Every day at the Global Indian International School (GIIS) in Tokyo’s Edogawa Ward starts with yoga. All the students — from kindergarteners to 14-year-old ninth-graders — have a 20-minute session in their classrooms. The focus is on breathing, which it’s thought helps them to relax and concentrate better during lessons.

So, it was hardly a surprise to find that in a fourth-grade math class that followed, the 9-year-olds were full of enthusiasm to tackle a new problem — how to correctly read such a huge figure as 21,439,127 in the Western way of counting numbers.

“Twenty-one million, four-hundred-and-thirty-nine thousand, one hundred and twenty seven,” a student slowly recited before the others. “Yes, that’s correct. Very good,” the teacher responded. They have already learned that the number is described differently in the Hindu-Arabic number-counting system.

“Next,” the teacher says, “please write down the numeral 84,769,801 in both the Indian Place-Value System and the International Place-Value System.”

The children’s faces lit up with smiles when they worked it out and showed their right answers to the teacher. But they were even more joyful when the teacher told them it was 10.30 a.m. — break time — and they could tuck into snacks and drinks they’d brought from home.

GIIS opened in July last year in Minami-Shinozakicho in Tokyo’s Edogawa Ward, a 5-minute walk from Mizue Station on the Shinjuku subway line. Now with about 170 mostly Indian pupils aged 3 to 14, it is presently the fifth Asian branch of the Singapore-based international school, and the only one in Japan. Another is planned for Yokohama next year.

As GIIS follows the Indian government-authorized Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) curriculum, it ensures that graduates can enter schools back home and stay on track for college there. Should they wish to attend university in Japan, they would first have to pass the government test allowing them to take entrance exams at individual universities.

A new phenomenon in Japan, the arrival of Indian international schools here follows on the heels of the rapid growth in the number of Indian residents — in turn largely driven by the IT sector’s demand for highly skilled engineers, with whom India is famously well-blessed.

According to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, the city now hosts 7,581 Indian residents, compared with 4,398 in 2002, and the year-on-year growth rate of 8.4 percent (according to data released last month) is the fastest of any ethnic group.

Clearly, more and more Indian parents are having to think hard about how to educate their children.

Daughter’s education

It was a problem that Niyanta Deshpande, director of GIIS in Tokyo, faced. He came to Japan nine years ago with his wife to work in IT sales and marketing. He says that he had few problems with either the language (he’s now a fluent Japanese speaker) or the food. But he realized that his Japan-born daughter’s education was an issue.

“We didn’t realize initially that we had a problem, but as our child grew up we realized we did. My daughter could speak only Japanese in the day-care center. She could not speak Indian languages or English there. That’s why I sent them [his wife and daughter] back to India when my daughter was 3.”

Now, with his daughter aged 4, Deshpande is preparing to resume life together with his family in Japan.

But it’s not just Indian people who are welcoming Indian-style education here, with many Japanese becoming aware of the high academic standards it offers — especially in mathematics. Rumors among people that Indian children “memorize the multiplication tables from 1×1 to 99×99 in India” have done a lot to fuel this interest, which has been reflected in press headlines such as “Indian schools boast astonishing math skills.”

Deshpande said that media reports may have been exaggerated, but he can instantly multiply 55×55, for example, using techniques he was taught by his grandmother. He added that 99×99 is very easy, too. “Simply do 99×100,” he explained with a smile, “then subtract 99.”

At the school, English is the language used, but Japanese students and those of other nationalities are welcome if their English is sufficient, Deshpande said. There are now 16 Japanese students.

Compared with other international schools — some of which charge tuition fees of about 2 million yen a year — GIIS’s fees are around 700,000-800,000 yen yen.

“It’s a challenge to keep the cost low,” Deshpande said. “But the management part of my job is rather simple. The most interesting part is that we are trying to have a very good relationship with our neighborhood and the local community. I think it is very important for us.

“In this school, all children have a chance to learn the Japanese language and Japanese cultural things such as origami and calligraphy so they can develop their understanding of the country. That will help toward Japan and India being strategic partners in many ways, not only in business but also in global politics.”

India International School in Japan (IISJ) is Tokyo’s other Indian international school. IISJ, too, has become increasingly popular since its opening in 2004 with 27 pupils, as it also follows the CBSE curriculum and the fees are reasonable. Currently, some 170 students are enrolled, including five Japanese, in the school in Morishita, Koto Ward.

To cope with its growth, IISJ this month moved into five floors of a seven-story building near its original location, giving it 4,000 sq. meters of floor space — five times more than before.

But schools such as this and GIIS are not just catering to Tokyo’s Indian population, they also make it possible for more Indian families to relocate here, IISJ Director Nirmal Jain said.

Two birds; one stone

“Because the school is here, Japanese companies can get more mature, experienced engineers to work for them,” she noted. “Middle-aged engineers are ready to come because the school gives a suitable education. So the growing number of students is a natural development.”

Regarding teachers, she said she did not find it difficult to find good ones because many Indian wives who come here with their husbands have a teaching license. Previously, she said, they had nowhere to work in Japan and stayed at home — so establishing an Indian school has killed two birds with one stone.

At the opening ceremony of the new IISJ school building, Vibhav Kant Upadhyay, chairman of India Center in Tokyo, said one of the most important aspects of the school is that Indian children can get the same education as they would in Delhi.

But he also echoed the widely held view that the school will serve to foster relations between the two countries. “We are investing in the future of the Japan-India relationship 30 years from now,” he said.

It’s a sentiment obviously being shared by an ever-widening community of people right here and now — where the mysteries of instant 55×55 multiplication are among the many pearls of wisdom now being brought from the distant subcontinent.

See related stories:
Mutual benefits as East meets East
Tokyo’s Indians in ‘home from home’
Japanese warm to real curries and more

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