Founded in 1902, this is the oldest and best-known international school in Japan. The American School in Japan (ASIJ) is also academically strong, with a US-style curriculum, and puts sustainability at the top of its agenda.
ASIJ is split across two campuses. The main one is in Chofu, west of central Tokyo, and is for all years from kindergarten to Grade 12 (elementary is kindergarten to Grade 5, middle school is Grades 6 to 8 and high school is Grades 9 to 12). There is a second campus for the early learning centre (nursery, pre-kindergarten and another kindergarten class) in the Roppongi district.
In the suburbs, the 14-acre purpose-built Chofu campus sits next to the 200-acre Nogawa Park, which means the sound of birdsong can often be heard as pupils move between lessons.
The campus has very typical Japanese architecture and includes a library for each school division. There are excellent sports facilities (a trio of gyms, a wrestling room and tennis courts); the Creative Arts Design Centre with its multipurpose performance space; design and technology spaces with outstanding resources such as a robotics lab; and the Japan Cultural Centre.
Sustainability has been high on the agenda for over a decade. Initiatives include recycling paper, the introduction of earthworms to break down excess waste from the cafeteria for use as compost and solar panels on the roof.Even though it’s in the suburbs, the Chofu campus is well connected.
There’s an extensive school-bus network, with around 170 stops across Tokyo. Tama Station is the closest to the Chofu campus; from here it takes 30 to 40 minutes to reach central Tokyo by subway or car.
Softly spoken and gentle, American Jim Hardin has been at ASIJ since 2017. His teaching career has included stints in Colorado, Scotland and, most recently, Dubai, where he was superintendent of the Dubai American Academy. His wife teaches in the elementary school.
Pip Curtis has been the middle school’s principal since 2009. Born in the UK but raised in New Zealand, she has more than 16 years of international-school experience, including in China, Indonesia and India.
Admissions open 12 months before the following academic year. There is no entrance exam but past reports and test scores are required. In addition, teacher recommendations and a student essay are needed for middle and high school. Admission is also based on EAL screening and a student support team referral. At least one parent must be fluent in English.
AJIS follows a US-style curriculum, culminating in the American High School Diploma. The middle school curriculum is split into Core (humanities, maths, science, PE and health), Selectives (language, performance and production) and Exploratories (visual arts, design and technology and Explo8 – courses designed to offer students something extra through active learning such as space, design challenge, personal speaking, journalism or yoga). Pupils meet with their adviser daily, in small groups. This time is used to look at social and emotional issues, as well as help with the academic path of each pupil and group performances for assemblies, grade-level activities and school trips.
SEN is offered for those with mild learning needs. Pupils in Grades 1 to 8 whose second language is English are offered ELL (English Language Learners) support – English is the language of instruction. After Grade 8, pupils need to have academic proficiency in English.
Pupils in middle school have a 1:1 laptop programme and have to bring an Apple computer to school.
ASIJ has a comprehensive Japanese language and cultural studies programme that is woven into everyday life here, from watching Sumo being performed to visiting Hiroshima or exploring Izu on a marine biology trip. At the Japan Cultural Centre (which has its own tatami room), lessons are taught in the traditional tea ceremony, kendo (a martial art) and calligraphy. The school hosts speakers and has a huge list of partnerships with local institutions such as the Nezu art museum and the Yomiuri Symphony Orchestra. Spanish and Chinese are also on offer from middle school upwards.
There are art rooms for everything from ceramics and metalwork to photography. The Olympic torch even made a stop here and students studied its design in D&T. The superb music facilities include a digital composition space.
All grades put on shows and musicals, and there is a fully equipped theatre workshop – ideal for those interested in putting their D&T skills to use creating stage sets – as well as a professional audiovisual system. The Courtyard hosts student performances from jazz concerts to pupil bands on Spirit Day, while main shows happen in the black box or main theatres.
The middle school is a member of the Kanto Plains league in sports such as basketball, football, cross-country, track and field, volleyball and wrestling. There is also a competitive swim team. Other non-league sports include baseball, flag football, volleyball, karate, wrestling and karate.
In middle school, pupils can choose from 40 co-curricular activities including Japanese pop culture club, kyogen (traditional Japanese theatre), American football, aerospace club and the Hanabi student newspaper.
Service programmes are huge and range from pupils supporting teenagers after they leave foster care to teaching English in the local community. Middle-school pupils have off-campus programmes in Japan that include trips to Niigata, Lake Sai or Hiroshima.
There are 57 nationalities in the school, with most pupils holding US passports. After a 1970s sex-abuse scandal that only came to light in the past decade, safeguarding and pastoral care are now a priority, with two nurses on site and two dedicated counsellors for the middle school.
Parents automatically belong to the PTA and can take part in classroom volunteering, as well as helping out in the library and on school trips. A high-school parent tells us: ‘One of the things we love about ASIJ is how easy it is to get involved.’
There is no uniform at ASIJ (a rarity in Japan), but pupils must follow the recommended dress-code policy.
The cafeteria offers hot food and snacks, plus in middle school there is The Kiosk, which sells sandwiches and healthy snacks throughout the day. Lunch can also be brought in from home.
Although the main Chofu campus is outside central Tokyo, this is considered one of Japan's most elite international schools.