20 Differences Between the U.S. and Japanese Education Systems

My mom sent in the following question:

Can you tell us more about the vast differences between the Japanese education system and  the U.S.  that you haven't touched on already?  One thing you told me that is interesting is that students there aren't rewarded or given treats of any kind.

You're the best, Jon!

I still wouldn't say that I know a whole lot about the Japanese education system, being that my position is more like an outside contractor than a proper teacher.  But I can give however little information I've come to learn since March.  Keep in mind that since I don't have first hand knowledge as a Japanese teacher or student there's a good chance that the information isn't 100% accurate, and it may only be relavent for my specific city or region.  Also, much of this info will be fore junior high since I spend most of my time there.

  1. Teachers and administrative staff change schools every 3-8 years, the younger teachers moving more frequently.
  2. In elementary and junior high school there are no actual grades, I don't even think that it's possible to fail, you just have to show up.
  3. Discipline is far different than that in the States.  There is no such thing as detention (the kids typically stay at school long after classes are over to do club activities anyhow) or suspension.  Troublesome kids are free to get up and leave whenever they want with no consequence, if a kid doesn't want to do the work that's his problem.  If a class gets out of control the teachers have a tendency to ignore that there's a problem and just continue on for the kids that care.  But all that said, there is far from a discipline problem with the students.  I have practically no problems maintaining order and attention in the classroom.
  4. Every teacher is required to coach a club activity or sport.
  5. At the beginning of the year the home room teachers in junior high school visit the homes of every single one of their students for a meeting with the parents.
  6. About a third of the way through the year the parents each come to school for a meeting with the teachers.
  7. The principle is mostly a title only position, given to an older teacher close to retirement, the vice-principle does much of the day to day running of things.  The principle is still the face of the school and also receives a lot of respect.
  8. You have to apply for high school and take a standardized test as part of the application, similar to college.  Students often travel an hour's journey to a different city just for high school.
  9. School officially starts at 8:30 and ends at 3:20, but students often come much earlier and leave much later.
  10. There are typically no yearbooks.
  11. Schools almost never have fancy names, often just whatever neighborhood they are in.
  12. Home room teachers eat lunch with their students.
  13. There's often half-days of school on Saturdays.
  14. The school year starts in mid-March
  15. There are only two real vacation breaks.  Summer vacation, which is the entire month of August, and winter vacation, this year being from December 25th to January 5th.
  16. If there's a national holiday on a Thursday you still have to go to school on Friday.
  17. There are no custodians, the students clean the school.
  18. In elementary and junior high, all students walk to school on a pre-designated route.  For high school kids either walk, ride their bikes or take public transportation.
  19. Curriculum is handed down from the national level as opposed to the state level.
  20. There are 240 school days in Japan, 160 in the U.S.A.

That's all that comes to mind, but I'll be sure to post more as they come to mind.  As always, everyone is welcome to ask questions of their own in the comments section or email me at kramersemail@gmail.com.