Okinawa Hai fallback


Last week I received the following email in my in-box, and unfortunately I had no immediate answer for her.  I’m extending this question to all of our readers with experience: do you or did you put your primarily English-speaking American children in a Japanese elementary school here on Okinawa, and if so, where?  What was your experience like?  Any feedback is welcome!


My husband and I just got to Okinawa [recently].  He’s stationed at Camp Schwab and we’ve been authorized to live out in Onna Village, close for my husband’s commute.  I’d like to find out about any elementary (Japanese/American) schools for my 5 yr old daughter (Kinder) and 9 year old daughter (4th gr.).  We also have an 18 mos old boy, who we’d like to place in a Japanese childcare.  We’ve had the children tutored in CA for Japanese, so they are becoming conversational in the language.
I did some research on-line and just noticed that Okinawa Christian International has been closed for one week due to a swine flu outbreak!

Any information would be helpful!



      • Hello, just curious in what school you have inserted your children. We are going to have a meeting with the principal at Hamagawa Elementary School, but we have been told by the Chatan city office that the principal does not want our son to attend the school. Any pointers before tomorrow’s meeting would be very helpful.

  1. The largest issue with putting SOFA children in off-base Japanese schools is you are not paying city taxes. If you pay city taxes, then by all means attend the school. It also places an extra burden on the parents who are bilingual to have to translate for the non-bilingual parents. It places an extra burden on the teachers. Please keep this in mind as you decide to put your children in Japanese school.

  2. I have a rather silly question, currently living in Saitama, husband is Japanese, but we are thinking seriously to relocate to Okinawa for lifestyle choice, the silly question is,,,,,do Okinawan elementary schools have western style toilets? my daughter is only used to western,,,,,,
    we are currently do homeschooling as we wanted to move overseas but we think Okinawa might be the best and our daughter can already speak and read well in Japanese grade 1

  3. Valerie, have you considered one of the off-base private schools like OCSI or New Life Academy? Both schools are English speaking for the class lessons, but have at least one hour of Japanese language study each day. Also, a majority of the students are Japanese so there is ample opportunity for English speaking children to practice their skills. I had considered sending my 7 year old to a Japanese school also, but I was worried about her missing out on some of the necessary academics while she was trying to learn the language well enough to understand the teacher. I found that New Life Academy was a great compromise. In just about 4 months time, my daughter has a good grasp on the written and spoken language. Next fall I am moving her to OCSI which also has a great language program with separate levels for beginning, intermediate, and advanced skills.

    • Hi I just move to the island and I have a 6 yo daughter coming from California from a Catholics school wondering how is ocs since we will be living in Yomitan or if new life academic will be better even though is far away

  4. Most of the principals are shying away from allowing American children to attend the local schools, especially just for the summer months when it appears American mom’s are just looking for day care.

    It is very taxing for the teachers since the children don’t know any Japanese and cannot follow instruction. Even people that have “half” children are having problems with doing this and their children “usually” have a good understanding of the language.

    I’m not trying to discourage anyone from trying, but I am trying to help explain why some schools are against it.

  5. I teach in a Japanese Elementary school and two years ago, there were three kids who did a “trial” on our school. They are American kids, and at that time didn’t speak the language AT ALL. When DoDDS schools are on their summer break, kids can usually come in the school and learn with the other kids. What happened with these children was, they did the trial, their mom was very persistent in putting her children in the school, but it is still up to the principal and vice principal whether or not they will take these kids. I suggested they did because I believed it would be a great experience not just for these kids but also for the other kids. They can encourage their English speaking abilities but the American kids can still learn the language since that’s what they mainly use in the classroom. Well fast-forward to today, they are in the school, made lots of friends, and they can speak Japanese and even write KANJI! (not just the basic a-b-c’s of Japanese but the complex symbols!)

    I say it’s a good experience for these kids and I want my son to experience that as well when he starts school. I don’t have any background about the schools in Onna Village, but the schools close to Kadena and Foster are pretty accommodating and the kids are nice to foreign kids because they are used to seeing them everywhere.

    Try and don’t give up. If these kids’ mom was able to put them in a Japanese school, you can do it too!

  6. Hi there,

    I am member of Saturday Literacy Community Program

    We are a community network of families in Okinawa whose English speaking children attend Japanese schools. Several of the families are American.

    Once in Japanese school, I think most families would agree that (depends somewhat on age) their children’s ability to understand, speak, read, and write Japanese developed in leaps and bounds.

    (Sorry to disagree with the above comment about kids using Okinawan in schools – the number of people in Okinawa who can speak Uchinaguchi is rapidly decreasing and those who can speak are usually in their 50s/60s +. Most kids only know a few words or phrases ‘Agaa’ (ouch). What some kids will use is slang terms like ‘Wakan da baio’ for ‘Wakanai’ (I dunno).

    Anyway back to Japanese schooling, this is not to say that putting your kid in a Japanese school is not going to be without its ‘moments’- for parents and kids both. Especially, if you are making the double language and culture leap.

    As a person who is pro-bilingual, I think it can offer up amazing rewards for children too – intelligence wise, greater awareness of how your own tongue works, greater empathy for and understanding of other people/cultures, possible economic advantages in the future, and so on.

    The key issue faced by families with kids in Japanese schools is HOW to then keep up your kid’s English reading and writing abilities.

    Overview of books and research articles on it tells us that the key factors are:

    * Family member/s use English
    * Family actively values English literacy development
    * The child has access to a variety of English using resources/contexts
    * Child has regular access to other English literate children
    * Child has contact with an institution that values English language development

    In most cases, most families in Okinawa can do the first two or three. It is harder for families to do the last two.

    That’s what SLCP is about – creating a program that values kids reading and writing well in both languages. This way, families get to keep their choices open.

    Basically, we are all families who are ‘doing home literacy’ with our kids. We then meet on Saturday mornings in Ginowan. There we created a space where our kids can develop their English reading/writing with other kids.

    It is also a venue for bilingual kids to have bilingual friends, and a place where parents to know other parents in the same boat.

    As well as the parents, we have a whole rally of people from the community who have been volunteering as literacy mentors too – including Fulbright scholars; professors from various universities; student-teachers; and so on (Thank you, y’all)

    If you would like to know more or get involved in this parent-led and not-for-profit English literacy program, please visit (FAQs page)

    Better still, drop us a line to arrange a visit to SLCP. You can see with your own eyes what it is all about and talk with other parents.

  7. I would like to add that I do not “use” the locals for my own personal advantage.

    I can honestly say that within my small circle of friends, almost half of them are locals who I have come to genuinely love!

  8. Schwab is far regardless of where you live.

    Unfortunately, I don’t have much info for you but if you need additional resources I would turn to the Personal Services Center or to your FRO, or both! 🙂 It’s the PSC’s job to get info for you. And, if your FRO is nice and decent, he/she may utilize their resources and help you out too.

    If all the above fails, hope that you have friendly neighbors or befriend a local! I honestly believe that befriending a local is one of the best things you can for yourself here on island. They enjoy teaching you about their culture and I think they are just happy to be able to share information and help you out! 🙂

  9. I’ve got a friend who has their daughters in a Japanese school and they love it. They haven’t had any problems and fit in very well. Both kids speak great Japanese. I’ve got a friend who runs a translation business and most of her clients are parents trying to get their kids into Japanese school. Here’s her website:

    She’s a great person and does an excellent job. Good luck and I hope you enroll your kids into a Japanese school. What a great experience that could be.

  10. Hi, Having been a mother that did the Japanese school thing for 1 1/2 years with my two kids, I would really advise against it. My children both speak Japanese (we are not Japanese though) so the language was not the issue. For about the first year my children were a novelty so they pretty much got left alone, however things went rapidly downhill after that. Right now I’m homeschooling because my children get upset every time I bring up going back to school whether it be OCI or DoDDS. My kids go to a tutor and Kumon to keep up their language skills. I also agree with the previous post about the school driving the mom crazy. Japanese schools change the schedule often and unless there is a kind mother who decides to help you, you may be lost. No one has mentioned the language factor either. While the classroom lessons are taught in Japanese, the kids speak Okinawian to one another. My children have a hard time conversing socially. I did love our Yochien experience though and highly recommend Japanese yochien.

    • There are several bilingual education schools in Okinawa. Amerasian, AMICUS, Santa Monica, and several religious affiliated schools. Take a tour meet the teachers bring your kid in for a day. Important to get a feel for the place before you decide.

  11. Hello Heather,
    I agree with what everybody has said, which is it is great in theory but may not come to fruition as you are expecting. I think there are MANY opportunities for your kids to be immersed in the Japanese culture other than in school especially if you are living off base. Also, my husband is at Camp Schwab as well and it is 45 minutes to an hour from Onna. It is still a long ways just so you know. Good luck with the move!

  12. Hi Heather and everyone,
    I am new to the forum and it’s good to be here.

    I hope you have great success placing your children in lovely schools. My observation would be; I have an 8 year old who is 100% bilingual to an excellent standard in both languages (she is Japanese/English and reads to 12 year old level in both native tongues). As a foreign mum, who speaks pretty good Japanese and is au fait with the culture and intracacies, I would say that IF I could I would avoid the struggle of placement at Japanese school. There are so any excellent points about cross-cultural education etc and of course the benefits are huge, but for a buys mum with multiple aged siblings I would think that the schedules, politics and many niggly little things (that drive me insane) about Japanese school, may dampen your experience a little. Each school has its own flavour. I wish you all the very best and it helps a LOT when you can’t talk the language LOL!

  13. We recently went through the process of trying to get our 10 year old into a Japanese school. (He’s been taking private Japanese lessons for a year and 1/2.) We were told that the Japanese schools in the Kadena/Foster area are officially not accepting kids who have SOFA status and can attend DoDDS schools. We looked into a private Japanese Catholic school as well, but they are quite competitive – requiring all students to pass an entrance exam (in Japanese)and compete for spaces.
    If you live farther out of the Kadena/Foster area, you might have a better chance. This is a relatively new development, and 3 or 4 years ago it was much easier to get kids into the schools.
    There are great private tutors on island, though. Best of luck!

  14. First, Onna is not that close to Schwab, but that is another topic.

    The local city school is your “only” bet other than OCSI or a church school. You must live in the city limits, or school zone, in order to attend a school. Some schools will not be keen on the idea of your kids coming. Unless they are “fluent” (I hate that word) then your child will be an extra burden on the teacher. This is often a reason given to disallow “1/2” kids from attending off base schools during DoDDs summer break.

    I would suggest OCSI, a church run school, or DoDDS, then use a study school “juku” or Kumon after school to work on their Japanese.

    Good Luck though.

  15. Sorry…add’l info…
    The school’s are very accomodating and your 5 & 9 year old will pick up the language pretty quickly. Just prepare them for the celebrity status when they walk in and they’ll be bombarded with questions..All in Japanese. KUMON cram school will help them with their homework and narrow the language gap. There is a KUMON in every community.

    There is a great Pre-school near Ryukyu Mura in Onna. My friend’s son went there and they loved it. It’s hard to miss. Sorry I don’t know the name.

  16. OCSI is an english-speaking school. It is a great place but if you are looking for an authentic Japanese school look no further than your housing agency.
    Have them find the school in your jursidiction. (Similar to stateside school zones)
    The local City Hall can help you sign up or go right to the School’s office. If your Japanese reading skills aren’t polished, bringing/hiring a translator will make the process go smooth. There will be some intial investments like uniforms, supplies, cafeteria fees, etc but some schools accept partial payments.

    Good Luck!