In Japan, education is compulsory for all children aged 6 to 15. After attending a nursery or day care center (hoikuen) as toddlers, they go on to kindergarten (yōchien).
At the age of six, Japanese kids usually start primary school (shōgakkō). Primary education lasts for six years, teaching the pupils about the Japanese language, math, music, art, P.E., and moral education. Later on, the primary school curriculum also features social studies, science, and home economics.
After completing their primary school education, the students progress to junior high school (chōgakkō) for three years. Although high school (kōtōgakkō) is not compulsory, most Japanese teenagers do attend it. Different kinds of high school cater to different student populations.
There are vocational high schools, academic ones, and the (private) elite high schools that prepare their students for prestigious universities. Even if they don’t enroll for studies at a top university, many young people in Japan graduate from a college or university (daigaku) with a four-year bachelor’s degree.
Although public schools in Japan are free for everyone, most expats in Tokyo send their kids to international schools. That way, their children don’t have to cope with the language barrier, culture shock, vastly different academic requirements, and socialization issues.
There are numerous international schools in Japan’s biggest metropolitan regions. Some of them create an English-language environment for Japanese kids whose parents want them to acquire language skills and intercultural awareness. Others directly cater to various foreign communities.
In the Greater Tokyo Area, there are international schools for expat kids of various nationalities. On the downside, all these schools are private institutions, which require tuition payments. Homeschooling could be an alternative but its legal situation is fuzzy — although homeschooling is not officially considered as illegal it is very rare in Japan.
Selected International Schools in Tokyo
Since the Tokyo Metropolitan Region is such a vast area, most expats will want to become familiar with the public transportation network as soon as possible. Due to the frequency of traffic congestions, driving your own car is rather uncommon in Greater Tokyo. Trains are the most popular means of transport.
It may be especially confusing for foreign residents of Tokyo that there is not one rail network in the metropolitan area, but rather a maze of overlapping networks. Dozens of lines are run by a multitude of companies. The most important are JR (Japan Railway) East, Tokyo Metro and the Tokyo Metropolitan Bureau of Transportation. They are responsible for Tokyo’s subway lines.
However, there are many other train operators. They serve particularly the suburbs of Greater Tokyo (e.g. the Chiba Urban Monorail to Chiba City, the Keisei Electric Railway to Narita Airport, etc.).
To avoid getting lost in the labyrinth of Tokyo’s railway and subway lines, expats need to find out which operators serve the areas relevant to them. If you would like to learn more about transport in different neighborhoods, ask in one of the numerous tourist offices across Tokyo. They provide visitors with free maps, travel brochures, and public transportation information, and there is usually English-speaking staff available.
Moreover, there are electronic signs announcing the next stop in English and Japanese on many (albeit not all) trains. That way, if you find yourself on an unfamiliar line, you know at least where you are and where you are going.
If you are going to spend a lot of time on Tokyo’s public transportation, you should make sure to buy a reloadable smart card. The Suica card and the Pasmo card are virtually interchangeable nowadays.
They can be used for most JR trains, subway lines, and buses in Tokyo. You can recharge them at every ticket-vending machine displaying the Suica logo or the Pasmo sign. They can also be used for some vending machines or baggage lockers, at station kiosks or selected convenience stores.
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