Start of School

by Kensatsukan Gaijin

Welcome back to our college student members, back for the beginning of the fall semester!  The end of summer and the beginning of a new school year is often a bittersweet time in America. In Japan, they feel the same way about the return to school and the start of a new year - but their new school year begins in April, not September.  In Japan, almost all schools run a three-term school year (trimester system), and most universities and colleges have a semester system. Most schools with a trimester system have a first term from April 1 to late July. The exact date of the beginning of the summer break and its duration vary across regions, but commonly the break lasts for about six weeks.  The summer break was instituted mostly to avoid the crushing heat of the summer, rather than to allow students to return to their farms and assist with harvesting, as in the United States.  

In Japan, the fact that school begins in April seems quite natural.  Most people think spring - when life begins anew - is the perfect time to start new things. Many schools have cherry trees growing on their grounds, and parents like taking pictures of their kids entering school for the first time under the light-pink blossoms.  Students still enjoy three long vacations, first in the summer from late July to late August, then in winter, from late December to early January, and then in spring, from late February to early April.  Still, the school year is 60 days longer than the school year in the United States, spanning 240 days total.  

However, recently a movement has started to shift the beginning of the school year to the fall, to match the Western school calendar.  Proponents argue that this schedule will make it easier for students to study abroad.  In fact, the most prestigious university in Japan, the University of Toyko ("Todai") is changing its academic year to match the Western calendar.