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  • 執筆者の写真Narelle Katsumoto

入学 - The beginning of the school year in Japan

Spring is a time when the harsh cold weather finds its warmth and flowers start to blossom--a sign of a new beginning. In Japan, the sight of fully-bloomed cherry blossom trees signifies that spring has come. This gorgeous panorama is usually witnessed in April, a month synonymous with new beginnings in the lives of many Japanese. Among these beginnings is the beginning of the school year, 学年 (gakunen). 

When does the academic year start?

Unlike most countries, Japanese schools typically start around the first week of April. Yet, it hasn't always been the case. Until the Edo Period, students could enroll at any time they pleased. Because child labor held the same regard as labor by adults at the time, schools didn't impose an enrollment date. 

When Western influence started sweeping across the country during the Meiji Era, Japan adopted the Western style of education, thereby initiating a fall semester start. This was primarily observed in universities. Despite this effort, the government faced some hurdles. On one hand, they aimed to match their fiscal year with that of the United Kingdom, which was the most economically dominant country in the world at the time.

On the other hand, they needed a solution to support rice farmers who encountered difficulties paying taxes after their fall harvests and managing their finances during the winter. In response to this, in 1886, the Ministry of Education decided to align the school year with the fiscal year, thus starting in April and ending in March.

What happens during the start of school?

Japanese schools commence their academic year by holding entrance or opening ceremonies, 入学式 (nyūgakushiki). These ceremonies are more than just formalities—they're all about building connections and fostering a sense of togetherness among students. It's a special time for new students to feel excited about their school life and for senior students to warmly welcome and get to know their new classmates.

This ceremony is typically held in the main hall or gymnasium. Parents of the new students and current students gather at the venue, where they welcome new students as they enter the room in a line. Following this, the principal greets everyone with an opening speech, who then introduces the students to their teachers. The ceremony concludes with students singing their school anthem, after which they are escorted by their homeroom teachers to their classrooms to begin their classes.

Will Japanese schools start in September again?

The debate about whether Japan would switch to a fall start has been ongoing for years. However, this year, the situation began to shift. According to Japan Today, Osaka Metropolitan University made a bold move by switching its academic year to a fall start. With the goal of “internationalization” in mind, the university aims to make it more accessible for domestic students to study abroad and for overseas students to enroll at the university. 

Will this initiative inspire other universities to follow suit? Will Japan finally embrace a fall start, or will it only be a temporary fix? Either way, it’s refreshing to see institutions embracing change. For now, let’s enjoy the start of the new school year!

Welcome back to school! 入学 - The beginning of the school year in Japan.

sources:入学 - The beginning of the school year in Japan.





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