- Life & Culture
What is school life typically like in Japan?
Most schools will have a principal (“kōchō-sensei”) and vice-principal (“kyoto-sensei” or “fuku-kōchō-sensei”). The number of homeroom teachers will depend on the school population. Class sizes usually range from 20 to 40 students. Each grade will have a head teacher, and each class will have a homeroom teacher.
The School Day
School usually opens at or shortly after 8:00 am, with students arriving between 8:00 and 8:30 am.
All levels of schools will have six periods per day, with the first period usually starting after 8:30. In elementary school, each period is 45 minutes, while in junior high and high school, each period is 50 minutes. There is usually a small break between periods.
Most students will walk to school, though in rural areas, some students may be allowed to take the bus. Once they get to school, students will head to their homeroom and unpack their backpacks. Before the first period begins, they usually have duties to perform like taking attendance, gathering last night’s homework, passing out papers that were graded the previous evening, or getting announcements and paperwork from the teachers’ room.
Cleaning time, which is when the students clean the school, will be scheduled either in the morning or after the lunch break.
The day will typically finish with students returning to their homeroom for end-of-day salutations, which ends before 4:00 pm. After this time, junior high and high school students will usually take part in club activities (“bukatsu”) until about 6:00 pm.
In Japan, students must attend school up to the end of junior high school (15 years old). For elementary and junior high school, students attend their local school. After junior high school, students attend schools depending on their scores on the standardized high school entrance exam. As a result, some students may travel a great distance to attend the school determined by their test scores.
Your First Day at School
In most cases, you will be introduced to your schools prior to your first working day. You will meet a representative of each school, likely the head of the English program and quite likely the principal and vice-principal as well. You should be shown your desk, shoebox, and other things that relate to you and will likely be asked to give a brief self-introduction to the other teachers, in Japanese if possible.
On your first day, unless otherwise notified, you will be expected to find your way to school on your own. Be sure to check and double-check your route, as a late arrival on your first day can sour your relationship with the school for the entire year! When you arrive, you should change into your indoor shoes, find your way to the teachers’ room, and offer a hearty “Ohayō gozaimasu!” with a bow at the door. You should already have been shown where to sit, so simply proceed inside. If not, the head of the English program should be ready to guide you.
There may be an official welcome for you given by the students, where you will need to give another introduction, this time in English. If you come at the beginning of the year (April), you will likely be introduced along with the other new teachers to the school, as Japanese teachers rotate regularly, only spending an average of three years in a school at a time.