NIS Stories

4 Key Differences Between Japanese Schools and International Schools


As a parent weighing the benefits and potential drawbacks of the Japanese school system versus an international school in Japan, there can be a lot of information to sort through.

To make the process easier, we spoke with parents of some of our students at Nagoya International School (NIS) and outlined four crucial factors influencing parents' school choice regarding whether to send their children to our school or to a traditional Japanese school.


How Do Japanese Schools Differ From International Schools?


Many families come to NIS with little knowledge of international schools and can experience confusion regarding the benefits of an international school education.

In order to better assist families who are interested in an international school education in Japan, we’ve created a list of the most impactful differences between a Japanese education system vs an international school in Japan.

  • International Schools Teach Students How to Learn
  • More Diverse Student Body
  • Access to Internationally-Recognized Curriculum
  • Progressive Education Approach


1. International Schools Teach Students How to Learn


In the Japanese school system, rote learning and memorization are placed in high esteem, and creative thinking patterns are often discouraged. This outdated method may benefit some students, but forcing students to learn in only one acceptable way stifles creativity and their natural academic abilities.

“One thing that I found out in the education system in Japan is that everyone has to follow the system. There are no exceptions or individuality,” said NIS parent, Gaby O.

Meanwhile, in an international school, students are encouraged to think outside the box when demonstrating their ideas. There is more flexibility when potentially answering a question incorrectly - teachers at NIS see this as a perfect opportunity for a “jumping off point” as opposed to a failure on behalf of the student.

“Children are taught the tools needed to get information, analyze it, create, and present it in a project. They are taught to find problems and work on solutions to solve those problems. The students' minds are constantly thinking about solutions to situations that teachers present to them or ask them to create,” said Gaby.

This key difference between an education at a Japanese versus an international school is that your children will have the tools they need to do more than just pass an exam. By teaching them how to learn, and not just what to memorize for an upcoming exam, our students learn in a fundamentally different way than traditional rote learning. 


2. More Diverse Student Body


At NIS, we are proud to highlight the diversity of our student body. As an international school, we have students from all over the world, and reflecting the globalization of many communities the world-over, our classrooms are multifaceted and diverse.

Students in an international school are very comfortable interacting and celebrating cultures from all around the world. With this accepting, inclusive atmosphere, children are encouraged to find and embrace their identity.

“At our children’s Japanese school, they did everything they could to not bring attention to their differences. At NIS, they were suddenly free to be who they were - bicultural and bilingual children,” said NIS parent Sue C.

At NIS, we embrace the cultural differences of our students and incorporate them into the classroom setting by hosting celebrations that educate our students about the diverse background of both themselves and their peers.

“We are keenly aware of socialization and the ability of our children to think critically. We want our kids to be mindful that they are part of a larger world with many cultures and have social responsibilities,” said NIS parent, Carter W.

To learn more about the importance of mother tongue study in school and how we incorporate this into our curriculum at NIS, click here.


3. Access to Internationally-Recognized Curriculum


One major way that Japanese schools differ from international schools is that the educational model is more globally focused in an international school. Most traditional Japanese schools, of course, mainly offer a Japanese curriculum, which is more focused on passing standardized tests than on preparing students for a modern workforce, requiring both critical thinking skills and creativity.

At NIS, we offer a high standard of education in Japan with our internationally-recognized curriculum, as well as the additional option of taking the International Baccalaureate (IB) program. This world-renowned program demonstrates to university and college admissions boards that a student is academically-accomplished and has developed thinking skills that make them attractive candidates for any university around the world.

“As soon as we made the switch and got through those first months when the girls were improving their English, we knew there was no going back. We found absolute value in the system of education, not just the English,” said Sue.


4. Progressive Education Approach


In a single-culture focused school such as the Japanese school system, the attention is also on learning the customs and traditions of that one culture. Students from other cultures may have a hard time owning their multicultural identity in that type of environment.

With a curriculum specifically designed to teach our students how to become global citizens, our progressive approach to education means your children will be better prepared for the realities of a modern, globalized workplace.

“We are keenly aware of socialization and the ability of our children to think critically. We want our kids to be mindful that they are part of a larger world with many cultures and have social responsibilities,” said Carter.

Our progressive education may seem peculiar to those more familiar with the Japanese school system. Our proven approach of advocating collaboration, in-depth analysis and personalization in all aspects of the learning means your children are equipped with the tools they need for their future.

“I encourage my children to be unique and respectful, to share their thoughts and ideas. In the international school system, children are encouraged to be themselves and express their ideas, analyze and challenge themselves to be better and unique,” said Gaby O.

Attending an international school like NIS means your children will not only have access to a world-class education, they will also learn about their unique place in the world as global citizens and will develop their natural inclination to learn and grow into intelligent and thoughtful adults.


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