Category Archives: Japanese and American Schools

Japanese and American Schools: School Schedules – The School year

This week I’ll be continuing the topic I started last week. Yay! It was only a week ago. My goal for this summer is definitely posting things more often. No that doesn’t mean Adette. It just means that I’d like to start posting some more things about Japan and other things. It’s my blog, so I guess I do what I want.

Today I’m going to talk about school schedules. I’ll talk a bit about both the daily and yearly schedule. Again, I’m really only able to speak specifically about the Japanese school I’ve worked with and my experiences in the States. Obviously that means I can’t cover everything, so if you’ve had a different experience, I’d love to hear about it.

To start, there is one misconception that I’d like to talk about first. Generally people assume that all schools, nationwide, have a six day school week. This is pretty much not the case. There are some schools where students do still go to school on Saturday, but those are generally private schools or schools outside of the public school system. The school I work with only has classes five days a week. Many students are on campus seven days a week for a variety of reasons, but that’s something I’ll talk about when I do a post on clubs.

Schools in Japan, just like schools in America have three main breaks. There is a spring, summer and winter holiday. Naturally these holidays differ in length and when they actually happen. Summer holiday in Japan is a month not the two and a half month behemoth we enjoy in the states. Japanese summer holiday, 夏休み, begins at the end of July and ends sometime around the end of August depending on the school. Just like in the States there is summer school, though it’s important to note, summer school is run by the school’s teachers. Japanese teachers do not enjoy the same summer holiday that their American counterparts enjoy. I’ve been told that this was not always so, but that sometime ten years ago or longer it was changed. I have no idea what. That’s just what I was told.

In fact, it’s important to note that unless a Japanese teacher takes one of their 15 paid vacation days they are only actually given three days off at the New Year and during Golden Week. The rest of their breaks must come from National holidays, usually on Mondays, or their own time off. I’m getting a little ahead of myself though.

The next big holiday is the New Year. Japanese New Year centers around the actual New Year which means that students generally still have classes or that school is still in session in some form for the Christmas holiday. Please hold your shock and horror in check. Japanese people don’t celebrate Christmas as more than a commercial holiday that same way that we would celebrate Valentine ’s Day. It’s not a good enough reason for a holiday. Unlike our week and a half to two week long break, the New Year is only three days. For students, it is a bit longer, but for the regular working population it’s only three days, and EVERYONE travels on those days.

Golden Week is the major spring holiday which happens in the beginning of May. It’s actually a holiday that consists of four separate national holidays Showa Day (April 29th), Constitution remembrance day (May 3rd), Greenery Day (May 4th), and Children’s Day (May 5th). The way that it is spread out does actually mean that your holiday may be split into several places. If Showa Day is a Friday, then you may end up with five or six days off. If not, then you’re going to end up working or having school in between. Schools are generally back in session by then.

Back you say? But in American May is at the end of the school year. Not so in Japan. In Japan graduation, just like almost everything else, changes over in April. School Graduation generally happens in March with just two weeks in between the end of the school year and the start of the next. That means, you guessed it, that the summer holiday is actually in the middle of the school year in Japan not the end as it is in America. This is actually one of the main reasons that transitioning between the two cultures can be so difficult.

One thing that I really would like to take home with me is the idea of daikyuu (代休). Daikyuu is this magical things that says that if your some reason you have school on a Saturday then you must have another day off to compensate for the missed weekend day. You might be wondering when something like that would be needed, but it happens, a lot. Every time a school has one of those sports festivals, culture festivals, or pretty much any other festival it’s usually on a Saturday. That means everyone, even teachers unless they take a day off, needs to be at school for that Saturday. Because of daikyuu though, everyone will get the next Monday off. The same is true for teachers who have to do something school related on the weekend. If they have to go to a conference for something on a Saturday, then the school with reimburse them for that day off with daikyuu. It’s actually a pretty nifty system.

As a last note, I would like to point out that, even though Japanese students do have weekends and a fair amount of holidays throughout the year, they still generally are busy for the majority of those breaks. Most of my students will enroll in summer study programs or will be doing something related to their clubs for almost the whole spring or summer break. The New Year’s break is really the only one where student’s truly won’t come to school, and then it’s only because families usually visit family at that time as a matter of tradition.

I had intended on talking about the daily school schedule, but that looks like it may have to wait for a different post. The school year itself is an interesting enough topic on its own.

Japanese and American Schools: Differences and Similarities


I have lately been woefully neglecting what I set out to do in the first place and that is to talk about Japan. I’ve had some great experiences here, and one thing that I thought might be of interest was my experience working both in Japanese schools and my experience working in American schools. I’ve worked in both and would like to shed some light on some of the major differences and similarities I’ve encountered.

This will start of a series of posts that I hope to share with you. I think that maybe there are some things that lots of people know, but maybe I’ll be able to shed some light on some things that people don’t already know.

There seems to be a real mystique surrounding Japanese schools. This of course has a lot to do with anime and in fact Japanese culture itself. For many in Japan, just like for many in the States, high school is considered to be one of those special times in ones life. Practically everyone in the country gets misty eyed around graduation season. You can’t even count how many pop stars create graduation themed songs.

I think in this respect Japan has the U.S. beat on graduation mania. For most high school students high school graduation is that time that sends you off into the wonderful world that is college. For me it was the time that I said good bye and good riddance to any number of people I didn’t like. I was a couldn’t wait for college girl. This is generally not the case in Japan. Most people tend to look back on high school as their last care free time. It’s very common to stay in touch with your class and to have yearly meet ups when possible. That’s generally why there are so many anime created with school at its center. It’s a very strong and powerful connector for the audience be they young or old.

Many people said to me before I left that my job would be significantly easier as a teacher simply because I would be in Japan. Sure, my students are extremely well behaved. Nearly all of them, but that’s because I am at a very competitive school. It’s the kind of school that I can mention in passing only to receive an awed look of respect. I don’t get to take credit for this since I lucked into the position, but I’m often afforded some of that respect simply by being connected with the school.

Of course there are schools in Japan with the same types of problems as schools anywhere else on the planet. Japan has students with absent or no parents, bad home lives, low motivation, and any number of other problems shared with thousands of “troubled” children around the planet. The reason you don’t know is that, well, talking about the nasty things isn’t exactly what Japanese people tend to do. Bottom line children are children no matter the culture or country.

Teachers still work very hard. They certainly work longer hours here, but it doesn’t have the same high pressure feeling that it did in the states. Teachers generally have time during the day to do all of their grading and other paper work. Of course even with that extra time during the day they still stay late. It’s expected or they want to. It’s never exactly clear which it is.

Of course the teachers are only there because the students are. They actually have to kick students out of the building. Hopefully this has a been an interesting introduction to what I expect may be a longer topic than I first anticipated. Here’s to trying to post more often.