From 2018 to 2019 I went to a high school in Osaka, Japan. And one of the questions I get asked most often is “What is Japanese high school like?”.
This post will give you the answer to this question. And it will also show you what a typical day at a Japanese high school is like.
What Is Japanese High School Like?
Before going to Japan I had no idea what Japanese high school would be like.
And you might be in a similar situation.
I’ve already wrote an article called “12 Ways Japanese High School Is Different” which is one of my most-read articles.
But in this post I want to go into more depth and show you what Japanese high school is really like.
First, I’ll give you some facts about Japanese high schools.
Facts About High School in Japan
- Japanese secondary education is split up into three years of junior high school and three years of senior high school. This means that students at a Japanese high school are usually 15 to 18 years old.
- The school day usually starts at 8:30 a.m. and ends at 4:00 p.m. and there’s school from Monday to Friday although some private high schools (like the one I went to) do have classes on Saturday morning.
- According to the japantimes about 26% of the high schools in Japan are private. But there isn’t really that big of a difference between public and private schools because both cost a lot.
- The main purpose of the high school is preparing students for the university entrance exams, which means that students spend a lot of their free time studying. And some go to a 塾 juku = cram school.
Japanese secondary education is split up into three years of junior high school and three years of senior high school. This means that students at a Japanese high school are usually 15 to 18 years old.
The main purpose of the high school is preparing students for the university entrance exams, which means that students spend a lot of their free time studying.
Many of my classmates also went to a juku = cram school in the evening to study even more.
The school day usually starts at 8:30 a.m. and ends at 4:00 p.m.
There’s school from Monday to Friday although some private high schools (like the one I went to) do have classes on Saturday morning.
Lastly, about 26% of the high schools in Japan are private according to the japantimes. But there isn’t really that big of a difference between public and private schools because both can cost more than 20’000 USD.
Japanese School Uniforms
Japanese high schools are probably most famous for their school uniforms. Almost all schools there require their students to wear one.
School uniforms have a long history in Japan . But I won’t go into any more detail than that.
Nowadays their main purpose is signifying unity among students and showing which school you belong to. This can help in identifying high schoolers who misbehave in public.
For example one morning during the SHR, our teacher came in shouting that some students from our school were seen annoying other passengers by eating cup ramen…
School uniforms in Japan are typically divided into one for summer and one for winter.
Yes, girls always have to wear a skirt and boys have to wear long trousers. I won’t comment on that being incorrect or something like that. That’s just how things in Japan are.
But the worst part about the uniform were the loafers. They literally made my ankles bleed. I’m not kidding.
However, what I did like, was that my high school let students “customise” their uniform. For instance, at my high school, you had the option to buy different-coloured ties (red or yellow). And girls also had the option to buy a bow in either blue, red or yellow.
Well, I guess it’s a good way to make students happy and at the same time make some money. Because those ties were expensive…
Japanese High School Is Strict
They say that strict rules are necessary for the students to achieve good results and get a job later. Also, the student’s behaviour affects the school’s image. So, they don’t want their students to behave badly in public because then people would think badly of the school.
In fact, you’re not allowed to drink water in class, females can’t wear socks that aren’t white in P.E., your hair and dress style has to conform with school rules, etc. In addition, there even was a case where a foreign student even had to dye her hair black.
Luckily, I didn’t have to dye my hair black and my school wasn’t that strict. Still, they do care a lot more about how their students behave in and outside of schools than schools in Western countries.
They even told me I couldn’t wear AirPods on the bike. Which, to be fair, is against the law in Japan. But come on.
Japanese High School Festivals
Most Japanese high schools hold at least two school festivals a year. There is the 文化祭 bunkasai (Culture Festival) and the 体育祭 taiikusai (Sports Festival).
At the Culture Festival, every class has to do something on their own. There, students can sell food, host gaming competitions, have a classroom filled with balloons where you have to pay 100Yen to go in or students can also dance and sing, etc.
Here are some videos about Japanese school festivals:
What Does a Day in a Japanese High School Look Like?
You should now have some general knowledge about what Japanese high school is like.
So, now I’m going to show you what a typical day in a Japanese high school looks like.
As I said before the school day starts at 8:30 with a small quiz. Students are told that they should arrive between 8:00 a.m. and 8:25. And most do (I often came in late but yeah…)
After the short quiz, there’s SHR = short homeroom, where the teacher discusses various things with the students.
And then by 8:50 the “real” classes begin. Lessons take 50 minutes and are separated by 10-minute brakes.
There are 4 lessons in the morning, then a 40-minute lunch break and then in the afternoon 3 more lessons.
After the last lesson, there’s SHR again where the teacher talks about upcoming events things that happend throughout the day, etc.
How Students Go to School in Japan
The way people go to school in Japan depends on how big and how popular the school is. The school I went to had about 3’000 students and it was one of the best schools in Osaka. Which meant there were even people coming from another prefecture.
But people usually go to school by walking, riding the bike, taking the bus or the train.
In the first few months, I went to school by train. But sadly the station was quite far away from the school so I had to walk for 20 minutes in my fucking loafers twice every single day. You can guess what that did to my ankles…
Luckily, after a few months, I moved to another host family which lived closer to school. So, I could take the bike and not have to wreck my feet.
Entering The School Building
If you have watched any Japanese high school anime, you have probably seen somebody put a love letter inside someone’s shoe locker. Sadly, that’s not a thing in real life. I would have appreciated a love letter in my locker though…
But despite not getting a love letter put into my shoe locker, I still looked forward to opening it every day. That’s because it meant that I could finally take off my loafers.
You know when a teacher comes into the classroom, nobody cares and the teachers struggles calming the class down.
The Japanese have a weapon against that. And it’s called 挨拶 aisatsu.
At the start and at the end of every lesson one student has to do the 挨拶 aisatsu = greeting. He or she has to shout these three things:
1. 起立 kiritsu = stand up
2. 気を付け ki wo tsuke
3. 礼 rei = bow
Then the teacher will say something like yeah yeah sit down and everybody sits down again and the lesson begins.
Japanese High School Classes
Many of my friends in Japan describe their classes as boring. Well, that might also be the case in many other countries because high schoolers generally like to speak badly of their school. But classes in Japan are generally not interactive at all. But why?
First, you have to know that Japanese classes are big. For instance, at the school I went to, there were 35 students per class. That alone makes designing interactive classes difficult. And on top of that, Japanese people don’t really like to say their opinion out loud. Which means that even if the teacher asked a question, students would hesitate to raise their hand.
In conclusion, Japanese classes are often simply the teacher standing in front of the class and the students taking notes. Or the students sleep. Yes, (some) Japanese students do sleep in class and (some) teachers do not care.
Then again, saying that people are sleeping all the time and that classes are boring wouldn’t be right nor true. Many classes at my high school in Japan were interactive, had the students work together and create something on their own.
Lunch Break at a Japanese High School
Lunch break at Japanese high schools is pretty short. You only have 40 minutes and can’t even leave the building because there are gates that close in the morning and only open again once school’s finished. So, if you don’t want to starve you either have to go to the cafeteria and stand in line for at least 20 minutes or bring own lunch.
And that’s what most Japanese students do. They bring a lunch box called 弁当 bento and eat whatever’s inside it at their desk. But the desks in Japanese classrooms are usually far apart from each other. So, during lunchtime, students put their desks together and chat or watch something on their iPad while eating.
What Is P.E. Class Like?
At the Japanese high school, I stayed at we had P.E. class three times a week. And boys and girls get separated.
Also, there are no changing rooms. The boys have to stay in the classroom and put their P.E. uniform on there while the girls have to go to another room to put on their clothes.
P.E. class usually starts and ends with some warm-up movements or stretching.
Regarding the things we did during P.E., we usually had judo once per week, and then other games like football, basketball or volleyball the other two times.
Cleaning the Classroom
At the end of each day, we had to clean our classroom. After the SHR in the afternoon, everybody has to put his chair on his desk and then move it to the back of the classroom. Then about five students take a mop and clean the floor and the whiteboard and check that no stuff is lying around.
And ca. all 3 to 4 months, we had to also clean the windows, the floor, the desks, the lockers, etc.
Luckily the school’s toilets get cleaned by janitors because I wouldn’t want to do that…
What Japanese High Schoolers Do After School
If you’re planning on going on a high school exchange in Japan yourself this might be the part your most interested in. Because to be honest you won’t be studying for any test over there. You want to make friends, see more Japan and have the time of your life.
So, what do Japanese high schoolers do after school?
Well, there are basically two options:
1. They join a high school club
2. They don’t join a high school club
Japanese High School Clubs
Japanese high school clubs are very important to many Japanese students. There‘s everything from swimming, cooking, calligraphy, soccer, basketball, American football, baseball, etc (view all clubs).
The clubs are important because they are the only place where students can decide something themselves. The clubs are run by the students, often in a hierarchy. The elder students (先輩 senpai) can tell the (後輩 kouhai) what to do, who gets to play in competitions, etc.
But you might want to think twice about joining a club. Because it’s quite hard. As soon as school finishes you’ll have training which often takes until long in the evening. And that’s not only once or twice per week but every single day of the week.
Furthermore, some clubs even have training in the morning which doesn’t leave you with much free time.
Not Joining a Club
Many Japanese high schoolers choose not to join a club. That’s because school already is tiring enough, they have to study, go to a cram school, they want to do other things or they simply aren’t into staying at school until late in the evening.
So, what do they do then?
Some things that high school students in Japan typically do are:
- Going to a Ramen shop
- Studying at Starbucks
- Going to Movies
This obviously depends on how urban the area the school is in is. If you’re somewhere in the 田舎 inaka (rural area), you’re obviously not walking around sopping in big department stores and stuff.
Thanks for Reading
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In case you have any questions left regarding what Japanese high school is like, feel free to ask me in the comments down below.