Question: Spring always brings the sight of new elementary school students heading to class with their shiny new school bags, which begs the question: Why does the school year start in April?

Answer: According to Article 59 of the Ordinance for Enforcement of the School Education Law “The elementary school year shall start on April 1, and end on March 31 of the following year,” and junior high and high schools match the elementary schedule.

The standardization of the April-March system can be traced back to the Elementary School Law of 1900, but there appears to be no definitive record of where the idea came from originally. The most common explanation is that the school year was established to match the fiscal year, which also runs from April to March.

Q: What’s the ‘fiscal year’?

A: The fiscal year is the period used to organize public finances. Under Article 11 of the Public Finance Law, “The state’s fiscal year shall start on April 1 every year, and shall be concluded on March 31 of the following year.” Historically, the Meiji government started out with a fiscal year that matched the calendar year, beginning in January. Over time, the government switched to an October to September system, and then to a July to June system. It was not until the 1880s that they settled on April to March, though once more the reasoning behind this decision is a mystery.

Calls to return to the “easy to understand” January to December fiscal year have been raised several times. However, opponents have pointed out that the current fiscal year allows budget debate to carry over into the new year, avoiding any rush to wrap up the budget by the end of December.

Q: I’ve heard that in the United States and many other countries the school year runs from September to August, so students have almost no homework over the summer holidays. Meanwhile, in Japan students have to sit school entrance exams at the coldest time of the year, which seems rather unfortunate.

A: Calls to change the Japanese university year to a September to August system as part of Japan’s internationalization process have grown stronger of late. However, apart from the usual theory that the current system is designed to match the fiscal year, another theory holds that it begins in April because Japanese people have such a close affinity for the seasons, and many people feel that spring, the season of new growth and colored by flowers, is the most fitting time to start new things. (Answers by Kishiko Saito, Cultural News Department)

Source: News Navigator: Why does the Japanese school year start in April? (Mainichi Japan) April 11, 2009