A Comparison of Japense and American High Schools

Beads of sweat began to form over his brow as he picked up his backpack filled with new school materials and held it in his lap. Scenery was lost to him for there was only one thing on his mind; what was this new school going to be like? Would everyone look at him weird? Would they hate him? Would this be the hardest school year of his life? The tiny car turned around the corner at a neighboring street close to the high school.

“We’re almost there.” The driver stated nonchalantly.

When the car turned the corner, the young man’s school came into view. It was a towering three story building that seemed to enshroud a courtyard entrance. It had a brick wall all the way around the school with the exception of an intricately designed arched gate in front with the letters S and H woven into the steel, letters that undoubtedly represented the name of the school-Shibetsu Higashi High School. The courtyard was decorated with beautiful trees that dotted the side of the building and students stood in clusters all around the school. Some of them were even on the roof, which oddly enough had a fence lining the edges.

The car stopped abruptly on the side of the road closest to the school; the young man was still gawking at the tremendous sight set before him. The driver then chimed in with a cheery, “Have a good day at school,” which brought him out of his thoughts. The young man got out of the car, said his farewell, then turned around and faced this massive palace of education. Going to high school in Japan as a foreign exchange student was going to be extremely different from the school he left in America.

The following school year, the young man returned to his home country and attended his old high school in Florida in order to graduate. Because of his life-changing experiences in Japan, this particular young man decided to give his English class the benefit of hearing about his findings. In particular he discussed the differences and similarities between the American educational system, one he was entirely engulfed in since the beginning, and the Japanese Educational system in which he completely immersed himself for exactly one year of his life. His main focus was that the similarities were evident in the attitudes towards education while the differences were explained by how each approached education.

When it comes to the topic of how many days in a year people go to school in America the magic number is 180. Students in America expect to be in school no more than seven hours a day at the absolute maximum of five days a week, with every Saturday and Sunday off. Usually though, teenagers in high school nowadays, be it in America or Japan, are always looking forward to a vacation, time off from the difficult days at school. However, the many teacher planning days, the week off at Thanksgiving, the two week vacation for Christmas, and the week off for Spring Break are simply not enough. In contrast, it would be presumptuous of students in Japanese schools to expect that amount of time off in a school year. In fact, Japanese students spend at least six weeks longer in school each year than their American counterparts. Luckily for both countries, students in both educational systems are given some much needed time off from school, albeit for one or two days. Generally, in Japan, students tend to go to school for six days a week instead of the American tradition of five days a week. Their only day off is on Sunday.

Scholastically, Japan and America have basically the same curriculum in the sense that all of the bases are covered in order to graduate from high school. However, the manner and timing in which each is taught differ greatly. For instance, in America students are taught human geography and physical geography early on in their high school years. In Japan, this particular subject is taught at the second grade level with the possibility to touch up on it in later years if necessary. The facts show that high schools in each of the countries cannot, in essence, be put beside one another and be accurately portrayed as equal. For example, when students graduate high school in America, they have the same knowledge base as students freshly graduating from Junior High in Japan. At the same time, students graduating from high school in Japan have an equal knowledge base as a graduated two-year college student would have here in America. This is because high school is not required in Japan in the same way college is not required in America, although it is generally frowned upon to not attend such a school in both countries. Also, certain subjects in Japan are more stressed than in America. Take mathematics for instance. Japanese students rank among the top in mathematics on standardized tests by the end of their high school career, whereas, in America, math and English are stressed the most. In addition to mathematics, one of the two key differences that separate Japan from the United States is the fact that science is pushed more during high school years in America. The other key difference is physical education. In both countries, physical education is required for a certain number of years during high school, but in Japan the subject is taken more seriously.

When it comes to attitudes towards school in both countries, one major similarity comes to mind, the separation between the teachers and the students. The duties of the teachers and the responsibilities of the students are closely related in each country. It is, however, proven that Japanese teachers have a more intricately woven relationship with their students because they have the added responsibility of teaching moral values as a part of their already rigorous school schedule. A part of the everyday school schedule for Japanese high school students is the act of practicing social obligations shown by setting aside thirty minutes a day to clean their school. In American schools, students’ personal and social obligations are overlooked and instead, adults are hired to do what should be the students’ responsibilities. Obviously, there are going to be exceptions in each country, but on a larger scale, because of the tight bond Japanese students share with their teachers, they respect them considerably more than their American counterparts. Attitudes towards school and people are slightly different between Japan and America but at least in both, there will always be a visible strive towards a higher education.

The young man mentioned above experienced a tremendous cultural change when he lived and went to school for one year in Japan. In order to fit in with the rest of his Japanese peers, he had to adopt the traditions and attitudes shared by the majority of Japanese students. Even though there were many more differences in culture he had to deal with, specifically the different approach towards education, some comfort was found in the idea that the two countries’ student populations were strikingly similar. Both strive to be the best and hope for a decent future. No matter which country the young man was in, there was always a competition to be the best and that is what helped him the most to fit in with the strange and alien culture in which he immersed himself.

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