If you are thinking of studying in Japan, or if you are interested in Japanese culture, have you ever been curious about the daily life of a Japanese high school student? Let’s take a look!
Commuting to School
A normal school day of a Japanese high school student can start as early as 6:30 a.m. or 7:00 a.m. in the morning if they have to commute a long distance to school by train and/or bus. Many students choose to walk or ride bicycles if their homes are not too far from the school. Japanese high school students don’t drive to school like their American counterparts.
Inside the Classroom
Once they reach school, the day starts with administrative tasks, such as taking attendance, making announcements, and assigning classroom tasks. A typical day at school starts at 8:30 a.m., and students take different subjects throughout the day. Students will spend most of their day taking lessons in their homeroom, and they only go switch to other parts of the school, such as the gymnasium or the laboratory, when they have physical education and science classes. Teachers do not have their own classrooms, so they carry learning materials with them when they switch from one classroom to another during the day.
Students are expected to remain disciplined and quiet during lesson hours, but the atmosphere can become lively during break time or at lunchtime when they get to socialize with their peers. During lunchtime, students usually spend time eating and chit-chatting with each other in the homeroom classroom, as most high schools in Japan do not have a common dining hall or a cafeteria. Some schools provide meals for students. Otherwise, students will eat from the lunch boxes that they bring from home, which are called bento boxes and have been prepared by their mothers earlier that morning. A Japanese lunch box often consists of rice, fish or meat, eggs, vegetables, pickles, and occasionally some fruits.
If you have seen Japanese anime or manga before, chances are that you are familiar with the kawaii uniforms of Japanese high school students. Uniforms differ based on the school and the region. Students typically have three kinds of uniforms: one for summer, one for spring and fall, and one for winter. Female students wear a white blouse, a skirt, knee-high socks, and, depending on the school, a bow or a tie. In the winter, they also wear a sweater and a vest. Male students wear dress shirts, long trousers, and a vest or a coat in the winter.
Besides the steadfast commitment to academics, Japanese high school students also dedicate a large chunk of their time to extracurriculars in the form of clubs after their lesson hours. Clubs can vary form sports clubs to culture clubs. Throughout their time in high school, students stick to one club and hardly change it. Students commit greatly to club activities, as they are required to attend the meetings and practices every day between 3:30 p.m. and 6 p.m. after class, even on weekends and holidays. Students in their last year of high school usually choose to withdraw from their club activities in order to focus on preparing for the rigorous university entrance examinations.
It is also interesting how fundamental social values of Japanese society, such as the senpai-kohai relationship, are also reflected in the high school environment. In school clubs, the senpai-kohai relationship between senior and junior students is very evident. Older students have the responsibility to coach and to take care of the younger ones. Junior students are expected to respect and to serve the senior ones. They are also allocated tasks, such as the preparation of the activity and the clean-up.
A day of a high school student doesn’t end after they finish their lessons and extracurriculars at school. Approximately 60% of high school students also go to cram schools after class in order to take supplemental lessons. In these cram schools, students get prepared to tackle the university entrance examinations by getting used to different types of exam questions and doing mock exams. For students who want to experience intellectual challenges that are beyond the level of the standard curriculum taught in regular high schools, they might actually enjoy the additional homework that is given to them. Many high school students experience the pressure of performing well in the university entrance examination, since it determines their future of career prospects after graduation. Hence, the cram school business is thriving in Japan, reflected in the willingness of parents to pay expensive tuition fees for cram schools in order to maximize their children’s chances of getting into a top-tier university.
With many responsibilities to juggle, from homework at school, extracurricular activities, and cram school lessons, to a long commute to and from school, it is not surprising that daily life of a Japanese high school is very packed. While they are often left with not much time to rest and sleep, many still manage to commit and achieve their goals and expectations placed upon them by themselves, teachers, parents, and society. Students are trained to gain valuable life skills such as good time management, dedication to hard work, and a strong will.
A typical day of a Japanese high school student might differ from what you often see in anime and manga. Even though it can be tough and tedious, many Japanese people recall their high school days as beautiful memories that they will remember for the rest of their lives.