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.
High-school pupils are now on the Bunkyo campus, 25 minutes by car from Hikarigaoka.
Group head of school is Australian Kenneth Sell, who has been here since 2014 and previously worked in international schools in China and Norway.
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.
Scholarships are available for the online Global Leadership Diploma course. This is open for students across Japan only and the award is a 100 per cent tuition discount for the duration of senior studies.
An IB World school since 2016, Aoba-Japan offers the Primary Years, Middle Years and IB Diploma Programmes. 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. Grades 10 to 12 start an hour later than everyone else but all students finish at the same time (the older teenagers have one hour less of school time) – we like the fact that they cater for sleepy teens.
The two graduate pathways, which begin in Grade 11, are the IBDP and the Global Leadership Diploma (both recognised by universities globally). Typically, about two-thirds of pupils study the IBDP and a third do the GLD. The latter is now offered online and is the equivalent to a high school diploma. GLD areas of interest have included tourism, environmental science, ethics and mythological studies. In 2021, the highest IBDP score was 42 points; the average was 36 points.
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.
Most pupils go on to universities in Asia, followed by the US. The Tokyo College of Music, McGill, Imperial and UCL are among the destinations.
Visual arts include print-making, mixed media, graphic design, photography, collage and illustration. There is a strong IBDP visual-art exhibition held at the school. Expect the usual array of choirs and bands.
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.