Sending your Child to International or Japanese Kindergarten is my way-overdue follow up to one the most popular posts on The Wagamama Diaries, “An Inside Look at Kindergarten in Japan.” I’m writing this for anyone wondering if they should send their little one to a Japanese kindergarten or an international kindergarten.
Last year, we took a break from school due to COVID (and other factors!). I used this cooling-off period to reflect on my teaching career, my homeschooling journey with my daughter, and future career/life in Japan plans. This post is a result of this year of reflection.
Sending Your Child to International or Japanese Kindergarten – What You Need To Know
When it comes to education in Japan as a multicultural family, you might immediately consider international schools (and their cost). But, before that, I want to start off with one important question:
Is Japan your endgame?
That is, will your family settle in Japan for an extended period of time?
In that case, you’ll not only have to think about sending your child to a Japanese or international kindergarten. You’ll need to consider their options for elementary school and beyond.
It seems like international preschools and kindergartens are everywhere in Japan. But, when it comes to international elementary schools and beyond, your options are limited. (That is unless you live in the center of Tokyo, or Yokohama, or Kobe, for example.)
If your stay in Japan is <5 years then it may be in your best interest to send your child to an international kindergarten closely aligned with the curriculum/language of your next destination/country of return.
Of course, sending your child to a Japanese kindergarten for a year or two is also a fantastic cultural immersion option worth considering!
About Japanese Kindergartens
A quick recap of kindergartens (幼稚園 | youchien) in Japan: you’ve got private and public options.
Public kindergartens are “free” as of October 1, 2019. This means that you won’t have to pay monthly tuition fees. Still, you will need to pay for entrance fees, bus fees, insurance, school meals, uniforms, textbooks/supplies, and maintenance fees!
Private kindergarten students are eligible for a subsidy of ¥25,700 which may be supplemented by your local municipality.
Kindergarten falls under the umbrella of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT), and its purpose is to prepare children for first grade and beyond.
For detailed information on Japanese kindergartens, please see this post: An Inside Look At Kindergarten in Japan
International kindergartens in Japan
It’s probably best that I flesh this out into its own post…one day. Until then, I will try to be concise yet as informative as possible with this section.
I have taught at several international schools in Tokyo. The first thing that I want to say as a former teacher is that when it comes to international kindergartens in Japan, you’ve really got to make sure that your child’s school is legit or if it’s purely for profit.
What To Look For In An International Kindergarten
As I mentioned a few paragraphs earlier, MEXT oversees kindergarten curriculum and issues kindergarten teacher licenses. As far as I know, international kindergartens are not MEXT approved.
International Kindergartens, Accreditation, & Curriculum
Do your research to see if your desired international kindergarten falls under the Japan Council of International Schools (JCIS). There’s also accreditation by the Council of International Schools (CIS) accreditation, along with PYP (International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme) accredited curriculum.
In addition, you’ll also find kindergartens that have a country-specific education system. These are your American, Indian, French schools, and so on. Likewise, don’t forget to look at Montessori schools and other alternatives.
In my case, I got my start fresh out of grad school at a Montessori school. Then, after I got engaged I left the city and ended up at an international kindergarten that used the PYP/IB curriculum and was affiliated with a specific country’s education system. Later, I taught at a “standard” international kindergarten.
International Kindergartens & Language Acquisition/Immersion
In two of the kindergartens where I taught, nearly all of my students were native Japanese speakers with at least 1 Japanese parent.
I suspect that this will be the case with many international kindergartens in Japan, where “international” really means “English-speaking teaching staff from abroad.” And, please don’t take that as shade!
If your primary reasons for sending your child to an international kindergarten is (English) language immersion, then you might be disappointed to find out that your child’s teacher or classmates may not be native speakers of English. (Here’s my approach to Raising a Bilingual Child in Japan.)
With that said, some of their “top tier” international kindergartens tend to be oriented towards international or multicultural families. They may specifically set native/non-native speaker ratios or place priority in enrolling foreign/multicultural students.
In my case, the student body at the IB/PYP kindergarten was such a institution. Its student body was largely kids of foreign workers in Japan who would return to their home country in 3-5 years.
Out of a class of 18, 19 kids, I had one Japanese student, a half-Japanese-half American student, and a half-Japanese half-Chinese student.
Is Kindergarten Necessary?
According to the Japanese constitution, all Japanese children (children with Japanese citizenship registered in Japan as Japanese nationals) are required to attend school.
Foreign children are exempt from Japan’s compulsory education. (To clarify, “foreign” means those registered in Japan as foreign nationals in the juminhyo residence system and not as Japanese citizens.)
I’m mentioning this because Japanese kindergarten acts as a transition period for children entering the Japanese education system. They will learn how to read (and write) hiragana and katakana, learn subject materials, and social skills.
Children who go to international kindergarten may find themselves behind their peers in Japanese elementary school if they don’t have the necessary Japanese language input at home.
With that said, the vast majority of my students (native Japanese/have one Japanese parent) went on to Japanese public/private elementary schools. I’ve only had a few students go on to international elementary schools. (Aside from the students of the country-specific international kindergarten.)
Can I just homeschool my child?
Homeschooling is definitely an option to consider if you’re worried about English/native language acquisition! When it comes to Japanese, teaching your child hiragana/katakana is also doable even if you’re not a native Japanese speaker. I did it!
Again, be sure that the path you choose for kindergarten aligns with your family’s long-term goals.
Whether you decide to go for an international kindergarten, Japanese kindergarten, homeschool, or do a hybrid method, there is no right or wrong answer.
Why We Chose Japanese Kindergarten
Finally I’ll end this post explaining why we chose Japanese kindergarten.
Japan is our endgame for several reasons. But, perhaps the most important one is making sure my daughter understands her culture and family legacy. I already wrote about this a bit in my BLM post.
Simply put, our daughter is multicultural, and we want her to be proud of her roots. By sending our daughter to a Japanese kindergarten, we hope she’ll have the language and social skills necessary for Japanese elementary school and beyond.
Bullying, discrimination etc are valid concerns that many parents of multicultural children in Japan have.
However, those things can happen anywhere, and I don’t think sending her to a international school will make life “easier.” I mean, just look at the evening news, and you’ll plenty of see instances where Japanese kids bully each other! The best I can do is to help her love herself and be confident. (See my post, Colorism And My Black Experience In Japan, about my path of healing and understanding and how plan to tackle these issues.)
For what it’s worth, my (bilingual) husband is “Team International School” for our daughter’s education after kindergarten. However, I’m fine with the local public schools. (This is especially because our city is renovating all the elementary schools!)
But, I will be also honest and tell you that I’m also eyeing private Japanese elementary schools that go all the way to the university level (私立大学附属小学校).
Whether we decide to go public or private, I will continue homeschooling by doing supplemental English reading activities and assignments.
We do 30 minute English lessons Monday — Saturday. My daughter has also been enrolled in Kumon since summer 2021 for maths, and she’s starting Japanese (kokugo) from April.
Sending Your Child to International or Japanese Kindergarten – Final Points To Consider
It goes without saying to do your research thoroughly. But, another point I want parents to consider is this: Please don’t forget about your own comfort levels before deciding to send your child to a Japanese or international kindergarten! Being prepared as a parent is very important as well.
Overall, this is an important decision that you and your partner will make. No matter how friends and family may try to sway your decision, believe in your choice.