersion, but some kids have learning difficulties and it may not be realistic for them.
Also, if they suffer from anxiety or you think they are so shy that starting in a foreign language will be too stressful, then international school might be better for them.
Your plans for the future
If you are here on a two year assignment before you move back home, then it’s probably wise to keep your kids on their native language track. If they are small and only going to daycare, then Japanese is fine, but if they have already started learning reading and writing then you may not see a commitment to local schooling as worth it.
If you plan to stay here longer, then having your kids fluent in the local language is only going to be beneficial and having another language will benefit them even as adults.
Learning styles and preferences
Japanese school is often more about the group, and less about the individual child. If your child is at the very bottom or very top, they might not get special attention in a Japanese school. If it’s important to you that your child is in a small class with lots of individual attention, international school is better.
If you want your child to learn to work as a team, take turns and listen to instructions, Japanese school is better. My three-year-old learned several dance and athletic routines which 60 3-year-olds all performed together in unison. No one was too scared to join in and everyone managed it. It was quite impressive and shows that little kids are capable of a lot.
I am interested in sending my child to Japanese school but I speak no Japanese, what can I do?
This is where Omakase Helper comes in! We’ll find you a daycare, kindergarten or school to match your and your child’s needs, and we will arrange a tour, accompany you on the tour, help you submit all the registration paperwork, send an interpreter with you to the important meetings they hold at the beginning of the academic year and generally help you through the entire process.
For day-to-day communication, you will find that a translator app is adequate, while you can ask us to help you if there is something very important that you need to communicate. Your child will learn Japanese over time and you will get used to how things work. You can choose to be involved in the school by joining the PTA and so on, or you can skip these commitments. Joining a local school is a great way to be properly immersed in living in Japan and not an “expat bubble” and we highly recommend it.
To see Omakase Helper’s schooling assistance packages, check: https://www.omakase-helper.com/schooling-service/