Life in Japan Teaching

What Elementary Schools in Japan are like

13 December 2013

I was reading the old blog (now inactive) that I kept when I was in Japan previously and felt a wave of nostalgia.

Instead of burying them away, I thought I’d share and re-home them here, since they were a memorable phase of my life. Besides, some of you might find them interesting too ;)

This will thus be the first post in the Flashback Friday series! :D

First written: 22 May 2010

I’ve been teaching for slightly over a month here. Before I get too used to everything, let me blog down all the things I was surprised to learn that are different from Singapore.

Here’s what elementary schools in Japan are like…


First thing is the timetable. It’s so awesome. Both for teachers and students!

A typical day goes something like:

8:30 – 8:50 Mass reading/singing/exercise/playing/etc
8:50 – 9:35 1st period
9:35 – 9:45 Break
9:45 – 10:30 2nd period
10:30 – 10:50 Break
10:50 – 11:35 3rd period
11:35 – 11:45 Break
11:45 – 12:30 4th period
12:30 – 13:15 Lunch
13:15 – 13:20 Pika pika time (aka teeth-brushing time)
13:20 – 13:35 Cleaning time
13:35 – 13:50 Afternoon Break
13:50 – 14:35 5th period

The first time I saw the timetable, my jaw just fell to the table. I mean, LOOK AT THAT. They get a freaking break after every period! And the lunch time! And even time set aside just for playing after lunch!

When I told the kids and teachers here that we don’t have breaks and time for play, they were thunderstruck. It’s like blasphemy or something.


The next thing that is different is lunch. They don’t have canteens or any place to buy food.

What they have instead is a caterer that sends the food to school everyday. Students on lunch duty will go retrieve their food trolleys for the class and start distributing food to the whole class in a very organised manner.

There will be someone dishing out the soup, another for the rice, another for the milk, etc. All this is done with masks, aprons and caps.

They will eat in class together with the teacher, and after that, everyone will return their own trays and clean up. After cleaning up, they will all brush their teeth.

I am on rotation to eat with a different class each day, so what they do is have their group leaders come together and janken (scissors, paper, stone) to decide which group I eat with.


Nope, not the simple class duty, but cleaning the whole school- from staff room sinks to wiping down the corridors with cloths in hand to scrubbing out the toilet – bowls, floors and all.


One thing I really like is how the schools use music for everything.

There’s a tune for lunch time, brushing teeth and cleaning up. I especially like that they play music during lunch time. Kids do sing along, and I feel it’s like developing another part of them, without intentionally doing so.

I wonder why don’t we have it in Singapore.


Every school that I was in gives each student each have a pot of flowers to tend to, right from the start as seeds. I think it helps them be conscious of caring and being responsible for something. Plus, it helps them appreciate their own effort put in when the flowers bloom!

I saw these year ones the other day running towards me with their plastic bottles and inviting me along to see them care for their plants and it was SO CUTE. Everyone was fighting just to show me their pot, haha.


Majority of the elementary schools (direct equivalent to Singapore’s primary schools) do not have uniforms for the students. They can choose to wear whatever they want everyday!

The only thing they have uniforms for is P.E. attire. The kids were dead jealous when I told them Singapore kids can choose their own bags.


They don’t get to choose which public elementary school to go to. They are simply assigned a school based on the area they live in. I suppose it doesn’t really matter since there isn’t any “branded” schools, seeing as they don’t have a national exam to graduate from school like we do.

No need for parents to volunteer or “donate” to earn credit to get their kids into the school of choice. Isn’t that kinda nice?


There are no such things as school buses (another collective gasp of envy from the kids when they heard there was such a thing in Singapore). They walk to school, and the way they do so amused me when I first saw it.


I was cycling to school when I saw this and quickly snapped a photo

They will assemble at a predetermined point and then march off to school in the fashion above. They move in big numbers and wear bright caps and neon bag covers so that drivers will see them.

The first 2 people of the group (usually the 5th or 6th graders) will carry this flag thing and when they cross the road (with a policewoman/road marshal guiding them) they will stick out their flags and walk that way till they finish crossing.

Well, that’s the gist of it, though it’s certain that there are more things to learn about. Can’t wait! :)

p.s. This is actually a scheduled post. I’m actually overseas right now, probably eating dim sum as you read this heh ;D

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