15 Differences Between Schools in Japan vs Schools in Jamaica

I have spent many years teaching English in Japan. And it doesn’t matter how often I go back home, I am always greeted with the same question from friends and family members: What are the schools like in Japan? But, I understand the curiosity. People are genuinely intrigued to hear about Japan. The land of sushi and manga. However, to try and compare Japan with Jamaica would be like trying to compare chalk and cheese! There are so many differences. But at the same time, if you look long and hard enough, you can find some similarities. But I digress. That is a topic for another post… Now back to the topic at hand — schools in Japan.

Please note that there may be some exceptions. But for the most part, it is a fair description.

  1. Footwear

The first thing I noticed when stepping into a Japanese school for the first time was that you had to change your outside shoes as soon as you enter the foyer/entrance. And you are assigned a locker for your shoes. (We were told to bring an indoor shoes during training, but I thought that we would have change our shoes at our desk). This is a standard custom in Japan. And not only in schools. Many doctor’s offices, homes, restaurants, etc practice this custom. In Jamaica, we do not change shoes.

2. Standardised lunches

In elementary school, students do not bring lunch to school. And there is no cafeteria/canteen to buy lunch. All schools provide their students with lunch — a cooked meal. Lunch teams are rostered on a weekly basis, usually 6–7 students. The team for the day will collect the pots, plates, cutlery etc. from the kitchen and take it to the classroom. The team is also responsible for sharing the food. The students eat their lunch in their classrooms. In Jamaica, students take their lunches to school or buy their lunch at the canteen/cafeteria, shop. Students also buy their lunch from vendors at the school gate.

3. School uniform

Public elementary students do not wear uniforms, only private elementary schools. However, both public, private junior and senior high school students wear uniforms. In Jamaica, all students whether you are in basic, elementary or high school wear uniforms.

4. Hats

In elementary and basic school all students must wear their hats if they are going outside. Whether or not it is sunny! I find it so amusing to see them playing in their hats outside even when it is cloudy. In Jamaica, we do not wear hats to go play outside.

5. Classroom cleaning

All students in elementary schools (from as early as Grade 1) and junior high schools are responsible for cleaning their classrooms and other rooms in the school. This is done daily, after lunch. In Jamaica, we have custodians or janitors who clean the schools.

6. Make-up, mini-skirts and colored hair.

In junior and senior high schools in Japan, girls are allowed to wear make-up to school. They also fold the waist of their uniform skirts to make them into minis. Both boys and girls, color their hair. And it is accepted. In Jamaica, students are not allowed to do any of the above, and if they do, they will be disciplined. This leads me to the matter of discipline.

7. Discipline

This is pretty much a luck of the lottery and varies depending on where, and at which schools you are placed. In Jamaica, we have a higher level of discipline in the schools.

8. Dress code

In elementary schools, the teachers are usually dressed down in slacks or track suits. (They dress appropriately for work but carry a change of clothes). In junior and high school, the teachers are usually well dressed. In Jamaica, all teachers whether in basic, elementary or high school, are usually well dressed.

9. Classroom size

The size per class is anywhere between 22–41 students in public schools. In the country areas however, the size may be much smaller. In Jamaica, it is not unusual for a teacher to have as many as 40–60 students in a class!

10. Class greeting

To begin and end each class, there is a formal greeting that is said by the two class leaders. The leaders are assigned daily. The greeting usually includes the subject about to be taught and period. We don’t do this in Jamaica. Our teachers greet the class with a hello, good morning or afternoon.

11. School semesters and hours

The school year begins in April and ends in March. School starts at 8:30 a.m. and finishes at 3:00 or 3:40; depending on whether or not there is a 6th period class. In Jamaica, our school year begins in September and ends in June/July. We also have longer summer and Christmas holidays. Some school starts from as early as 7:20 a.m. and finishes between 2:00 and 3:00 p.m.

Another difference is that in Japan, secondary education is separated into two schools — junior high (grades 1, 2 &3) and senior high (grades 4, 5, & 6). In Jamaica, grades 1–6 is one school, referred to as a secondary or high school.

12. Settling disputes

In schools, especially elementary schools, disputes and choices that are difficult to make are settled with “janken” or rock, paper, scissors. Yes, really! What I find astounding is the fact that the students respect and abide by the outcome of the “janken”. You would be surprised how effetcive it is! In Jamaica, we don’t play rock, paper, scissors.

13. Morning assembly/worship

In Japan, there is no daily morning worship. This is not surprising as Japan is a Buddhist country and not a christian country like Jamaica.

14. Bullying

Bullying, sadly, is a negative social practice that is rampant in Japan, especially among school students. They will bully each other and their teachers, if allowed. While bullying exists in most countries, it is not very rampant in Jamaica.

15. Sports day

All students participate in sports day. However, in Jamaica, only the athletic students — good players and fast runners participate in the races/events. The rest of the students watch and cheer from the sidelines.

While, there are notably differences between schools in Japan and Jamaica, both schools are working towards achieving a common goal — that of preparing boys and girls to successfully transition into adult life. And to become responsible citizens of tomorrow. Yes, there are areas that need improvement. But there are also areas that are worth emulating. How is the school system in your country compared to schools in Japan? Any similarities or differences? Care to share?

That’s it folks. Thanks for reading