As westerners living in Japan, the decision of where to send your kids to school can be a bit overwhelming. You want them to have the best education possible, and at the same time you want them to learn Japanese and fit into Japanese and Western cultures just fine. Upon arriving in Japan, while Becca and Anna (our oldest daughters) were still 4 years old, we looked into the different options.
We could send them to international schools where they would grow up learning in English. Some are even good Christian schools, which were very attractive to us. But at the same time we wanted our kids to learn Japanese and make good connections locally. These private schools were not local.
Also, we’d heard of the intense pressure Japanese students undergo and bullying which can be problem. These things were certainly red flags to us. The more we talked with others, we found out that the real pressure to perform begins when students prepare to go into Junior High School. They want to get good grades to place in the good schools. Then of course the same thing happens for High School and finally college. Once students get to college, it is perhaps the most free time in the life of any student in the Japanese system.
We wanted the kids to learn Japanese but eventually prepare them for university in English (most likely in America). We determined we could have our kids in local Japanese schools up until Junior High, at which point we could either home school them (yikes!) or move them to an international school that teaches in English. We’d heard of some other students that did it this way and it was very positive for them.
So for now we keep a close eye on our kids, always asking them about other students (or potential bullying), friends, teachers, etc. Many times they haven’t quite understood what all was going on, and we weren’t able to help them much in terms of the Japanese, but that’s where good friends really helped out. Several friends would help us make sense of the system and we even enlisted the older girls in after-school sessions that helped them with their school work.
Since the girls are in 5th grade, soon we will need to cross the bridge of what we will do for them in Junior High School. Until then, it has been a positive experience having our kids go to local Japanese schools.