The school year for Japanese students begin in April. Some may say it begins in April 1st but I’ve read in another source that classes may begin on the first or second week of April. One thing is definite though, and that is that classes end on mid-March.
Placement of students to their grade level all depend on their birthday. For example, if a child is born in March, they will start school in the next month but if they were born in April, they will have to wait the following year to start their schooling. With a rule such as that, some siblings that are a year apart in age may actually begin school in the same grade.
School is attended 6 days a week; Monday to Saturday; with Sunday as their holiday. School begins at 8:30 am and ends at around 2:00-2:45 pm for 1st graders and around 3:40 pm for older students. During Saturday, students are dismissed earlier at 12:30 pm. On Wednesdays, students are expected to put in time for a required club meeting after school; at least for one author’s 5th grade son. In total, Japanese students attend school for 240 days a year, 41 hours a week (less for 1st graders) compared to American students who put in 180 days a year and 32.5 hours per week. This time does not reflect additional time for doing homework or studying so you may consider the hours for school to actually be much more than stated above.
For elementary students, breaks between periods can range from 5 minutes, 10 minutes, and one 20 minute recess. Lunch time can take a long 1 hour and 25 minutes most likely due to the fact that elementary students who have been assigned for lunch duty actually serve their lunch food to their class and later clean up after everyone is done. These numbers may be different for each elementary school and high school.
I tried recreating the exact time schedule for a day using the facts above and a 45 minutes class time per period, with the following being a possible snapshot of what a Japanese elementary student would face in one day:
A One Day Schedule Snapshot
7:30-8:00 am – Get up, eat, dress, and possibly take a bath.
8:30 am – Meet walking group and walk to school.
8:50 am – First period
9:35 am – 5 minute break
9:40 am – Second period
10:25 am – 20 minute recess
10:45 am – Third period
11:30 am – 5 minute break
11:35 am – Fourth period
12:30 pm – Lunch Time!! (5 minute break added before and after lunch; I’m treating it as a period with breaks in between)
1:55 pm – Fifth period
2:40 pm – 10 minute break
2:50 pm – Sixth period (Classes end 3:35 pm)
3:40 pm – Dismissal
As I mentioned earlier, the days are different depending on whether it’s a Saturday, a Wednesday with that required club activity, or if a special event is taking place like preparations for Sports Day, School Festival, or any other notable occasion. So school starts in April but during the end of that month and into the next month is Golden Week where several national holidays fall and students take several days off.
The school year in Japan is sectioned into three terms. The first term starts in April and runs to July. August to December make up the second term and the third term is from January to mid-March. Report cards are given at the end of each term, grading students’ performance as low, average, or high.
A field trip may have been planned either for May – July where students have a trip to a mountain retreat, hot springs area, or other notable location for several days. Minor day trips to a local temple or other attractions are also held during the school year.
Summer break begins the end of July and continues through August for about 40 days. Students are, of course, given projects and homework for the summer months from all their subjects. School begins again on September. Sports Day is usually held in the fall with October being the time when it actually occurs. That means that during the whole month of September, students are planning and preparing for this event. Another special event is the School Cultural Festival which may occur in the fall or possibly at spring the following year if it conflicts with a school’s Sports Day preparation time. As with Sports Day, it takes about a month for students to make preparations for such a big event.
During December, students take off for New Years and then continue school till March. During this time, graduating students are usually concerned with entrance exams to their choice high school or university. Graduation takes place in March and the school year starts again in April.