First of all, in Japan, the children's entire future can be decided upon, beginning from which kindergarten the child attends. Once they are in a good kindergarten, then a lot of the time, they are automatically accepted into a sister elementary school, junior high, high school and then a sister university.
So, you can see why parents are so fussy about which kindergarten their 3 year old (yes, 3 YEARS OLD) gets into. Kindergartens are 2 or 3 years long here in Japan, starting at age 3 or 4, depending on the school.
The entire process begins before the child is 2. Parents will send their children to kindergarten prep-schools so they can learn to behave for when the interview process begins.
For me, I needed to research which school I wanted to send my children to and find the "prep" pre-kindergarten class that corresponded to the school. So, I enrolled my child into a year long program at the age of 2. To get into the prep class, I had to be selected from a lottery. One out of 5 children were accepted.
After sending my child to a pre-kindergarten, prep school (for 2 year olds), I began the application process the following fall.
To apply, I had to first, attend the explanation meeting (fall), as well as make an official school visit (summer). On both of these occasions, I wore a navy suit (see photo below).
For the actual school application, I also made sure we had a good family photo. I suggest doing this a month in advance (at least), as it takes time to develop, etc.
Schools require a family photo for the application. Formal navy suits. Soft smile (though I was probably smiling too much for the photo). On the application, it just states, "family photo" and that a "snap shot" is ok. This is NOT the case. You need to have a professionally taken family photo and everyone needs to be dressed in navy suits.
Next, after filling in all the documents, and attaching a good passport type photo of my child and our family photo, I needed to line up at 4AM just to turn in the application form. The earlier you are in line to turn in the form, the more dedicated you seem. Some people spend the night in front of the school to be the first in line.
After securing an interview slot, the fun begins.
I brought in my 2 and a half year old for the interview, with my husband (BOTH parents MUST attend).
So, for the actual interview, my 2 and a half year old, was required to bow politely and answer questions calmly in Japanese. No running around. No fidgeting. This, in and of itself, was really tough with a 2 year old. The child, along with the mother should speak Japanese.
After the parent/child interview, children are tested. They are taken into a separate room to see how they interact with teachers and other kids.
Parents will enroll their children into behavior/manner school from the age of 1 to prepare them for this interview.
For the private school we applied to, there were around 500 kids applying for under 50 spots. It is competitive. Ivy League competitive. My daughter was accepted and my son will apply next month for the same school. Since they are siblings and I have done OK on following all the rules the past three years, he will have a good chance of being accepted.
Once the kids are in, it is wonderful. The programs are EXCELLENT. Education is wonderful: music, sports, nice school grounds, high class teachers.... And, the funny thing is, private schools are NOT expensive here. Ours is only about $300/month, versus the international schools, which are around 20,000USD a year. Private schools get funding from various sources, even the government, so really, the only struggle is getting in. After that, tuition isn't that big of a deal.
My daughter is the only non-Japanese at her school. There are a few other half-Japanese kids, Asian ethnicity children, but she definitely stands out as the only blue-eyed, white faced child.
School sports day.