Founded in 1954, Catholic all-boys St Mary’s International School (SMIS) is based on the Mennaisian mission to instruct, educate and impart Christian values. It is the largest all-boys school in Japan – and one of the country’s most prestigious.
SMIS is set in the residential area of Setagaya-ku and is split between two campuses linked by a footbridge. One side of the road is for music, visual, digital arts and sports; the other side is classroom-based with the science labs, the chapel and libraries for all years. SMIS is divided into the kindergarten (known as RP which means Readiness Programme), elementary school (RP to Grade 5), middle school (Grades 6 to 8) and high school (Grades 9 to 12).
The school was rebuilt in 2010 and is low-rise, solar-powered and can withstand earthquakes. The RP classrooms are large, open spaces while the playground has plenty of room for children to let off steam.
SMIS is situated between two subway stations, Futako-Tamagawa and Kaminoge, both of which are around 10 to 12 minutes’ walk from the school. There is limited parking on campus, but space in the surrounding area.
Japanese head of school Saburo Kagei has been at SMIS since 2013.
Parents tell us that competition for places is fierce with waiting lists for certain grades. Note: a child is not offered a place at the school on a first-come first-served basis, but instead based on their individual screening results so the focus is on academic selection. For families applying in RP and Grade 1, there is a timeframe to adhere to – for all other years, the school accepts applications throughout the year.
As you’d expect, religion is woven into everyday life here and there are Catholic, Christian and values classes (the latter is for those from other faiths). This starts from RP onwards.
SMIS does not provide support to those who have serious learning issues or emotional or physical disabilities. There is minimal SEN help in mainstream classes for those with mild difficulties. EAL (known as ESL – English as a Second Language) is offered to those whose second language is English from RP to Grade 8 only.
Art and music are both impressive. We like the idea of involving all age groups in one performance – this is exactly what happens for the spring musical, which is produced with its sibling schools (Seisen International School and International School of the Sacred Heart) – think Oklahoma!, The King and I and West Side Story.
SMIS is a member of the Kanto Plain Association of Secondary Schools (KPASS) and the school has a great reputation for sport (two SMIS alumni took part in the Tokyo Olympics). Swimming is taught from RP.
There are around 47 nationalities in the school with an equal split between international and national families. Although SMIS is a Catholic school, all faith denominations are welcome and pupils tell us that the camaraderie is strong. There is a full-time nurse and six counsellors who help throughout the school.
The school has a Catholic campus minister who presides over school prayers and Mass, as well as celebrating Eucharist each weekday and Sunday in the chapel. The minister is also available for spiritual counselling. Values – responsibility, kindness, fairness, honesty and respect – underpin everything here.
Children eat in the canteen, which has three lunchtime sittings. Pupils can bring their own lunch or buy it at school.
Parents say that ‘St Mary’s is demanding, although it is also a nurturing school’ while boys tell us that there is a good balance between academics and personal life. The St Mary’s Parent Association (SMPA) organises a few social get togethers – the bingo & raffle fundraising event is a big deal on the calendar. Transitioning between schools, however, is one area the school could improve on and parents feel that it can take a while to fit in.
A reputable, respectable school where boys are encouraged to balance working hard with being active.