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.
High-school principal Amy Zuber Meehan joined this year from Singapore American School after 16 years there, during which she rose through the ranks from English teacher to instructional coach and deputy principal. Her husband is an elementary-school counsellor.
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. Four years of high school and 22 credits are required for the ASIJ Diploma. As well as over 22 AP courses on offer, pupils can also study for the AP Capstone Diploma. A programme designed by the College Board, it complements the AP courses and includes inquiry, research, collaboration and writing skills (only four students chose this option in 2021).
Students take seven classes per semester, which include Global Online Academy (where courses are taught by member teachers of the GOA - a group of leading independent schools in the US and overseas who teach online classes in academically rigorous programs - to those in member schools; they are designed to allow students to give their local perspective on global issues), Independent Inquiry (II) and IMPACT, a programme which supports students who want to follow independent projects, culminating in a Presentation of Learning to share what they have learnt and reflect on how they have developed as learners.
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.
SEN is offered for those with mild learning needs. Students have a 1:1 laptop programme and have to bring an Apple computer to school. Most pupils go on to universities in the US (2021 saw Harvard, MIT and Boston on the list of destinations); the rest are evenly split between Canada, the UK, Australia and Japan.
There are art rooms for everything from ceramics and metalwork to photography. Contemporary artists regularly visit the campus to inspire students. 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.
High-school teams compete in 14 sports (including wrestling, field hockey, softball and baseball) and are part of the Kanto Plain League. Co-curricular activities in high school include those run by students. American football is on the list, as are aerospace club, American Sign Language, the Hanabi student newspaper, chess club, space club and prom committee. Service programmes are huge and range from students supporting teenagers after they leave foster care to teaching English in the local community.
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. In high school, pupils have counselling sessions built into the curriculum that cover social, emotional and academic issues. From Grade 10, students can join the school council; in Grade 12, they can earn Senior Privileges and go off campus during the day when there is unstructured time.
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 are plenty of opportunities for high-school pupils to get involved too, from hosting an orientation day for new families in August to becoming bus monitors.
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 and high 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.