Established in 1976 by educationalist Regina Doi, this school was initially set up to provide a bilingual education for children from nursery to pre-1st Grade. It grew popular with both local and international families and, over the years, expanded and rebranded. Eventually it became Aoba-Japan International School, part of a group of schools belonging to Aoba International Education Systems, owned by education provider Business Breakthrough.
Aoba’s biggest site is the all-through campus in Hikarigaoka, in Nerima City, 30 minutes north-east of central Tokyo. The school also has a kindergarten in Meguro and a new senior campus in Bunkyo. Although the low-rise main building looks dated externally, over the past couple of years the school has completed a full renovation (most recently, the middle-school classrooms were updated), so children are now taught in bright, open-plan rooms.
Parents tell us they like the large grounds, which include an outdoor pool (lacking in many international schools in Tokyo). There’s also a large modern gym that doubles as a performance space, the 25m pool, indoor/outdoor basketball courts and a playground with a climbing frame, slides and jungle gym that’s very popular with the younger years.
Middle-school pupils are encouraged to walk, cycle or use public transport. The school also provides a shuttle bus to Hikarigaoka station on the Oedo line, from where the train takes about 25 minutes to Shinjuku. There is no parking on campus, outside the gates or opposite the campus.
Group head of school is Australian Kenneth Sell, who has been here since 2014 and previously worked in international schools in China and Norway. Head of the Hikarigaoka campus is New Yorker Paul Fradale, who has lived in Japan for 19 years. He has been with Aoba since 2016, and his previous roles at the school include Middle Years Programme (MYP) coordinator.
There are rolling admissions throughout the year. Entrance into Aoba includes an interview with the admissions director (both parents and child), an age-appropriate assessment and an entrance examination to determine the child's level of general knowledge and whether learning support is needed. Everyone completes an English and maths proficiency test.
An IB World school since 2016, Aoba-Japan offers the Primary Years, Middle Years and IB Diploma Programmes.
In middle school (Grades 7 to 9), there are specialist teachers for maths, science, art and PE. Pupils are taught in multi-age groups for subjects such as English, individuals and society, design and Japanese. Grade 10 is very much a transition year when pupils decide which graduate pathway to choose, follow a student advisory programme (they have an advisory teacher for social and emotional guidance as well as in university decisions) and put together a personal project.
There is extremely good provision of EAL until Grade 8 and SEN throughout, with a cap of 30 per cent in each class who receive SEN support. English is the language of instruction and although it’s useful for pupils to have some English, it is not essential due to the level of support offered. The Aoba Action Learning Academy (ALA) is run at various campuses on weekends for pupils learning English, from beginner to advanced level. The school also runs an English school during the holidays that allows Japanese families to learn English without having to go abroad. Parents tell us that EAL is a very well thought-out programme, while we hear from pupils that communication is the lifelong skill they learn here.
Visual arts are taught from kindergarten upwards and include print-making, mixed media, graphic design, photography, collage and illustration. Expect the usual array of choirs and bands. From Grade 4, a programme called Beginning Band is introduced in which pupils receive one-to-one music tuition on a musical instrument of their choice. Joining a performing music ensemble is compulsory in MYP.
Competitive sports include soccer, basketball and volleyball. Extracurricular activities (known as the After-School Programme) include soccer, volleyball, street dance, basketball, Lego, coding, handbell choir, taiko drums, graphic design and e-sports. We like the sound of urban farming, which teaches pupils how to grow healthy produce without chemicals (which they have done for their school community and the charity Second Harvest Foodbank). Field trips are offered to a range of countries including the US, Canada, the Philippines and Italy.
Although there are 46 nationalities in the student body, the community is mainly Japanese, with at least 65 per cent having at least one Japanese parent. There is an infirmary on site.
Parents tell us that Aoba-Japan is a friendly, welcoming place. All parents become members of the Family Community for an annual fee. Parents can organise events such as the spring carnival, family day and winter concerts, and in particular help as international ambassadors during the July-August summer camps.
Pupils say they feel like they can truly be themselves at Aoba, without having to fit into a certain mould, and that they learn while having fun – a change for those who come from local Japanese schools where the emphasis is often purely on academics.
Fresh food is prepared by Cezars Kitchen (including vegetarian and halal options) for the first-floor café.
Truly bilingual and rich in Japanese culture, this school has a solid reputation.