10 Differences Between American and Japanese School Systems

  • 1. Time/Vacation

    School in the US usually starts in August and ends in June. However, in Japan classes start in April and ends in March. There are less days off in Japan compared with their US counterparts.

    On average the Japanese spend 60 days more per year at school that the US. It is not uncommon in Japan for students to keep on going to school in the summer for their various sports and club activities. They also have homework during their summer vacation.

    2. Lunch

    Lunches in Japan are made by chefs offsite and brought in. Everyone eats the same thing and students pass out the lunches and everyone waits until all is served before eating. In the US there are cafeterias with multiple food options.

    3. Entrance exams

    In Japanese high schools (and even elementary schools), an entrance exam is required to get in and is quite stressful, where this is not required in the US. There are entrance ceremonies (like graduation ceremonies) just for getting in!

    4. Uniforms

    Unless in private school, the US has no strict dress code. In Japan, however, they start wearing uniforms from junior high onwards (sometimes even earlier). They also take off their shoes prior to entering the classroom and change into indoor shoes.

    5. Cleaning

    Children in Japan learn responsibility at an early age. In fact, there are no janitors in most schools. The students themselves clean their areas. There is a word for this “Souji” or “honorable cleaning” – a 15 minute period dedicated to cleaning. Even the staff from teachers to principal participate.

    6. Buses

    School buses are rare in Japan (usually in rural areas) and students typically walk or bike. In the US bikes are the norm. In areas with metro access, it is not uncommon for Japanese students, even the young ones, to commute by themselves as it’s relatively safe.

    7. Classrooms

    In the US, students move from room to room each period. In Japan, the students stay in one room and the teachers go to them. It is not uncommon for students to eat their lunch in the classroom itself.

    8. Greetings

    In Japan, the day begins and ends in the homeroom. Always beginning with paying respect to the teacher. Students would stand up, reply to the teacher and then bow before sitting down to start the day. This does not occur in the US.

    9. Participation

    Class participation is encouraged in the US and is normal for a student to raise their hands and ask questions. In Japan, the class is expected to be quiet and listen to what the teacher has to say.

    10. Cram school – or “Juku”

    These are popular in Japan. While expensive, they are there to help students pass the numerous entrance exams. Though there are tutoring and even test prep school in the US, it is not as widely used or even the norm as it is in Japan.
    As always this is not a comprehensive list and there are definitely exceptions, but it does give good insight into the differences in the school systems. Would love hear your personal experiences/thoughts in the comment section below.

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