Local Schools vs International Schools

I am ideally looking to relocate to tokyo within the next year. I have 2 kids getting ready to enter grade 2 here in the states. What are your thoughts of putting them in International Schools vs Local Schools… I am sure Int. Schools are great but the price tag alone is a huge put off… 20k USD per child on average.

How would the fair going into a local school? We already are exposing ourselves to japanese language and culture via things like youtubers, anime, memrise, music etc. I dont want anything to distract us from our goal but this is a huge roadblock to overcome.

Any advice?

Local schools can vary like everywhere, but the Japanese ones are generally good environments for kids. I’ve taught in 4 (senior and junior high both academic and engineering/sports in Kanagawa and rural Japan) and the school community is insanely strong, with club activities, competitions and festivals making them like a second home to the kids and teachers. The learning system is quite intensive and often focused on memorisation with a somewhat inflexible approach, but that suits some children (although in Tokyo there is more flexibility depending on the school compared to rural Japan). The biggest thing you will have to get used to is the presence of school in your and your child’s life. They will have shed-loads of homework as they are expected to prepare before each class. The club activities are also very intense compared to most places, (be they sports, art, brass band, choir, chess or engineering etc) and are attended pretty much every day if not twice a day for sports (including throughout holidays and Christmas day etc - get used to that). This all sounds kind of bad, but honestly, they build such strong relationships and learn the importance of teamwork, responsibility, respect, dedication and focus they are some of the most well rounded kids I’ve ever met (they not only become very skilled at certain things, but listening to their speeches about their experiences made me realise how much they love this life). Be prepared to know your teachers well too, they do home visits and your homeroom teacher will consider themselves highly responsible for all their students, almost like a third parent.
I’ve had students at Junior high join from abroad and become practically fluent attending regular classes within months, as they go for full immersion. You’ll want to discuss this with the school though as some are definitely better prepared than others. Kids can be mean like anywhere, but generally the behaviour here is far better than at home (UK).
What you may what to consider most is the high-school they attend as this is where the system divides into specialist schools, with academic, engineering etc becoming the focus. Many schools have a language stream and students from these high school often go on to attend University abroad, which might be a good idea for your kids. There are no standardised tests in Japanese schools, so they will sit exams for each high school they attend, often with say, a focused English exam if they apply to a language-stream school.
I would say go for it. It’s the best way for you and your kids to become part of the community, especially if you plan to stay here. If it doesn’t work for them after a while then fair enough, at least you tried. I am biased though haha, so it would be interesting to hear from the other side.

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There are a lot more choices for international schools for the lower grades. If you avoid the big name ones like the American School in Japan, the British School Tokyo, Nishimachi, Sacred Heart etc. then the fees are a bit lower - but still very high. Small schools like JIES have good teachers and an international curriculum but they don’t have the reputation or the facilities of some of the old established schools. http://www.jies.jp/index.html
Home schooling is another option. It’s technically illegal (sending your kids to most international schools is also against the law as they’re required to be enrolled at a recognised Japanese educational institution) but the authorities almost always turn a blind eye to international families.

I would think the length of your stay would matter. If it is short term (a few years), then sending your child to a Japanese school would be so invaluable. They would pick up the language quickly. International school costs an arm and a leg. If your company is footing the bill, then definitely an international school. Our son attended International school for 13 years. Generally, his education was about the same as the cost was at the time for a college in the U.S. If money is an issue, sending your child to a Japanese school is the way to go Various factors do apply such as age of child and what the child would want. He/She may be too young to make that decision, but if he/she is old enough, no reason to force your child to do something he/she does not want to do. I am glad we sent our son to an International school as he graduated in 1997, but not sure I could afford to send him to an International school these days. Really expensive.