Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Japanese Schooling - Adelaide-Style

Now it will come as no surprise to anyone that has read my blog (or even the blurb about the blog) that my wife is Japanese, and we've spent much time going over to Japan... and that we've now got two children. Well, our son (L-kun) turned 5 recently, a momentous occasion, filled with many exciting things... not least changes to schooling. Indeed, one of the things that happened this year was that he started his formal Japanese schooling here in Adelaide.

Now in Japan, school terms begin in April, and that's exactly when the Adelaide Japanese School begins too (so L-kun's been there a whole term already). I'll write a little more about the Japanese schooling system here in a later post, as there's a lot to discuss... right now, I'll recap on L-kun's first day at Japanese School... 

The first thing to say is that Japanese definitely have a thing for ceremony - and for enjoying the occasion. For example, the child's first day at school is always a hugely momentous time, with much expectation and many tears of joy (and perhaps of sadness at their children growing up). The first day is also when they hold the Entrance Ceremony, or nyūgakushiki (入学式). It generally is attended by the parents - and grandparents even - with children dressing up (it's not uncommon for suits/dresses to be worn, or even kimono). In a way it's like a mini coming-of-age ceremony for kindy and first-graders... their having entered a new phase of life. A new beginning.

So nyūgakushiki is a time of some seriousness, as well as a time to celebrate a good time with children. Of course, Japanese also like speeches, and the children (and the parents) couldn't escape it now either. Though as you might guess, things were not quite as formal as they would be in a school in Japan.

Part of the ceremony in Japan is typically associated with the introduction of the children into the school, normally a big moment when the children are welcomed into the hall with the parents. Things weren't quite as dramatic here... but as L-kun was joining the kindergarten grade (which is for 4 and 5 year olds), all the new-starters were going to be called to the front for a special introduction. We had rehearsed this a bit beforehand... when they say your name, give a good strong hai!

We arrived at the school and found that the parents were seated separately from the children, who must have all been wondering what was going on. After the formal introduction, the children were called one-by-one to the front stage. We waited, as L-kun's name was read out and he replied with a nice loud hai, and stood up to walk to the front of the auditorium, a slightly nervous smile upon his face... Daddy was too busy trying to take photos AND video to notice what mummy was doing, but I'm sure she was getting emotional. It was a long ceremony, and I have to admit that L-kun's attention waxed and waned throughout, but he was in a good mood... after all, it's not always that easy to tell how your child will react to a new experience (especially school). And the good thing is that he's got friends there already... 

Now the first day saw the families invited into the join in with the student's first lesson. Nothing too stressful, although to be honest, my wife and I were more focussed on our then 2 month old baby, C-chan. L-kun found his seat with his friends and listened (or at least sat quietly). Remember, this is really the first "formal" school environment outside kindergarten that L-kun had experienced... so he did really well for the first day.

It was a strange feeling standing there... though the one thing you realise very quickly is that this IS a Japanese school. The school is based very strongly on the normal Japanese curriculum... though obviously there's concessions made for the fact that it's only one half day a week. Now whilst my wife speaks to our son in Japanese at home, he's still more comfortable in English, so we were kinda curious how things would go... but the first day is very much about learning the ropes. 

And the favourite part of the day? Well, of course there's always playing with friends in the playground. That's a universal highlight of any school experience at that age.

All up, L-kun's first day went amazingly well... and whilst the day lacked some of the pomp and ceremony that would have accompanied the occasion in Japan, my wife was very happy that L-kun could experience something of the special time in a Japanese school-life. A shared experience.

We have yet to decide how much Japanese schooling L-kun will have here in Adelaide... and much of that will be up to L-kun, and how he enjoys the experience.

So far, so good.


  1. Congratulations! What a big day. There are a lot of kid sin his class! Is this school held on Saturdays or during the week as well?

    1. Thanks! It was a big day indeed!... Hmmm - from memory there was about 16 or so in his class, but obviously a lot more in the school. No - unfortunately (or fortunately?) it's only a Saturday school. Of course the real challenge with that is that it means school 6 days a week, and we all know which day is when the sports practice is on. This is one of the real difficulties with children attending the Japanese school here.

  2. We have the same difficulties in the U.S! I'm guessing that by the time my kids hit middle school, they'll be choosing to do other things on Saturdays. At that point, maybe we will get a Japanese tutor.

  3. Very interesting! How many students and teachers? Kids study only Japanese or enjoy some other activities? Are they allowed to speak English?

    Even if half a day, the school should work on L-lun. However, it should be difficult to send him on every Saturday.

    1. Most probably all up there would about 100 students... though I'm not sure how many are doing the High School studies. The school is definitely a community school, so the teachers are supported by volunteering parents. And no - no English. At all. Indeed, that includes the conduct of school business... which I will be talking about in the next post on the Japanese schooling.

      What typically happens is that children go for the first years, but as they get older, the Saturday mornings are taken up more and more with sports - and many of the students stop going to Japanese school then. It also becomes harder to follow the Japanese curriculum with only half a day a week. Still, it has been a good experience and L-kun has benefited from it.

    2. Oh - and to answer your other question - the school does not see itself as a language school. They are expected to learn also at home. They do try to follow most of the Japanese subjects (and in particular, they put emphasis on teaching mathematics in a Japanese way... for older children of course). There's also a heavy cultural experience component to their lessons - as you would expect.

  4. Gee, the school is tough in every sense!

    Although, I wish we had a Russian school in Kofu. Katya would be thrilled.

    Anyway, good luch to L-kun.

  5. Im Australian, from Adelaide too, and speak japanese. Im so excited to learn that there is this school available! My husband is also Australian, but we are both commited to raising bilingual (english/japanese) children!

  6. Thanks for the comment, and yes, there's lots of opportunities to raise bilingual children through these sorts of community schools. It's a great idea to get children learning a second language from an early age. This school is based very much on the real Japanese school curricula, so provides a good foundation... Though it should be stressed it's not seen as a language school, but rather schooling in Japanese (if that makes sense).

    Good luck!