Q: Does anyone have pros/cons general/specific experience/advice regarding international schools. Our three children’s first language and home language is English. For two of our children (who may enter international school at 1st and 4th grades), we are interested in keeping their Japanese language skills up (they’re currently in Japanese schools).
Do schools such as Nishimachi do a good job of keeping up student’s Japanese skills? What do children in such schools do after 9th grade to a maintain bilingual education? For our other child who may enter int’l school at 6th grade, Japanese is not a big factor in his education, but we are considering schools such as ISS and Kikokushijo Academy.
Of course there are the big schools (by size and name) such as ASJ and YIS– input appreciated on these. They have a lot of draw, but wonder if they would be able to adequately keep up my
childrens’ Japanese skills? The only regret I have heard regarding ASJ is that it is a good distance from central Tokyo. For us, central Tokyo or Yokohama is best. Thanks! – Anon.
Answer 1: My son was in Nishimachi from Kindergarten till Grade one but we
decided to pull him out and send him to a local public school mainly
because his Japanese was not up to a level where he could converse
confidently and fluently with other Japanese kids. My husband is
a Japanese while I am non- Japanese and our first language is
In Nishimachi, he was in the near-native class for Japanese.
There are 3 categories for the japanese classes mainly, native-
speakers, near-native speakers and non-speakers class. In the native
speakers class, 99% of the students are Japanese or have a Japanese
mother. The parents have to help them in their Japanese homework each
day. (1 hr of Japanese class per day ). Hence, they are very fluent and
this group is usually the bilingual ( English /Japanese) kids of the
school. Others are usually either Bilingual in their own home country
language ( which is not taught in school ) or just speak English.
Your kids can possibly keep up with his/her Japanese if Japanese
is also spoken at home. At all international schools, English is
usually spoken and Japanese is rarely heard in their conversation.
Also for you to gauge if one hour of Japanese per school day is
enough to maintain the language ( this is only applicable to
Nishimachi as other international schools differ in the number of
hours Japanese is being offered.)
In these schools, most kids do not stay till 9th grade given
that their parents are usually expats. They come and go. Students who
are Japanese are usually the ones who study all the way from
Kindergarten till grade 9.
I suppose what”s most important is what do you want foremost for
your kids?? To maintain their Japanese or to let them familiarise
with the U.S educational system as one day you may go back to
your home country??
Answer 2: On behalf of parents who would like to raise their children bilingually.
All of the international schools except one are essentially monolingual in their programs, with
Japanese offered at most once a day and even then normally for 45 or
50 minutes or so–not even an hour. Of course that is not enough to
support Japanese for academic purposes–especially if all the school
does is try to keep children up with the Monbusho (now MEXT) language arts
curriculum), or even conversation should the school ban or discourage
the use of Japanese at school.
Think of what that means for a child who should be bilingual–such prohibitions (by extention) discourage thought as well as speech, which inhibits the transfer of what a
child knows in that language to the other. From that standpoint,
children who attend international schools in Japan from other
language backgrounds may be lucky that their language is not even
mentioned, i.e., they can transfer what they know without anyone
telling them not to, explicitly or implicitly.
Bilingual education in any true sense means content areas in both
languages–not only language arts. So many concepts in the
different subject areas have metaphorical uses in literature, poetry,
and conversation. The word/concept “evaporation” (“johatsu” in
Japanese) in science, for example, also can be is used in English
when one has lost hope, or in Japanese when someone disappears or
runs off with someone).
The single exception to the above is New International School URL:http://newinternationalschool.com,
which is essentially 50:50 in English and Japanese (That is one of
the reasons the school is called “New International School.”). The
school, like Nishimachi, currently goes only to grade 9. Graduates
can go to International Schools with high schools, Japanese private
high schools, or boarding schools abroad. My advice, especially
to parents of children who have never lived abroad , would often be
to send them to a boarding school, possibly with a scholarship or
partial scholarship if needed, but the other two options are there
for parents who wish them or must have them (for example, companies
who pay the tuition in Japan may not do so if the child goes
abroad). Parents should at least visit before coming to any of
their own conclusions if they have any interest at all in their
children becoming bilingual through their school experience. It is
not at all impossible, unless the school makes it so.
So…there is my two cents worth, on behalf of all bilingual
children, not just my own (who graduated and headed to a boarding
school from last September). He is coming home today for the summer,
to our great delight!
Answer 3: I believe there is a right school for every child.
By looking at a childs needs, the country of chosen permanent residence, your families background, the financial costs , the location of your home and other considerations most parents can and will make the right decision.
No restrictions in any of the above?, here are a few other (good) schools – Feel free to comment…
British and going back to England or maybe staying?
The British School in Tokyo(Shibuya)-(Private fee-paying)
Good school/facilities, U.K teachers, great ratios, teaching
assistant in every classroom, follows national curriculum, topic based
curriculum, great teachers. Good results. Great mix of cultures. Streamed Japanese
classes. From 4 years but only upto 16 years at present. Limited bus collection.
Next to/joint facilities with Shibuya Gakuen (which has a returnee
program for Japanese). Great after school programs. Uniformed.
Korean and going back to Korea or maybe staying ?
The Korean School in Tokyo (Akebonobashi)(State school- free) Good free state School.P rovides education in English/Korean/Japanese. Up to 18.
Dual Immersion, all subjects taught in English upto year 6 (11 years).
Topic based. Streamed Japanese classes. Maximum 20 students per class.
Some after school classes. Well maintained English library.
All teachers certified in home countries. No pick-up
European/American/British/not quite sure and maybe not sure where
your going next ?
TIS – Tokyo International School (Fee -paying)
Good school/facilities. Education in English/Japanese.
IBC programme- transferable to most countries. Great topic
based curriculum. Autonomous research based learning based on global
ideas. Certified teachers.Great mix of cultures. No uniform. Pick-up.
Planning to Stay in Japan and/or married to a Japanese national ?
SP recommended NIS (see following post below website:http://newinternationalschool.com).
Also check out http://www.joes.or.jp/g-kokunai/japan/tokyo1.html This list provides all schools that operate dedicated returnee programs (some free/some private). (You can translate it using google translate.)
Editor’s note: This web blog itself also provides a substantial number of resources, directories on all kinds of international schools that are available to residents in Japan.
In addition, a good print resource would be “Guide to International Schools in Japan” by Caroline Pover. The fairly new publication although not comprehensive (due to the tendency that print resources get dated almost at once compared to online ones) has substantial, well researched and salient information for parents looking for a suitable international school. The author is mindful of the kind of questions that parents are asking when visiting schools and has a done a good job in this respect. To order and for more information visit the website: http://www.internationalschoolsguidebook.com