8 Japanese School Rules That Would Never Fly In American Schools

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Just like American schools, those in Japan have their own way of doing things. We think you’ll agree that many of these ideas would have trouble gaining traction in the U.S.

We often hear about the many societal differences between America and Japan, from our diets to work culture, and more. It should come as no surprise that the structure of our schools aren’t very similar either, and there are a lot of aspects of Japanese schools that are hard to imagine ever being adopted in America. In fact, you might not believe just how many differences there are between them.

What Substitute Teachers?

In America, when a teacher isn’t able to make it to school to teach, kids will end up with a substitute teacher for that class and end up hoping for an easy day. Not in Japan, though.

Students sitting in classroom
Taylor Wilcox on Unsplash

If their regular teacher isn’t able to make it to work, there won’t be a substitute teacher, and kids are still expected to come to class. Believe it or not, the kids are trusted to do their schoolwork and study without a teacher to lead them for the day, and they actually do.

The Students Are Janitors

In the United States, each and every school has a janitor—or a couple of them—who are in charge of cleaning up the school during the day and after the kids go home. In Japan, however, it’s the students and teachers who are in charge of keeping their school clean.

Gloved hands using spray cleaner
Anton on Unsplash

Every day, they mop the floors, clean the chalkboards, clap erasers, and even clean bathrooms until the school is spotless, and it’s actually a cool idea, if you ask us.

Students are bound to be much more aware of throwing a wrapper on the floor or sticking a piece of gum underneath their desks when they know that it’s them who’s going to clean up the mess.

That’s kind of the point—Japanese schools not only exist to teach students, but they also serve as a place to prepare for real life, teaching them how to contribute to society and be responsible adults.

Weekend School

We can practically hear the collective groan coming from all Americans at the thought of having to go to school on a Saturday. In most of our minds, there’s no better time of the week than a Friday afternoon when you’ve just finished up school for the week and get to head home for two days of relaxation. Not so in Japan.

Until 1992, it was incredibly common for Japanese schools to hold class on Saturdays, though the practice stopped for some time because the government wanted to implement a less stressful education system.

Unfortunately for Japanese students, schools throughout the country decided that they didn’t really want to move forward with the change, and they continue to hold school on Saturdays. In fact, almost half of all the elementary and junior high students in Tokyo find themselves in school for at least one Saturday each month.

Empty classroom, with desks in rows
Ivan Aleksic on Unsplash

Let’s just hope that they get the chance to watch a few cartoons and have a relaxing breakfast before they have to go in.

Hardly A Summer Vacation

Getting out of school for the summer is basically the pinnacle of any American student’s year. It’s a time when they get to spend three months worry-free, especially if they’re not old enough to have a summer job just yet.

The thought of not having a summer vacation is nothing short of enraging to any American student, and you might be surprised to hear that such a thing is pretty much non-existent in Japan. Yes, Japanese students get a small break that lasts for about five weeks, and that’s definitely something.

However, both teachers and students still find themselves back at school pretty much every day so they can participate in clubs and various activities. They can also count on receiving a pretty hefty amount of homework before they go on break, even for students in elementary school.

Girl underwater with snorkel
Melinda Martin on Unsplash

Their break doesn’t even take place during their true summer—it tends to happen right in the middle of the school year instead.

School Uniforms

In America, we think of uniforms as something seen in only private schools—in public schools, it’s expected that students can wear whatever they want, as long as it meets certain standards.

In Japan, however, you’ll find that students typically start wearing school uniforms in junior high and continue wearing them throughout high school.

Group of Japanese students, standing outside in their uniforms
Jacob Plumb on Unsplash

If you watch a lot of anime, you’ll probably recognize the typical getup—for boys it’s usually a black, high-collar suit, while the girls typically wear a pleated skirt and sailor-style blouse.

It goes much farther than that, too. Japanese schools typically don’t allow students to wear things like nail polish, makeup, and even certain hairstyles. Forget plain old gym clothes in PE, too—there’s even a uniform for that!


If you have no idea what sasumata means, don’t feel bad—we didn’t either. Though Japan is considered to be a relatively safe country, it’d be naive not to have any type of plan in place when it comes to a school intruder.

That’s where the sasumata comes into play. It’s a long pole made of aluminum that has two hooked prongs on the end, and it’s a modern-day version of a samurai weapon. Today, you can find one hanging at schools all across the country, and it’s used to try and debilitate any attacker who may have made their way into the school.

The only downside is that it’s definitely not the best option for fighting an attacker carrying a firearm, but the good news is that this type of scenario isn’t common for Japan anyway.

Once a year, teachers participate in drills to keep their sasumata skills sharp in the event that they need to use it.

School Lunches Are Actually Quality

American cafeterias seem to be in a sad state lately, and they’re a common source of disappointment for both kids and parents alike. Not only are they usually pretty bland, but they’re rarely ever fresh, instead consisting mostly of frozen or canned foods.

In Japan, however, lunchtime is definitely a different routine. First of all, forget the cafeteria—both students and teachers all sit in the classroom together to eat lunch instead of moving somewhere else.

The food is delivered by the lunch ladies, and students take turns divvying up everything between their teachers and classmates. The meal will typically consist of soup, fish, and rice. Oh, and forget about leftovers—in Japanese schools, it’s pretty much a rule that everyone will eat everything they are served at lunch, no matter how picky they are about the food they eat.

Bowl of noodle soup, with other food items surrounding on table
Charles Deluvio on Unsplash

We’re assuming this means that lunch isn’t over until the last child finishes their food, and that’s a level of peer pressure we prefer not to think about.

Daily Greetings Are Required

In America, teachers are lucky if even half of the class musters some kind of greeting at the beginning of class, especially if it’s the first one of the day. When it comes to Japanese culture, however, a proper greeting is essentially the most important part of any human interaction.

When kids get to school and enter their classroom, they follow the same routine each and every day to greet their teacher properly.

Once the teacher enters the room, all of the students stand up and say a greeting to the teacher in unison, and then bow all together. They also do this at the end of each and every class, too.

Women with eyes closed, and hands covering mouth
Gabrielle Henderson on Unsplash

In high school, they also practice the art of meditation from time to time with something called mokuso, which is just a closed-eye meditation. This is typically done before class begins so students have a chance to prepare themselves for the day ahead, centering themselves before school actually begins.

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