Monday, 6 September 2010

10 Differences Between Japanese and British Schools

Well, many have asked me, and the rest of you may have wondered. While anime and comics have romanticised the Japanese high school (and I'm sure I don't need to say anything about the schoolgirl uniforms), many of us are aware that fiction does not always mirror reality. So, I thought that I would let you in on a few differences that you may not have been aware of. Now, considering that the secondary school that I attended in North Wales may be completely different from most British schools, this may not be a fair comparison. Also, I only teach at two Junior High Schools here in Hamamatsu, Shizuoka prefecture. At one, I was a student, at the other I am a teacher.. but this is not a scientific analysis....

Here are 10 differences between Japanese Junior Highs and British secondary schools!

1) In Japan, each class has their own home room. They have almost all their classes in that room, with the teachers coming to them. Consequently, the teachers do not have their own room. All they have is a desk in the teacher's room. They carry all their books and classroom props around in cute little plastic baskets. In the UK - or my school, at least - each teacher had their own room, and when it was time for a lesson, the students would walk to the classroom. There is no cafeteria, either. Children eat lunch in their homerooms.

2) Every class starts with the students standing up and facing the teacher. Roughly translated, the teacher says "we're beginning", the children chorus "welcome/please honour me" (but in this case I think the meaning is more "please teach me, thank you for honouring us with your teaching" kind of thing) and they all bow, before the lesson has officially begun. At the end, the teacher says "we're finishing", the students stand up and chorus "thank you very much", everyone bows again, and the lesson is over. This is not always the same in English lessons, where the teachers have adapted their own English greetings, my personal favourite being the teacher who says "let's learn English together!" and gets the children to chorus "yes, let's!"...

3) Lunch is served by the students. They bring up the food from the kitchen, and 4-5 of them (this changes every week, I think) don white coats, hats and masks, and serve food to their fellow classmates. Only when everybody has been served does one child stand before the classroom and kick-start the "itadakimasu!" (we receive our food), permitting everyone to start eating. I'm sure you know, in the UK, school lunch is served in a cafeteria by dinner ladies, usually including one kindly old lady and one horrible one who you desperately want to get on the right side of so that you can have extra chips. Everybody sits wherever they want and starts munching away as soon as their bum is on the seat.

4) Yet another lunch one... everybody has the same meal. EXACTLY. And you have to eat everything on your plate. If you're given something like natto, this is quite a trauma for some (me, especially). In the UK there is usually a choice (although there wasn't in primary school) of unhealthy...things.. and we had the choice to bring our own packed lunch from home (which I usually did due to the general vile nature of school lunches...except when they served iced buns, which were the best things in the world).

5) Children start "Junior High" at the age of 12/13, which is the same as year 8 in the UK. They are only there for 3 years before moving on to High School. In the UK, we start secondary/grammar school at 11/12 and leave at 15/16, before going on to sixth form (which is either at the same school or at a seperate college) for two years.

6) The academic year begins in March.. whereas in the UK it begins in September.

7) You don't get teachers who've been around forever, here. Every few years the government forces teachers to change schools. This means that a teacher (headmasters included) never stays at a school for more than 5 years, and has no say in which school they go to next. Why does this happen? I have no idea, actually. In the UK, of course, you often find teachers who taught your parents, too, and it's always fun to ask new students how old Mr Jones is doing...

8) Here, there's no cleaning staff. After lunch, the students spend 15 minutes or so cleaning their school. It is seen as part of their duty. Genius way to avoid labour costs, methinks...

9) EVERY student is the member of a club. Clubs available are sports (tennis, football, table tennis etc), fine arts or brass band. Students live at these clubs, spending every day after their last lesson at around 2.30 until 5 or 6, and even weekends, doing their thing. It's crazy! No wonder these kids are so skinny, with the amount they play team sports. We didn't have any clubs in my school....

10) Students live at school, as I said earlier. They also seem to live in their uniforms. I saw a group of schoolgirls at a train station in Osaka, 10pm on Saturday night, dressed in their uniforms. Come to think of it, it's mostly only girls thta I've seen... I have heard rumours that they do it for the boys. Back in Wales, I was glad to be rid of my uniform every night, and "wear your own clothes" days were anticipated.

So there you have it. Not to mention obvious differences in language, uniform and culture. My school, here, has a swimming pool and a dojo, while my old school (Ysgol Botwnnog, de!?) had its own farm. Here in Japan, everyone has a locker for their shoes, which of course you change when you enter the building. Here, teachers treat students as their own children, and mild violence is tolerated. A friend recently wrote about a teacher slamming a kid's head into a cabinet... not cool... but nobody said, or did, anything. Can you imagine what would happen in the UK?

So, that's a Japanese school for you. Children who enter the teachers' room must say "excuse me for interrupting, hello teachers" and upon leaving "excuse me for having interrupted". There are no real break/play times, only club activities. While bullying still seems to happen here (and is largely ignored by the teachers), I can't imagine that any of these kids would smash a window or sneak off for a smoke behind the bike sheds, and (as many of you may know) Ysgol Botwnnog is probably one of the tamest schools that you can find in the UK.


  1. I can def imagine a few of my kids smashing windows...we have some anger issues. I don't think they would sneak behind school to smoke - mine would probs just do that when they're ditching school 3 times a week. I love my JH.

    Also, as much as cleaning the school teaches the kids discipline and blah blah blah, the schools are such a messsssss. I really think that once a week a real cleaning staff should come in and do some work. I can't even imagine an American school looking as broke down as my schools!

  2. Eeek, that sounds bad. Where do you teach again?

  3. I don't know about Wales, but junior high and high schools in America have showers for after gym class. In Japan, there are no showers in the schools.

    My daughters are in high school and junior high. I wrote a post about the differences between their schools and the one I went to in the U.S. when I was a kid:

    Also, what's 「Ysgol Botwnnog」?
    Is that the name of a school in Wales? It has almost no vowles! How is it pronounced??