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All-Japanese families take a chance on international schools

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“Third-culture kids” are defined as those who have spent a significant portion of their younger years outside of their parents’ culture. Most associate this term with families that have lived overseas, where children have been exposed to the first culture by their parents and the second by their foreign hosts, resulting in the kids growing up with a third culture that is a mixture of both.

But children don’t necessarily have to live outside their parents’ home country to foster this third culture. Increasing numbers of Japanese parents are going against the grain and placing their children in international schools here, principals at the schools say, even though the government classifies these institutions as gaikokujin gakkō (foreigner schools) designated as “educational institutions for non-Japanese students.”

In a notoriously homogeneous society where parents can face criticism for going against the grain, what drives these parents to shun local schools and instead seek out these institutions, most of which are not accredited as fulfilling the compulsory education requirement mandated by the education ministry?

Yuki Imoto, a cultural anthropologist at Keio University’s Department of Foreign Languages and Liberal Arts, says these parents usually fall into three categories. First, there are those who have been abroad and, due to their exposure outside of Japan, would like their children to have a similar experience in their schooling.

Ryoko Tanaka, a mother of a child at St. Mary’s International School, fits into this first group.

“My husband, after finishing university in Japan, went to the U.S. to attend college at Harvard,” she explains. “When he joined the workforce and compared his U.S. experience with his Japanese education, he felt that the overwhelmingly useful experience came from having been overseas.”

The second group, according to Imoto, are parents who work in certain high-profile professions — such as celebrities — who may want the kind of privacy an international school can offer.

Lastly, there are those who may not speak English or have prior international experience but believe that their children should have an international education. Frequently, Imoto says, “the parents themselves have struggled with English and have found themselves in experiences, at work or otherwise, where if they had had the English ability, it would have really opened up opportunities for them.” Such parents often work in multinational companies, run their own businesses or work at entrepreneurial ventures such as IT start-ups.

Keiko Fukasawa, another St. Mary’s mother, says that though her husband is a graduate of the University of Tokyo, widely considered to be the Harvard of Japan, he felt it lacked the international outlook this generation needs to be exposed to in order to thrive.

Similarly, Keiko Kawakami, whose daughter attends Nishimachi International School in Tokyo, says: “Unlike when I was growing up, I felt as if a different generation was coming. For my generation, your path was decided. Now, almost as if there are no borders, you have the freedom to live as you wish, but it has also become harder to find work. So this generation that needs to find the strength to stand on its own two feet.”

Though it is commonly assumed that the main reason Japanese parents enroll their children in international schools is so that they learn English, parents today are often equally concerned that their children should receive the individualistic, creative and active learning they believe is missing in the traditional Japanese classroom.

Kensuke Murashima, a graduate of Keio University and Duke University’s business school in the U.S., who also has a daughter at Nishimachi, says: “In the Japanese classroom, everyone does the same thing at the same time, and the learning concepts come from the teacher. There is less space or room for kids to come up with their own ideas.

“In the U.S., teachers ask kids to present a certain position, have opinions and ideas, and sometimes have discussions and arguments with proactive thinking through the multinational language, which is English.”

These parents also appreciate the global perspective that interaction amongst students in the international school environment can provide. At present, St. Mary’s student body comprises children from 47 countries, while Nishimachi has 30 countries represented, covering six continents. In wider Japanese society, where only 1.5 percent of the population are foreign nationals, Japanese children are exposed to far less diversity. In contrast, though a more transient community by design, students who attend international school maintain friendships all over the world.

However, putting children into international schools can also present cultural and linguistic challenges. For example, unlike in a regular Japanese home, parents can have difficulty adjusting to children with independent thoughts who may be vocal about their own opinions.

“I had to learn that in the education I selected for her, it is normal for her to have different opinions,” Kawakami says of her daughter.

Fukasawa takes great pains to try to make sense of this cultural gap for her child.

” ‘When we’re around Japanese mothers, I may not compliment you a lot. We are humble,’ ” Fukusawa says she explains to her son. ” ‘And around American mothers, I may say that you are not a good boy even when they say you are such a nice boy.’ So I tell him not to think I am speaking poorly of him. It’s the Japanese way.”

And though intergenerational gaps may always exist within families, these can feel magnified when a child’s cultural context is completely foreign to their parents’. Kawakami doesn’t understand the Silly Bandz rubber bracelet craze, her seventh-grade daughter’s appreciation for the boy band One Direction, or her desire as a fifth-grader to have her ears pierced, for example.

The type of parental involvement expected at international schools can also come as a shock to Japanese parents. They can be confused by PTA practices, private school fund-raising and charity efforts, and may be used to having daily interaction with teachers when picking up and dropping off their children. Even the little things, such as children not taking their own pencil case to school, are at odds with their own experience. And in some households, while the working father who has been educated abroad may understand these differences, it is often the mothers who attend to child care, leaving them to increasingly depend on the less-available father’s understanding of the culture. This calls for a further balancing act within the family.

Language can also be an issue, as English becomes the child’s stronger tongue while the parents usually communicate in Japanese. Tanaka says of speaking with her son, “There are times when we have difficulty engaging with one another and he’ll ask, ‘What is that Japanese word?’ He doesn’t know the Japanese vocabulary and I don’t have the English.”

And as children get older, with more activities outside of the home with their English-speaking peer group and less interaction with parents, the Japanese mother tongue is increasingly replaced by a stronger command of English.

Japanese mothers often have to make tremendous sacrifices for and a considerable commitment to the foreign language and culture. Kawakami says that when her daughter first started at Nishimachi, she was on the verge of tears every night when her inbox was flooded with emails in English. She would stay up well into the night trying to decipher their meaning. But optimistically, she says: “I became good at asking for help when I needed it, and now, I feel like there’s nothing I can’t do to support my daughter, and as a mother. The best thing is that no matter how far away she is in the world or how difficult it may be for her to be accepted into a school, I know I can work my hardest to support her.”

While the children gain an international education, the mothers and fathers are keen to learn and keep up with their children’s studies as well, according to Imoto’s research.

“The lifestyle is not only for the children but also for the mothers, who can gain international experience by entering that network of internationally minded people,” Keio’s Imoto says.

Fukasawa concurs: “I do not have any international experience, so I feel like I enrolled in the school with my son. I’m committed to learning English, and I am improving little by little. And so now I’m able to learn about the school’s education practices and what kind of events are held at the school.”

To maintain their native language and culture, Japanese mothers feel a great responsibility to supplement their children’s international education with additional home or outside schooling. This can take the form of after-school Japanese-language juku or attendance at the local elementary public school in the summer, taking advantage of the fact that while international schools break up in early June, regular local schools typically continue on through the third week of July.

“I have a responsibility as a Japanese person to teach my son about our culture,” says Fukasawa, who sends her son to local public school during the summer months. “He needs to experience the Japanese public school, where everyone wears the same red-and-white hat, and you clean the school by yourself with a zōkin cloth because there is no cleaning lady, and where the students serve lunch.”

Attending an elite English-speaking university in the U.S. or Britain is the ultimate educational goal for many of these families. In preparation, many children attend U.S. summer schools during their summer holidays while in middle school, and some look to enroll in boarding schools for high school.

While the children attend a day program, moms will often enroll in an English-language program. This past summer, Tanaka and her son both stayed in a college dormitory in Seattle, with Tanaka taking an English course while her son attended the college-hosted camp.

To be able to better support their children, schools such as St. Mary’s have a Japanese-speaking support group on hand to help parents who may not understand English navigate the college application process and the SAT/ACT U.S. college entrance exams, for example.

TELL, an organization that provides support and counseling services to Japan’s international community, also works with Japanese families at international schools when cultural issues arise.

“If Japanese families have never been educated overseas, it’s hard for them to understand the Western education system,” says Angelica Isomura-Motoki, a TELL psychotherapist. “Sometimes parents have a totally different perspective on the education system, so we step in and try to put them on the same page.”

Japanese families that enroll their students in international schools are sometimes criticized as being elitist and privileged, as tuition can start at $20,000 per year. However, some parents says they are scraping by to afford this educational opportunity for their children.

“My husband works very hard, and we are living on the brink to pay the tuition,” Fukasawa says.

Another common criticism waged against such families is that these children will not be able to adjust to their native Japanese culture and will be left rootless. But Imoto’s research suggests that “the problematization comes more from the adult perspective, and the fact that you have to have this ‘pure Japanese culture,’ ” she says. “The children themselves enjoy the learning environment.”

Imoto feels that this hybrid identity will become more accepted as Japan makes greater efforts to globalize.

Optimistically, Murashima says, “We hope that the Japanese education system will catch up in the next five to 10 years, and that soon the international and Japanese system will become more similar. And that’s the point where we can rethink education.”

However, for now, he says, “We just can’t wait.”

At a Nishimachi International School fund-raising event in spring, Minori Kawakami’s family bid for the opportunity cowrite an article for The Japan Times with regular contributor Teru Clavel. Kawakami, whose mother was interviewed by Clavel for this article, is a seventh-grader at Nishimachi who loves art and One Direction and hopes to attend a U.S. university one day. Learning Curve covers issues related to education in Japan. Your comments and story ideas: community@japantimes.co.jp

  • Earl Kinmonth

    “In a notoriously homogeneous society where parents can face criticism
    for going against the grain….” As a Japanese (citizen), I find this cultural stereotyping extremely offensive.

    • David Crouch

      Oh please. Japan IS a homogeneous society compared to the US or many countries in Europe. And people CAN face criticism for going against the grain. That is not cultural stereotyping – it’s fact. Cultural stereotyping is when as a non-Japanese you have lived in Japan for 20, 30 or 40 years and Japanese people ask you whether you can eat Japanese food, can you use chopsticks, how come you speak such good Japanese. The wonderful Japanese people are masters at cultural stereotyping!

      • Earl Kinmonth

        You don’t think parents can face criticism in other countries? The US as a nation is diverse but it is quite homogenous and segregated at the neighborhood level. Try going against the grain in terms of religion, gun ownership, school sports, etc. in small town America and you will find it is very repressive. The comment in the article is entirely gratuitous.

      • David Crouch

        I understand what you mean about the US, but relative to most countries Japan is a homogeneous society. And that’s not a criticism. It’s one of the reasons why many of us non-Japanese chose to live here!

      • James Santagata

        Earl and to add to that, what about diversity of thought? This idea that Japanese are “robots” / “sheep” while Westerners are so “diverse” is boring…. You see the same western guy with these same ball caps, tribal tats, etc. boring.

      • Warren Lauzon

        I assume you are looking at high schools, where “fitting in” has always been a big deal.

      • Warren Lauzon

        I dunno about the gun thing, but yes some places can be pretty intolerant when it comes to religion and sports, but it is not near as common.

      • Earl Kinmonth

        Try proclaiming that you are a communist or an atheist almost anywhere in the US and see what the reaction is, especially in the Bible Belt. In Japan (and Britain) no one gives a damn. Homosexual relations have never been criminal in Japan. It’s only in recent history (largely post 60s) that such relations were deciminalized in Britain and the US.

      • Jeffrey

        Homosexuality may not be illegal in Japan, but don’t get caught dancing after midnight in Roppongi.

        Earl, quit while you are behind.

      • Earl Kinmonth

        What has dancing in Roppongi got to do with this thread?

      • Gordon Graham

        Residents were disturbed by the all night partying so an ordinance was passed to quite down the dance clubs…Same reason the trains shut down early…People who live butted up against traintracks and night clubs in paperthin houses want to sleep

      • Earl Kinmonth

        The reason the trains shut down relatively early is to permit track maintenance. Unlike New York City, none of the subway lines and few of the commuter lines are quadruple tracked. There have been discussions over the last two or three years about running the subways around the clock. The issue has always been and continues to be, when do you do track inspections and maintenance work if the lines are always in use. The underground in Tokyo actually has a longer day than that of the London underground. The London unvergroun also frequently closes lines on Sunday for maintenance. http://golondon.about.com/od/londontransport/qt/not24hour.htm All of this has been repeatedly covered in the Japanese language press, at least in the Nihon Keizai Shinbun. I can provide citations if you are interested.

      • Gordon Graham

        I think what he meant to imply was the Japanese are intolerant…

      • Earl Kinmonth

        I can only read what people write. I’ll leave the mind reading to people more talented than I am.

      • Jeffrey

        Small towns everywhere are generally suspicious of and intolerant of anything new or from the “outside.” They are generally socially inbred.

      • Jeffrey

        “The US as a nation is diverse but it is quite homogeneous and segregated . . . “?

        We was both very tall and short.

        Try even finding some place to live in a small Japanese town, even if you’re from Tokyo! If you’re a gaijin, good luck without a local Japanese guarantor.

      • Earl Kinmonth

        The requirement for a guarantor applies to Japanese nationals as well.

      • James Santagata

        David, while it’s true that Japanese society and schools are homogeneous (thank goodness in my book), the use “notorious” is pejorative.

        I would much rather have my child and will have my child in a “notorious” Japanese homogeneous school than a US homogeneous “brainwashing” institution” (and- yes, schools are all brainwashing institutions but what the US schools are teaching kids is downright poisonous). In the US, parents think there is diversity when there isn’t — you toe the party line, with political correctness everywhere. In Japan, there is this as well, but at least in Japan you can “see the wires”. And from their you can explain the matrix to your children, provided you can see it. Think about that. The CGI and special effects with brainwashing about “diversity” and “heterogeneity” of / in US schools hides that….

      • David Crouch

        Hi James – I agree that “notorious” was pejorative. I have not lived in the US (am from the UK originally) so it’s interesting to hear the comments about the superficial diversity there.

      • Jeffrey

        James, have you ever lived in the U.S.? I think your assertions about “party line” and “political correctness” out you as someone who hasn’t even been here on vacation.

        We live in an middle to upper-middle income suburb of Seattle. Seattle has had a two-term African-America mayor and the state of Washington elected a lesbian governor in the ’70s, a two term Chinese-American governor in the ’90s (he was recently our ambassador to China), followed by a woman who served two terms. The current mayor of Seattle is a gay man who just married his partner of 20 years after the state legalized gay marriage two years ago.

        Our bi-cultural children attend public HS and MS. The HS is just awash in early 21st Century American cliches. Nearly half the orchestra is Korean-, Chinese- and Japanese-American kids. One of our daughter’s best friends is gay and the son of Indonesian immigrants. Two of her other friends are the children of recent Ethiopian immigrants. One of our son’s best friends since 4th grade is a first generation Mexican-American who lives in public housing.

        Granted, Seattle is half-jokingly called the People’s Republic of Seattle, but our cultural, social and political climate is representative of the West Coast and much of the East Coast. Yes, go outside the major cities to small towns and rural communities and the diversity disappears and the tolerance of anything different is pretty much non-existant, just like small towns and rural communities the world over.

        But even Texas, a state represented by the most cartoonish of politicians nationally and locally (thanks to gerrymandering) is not nearly as conservative as it appears, which is evidenced by the fact that Houston, THE town of Big Oil, elected a lesbian Democrat mayor.

        That racism or intolerance are more easily identified in Japan is hardly a virtue and helping children understand “the matrix,” ratehr than confront it, is no different than black children learned how to conduct themselves in the Jim Crow era in the South but without nearly the consequences.

      • Earl Kinmonth

        Have you read Frank H. Wu, Yellow: Beyond Black and White? He was born in Cleveland and grew up in Detroit. There is a section in his book where he talks specifically about (white) Americans complimenting him on the fluency of his English. And, just for the record, I have been complimented on the fluency of my English in Britain by Brits, most recently in Sheffield in February. Both times they were serious. (I learned my English in Joliet, Illinois, and Sheffield, England.) Brits like to ask me whether I really like bitter. My answer? “It’s OK but I prefer scrumpy.” Blows them away every time.

      • Warren Lauzon

        I don’t think any one has ever accused Americans of being exactly culturally aware :P

      • Jeffrey

        Particularly any in or from fly-over land. Except for the coasts and a few large cities in the Midwest (obviously not Detroit or Cleveland), there aren’t a lot of Asian “enclaves” and vast swaths of the country that are, like inaka the world over, cultural waste lands.

      • Warren Lauzon

        That is true to a large extent, but it is not just in the fly-over zones – just more common there. A few days ago there was a YouTube video posted of some (fake) petition signature gatherer getting signatures on Berkeley Campus to support ISIS. From the clip, he had no trouble getting them.

      • Jeffrey

        That was actually at George Mason University. I’ve tried to post this three time, but I guess the JT has a no link policy. Not surprisingly, all the hits for this on Google are from right wing web sites.

      • Christine Winskowski

        In the same vein, Earl, here is a story. When I worked at a mid-sized university just north of Joliet, IL as international services director some time ago, a new international student from South Africa was sent to me. In her lovely accent, she explained (with perfect fluency) that the registrar had asked her to take an English proficiency test since she was not considered a native speaker. Unable to hold my laughter, I said something like, “Um, well, we consider you [South African native English speakers] native speakers.” Without missing a beat, she said, “Oh, we consider you [Americans] native speakers too.”

      • Warren Lauzon

        LOL – I have actually run into that stereotyping a few times, to the point where they would try to answer back in “English” even though I was speaking Japanese to them.

    • Warren Lauzon

      I find it to be very true. You should look at how autocratic and conformist some of the “hidden” groups are, such as neighborhood wives associations and PTA groups.

  • Earl Kinmonth

    “These parents also appreciate the global perspective that interaction
    amongst students in the international school environment can provide. At
    present, St. Mary’s student body comprises children from 47 countries,
    while Nishimachi has 30 countries represented, covering six continents.
    In wider Japanese society, where only 1.5 percent of the population are
    foreign nationals, Japanese children are exposed to far less diversity.” National diversity is one thing. What about social class diversity? What is the percentage of the children at these schools who do not have parents who have incomes that are not well above the Japanese average or who do not have parents who are on generous expat compensation packages? What percent of the children have working class parents? What percent come from single-parent families?

    • MeTed

      Maybe the parents don’t want social class diversity. Maybe they want toff friends with toff parents and toff connections. Their choice.

      • Earl Kinmonth

        I’m sure you are correct. I would have no complaint if the people who promote these schools cut the drivel about diversity and explained their appeal as you have done.

      • Bhaskar

        With a $ 20000 price tag, it is quite clear which part of society can afford this education. This is of course true of all countries. Govt. sponsored education is the cheapest everywhere though this is not everybody’s cup of tea in the modern world. For a few decades now, the world over, we have seen the emergence of ‘global citizens’ vs those who can thrive only within their own cultural identities.

    • Warren Lauzon

      Social class diversity seems almost a foreign idea in Japan, and it is not confined to the international schools. There are quite a few “elite” all Japanese schools that lack any real social diversity.

      • Earl Kinmonth

        Elite schools anywhere are class stratified. Actually, Japanese officials do have a notion of social class diversity. That’s why public elementary and secondary accept students solely on the basis of address. Certainly social stratification by neighborhood exists, but there is hard research that shows this stratification to be far less severe than in the US. Certainly not perfect but better than the US or the UK.

      • Warren Lauzon

        It certain exists in the US and probably all countries. The problem in the US and some other countries is the “area stratification” – your Beverly Hills student is much more likely to get a good education in a public school than one from the Detroit ghettos. I think that is the fault of the US school system Where nearly everything is local, where in many countries it is nationwide.

      • Earl Kinmonth

        Agreed.

      • Jeffrey

        After nearly 40 years the Japanese primary and secondary school systems remain a mystery to me. You have neighborhood schools, good and bad private schools, non-neighborhood public schools that have an entrance exam and then voc-tech secondary schools that produce great baseball players.

      • Earl Kinmonth

        What’s so mysterious about that? Britain has an enormous variety of schools including a large number that would appear to be state (public in US jargon) but which are actually run by the Church of England.

    • Jeffrey

      Social class diversity is highly desirable, but rarely goes hand-in-hand a private education unless the school offers merit scholarships. I doubt many of these schools do this as they exist primarily for the children of ex-pats who don’t want to put their children in public school where next to none of them will speak the language and will likely be ostracized even if they do.

      • Earl Kinmonth

        What evidence do you have that children of ex-pats will be ostracized in Japanese public schools even if they speak Japanese? Public schools in some parts of Japan have quite large numbers of foreign nationals among their students, as high as 20% or more in cities with a concentration of Brazilians. I’ve read quite a number of newspaper articles and some activist writing about such schools. Ostracism does not seem to be a major issue. Given that the people usually called ex-pats tend to live in very posh areas such as Azabu and Hiroo, I would imagine that foreign children might be sought out in the hope that they would provide English language practice for Japanese. In my own very down market neighborhood where we have kids with Korean, Chinese, Filippino, and Burmese parents, there doesn’t seem to be any ostracism. My kids (11 and 14) have experienced no hassles as a result of being “half.” Schools in Japan are, of course, diverse and the possibility of problems somewhere certainly exists just as it does in the US or the UK.

      • Greg Estelcherry

        Sorry, but the notion that ostracism of foreign or mixed children is prevalent in Japan, and equals a type of default status, does not wash. I’m sure it has happened somewhere, sometime but I have three kids in the system and bullying/ostracism are completely none issues. I know of many, many other international couples for whom its a non-issue too. And yes, we had all heard the uninformed pop consensus before.
        I think this is another example of the much-vaunted ‘critical thinking’ skills of foreigners in Japan, who often regurgitate memorized stock phrases they heard from someone else and pass them off as authority, without examining or participating in the system.

    • KenjiAd

      National diversity is one thing. What about social class diversity?

      Exactly.

      It looks like elite parents are just putting their kids to the exclusive schools that ordinary Japanese kids don’t/can’t/won’t go. I don’t know how this sort of environment would help the kids to develop things like empathy and common sense, which is the basis for respecting different cultures.

      I’d rather want to be friends with someone who speaks only broken English but has a warm heart, than someone who speaks fluent English but has no understanding of how I feel.

      • Dave Jones

        Totally agree that having a good heart is more important than speaking English! But that’s not the point. These international schools teach empathy and understanding of foreign cultures in that they expose Japanese children to children from all over the world. To your point, how can someone “respect different cultures” without ever having been exposed to them?

      • Greg Estelcherry

        I don’t buy into the notion that exposure to ethnic/racial diversity automatically fosters understanding and respect for other cultures. Nor its negative corollary — that a lack of exposure results in ignorance and disrespect.
        I’m pretty well-travelled, and I’ve seen firsthand the worst kinds of tribalism, hatred, and prejudices in places where various ethnicities live side-by-side.
        As for me, I grew up in a diverse Canadian neighborhood where there was a lot of animosity towards native people and Indians (subcontinental). What I learned was not to respect the cultural differences, but instead I realized quickly in school that most of these kids were actually just like me — they liked the same music, spoke the same language, played the same sports. I didn’t think about ‘cultural differences’ or respect the other person’s culture. We just made friends.
        With my three kids in the regular Japanese school system I see that they are accepted in the same way, not through some distancing filter of ‘respecting their differences’.

  • James Santagata

    For Japanese children of Japanese parents, International Schools make a
    lot of sense, it will provide perhaps the highest marginal utility not
    just from the “Western” thought process, but because as a second
    language, unless there are clear needs, ambitions or desires, English
    will provide the highest marginal utility over one’s lifetime.

    Conversely, for those children that come from either a home with one
    (native or near native) English speaking parent or two such parents, I
    would such that the local/domestic schools provide more marginal
    utility, both linguistically, cognitively and culturally, provided the
    parents have the strategy and insights to point out “the wires”.

    Do that and your child/children are a step ahead.

  • Paul Johnny Lynn

    I worked for 4 years at an international pre-school and found the fear that Japanese kids will forget their mother tongue to be completely unfounded. The kids I taught used only English from 9 to 3:30, five days a week. As soon as mum arrived to pick them up they slipped straight back into Japanese without any problems or hesitation.

    • Earl Kinmonth

      To use a language fluently, you need to know how to adjust for different social contexts, status relations, gender, and a whole host of other factors. Speaking a given language with your mother does not give you that knowledge. I have had some experience with students who have gone to international schools or those who are Japanese returnees who spent some years in local schools in an English speaking country. Often their language development is arrested (stopped). They are fluent. Their pronunciation is good. But, while they are now twenty-something they sound like children or teenagers talking to their mates even in formal situations.

    • Jeffrey

      I once sat behind a young mother on the Shinkansen whose spouse was obviously an English speaker as her daughter, perhaps 3 or 4, was doing a wonderful Japanese and English mash-up – Japanese and English nouns mixed with Japanese and English verbs, etc. It was fun to listen to.

  • Dave Jones

    These families should be applauded for “living on the brink” and trying to improve their children’s prospects and competitiveness via an international education. I work at a large MNC with a significant presence in Japan: it is so evident from our hiring processes, and an oft-accepted disappointment among my Japanese colleagues, that hiring attractive/acceptable candidates is VERY difficult these days. We will sometimes interview for a single position for months, simply because we cannot find anyone to hire among products of an educational system which doesn’t require spoken English proficiency or the ability to engage dynamically with the world.

    • Earl Kinmonth

      Why not look at foreign students at prestigious Japanese institutions? I think you will find some very sharp young people with near native competence in English, Japanese and languages such as Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese. Also, if I wanted Japanese nationals with a high level of English, I wouldn’t look in Japan. I’d look in the US, the UK, or other English speaking countries. As for “living on the brink” to give their kids an “international education,” I’d like to see it demonstrated that all the money such parents spend on early-years elementary education actually pays off. From what I’ve seen, kids in the middle school age range can become remarkably fluent in any foreign language if they are fully immersed for a year. Doing that is far less expensive and probably more effective in language learning terms than blowing the quarter of a million bucks it would cost to run a kid through K-12 in an international school. Even high school and college age students can become quite fluent with a single year immersive program.

    • Warren Lauzon

      Despite the decade long teaching of “English” in Japanese schools, very few are remotely proficient at spoken English, though many do a decent job at written.

  • Warren Lauzon

    I think this is the real issue: “..parents can have difficulty adjusting to children with independent thoughts ..”. And not just the parents. A similar thing is occurring in Korea also, where the new generation is much less likely to buy into all the tradition just for the sake of “getting along”.

    • Jeffrey

      I think the great S. Korean diaspora of the last few decades is a testament to this. There now more Koreans in the U.S. than Japanese , most arriving in the last 20 years whereas most of the Japanese-Americans are now 2-4 generation.

      A recent article in the WSJ discussed the sizeable financial and brain drain that the PRC is suffering now as well since they government relaxed travel and emigration laws. Even if the parents aren’t planning on leaving, more and more are sending their children abroad, particularly to the U.S. for college and even HS educations. Why the Japanese have always been so reluctant to do this I’ll never understand.

  • Frank Thornton

    “flexible” That’s exactly why it is good to go to an international school. To learn to be flexible and have an understanding and respect for other cultures. You must be joking if you think you can learn other cultures through the internet. Just because you read it doesn’t mean you understand it. Yes. English language is a tool for communication. But you are talking just about the words. There is much more to communication than just words. Just being able to speak English does not make you a kokusaijin.

    • Gordon Graham

      Just don’t expect international schools to be “flexible” about tuition rates…

  • JohnofMichigan

    As far as elementary and secondary school education, Japan lags behind the Chinese-speaking countries and regions (China, Singapore, Hong Kong and Taiwan) and Korea (South Korea, that is). So it is far from being a success model. Given the problem with Japanese schools constantly changing their history books, particularly the Japanese atrocities committed during the Second World War, having Japanese kids attend international schools may not be a bad idea, granted these international schools are not interested in helping the right-wing Abe administration in whitewashing that part of the country’s history.

    • Gordon Graham

      There was nothing in Canadian textbooks about how native children were torn from their parents arms to be raised in orphanages and raped by Catholic “care givers”, because their own culture was deemed “too savage”…Point is, the truth eventually comes out. The only history worth teaching anyway is methodology. What is happening in maths and science? That’s what I’m interested in as a parent…That and a little discipline…As a Canadian I can tell you I’m quite happy with both my kids attending a Japanese school. They are head and shoulders above the level of kids their own age in Canada in terms of math skills…

      • JohnofMichigan

        It’s good truth eventually comes out as you said. However, in Japan, the Abe administration and the education system as a whole are consciously trying to hide, distort and rewrite Japan’s ugly militarist past. There is a difference between Canadians not mentioning their dealings with the Indians and the Japanese (some of them anyway) attempting to rewrite in such a way that they seem to want to glorify as is demonstrated clearly in their leaders paying tribute to the Class A war criminals enshrined at the Yasakuni Temple. You may be happy that your kids are learning math and science in Japan; you should, but you have to be vigilant about the sneaky wordings Japan has introduced to your kids’ history books to the effect that Nanjing Massacre is an unfortunate episode in Japan-China relationship and that the comfort women from Korea were as the name suggests comfort women who wanted to comfort the Japanese invaders out of their own volition.

      • Gordon Graham

        In the IT age there is no paucity of information on the atrocities of war including America’s incinerating entire cities of innocent civilians. “Comfort Women”…no need for American soldiers, just rape and murder the women and children of the villages you raise in Vietnam, leaving a trail of burning corpses in your wake. Yes, the ugly nature of all peoples can no longer be hidden by exclusion from textbooks.

      • JohnofMichigan

        I agree with your approach to North American history, particularly to that which is not covered in our children’s history books, but I hope you are not defending Japan’s atrocious militarist past and the resurgence of militarist ideology. As it is, Japan is already armed to its teeth and is capable of annihilating a significant part of the neighboring countries whose peoples are more focused making their daily living and raising their quality of life. Japan can do a lot of good to the world; it can do a tremendous amount of bad too. The world community as a whole has a responsibility to help Japan’s neighbors, China and South Korea, to stop Japan from doing evil deeds and to ensure it continues to be a force of good, under their pacifist constitution, now being revoked even as we speak!!!!

      • Gordon Graham

        No, John, I’m not defending anyone’s military past. I’m merely justifying my choice in my children’s education, history textbooks being very low on my list of concerns while the daily care and attention to my children’s health and well being being paramount. I’m more than satisfied with how well both of my children have been cared for by the Japanese public school they attend.

      • JohnofMichigan

        It’s bad enough that Canadian textbooks do not mention the atrocities committed by early European settlers in Canada against the native people. Wouldn’t it be much worse if Canadian politicians and educators start to bow and sing praises to the very people who committed the crimes? I assume you would take a stand even though history is low on your list of concerns, wouldn’t you? I hope you kids grow up to be able to tell the difference between evil and good. I am sure they would under your guidance, although I somehow think you would choose to turn a deaf ear, and you would like your children to turn a deaf ear, to the rising militarist rhetoric and turn a blind eye to the droves of Japanese politicians heading to the Yasukuni War Shrine to pay tribute to the Asian version of Adolf Hitler, Hideki Tojo.

      • Jeffrey

        “JohnofMichigan,” want to stay on topic? It’s about the value of the international schools in Japan, not a forum for picking old scabs, though we could discuss the Great Leap Forward of the Cultural Revolution if you like.

        And, contrary to assertion of the superiority of public education in “Chinese-speaking countries,” that might be true of Taiwan or Singapore, but not PRC. They are just as fixated on rote memorization and testing as Japan – applicable to science and math, but of secondary importance in the Humanities and Social Sciences.

      • JohnofMichigan

        It is not up to me to say which education system is better. I just learned from past and current PITA (OECD) country studies, arguably the most bias-free and thorough source of information, that China, yes, Mainland China, not Taiwan or Singapore, certainly not Japan, has scored much higher in math, science and language categories among teenager (perhaps 15 year-olds?) target groups. There were people in OECD who, like you, were surprised at the test result and expressed doubt about the validity and representativeness of their own sample collection and measurement criteria, etc. But subsequent surveys yielded same results showing China, the country of the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution, and the country that could not feed its own people only a couple of decades ago, captured the first place with flying colors. The news led to many American and European journalists flocking to China to find out why. Obama simply accepted the news by saying this is nothing short of a second Sputnik. Japan, if I remember correctly, is placed in 5th or 6th position. Don’t take me wrong, I still believe Japan is a great nation. I love Japanese goods, foods, etc. I love my Japanese friends. I am merely pointing out when Japan chooses, whether consciously and unconsciously, to whitewash or glorify its ugly militarist past and to reassert its aggressiveness to its weaker neighbors, then it loses its greatness as a nation and as a people. Its economy, its education, its people and the quality of life there all suffer as a result. I have never seen a self-professed pacifist country spending so much on the military. Why, is China or South Korea/North Korea going to attack and invade Japan. Come on.

      • Jeffrey

        I’ve read about this and it isn’t China as a whole, which would be like insisting that students from a rural HS in Oklahoma would score as well as those from a HS in Cambridge, MA. As a matter of fact, the test scores that everyone is crowing about are from three cities, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Macao and from a limited number of students. Hardly representative of China as a whole. Google it and you’ll find that no one in education is making that great leap.

      • JohnofMichigan

        Shanghai is one of the most advanced cities in China and as such it is not representative of China as a whole. However, if you have read carefully, this time, Pita also went outside Shanghai to take samples and found that the results were equally impressive, not as good as that of Shanghai, but good enough to beat other front runners, certainly good enough to beat Japan.

  • Gordon Graham

    This from St.Mary’s International school in Setagaya Ward, Tokyo…”Our all-boys enrollment provides an environment free from gender comparisons”…Couple this sentiment with the teachings of the Catholic Church and well…so much for cultural diversity.

  • Gordon Graham

    The Catholic Schools in Canada are notorious for abuses in corporal punishment and child abuse. Also, promulgating the doctrines of bronze-age fantasy is hardly a starting point for cultural diversity and understanding (AIDS is bad…but condoms are worse is not a message I want my children to get from an authority figure). As a parent, I’m more than satisfied with how the Japanese public school my children attend has educated and nurtured them.

  • alua

    “But children don’t necessarily have to live outside their parents’ home country to foster this third culture.”

    I don’t think you have a real grasp of what being a “third culture kid” is. Going to an international school in the parents’ own country, regardless how diverse the school is, does not form a third culture. It might make children more open-minded to other cultures, it might make them interested in things they would otherwise never have been exposed to, and it might make them different from the average Japanese child that has little to no exposure to other cultures, but third culture this is not.

    “when a child’s cultural context is completely foreign to their parents’. Kawakami doesn’t understand the Silly Bandz rubber bracelet craze, her seventh-grade daughter’s appreciation for the boy band One Direction, or her desire as a fifth-grader to have her ears pierced, for example.”

    This doesn’t per se have to do with international schools / cultural contexts though. Generational gap and changes that come with the times, general globalisation trends and technology that allows us to access anything from anywhere have much more to do with this.

  • KenjiAd

    I think that “political correctness” James was referring to is a kind of self-delusion among some educators that American schools are already largely integrated (“diverse”). But just sitting in the same class room, doesn’t mean that the school is culturally racially diverse.

    The minority students (I believe James was one fo them) can see clearly where the invisible divion line exists, but some teachers have difficulty seeing it.

    There is a factor of Confirmation Bias, too. These teachers are invariably strong supporters of the education in a diverse cultural mix, so they perhaps unknowingly focus on the evidences to support what they believe in, not paying much attention to the evidences to the contrary to their belief.

    An unfortunate consequence of their Confirmation Bias is that these teachers might end up looking PC (hypocritical) in the eyes of some minority students. They are all good teachers, not hypocrites, but they might come across that way.

  • Jeffrey

    The best U.S. schools are easily as good as any in the world and, as you should know, school leaving in Japan is permitted at an earlier age (15) than it is in the U.S. (17), meaning that a large minority of kids who do not perform well in a Japanese-style schools, are never part of any testing cohort.

    No language is “. . . just a tool of communication.” In fact, that is in part of why the JET program, like it or not, was instituted. Truly mastering a language is always accompanied with a measure of culture acquisition.

    With regard to the various international schools in Tokyo (in particular) are not strictly “USA style schools.” There are French, Canadian and British schools as well. But by the very fact that these schools are in a foreign country means that they are different than they would be as institution in their home countries.

    Finally, while the Ministry of Education has proposed to increase the number of year of English instruction, it’s a pointless change until Japanese universities require that all aspirant English language teachers spend at least one year abroad in an English speaking country. They’ll otherwise never gain fluency or acquire any cultural insight for the language.

    • Earl Kinmonth

      School leaving age means little just as graduation means little. The testing that is now widespread in the US was introduced because too many schools were graduating kids who had not actually learned anything. The whole Common Core movement and No Child Left Behind, however mistaken the policies might be, resulted from a widespread and justified perception in the US that a large fraction of all American children were not being taught well and not learning much of anything. You are correct that not all international schools are “USA style schools” and I would add that not all of them use English as the primary language of instruction. Chinese, Portugese, French, and German are also used. I agree with you that increasing the years of English in ordinary schooling is pointless. If anything, more years of katakana pronunciation and teaching about English rather than teaching English, will be detrimental. I have long thought that a year of intensive English study in an English speaking country should be required for any Japanese who is going to teach the language in Japan.

      • Jeffrey

        School leaving does impact national standardized testing – some of the chaff has been separated from the wheat. And I have always suspected that a lot of nations cherry pick their results. After teaching in Japan and having worked with a number of graduates of what pass as elite schools in there (Todai, Waseda, Keio), I’m convinced the Japanese do.

        We’ve always taken standardized test in the U.S. I took them fifty years ago in public school. The only significant differences now is that they will be more standardized across states and they cover more subjects.

        It is true that far too many American children don’t get the education they need and deserve. But rather than this being a failing of the schools and public education system per se, it’s really an economic failure – too many poor people and all the challenges that creates.

  • Earl Kinmonth

    Your demographic knowledge is at least a decade out of date. One of the articles you cite is more than 10 years out of date. Another is nearly a quater-century out of date. The majority of people with Korean nationality in Japan are “new comers.” They were born and raised in (South) Korea. The “old comers” have died off or have naturalized. Some Japanese public schools may be “lousy,” but overall they are rather good in my experience, certainly better on average than many in the US or the UK. You seem to think that immigrant children have exceptional problems in Japan. Have you read anything about immigrant children in the US or the UK? You seem to think that bullying is peculiar to Japan. Have you read anything about bullying in the US or the UK? As for life being tough for Japanese returning from abroad, it may be for some, but that is not the case for most according to Roger Goodman, a personal friend and the leading non-Japanese specialist on this subject. The many returnee Japanese I teach at two Japanese universities do not say they had it tough. The Japanese woman born in Venezuela and schooled in Britain who lectures for me on what it is like to be a returnee does not say she had it tough in Japan because she was a returnee. You seem to think you know a great deal about Japan. How many years have you lived in Japan? How well do you read Japanese? From which Japanese language sources do you get your information on Japan? How many children have you had in Japanese public schools? When? What countries other than Japan have you lived and worked in? What is you on going personal contact with foreign nationals in Japan, especially those from the largest foreign communities in Japan, Chinese and new comer Koreans?

  • Gordon Graham

    I was referring to St.Mary’s…A Catholic International school that was mentioned in the article. I don’t mind my kids getting exposer to all religious ideologies as they grow. I just don’t feel comfortable about a particular religious ideology being espouse and promoted by those who my children look up to and trust. The ethnocentrism of which you speak I know nothing about. Are you talking about social science class? History? I remember studying a lot of Canadian history when I was a kid. I guess it’s good to learn about the society you’re living in. Perhaps you’re talking about all lessons being given in Japanese. I agree that there should be more remedial Japanese programs in all schools for those families whose language in the home is not Japanese. I also think the government needs to increase its budget for education so such programs can be implemented and maintained.

  • Jeffrey

    Never having lived in S. Korea, I have no idea how the contemporary conversion to Christianity overlays Confucian and Buddhist tradition. But you can’t swing a dead cat in the suburbs north of Seattle without hitting a Korean church.

    The Korean immigrants here are very similar to, at least the stereotype, of the immigrant Chinese – driven and entrepreneurial. Along with all the churches have come some elementary schools, restaurants, Costco-sized grocery stores and all manner of business often with signs written only in Hangul.

    The Japanese have been real stay-at-homes since the modest diaspora to Latin America, Hawaii and the mainland U.S. ended nearly a century ago.

    When I live in NYC during the early ’90s, it was estimated that some 5,000 undocumented Japanese lived and worked there. Easy to believe since there wasn’t a decent Japanese restaurant in Manhattan that didn’t have a kitchen and wait staff that was entirely Japanese-Japanese.

    • Warren Lauzon

      There was also sort of a mini-diaspora from around 1950-1960, but from the stats I have found a lot of that seems to be American servicemen marrying Japanese girls.

      But I think the changing influx and influence of immigrants can be found in my nearest (giant) Asian food store: Over the past 5 years I have seen the selection and quantity of Japanese foodstuffs drop, while Chinese, Korean, Indian, and Middle Eastern has gone up. It now has a better selection of Korean and Thai instant noodles than Japanese :P (How is that for a real scientific study).
      “..After emigrating from Cambodia and moving to Arizona, Meng and Paulina Truong discovered that Arizona lacked prominent ethnic markets that could provide the groceries and merchandise that the growing Asian communities desired..”

  • Jeffrey

    That would be the numbers of legal immigrants. However, even on the low end of the estimates, illegal aliens from Latin American, Mexico in particular, far out number any other country or region.

    • Warren Lauzon

      I realize that, but China and a couple of other Asian countries would also be much higher. But this is about Japanese emigration compared to other countries, and why so few Japanese.

      • Gordon Graham

        Perhaps there are fewer reasons to leave…

      • Warren Lauzon

        May be. I don’t think any real comprehensive studies have been done about why people in developed countries decide to emigrate, or NOT to emigrate.

  • Jeffrey

    Agreed. Charter schools are an abomination and do nothing as most of them, as well as the “professionally” run schools (guess trained teachers and administrator are “amateurs”), simply bleed funds away from the rest of a school district with few of them performing measurably better than existing public schools.

    How times have changed with Apple. About fifteen years ago they gave our school district a sweetheart deal on Mac laptops and desk tops. Brilliant marketing when you think about it, and it also helped make the student body more computer literate> As most families have MS PCs at home, kids are now comfortable with either operating system.

  • Jeffrey

    Earl, my children are enrolled in public secondary schools. Perhaps some states were testing only reading and math. But, beginning in elementary school in Washington State, the standardized tests include science and writing as well as reading and math. Common Core, love it or otherwise, encompasses the whole of the classroom curriculum.

    No Child Left Behind is pretty much meaningless at this point and many districts and even states are choosing to ignore it willing to forego federal money because it was such an ill-conceived program. Hard to imagine the Bush administration coming up with anything that wasn’t and shame on Obama for not pushing to chuck the whole thing.

  • Dave Jones

    One other point I’ve been thinking about: foreign companies in Japan or Japanese companies looking to go global often have to hire foreigners at Japanese universities or go overseas to recruit for positions. This makes no sense: in the US, for example, global MNCs can hire from a highly diverse and international-capable applicant pool. So it’s a great thing that the Japanese families in the article are making the most of their children’s education — and learning the tools that their generation will need to be self sufficient and to grow Japan’s economy on the global stage.

  • Jeffrey

    Earl, again, stop while you are behind. I’m on the PTSA board at my son’s MS and we just had curriculum night last week. Common Core is comprehensive. Obviously, they can’t have them doing experiments during a standardized test, but, yes, CC includes testing science.

    Integration of Knowledge and Ideas:

    CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RST.6-8.7
    Integrate quantitative or technical information expressed in words in a text with a version of that information expressed visually (e.g., in a flowchart, diagram, model, graph, or table).

    CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RST.6-8.8
    Distinguish among facts, reasoned judgment based on research findings, and speculation in a text.

    CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RST.6-8.9
    Compare and contrast the information gained from experiments, simulations, video, or multimedia sources with that gained from reading a text on the same topic.