Sunday, September 9, 2012

Japanese kindergartens

Some of the international kindergartens in Japan are EXCELLENT in quality. 
There are no language issues, teachers can understand a non-Japanese view-point, they are very aware to specific food allergy needs, the application procedure is simple and straight-forward, often times, there are special teaching techniques incorporated (such as my favorite school, Eton House).

However, there are other options for mothers who want to try out the Japanese school system:

My 4 year old daughter is currently attending her second year of kindergarten at a Japanese private school in Tokyo (there are 2-3 years of kindergarten, before moving on to 1st grade at a separate facility in Japan). She loves it. She has so many friends, the school ground is like a park, the security is excellent, the teachers are very sweet, and there are so many school events and activities. She is already learning to play the harmonica at school. It is a GREAT environment.

I am speaking from my personal experience, living in Tokyo, Minato-ku. Every region is different and schools vary. Check your local ward office for specifics for the schools in your area.

Families who:

  • Want a place closer to their home and/or 
  • are on a budget and/or 
  • simply want to try out the real Japanese school experience
  • Want to raise their children to speak another language
  • Want a school with a large playground
  • Want to be an active part of Japanese society

What you need to know in applying for kindergarten in Japan:

  • Larger school grounds, big facilities
  • Very good education
  • Reasonably priced
  • A chance to raise a bilingual child
  • Kindergarten care-takers, very sweet
  • Very attentive to children
  • Children start at the age of 3 or 4, for a bright future
  • High security with large gates
  • Excellent school events. You can experience gym day, music festivals, concerts, school excursions and more.
  • A great chance to meet local Japanese mothers and get advice on what Japanese do, where they send their children for lessons, play time, etc.. i.e. you are not stuck in a bubble, going to the gaijin hang-outs.


  • A pain to apply for 
  • Language barriers
  • Possible bullying once in elementary (I have not had bullying in kindergarten since the kids are so small). 
  • Mother needs to follow up on English reading and writing at home


  • Public schools are under 10,000 yen a month
  • Most private schools are around 30,000 yen - 50,000 yen a month
  • Additional for uniforms, registration fees and supplies (but not much)

Application procedures:

  • These will begin in the fall for the April start, school year.
  • If you have moved in mid-term, you can be accepted to a public school, but most likely not a private school until the following school year.
  • Go to your local ward office to get a list of kindergartens for your area
  • Contact the kindergarten to inquire when the general explanation meeting is
  • Go to the school to receive the application form (it will be in Japanese). Go with a bilingual friend if you cannot speak Japanese.
  • Fill out the form in Japanese (have a friend help)
  • You will need:
    • Employment information
    • Possible tax receipts
    • ID
  • Turn in the application, by hand, on the specified date at the earliest time. Do not be late. No exceptions.

For private schools, additional procedures for application:
Private schools, especially in Minato-ku, are very difficult to be accepted to. 

  • Include a family photo on the application. Professional photos are best, in formal attire.
  • Include a passport type photo of your child, in a white or navy shirt or blaze
  • Attend all orientation and explanation meetings in a navy or black suit. Fathers must wear a suit jacket.
  • Hand in your application in a navy blue or black suit 4 hours before the gate opens. 
    • If the date to turn in the application is October 1, 9AM, be there at 5AM (or earlier). The earlier you are, shows that you are dedicated and gives you a good number to apply for a spot. I arrived at 4AM and was still #100 in line. Plan to spend half of your day in line.
  • Bring black slippers to the school, as you will be required to take off your shoes and have your own slippers.
  • Your bag should be conservative and black or navy.
  • Your child should be in a school uniform looking attire. Navy and white, blazer, black dress shoes
  • Your child needs to have white school indoor shoes at the interview. You can purchase these shoes at any local shoe store or online. Ask for "uwabaki" shoes.
  • Nothing flashy. Don't wear your hair, or your child's, in anything other than black or blue elastics or conservative ribbon.
  • Take a crash course in Japanese so you can handle yourself in the interview. Bring someone to translate and assure the school that you will be on top of everything, despite the language barrier.
  • Enroll your child in a Japanese daycare before going to the school interview, to get his or her language skills up to par.
  • You must show up as a couple to the school interview, with your child. Dress in navy blue or black suits and your child in school-uniform attire. Try your best in Japanese before you resort to English.

Language requirements:
For private schools, since of the fierce competition, mothers are usually required to speak Japanese.
For public schools, they do not require the mother speaks Japanese, but you will need to get a good friend who can  help you through the process. Once accepted, find a mother who speaks English who can help you, as there are a lot of things required at a  Japanese kindergarten.

Once you are admitted:

  • You must attend the orientation meeting on the specified date. No if, ands,  or buts. Mark this on your calendar, just in case, several months in advance.
  • Have your child's immunization records handy, as well as your bank information and certified signature to fill in for payment.
  • Make friends with a fellow Japanese mother who can help you through the process. Each school is different. If you have not made a friend just yet, bring a bilingual friend, your spouse's assistant at work, your Japanese teacher---anyone who can help you.
  • Mark all school events clearly on your calendar. There are a lot. You don't to miss them. They are so much fun and your child needs your support.
  • Iron nametags on all clothing, socks, underwear, bags, etc.
  • Check the orientation pamphlet for more information.
  • If you are a mom who can sew or hand-make items, you will be loved, as these type of hand-made items are required for school fairs. If you can't sew, don't sweat. Put good ol on-line shopping to use or ask someone in the states for her help. My mother picked me up some hand-made goodies at the local thrift store by her home and mailed them to me. I was proud to say that I didn't make it, but they were sent from Grandma (I didn't mention that she did not make them though). lol.

If you have any questions, contact me, and I'd be happy to offer guidance.

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