Let’s get into some random tidbits about school life in Japan.
No rhyme or reason to them, these are mainly just quirks of school life here that weren’t really a thing in Canada where I’m from.
So here we go with 12 Japan school life tidbits!
I’ll likely mention it again and again in this post, but I’ll also mention here that this is all based on my experiences teaching in 2 junior high schools in rice paddy country in Nagano prefecture. It’s possible that schools are different in other areas, and definitely possible that high schools are different also. That said, my friends who also work in junior high schools in Saitama and Kanegawa prefectures have told me about their schools, and things seem fairly consistent.
12. It Gets Windy
This is a huge difference from Western schools. Here, the schools, as well as most houses / apartments, are designed for maximum air flow. What this means is that schools are typically U shaped with a courtyard in the middle. The reason for this is so that you can open windows on both the inside and outside of the U, and allow air to flow through. The hallways will have classrooms on one side, and a window to the courtyard on the other. So air can flow from the hallway and through the classroom.
The funny thing about this is that it can get fairly windy in the classroom! I kid you not when there’s a nice breeze outside it’s common for student’s papers to blow off their desk, or their open textbook to blow to another page. Everyone has to be careful to pin their stuff down or hold it down while they work. I find it pretty funny, because it’s definitely something I never had to worry about in school.
11. Introduction & Conclusion
Every class begins with a student representative (depending on the class the student will either change, or stay the same on a daily basis) instructing the class to stand and introducing the subject. This finalizes with the class and teachers saying 「お願いします」 (onegai shimasu) which translates to “please” but I feel like it means something more along the lines of “please and thank you”.
And then when class is over, the same student that did the introduction will once again instruct the class to stand and say that the lesson has concluded. Then everyone says 「ありがとうございました」 (arigatou gozaimashita) which is just “thanks” in the context of a past event, which in this case would be the lesson everyone shared together!
In some of my classes we just say “Goodbye” instead of that though.
10. The Bell
First off, the bell is actually longer than what we normally hear in anime. In anime we typically hear it go through the melody once, but in reality you hear it twice, making the bell actually pretty long. It’s like 20 – 30 seconds, although maybe this depends on the school as it’s possible the speed varies. It’s long enough that it’s kind of awkward to just stand there and wait for it to finish when you’re speaking to someone or something.
The students that have to do the aforementioned class introduction / conclusion like it though and often will speak during the bell when no one can really hear them. Teachers also will just speak through it, even though it’s quite loud at the schools I teach at. It’s just such a long bell that people typically don’t wait for it to finish.
Once again, thanks to anime we all know that the students clean the classrooms. However, anime typically (although I have seen it at times) doesn’t show cleaning occur outside the classroom. In reality, at least at my schools, the students clean EVERYTHING. Not just their classroom, but also the hallways, the shoe boxes, outside paths, faculty office, infirmary, et cetera.
In addition, it’s not just a handful of students on cleaning duty like what we see in anime. Maybe cleaning duty is a high school thing, or a Tokyo thing, or something. At my schools in Nagano, everyone participates. Every student and most teachers throw on a white hat (I don’t know why it has to be white, but it does) or a du-rag and have a particular area that they clean everyday. Be it sweeping, dusting, scrubbing the floor, et cetera. Each student has one job that they do everyday during cleaning time.
This occurs for 15 minutes every day at the end of the school day, or sometimes before the final homeroom class depending on the day.
8. No Anthem
I can’t speak for Europe, but I know that in Canada, and I believe also the US, at the beginning of every school day we stand for the national anthem. That doesn’t happen here. Instead, there’s something else that happens in the morning, which I’ll get to next!
7. Broadcasting Club
Schools have a broadcasting club, that handles the broadcasts. Usually in the morning they’ll play a short sample from a Japanese pop / rock song, and then give a couple announcements. If the principal wants to give an announcement, the broadcasting club will “invite” them on in the morning during the announcements. That said, there typically aren’t many announcements that are broadcasted, and there’s a reason for that which I’ll get to.
In addition, the broadcasting club will select music to play at lunchtime. At one of my schools it’s usually classical music, and I don’t know if that’s a school policy or just their choice. The other school plays rock music and things like that. But they usually broadcast some music and stuff in the morning before class, during lunch break, and during club time after school.
Ever wonder why students are so anxious to find out who is in their class in anime? Well, it’s because in Japan, students don’t move classes, at all. They are assigned a class with other students, and that’s it for the school year. As you likely know, classes are denoted as “grade – class number”, such as 2-3 (2nd grade, class 3) for example.
Each class has homeroom at the beginning and the end of the day. Homeroom is where the teacher gives announcements to the class (which is why they aren’t broadcasted as often), events and whatnot are discussed, in certain classes the class rep is chosen for the day, upcoming test days (we’ll get to that) are discussed and things like that. Basically just admin stuff. Homeroom is also where the class will decide upon what they’re doing for the cultural festival and all that like what we see in anime.
Because students stay in one class, and the teachers come to them for various subjects, instead of lockers, students have cubbies at the back of the class to keep their bags and coats and whatnot in. Technically they all have a shoe box at the school entrance also, but only shoes are kept in those (you can’t wear outdoor shoes inside, so you change into indoor shoes at the entrance).
Again all this may depend on the school, maybe some schools give students much larger shoe boxes / lockers at the entrance to keep their stuff in. I don’t know for sure.
5. Teacher Casual Wear
Maybe it’s just because I’m in rice paddy country, but the dress code for us teachers is super lax. Some teachers come in wearing shorts and a t-shirt, others wear khakis and a collared t-shirt, and others wear a dress shirt and dress pants. It almost feels like you can wear anything as long as it isn’t inappropriate, and isn’t jeans.
I hate how jeans always get thrown under the bus as the “too casual” piece of clothing. People can wear shorts and a t-shirt but not jeans?! Why??
I think this depends on the school though, as I believe at some schools the teachers have to wear more business attire all the time.
Personally, I just go with business casual dress pants and dress shirt, sleeves rolled up for the summer heat.
4. Summer Uniforms
Now for the students, they all wear uniforms exactly like you’ve seen before in anime and on the internet. At one of my schools the uniform is the typical sailor uniform (white, blue, and red ribbon) for girls and white dress shirt / black jacket for guys. At the other school it’s more casual, with white dress shirts, a black vest, red ribbon for girls, and then it’s just white dress shirts for guys with a dark jacket.
But in the summer, things are a little different. They have summer uniforms, which you might think just means short sleeves or something like that.
Nope! “Summer uniforms” really means that the students wear their gym clothes all day. They walk to school in their school uniform, change into their gym clothes at school, and then wear that. Which basically means t-shirts and track pants / shorts. Maybe this is different in high school, but I thought it was funny that this is what happens at my schools.
3. Test Days & Test Booklets
In Canada, and I imagine the US also, whether or not we had a test would depend on the subject. So you might have a math test one week, and then a history test another week. Tests were just whenever it was time for a test.
But here, it’s a little different! Students have test days. Meaning that they have all of their subjects tested in a single day. It’s actually pretty crazy, and I have to imagine rough for the kids that they can’t just focus their studies on a single subject. They have to study for everything! Which I guess is why we see in school anime that idea of “studying for the subjects you aren’t good at”.
In addition, tests are actually in a booklet. Instead of just pages stapled together in one corner like what we do in Canada, they have a booklet for each subject. Why they use a booklet I don’t know, but they do. The more you know.
Maybe these things are just at my schools, again I don’t know much about how things go at high schools or even other junior high schools in Tokyo or whatever.
2. School Lunch
I fairly certain this is only for junior high schools and elementary schools. At high school students have to bring their own lunch or buy one at school, I believe.
But we have school lunch. Which means the students and teachers all get a hot meal everyday. At lunch, which is at around 1pm, carts loaded with food and plates and trays and all that are wheeled to the classrooms. Students push their desks into groups, called their “lunch groups”. Then depending who is on lunch duty, students will serve their classmates.
At the moment because of corona the teachers are serving though, which is fair. I’m supposed to be eating with the students but again because of corona I’m not allowed. That and the students aren’t pushing their desks together to make lunch groups, instead just eating at their desks individually. So I can’t just join in a group and chat while we eat.
As for the food, it’s amazing. From fried salmon, to curry, the entree is always great. In addition to the entree, everyone either gets a big bun or a bowl of rice, a soup, sometimes a small salad, sometimes a small dessert (mochi, fruit, something like that), and always a 200ml glass bottle of milk. It’s really filling too, I can’t believe how much these kids can eat, although I have a small appetite admittedly!
Well I didn’t plan the order this way, but it looks like we’re ending with sinks.
Sinks are everywhere at school. You can find them outside around the school, in the hallways, and even in the classrooms. That’s in addition to in the washrooms of course. There are just so many sinks. Typically between classes many students will go and wash their hands in a sink, but I was just surprised at how many sinks there are.
In my high school of 2000 people in Canada the only sinks were in the washrooms, and that seemed like enough!
I don’t actually know the specific reasons for it, I guess they just really want sinks to be available for students to wash their hands. Cleanliness is a big part of the culture here. I guess when it gets really hot in the summer students can fill their water bottles and cool off a little with water from one of the sinks too.
And there are my 12 random Japan school life tidbits.
Like my last random tidbits post, I hope you read something interesting here. More posts containing stories and whatnot to come in the future, although I don’t know when. Stay tuned!
Until next time,
Thanks for reading.