Okinawa Hai fallback


Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms and moms-to-be out there! Did you know this year is the 100th anniversary of the holiday? Anna Jarvis founded the holiday after the death of her mother with the intent that one would present their mom with a white carnation to signify the purity of a mother’s love along with a handwritten personal letter “to the woman who has done more for you than anyone in the world.” Now it’s a $16 billion dollar day. Just a bit of trivia for you.

We have a question from one mom today about school options. We’ve explored the Japanese school options for preschoolers here. My 2-year-old daughter has been going to a Japanese preschool for only a few weeks and she is already picking up the language. So far, I’m a big fan of the instant immersion idea. Does anyone have any help for moms with older kids?

I have been contemplating sending my child to a Japanese elementary school and was wondering if anyone else has done this and how to go about it? I have found a lot of information about the DOD schools there (and assume people are happy with them?) but are interested in immersing our child in the culture (I figure, if we have it at our hands, why not pick it up?) Any input and advice on this and also experience with schools on base would be terrific.


  1. After reading this question I felt that I needed to respond. My son attended Japanese Yochien for three years and then insisted that he wanted to attend the local Japanese elementary school. After a year and a half he just decided last week to stop and frankly I am relieved for many reasons. *Just as a side note….we were extremely happy with the yochien experience and would do that again in a heart beat. This post refers only to the public elementary school experience.

    As much as we didn’t want to see it, our child was treated as an outsider and never really meshed with his class. Despite the efforts of his wonderful sensei, the other children never accepted him as a “friend”. Many were friendly toward him but he had no real friends. He was hit a few times a week. Name calling was another big issue. I will say that a few of the boys in his class were very mean to all students, not just my child. Upon reflection, my child was mildly happy in first grade but I think in the second grade he became more wise and understood how badly he was being treated by the other children.

    Another reason for stopping was the pressure to keep up with his American studies. I am a teacher and worked with him nearly daily. The pressure became too much for both him and I. I felt like I was spending my entire life thinking about his education. After attending school all day, he needed to do his Japanese homework, as well as study some English. He had very little time to play with his friends on base. He also wanted to participate in many extracurricular activities on base but there simply wasn’t enough time.

    I became quite tired of the experience as the school day does not end when the bell rings. Often I would sit in the parking lot waiting for my child for 30 minutes or more. The children leave when the sensei excuses them, no the bell. Often the entire class would be 40 minutes late leaving school because one or two children were misbehaving. This further cramped our already busy schedule.

    When we went to talk to the school and tell them we were stopping, I can honestly say I felt that the teachers were happy for my child. No one tried to talk us into staying. I would say that the teachers did all they could to support him but they couldn’t control every situation.

    I would say that spending a year and a half in Japanese public school really firmed up my child’s language abilities as well as forcing me to increase mine. The math and science curriculum was strong as well as the physical education. I try not to look back with regrets as that is wasted energy but I would encourage others to seriously think twice about putting their non-Japanese children in a Japanese public school. Some of my closest Japanese friends have recently told me that a private school would have been better for my child as discipline is much stricter.

    I hope this helps.

  2. Great question! My twin girls started attending a WONDERFUL Japanese preschool in Yomitan shortly after we moved to Okinawa in July of 2006. They were 3 ½ at the time. When we started, we were one of two American families attending the school. After the first year, we became the only Americans at the school. (The only language of instruction at their school is Japanese – a few of the teachers speak some English / I speak very little Japanese.) After two years, my girls speak wonderful Japanese and are also reading and writing basic Hiragana and very basic Katakana.

    Since the school year runs April – March in Japan, we faced the question of whether to have them start Kindergarten at their Yochien and then move to Bob Hope ES in September ’08 or for them to complete Kindergarten and “graduate” with their classmates of the past two years. Although it shocked many of our friends, both American and Japanese, we have elected to have them stay and “graduate” Kindergarten in March of ’09. It is also our plan to have them start 1st grade in April of ’09 at a local Japanese public school. We are lucky, in that we have a fall-back plan, in case public school doesn’t work-out for our family – we can move them to BHES for 1st grade.

    We have two big concerns about the girls attending public school out in town which we are trying to work out:
    1) will the girls be able to keep up academically without having parents that can assist them with their homework,
    2) will we, as parents, be able to met the parental obligations that are required of other parents – i.e. Assisting with crossing guard duty, school meetings with faculty, “Homeroom Mom” type needs.

    We are not especially concerned about bullying in the Japanese system for a couple of reasons:
    1) bullying is alive and well in American school systems (My husband and I have many “not-so-fond” memories of public & private school years back in the states.)
    2) much of the bullying in Japanese schools revolve around kids of mixed heritage (a very nasty type of bullying but not one that will specifically be focused on our girls)
    3) hopefully, the girls will be in a class with some of their current school friends which will help the transition to “big-kid school”

    I am planning on going to ‘city hall’ within the next month or two in an effort to start official inquiries as to the steps it will take for formal admission to public school.

    No matter what happens – we plan on keeping our girls active in our local community. They will attend Kumon or another language school to keep their Japanese language up to par and we hope to get them active in local sports. (It would be so nice to have them take gymnastics out in town since we are STILL on the waiting list at Kadena with no hope in sight.) We are also trying to track down information about Japan Girl Scouts. That would be another wonderful way to keep them active in the community on many levels. (Any one know anything about Japan Girls Scout troops in the area? I have been on the website and read all the English info available / I also called the Girl Scout hut on-base for info but they didn’t have any suggestions for contacts.)

  3. My understanding is that your local town hall (i.e. Chatan town office, Okinawa city town office…) deals with the applications for schools, so they are who I`d recommend seeing. You may need to take a Japanese speaker along however.

    Perhaps you could consider one of the bi-lingual private schools here rather than a Japanese public school?

    Some unsolicited information – I work in a Japanese public school that has many `half` students (mixed parentage); they often tend to be the ones who get bullied and preform the poorest due to langauge barriers and simply being/looking different to their peers, there are always exceptions though 🙂

    • Hi Kate,

      My name is Seiji Ikegami and my wife (Trini) and I are moving to Okinawa next year. We’re currently looking for a school for our kid in future. May I ask you which public elementary school has many “half” kids as you mentioned? I’d like to send our kid to a local school which has many kids from mixed parentage. Not sure if you’re still checking this site but I’d be so grateful for your help.



  4. Okinawa passed a law last school year that makes it tough to get American kids into there schools. If one parent is Japanese than they can go, if not you have to put in a waiver and get it approved which means a ton of meetings with the school and the community, however, it isn’t impossible. From what I hear Japanese schools are great, but they don’t have set schedule. They find out the day before what classes they will have the next day. They also don’t get out of school at the same time everyday. However, they are required to clean the school and also serve lunch teaching responsibility. There school year goes April-March so they just started a school year. Hope this helps some and that someone knows how to get the waiver for going to school out in town.