by James Yellowlees Ph.D.
If you are considering sending your children to one of the many excellent international schools dotted around Tokyo, it’s important to understand the history, characteristics and style of international education and schooling. This way, you’ll be better informed when it comes to making a decision.
Christian Missionaries built the first international schools way back in the Meiji period. Some of these schools are still going today. The next wave of international schools began in earnest in the 1950s. One difference between the Meiji period -built schools and the ’50s schools, is that English is the main language used in class in the latter schools.
Currently there are about 80 international schools in Japan that range from Pre-school (ages 18 months to 5 years old), Kindergarten (ages 5-6 years old), primary school, junior high school, high school and post secondary.
More than half of the international schools are Pre-schools or Pre-schools/Kindergartens and the majority of these are in the Kanto area.
The major international schools are generally divided into two categories: national schools such as the American School in Japan and the British School. These schools are certified by associations in their home countries and international schools such as St. Mary’s in Tokyo that feature a more international approach that may have elements of American, Canadian, British and Australian education within the curriculum and approach to teaching.
Some of the international schools are co-ed, such as the Tokyo International School, while others such as St. Mary’s (boys) and Seisen (girls) focus on education for boys or education for girls.
International schools established by missionaries, and where missionary children are taught, tend to have a strong religious focus.
Also, in most cases, international schools limit the percentage of Japanese students in order to try to maintain an “international” flavor.
International Pre-schools continue to grow in number and popularity, to meet the increased demand that is coming from more foreigners living in Japan, increases in children from international marriages and Japanese families who want their children to go to international schools.
The number and variety of Pre-schools in, and around, Tokyo has increased dramatically over the past few years. The following five are located in Hiroo.
ABC School takes children from 18 months to 6 years old and features bright classrooms, good play space and excellent teacher-student ratios. The emphasis is on a combination of fun activities: music, dance, art and daily trips to a nearby park for the youngest children, and a graduated introduction of academic work.
PAL School offers a friendly environment and a strong emphasis on having the 18-month to 6-year-old children learn through play and creative activities. PAL teachers also take the children to the park each day, and the program attracts children of various nationalities.
The J.A.C. School focuses on developing both academic and creative skills, as well as musical talents. There are three music teachers on staff.
Montessori Friends International School is in Meguro. Students are aged 18 months to 6 years. The school utilizes the Montessori method of education to positively impact children’s lives while inspiring their social and educational development. The school is close to three parks.
Unida International Preschool and Kindergarten has about 90 students between the ages of 2 to 6. The focus is on creating an environment that allows children to learn about art, cooking, music and movement, gymnastics and science.
Willowbrook School has 90 students who are 2 to 5 years old. The emphasis is on “integrated learning through play” and the development of emotional intelligence and intra-personal skills. Willowbrook has introduced a bi-lingual program (English-Japanese) and a dual immersion program.
The Sunshine Montessori School is located in Minami Azabu, very close to Hiroo and Azabu Juban. Pupils range in age from 2 1/2 to 6 years old, and the primary focus of instruction is on peace and conflict resolution in the Montessori spirit and in allowing pupils to strive for an independent approach to life and learning.
J’s International Pre-school, in Minami Azabu, bases its curriculum on a “hands-on” approach in which children learn mainly by touching, creating and experiencing.
Hiroo International Kindergarten provides fun and creative classes for children aged 18 months to 5 years old. The flexible system offers morning classes that extend to 1 p.m., a variety of afternoon classes, including Tumbling Bumbling and Keyboard Magic and a good teacher-student ratio.
M’s International Preschool places an emphasis on teaching children to share, speak and communicate. Stations are set up for activities and this system allows children to select the activities in which they would like to engage and then move on to others in a guided but open way.
The Rainbow International Montessori School has 180 students. The school focuses on Math, Practical, Sensorial and Language development.
The Tokyo Union Church Pre-school and Kindergarten is located in Omote Sando. School Director Patricia Haines said the school aims to provide a “safe, stimulating environment that allows children to learn through play and develop proper foundations.”
Maria’s Babies School can be found in nearby Jingumae and provides a very homey atmosphere in a stand-alone house. The school places an emphasis on a British-style curriculum and will accept pre-school children of various ages. The majority of students are in the 2-to-6-year-old range. This school has a full-time art teacher and places a strong emphasis on having children learn to appreciate classic music.
ai international school is located in Mita and is close to many embassies. As a result, it attracts a very international mix of students. It takes children from 18 months old and is able to offer flexible afternoon pickup schedules that range from 2:30 to 4 to 6 p.m.
Seta International Preschool is located in Seta, Setagaya-ku. It is in a house, and the outdoor play area and nearby park allow pupils abundant opportunities for outside play.
Komazawa Park International School is in close proximity to Komazawa Park so the students are able to engage in a number of nature-related activities in the park. The focus is on the development of emotional intelligence, a natural learning environment and positive reinforcement.
Gregg International School is situated in Jiyugaoka and is the only Pre-school in the area. It actually has classes for students from 2 years old to Grade 3. The curriculum has been developed by adopting American models. There are currently 65 students, and the school features a unique garden playground. Although the Pre-school children generally study in the morning and older children continue into the afternoon, extended daycare options are available to parents on a flexible, ticket-based system.
Child’s Play School is situated in Shibuya. The school motto is, “School is Fun,” and the bright, creative environment allows the smiling children to create to their hearts content. Child’s Play places an emphasis on achieving a balance between creative and structured activities.
Yoyogi International Preschool/Kindergarten is in close proximity to Yoyogi Park. The 90 students range in age from 18 months to 6 years old. Director Yuko Muir said the school emphasizes “fun and creativity in a nice, bright environment.”
Amici International Preschool can be found in Komaba. It is in a house in a quiet suburban area and provides a safe environment for children.
American World offers Preschool and Kindergarten classes in four locations: Shibuya, Setagaya, Saginuma and Okurayama. The Pre-schools accept children from 20 months to 3 years of age, and the aim is to guide them to become independent, self-confident and capable. The Kindergarten has both morning and afternoon classes and takes children up to the age of 6.
YIOS, the Tokyo YMCA International Open-Minded School, is in Koto-ku, and it offers an affordable, convenient alternative for children who live in that part of the city. The center features excellent recreation facilities such as a swimming pool and exercise areas.
Shonan International School is in Fujisawa, Kanagawa Prefecture, and offers Pre-school for students aged 2-3 and Kindergarten for 3-6 year olds. It has a curriculum based on the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Program (PYP) and combines it with equal emphasis on English and Japanese language instruction.
Yokohama Union Church International Pre-school/Play School provides affordable Preschool education in a safe, child-centered environment. The aim of the school is to provide children with an environment that allows them to develop social and personal skills, refine motor skills and listening and speaking skills.
KINDERGARTEN TO HIGH SCHOOL (K-12) KANTO AREA
St. Mary’s International School is a boys’ school that was founded by Canadian Catholic missionaries in Tokyo in 1954. It moved to its current location in Setagaya-ku in 1972. It offers an international baccalaureate diploma and an international curriculum, with an emphasis on American college preparation. St. Mary’s offers good sports facilities and strong athletic teams, a spacious campus and a green, residential setting.
Seisen International School is a Catholic girls’ school in nearby Yoga. It offers a co-ed Kindergarten as well as grades 1 to 12 for girls. Seisen also offers an international baccalaureate diploma, advanced placement for its 700 students and good recreational facilities, including a gym and tennis courts.
The American School in Japan (ASIJ) is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. It offers a very spacious and well-equipped school in Chofu, on the outskirts of Tokyo, for its 1,450 students. ASIJ is non-sectarian and is very strong in its American College Preparatory and advanced placement programs. ASIJ places strong emphasis on technology and has 900 PCs available for student use. ASIJ is also strong in sports, drama, music and volunteer activities. The ASIJ Pre-school and Kindergarten will be relocating to the Roppongi Hills Mori Building complex in January of 2004.
Nishimachi International School was established in 1949 and has 420 students in the K-9 grades. It is located in Hiroo and is non-sectarian. The curriculum is U.S.-based, but Nishimachi has implemented progressive curriculum elements from the U.K., Canada, Australia, New Zealand and other nations. While English is the core language of instruction, Japanese classes are offered at various levels that allow beginners, more advanced students and native speakers to study at their respective levels. Sports and other activities form an essential part of school life. Nishimachi established a Kindergarten in an adjacent building in 2002.
The International School of the Sacred Heart (ISSH) is also in Hiroo. It belongs to a worldwide network of Schools of the Sacred Heart and is a Catholic school for girls from Kindergarten to Grade 12, although boys are accepted into the Kindergarten program. ISSH prepares its 520 students for universities in the U.S., U.K., Australia and other countries as well as for the Sacred Heart University preparatory program for Japanese speaking students. ISSH represents about 50 nationalities.
The British School in Japan in Shibuya is non-sectarian. The school follows the British ethos and provides students with a high quality British educational experience. The 470 students range in age from 3 to 13, and most of the students go on to school in Britain to complete their education. The British School also places a strong emphasis on language education and offers Japanese language instruction from the age of 3 and French from the age of 6.
Aoba International School was established by the colorful, long-time Japan resident Regina Doi and is in its 28th year of operations. It has campuses in Aobadai, Meguro-ku, and Miya-mae, Suginami-ku, and currently has a total of 548 students at the K-9 levels. Aoba International places a strong emphasis on math and reading skills and is able to provide intensive English-as-a-Second Language (ESL) and academic preparatory support for students whose first language is not English and students who require academic assistance.
The Tokyo International School (TIS) has quickly established itself as a progressive international school that covers Preschool to Grade 7. TIS is located in Mita and has become known for its distinctive yellow building and school buses. TIS features an international curriculum and is recognized by the European Council of International Schools. TIS is co-ed, non-religious and non-dual language (English is the only language of instruction).
K. International School Tokyo (KIST) is in Koto Ward. It offers classes from Pre-school to Grade 9 and is the only fully authorized school in Japan to offer the International Baccalaureate Organization (IBO) Primary Year’s Program (PYP). KIST currently has about 160 students from 40 nationality groups and provides students with a safe and modern learning environment that includes a heated indoor pool.
Tokyo Montessori School is the first elementary Montessori school in Japan and will begin operations in Minami Azabu in September 2003. It is being run by Pete Juds who has a successful track record in running the Sunshine Montessori Pre-school. It will provide an excellent alternative for parents who would like their children to continue on the Montessori education line.
New International School has grown very quickly. It is in Minami Ikebukuro and currently has 140 students at the K-9 levels. The emphasis is on a multi-age as opposed to a fixed-age development system.
International Secondary School (ISS) provides a supported online education alternative for junior high and high school students in a cozy setting in Meguro. The North Dakota Division of Independent Study accredits the ISS courses, and students are supported by qualified teachers. ISS includes recreational and sporting activities in the curriculum. ISS provides a good alternative for students who have difficulty in more traditional school settings.
Canadian International School (CIS) is a brand-new school in Shinagawa. It is fully accredited by the Prince Edward Island (PEI) provincial government in Canada. CIS utilizes the PEI curriculum and Canadian teachers, so students and graduates will be able to transfer or enter programs in Canada or the U.S. without difficulty if their grades are solid. Kindergarten classes began at the beginning of April, and Crades 1 and 2 classes will begin in September.
Columbia International School is in Tokorozawa, Saitama Prefecture, and utilizes the curriculum of the province of Ontario, Canada. It is fully accredited by the Ontario Ministry of Education so students, with solid grades, are able to transfer to schools in Canada and the U.S. without difficulty, and graduates are able to apply to post secondary institutions throughout North America. Columbia International School features good facilities and the students are equipped with wireless laptops.
The Seventh Day Adventists (SDA) School is located in Ogikubo and offers religious-based instruction at the K-2 level. The programs are recognized by the U.S. State Department and provide strong preparation for overseas study.
Horizon Japan International School (HJIS) offers Kindergarten to Grade 6 classes. It is located between Tokyo and Yokohama and is easily accessed from both. HJIS is aimed mainly at the children of long-term foreign residents in Japan and parents who would like their children to have a strong base in English and Japanese, as well as other languages. The availability of third- and even fourth-language instruction is a unique feature of HJIS.
The Christian Academy in Japan has a spacious campus in Higashi Kurume, just outside of Tokyo, and has 435 students in Kindergarten to Grade 12. It features a North American curriculum and places a strong emphasis on Bible study.
St. Maur International School is a Catholic co-ed school in Yokohama. It features a Montessori Pre-school, and students in the K-12 system can graduate with an International Baccalaureate and are able to take advantage of its Advanced Placement System.
Yokohama International School is a non-sectarian co-ed school with 650 students at the Pre-school to Grade 12 levels. It also offers the International Baccalaureate program, Advanced Placement and the International Certificate of Education.
Yokohama International Christian Academy is a co-ed school with about 90 students at the Pre-school to Grade 12 levels. It is in the Yokohama YMCA Chuo Building and has an indoor gym and swimming pool and a cafeteria.
Santa Maria School is a Catholic school in Nerima-ku, founded by the Sisters Adorers. The school has about 200 boys and girls in its Pre-school to Grade 6 classes and features a U.S.-based curriculum and reasonable tuition rates.
The German School is in Chigasaki-Minami, Yokohama. It has a beautiful and spacious campus and 450 students at the K-12 levels. The school is non-sectarian and features a German Baccalaureate curriculum. Graduates are able to go on to post secondary education in Germany and are able to apply to Japanese post-secondary institutions. The school has very active sports and recreation programs and has an excellent bus system for students living in Tokyo and Yokohama.
Temple University Japan (TUJ) is in Minami Azabu. TUJ offers a wide variety of undergraduate, graduate, continuing education and corporate training programs. TUJ is able to offer regular Temple University credits and degrees in Japan, so it is only institution in Japan that can offer a complete U.S.-style post-secondary education.
Sophia University offers undergraduate and graduate university programs at its Ichigaya Campus. The program attracts a very international student body and provides a well-rounded experience.
International Christian University (ICU) offers undergraduate programs at its Mitaka campus in a beautiful natural setting.
McGill University offers an Executive MBA program, the MBA Japan Program, on the Yotsuya Campus of Sophia University. The program has become increasingly popular with students of various nationalities and McGill is beginning to expand the program.
Waseda University is one of the top private universities in Japan and offers Japanese language, academic preparation and regular undergraduate and graduate programs to more than 1,000 international students each academic year.
The Tokyo branch of Lakeland College offers accredited Pre-Academic and Academic programs in Shinjuku.