Back to School Japanese Style

April in Japan not only means cherry blossom viewing and streets flooded with university job hunters, but it also marks the beginning of another school year for Japan’s youngest.

Now, most expat families choose to send their kids to international schools, which tend to operate on American or European school year schedules. If you however decide to use the Japanese educational route, we have prepared some useful “Back to School” advice that should make your child’s entry into the Japanese school system all the more smooth. Please be aware that these tips are aimed mainly at families of elementary school children.

Randoseru Shopping

These Japanese school bags are compulsory for all elementary school kids. With the usual price tag starting at around 30,000 Yen, you might be in for a shock. However, Japanese parents usually reply by stating the 6 year longevity of the leather backpack. On top of which it usually is loaded with memories when entering Junior High, and is therefore kept as a memento. Also, due to its price, randoseru may be passed down among siblings. They used to only be available in two colors, red for girls and black for boys. Nowadays, the line-up has expanded to about 24 different colors with the black and red remaining the standard choice. Randoseru can be bought at department stores, but also at discount shops if you are looking for cheaper options.


The custom of school slippers, or uwabaki as they are called in Japanese, proves how strongly cultural education is practiced at schools. Just like at Japanese homes, children are expected to take off their shoes and change into their indoor slippers once they have arrived at school. They are available in a number of styles and colors, so please check with your school for any restrictions.

School Lunches

These are provided and usually consist of meat or fish with rice. While these lunches are mainly subsidized by the government, parents will have to pay a small contribution. As most schools do not have cafeterias, lunch is had in the class homeroom together with the teacher. Should your school not offer a set lunch, you will have the chance to enter the fascinating world of the Japanese bento-box.

School Buses

Or lack thereof. In most cases, Japanese schools do not operate school buses, so that kids either walk to school with friends, their parents or by themselves.

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