Japanese schools have many traditions that differ from most cultures. From elementary to high school, Simple, everyday habits are carried out by students and teachers to develop discipline and respect.
Firstly, the students clean the school. Yes, they clean every inch from top to bottom. Kids are less likely to muck around and leave a mess because well, they are the ones who must clean up.
Walking to and from school is also common. The kindergarteners usually walk in small groups or travel by bike with their parents. Small districts throughout the cities make it easy for kids to commute. In fact, it’s quite common for kids as young as four to make their own way to school, teaching independency, early on.
Lunch breaks also differ, as many schools have lunches served by the students themselves. Usually, they eat at their desks, along with their teachers to improve student-teacher relationships.
In terms of dress code and appearance, for female students, makeup is a big NO. Japanese schools take this very seriously, so trying to impress the boys is out of the question. Which leads us to our next rule – dating.
Dating among students is not allowed. Schools are for learning and not much else. Having feelings for a fellow student will only add distractions.
Even if a student catches the eye of a boy or girl, taking out their phones and trading numbers might also be a problem. Up until recently phones were banned from all schools.
However, this rule has been lifted for junior high and high schools in case of an emergency. As natural disasters like earthquakes are common in Japan, parents feel safer knowing they can contact their children in such cases.
So, what is a typical day like for a Japanese Student?
It certainly doesn’t end once that final bell goes. In both junior high and high school, almost every student takes part in after-school activities like calligraphy or sport clubs, as well as attending Juku (private school for additional study) in the evening.
It’s fair to say, a typical day is a busy one. So how different is this from other countries?
Less Time to Chill
The Japanese school of Melbourne is a part of a chain of schools around the world which is funded by the Japanese government. It was introduced to aid Japanese families when moving overseas, to allow their children to attend schools that follow the exact curriculum of those in The rules and traditions are also carried out like any other Japanese school, including the start and finish dates for each term.
For Australian schools, they begin in January and finish in December. Japanese schools begin in April and finish in March. It seems Australian kids are also giving more time to socialise with friends whereas Japanese students have more daily obligations.
A staff member noted “I think Australian kids have more fun in school.”
Japanese high school students usually have a long and busy day. Schools begin at 8.30am and finish at 3.15pm, before attending afterschool clubs and activities. Once that’s finished, students will go home for dinner before attending Juku for additional study which lasts around 2 hours (not including homework).
Before the day is done, students are potentially looking at a 15-16hour day, depending on commutes. This routine may leave little time for a student’s social life, although academically it has an effect. Reports from the 2018 PISA (programme for international students) show on average, Japanese students rank 6th overall with mathematics, science and reading. Australia was ranked 21st.
In terms of schoolwork, students in Australia study a lot in groups. Most subjects require group assignments and presentations. Whereas in Japan, students mostly study alone. “Japanese students usually study alone. Working in groups, I think is better for kids” a Japanese School of Melbourne staff member added.
Speaking your mind is preferred amongst Australian schools. Independent thinking for debates and discussions are valued. For introvert students, this can be an uncomfortable practise but doing so will help students improve their social skills and become more comfortable speaking in groups.
In terms of student behaviour, 32% of Australian students said teachers must wait long periods of time for students to quiet down before conducting the lesson. In Japan, 9% of students reported this.
All Work, Some Play
However, lifestyles don’t change much for Japanese adults. The nation is known for its excessive work rate. Just like schools, many working companies have rules and traditions that is taken seriously. Too name a few, Sabisu zangyo (overtime without pay) is a fading tradition but still a presence in many Japanese companies.
Also, Karoshi (death by overwork) is a real thing in Japan. In 2019, 1,940 deaths were work related suicides. This is a serious social issue that needs to be addressed for the wellbeing of future generations.
In Australia, this would seem crazy. Working to live is more the view of Australians, spending much of their time having family barbeques and relaxing by the beach.
A Japanese School of Melbourne staff member stated “Japanese employees stay until work is done, whereas in Australia, tomorrow is O.K.”
What Can We Learn?
Japans early teachings of self-discipline amongst students is a clear advantage for their academic rates. Whereas Australia’s value for outspoken, independent thinking adds so much for students in terms of people skills and social opportunities, especially when growing into their adult lives.
With the obedience of the Japanese traditions, along with the vibrant lifestyles of the Australian people, a healthy middle ground of both cultures could be the perfect work-life balance for overseas students and future residents.
It’s important to encourage different educational systems to expand into different cultures. The Japanese School of Melbourne is only one of many throughout Australia. With more government plans like this around the world, it will only educate future generations about different cultures and ways of life.
As many nations like Australia are becoming more multi-cultural, why not learn as much as possible from our future residents and truly gain the benefits of living in a multi-cultural society.
Bio: Richard Young is an Irish, freelance writer based in Melbourne, Australia. Through traveling and living overseas, cultural and social differences are a go-to topic, as well as the social changes throughout multi-cultural countries.