Established in 1994 as a pre-school before expanding to incorporate primary and middle levels, this private not-for-profit option is small yet truly international, with excellent pastoral care and individualised learning. We like the sound of the core values – trust, inspire, support – which were developed in 2020 by a group of pupils at the school.
Tokyo International School (TIS) is set in the embassy district of Minami-Azabu, in Tokyo’s Minato ward (you can see the Tokyo Tower from the grounds, it’s that central) and the purpose-built campus caters for primary (kindergarten 1 to Grade 5) and middle school children (Grades 6 to 9). It’s worth noting that TIS is planning to expand its provision for older years with the addition of another Grade 9 class and new Grade 10, and so middle and high school students will move to a new campus nearby in 2024/2025.
The entrance to the current site is through a lovely traditional Japanese wooden gate, with bamboo growing either side and along the perimeter. There are three main buildings: the gym, the primary school and the middle school. As you enter the campus, you immediately walk on to an outdoor hard court, with the gym directly in front. This Japanese-designed wooden structure also doubles up as a space for performances and events. Within the gym itself, there are basketball hoops and a rock-climbing wall.
The low-rise primary (known as the lower school building) houses kindergarten 1 and 2 on the second floor; Grades 1 and 2 are on the third floor along with the Japanese rooms and language-learning support; Grades 3 and 4 share the top floor with the Primary Years Programme (PYP) art room and music room. TIS has two classes in each grade of primary school.
The playground is on the roof and there is high-wire fencing around it to keep everyone safe. Light, bright classrooms are adjacent to one another with a large sliding door separating them – this allows for collaboration and team teaching to take place. The upper school building consists of three floors and includes the Grade 5 classrooms.
The library, located in the primary building, has recently had an overhaul of reading literature. It also offers the Sakura Medal, a reading programme which is run across nine international schools in Japan.
Some 70 percent of families live close to the school in the Minato ward; the rest tend to live nearby in the Shibuya, Shinagawa and Meguro districts. The closest Metro stations are Shirokane-takanawa and Azabu-juban, both on the Namboku line, although the majority of pupils use the school bus (there are around nine different bus routes on offer).
Canadian Dan Reynolds has been head of school since 2019 and he has been involved in education for more than two decades. Mr Reynolds was previously deputy head at an international school in Switzerland and has also worked in the US as well as several schools in Japan.
The number of places available, English language ability, academic strength and a school report are just some of the factors that the admissions team takes into account. At least one parent must also speak fluent English (communication to parents is in English). In line with its cap on nationalities, TIS welcomes Japanese students who have been educated at international schools or lived overseas (but not those who require EAL). There is sibling priority, with the caveat being that they must meet the admissions criteria.
As TIS is expanding into Grade 10 in 2023, the school will close kindergarten 1 and is not taking further admissions for that year. Existing kindergarten 1 children have automatic enrolment into primary classes, unless any issues have been spotted. Those applying for kindergarten 2 take part in a relaxed play session (overseas applicants can participate in this too), require two years of reports and a kindergarten reference form to be completed by their current teacher. It is recommended that applications for kindergarten 2 are made in November prior to the year of study; for all other years, there is a rolling admissions system. For Grades 1 to 9, the requirements are two years of school reports, standard tests and a reference form. A screening test may also be needed.
TIS offers the Corporate Contribution Programme (CCP), which is in effect a corporate scholarship for dependent children of the companies’ employees. If corporations belong to the CCP, this removes the additional income tax normally charged to parents paying school fees in Japan. This allows companies to make the agreed contribution and the school to fund corporate scholarships, which are awarded to the children of the companies’ employees.
The school runs the PYP as well as the Middle Years Programme (MYP), and aligns its curriculum with the US, Australian and UK curricula. Measure of Academic Progress (MAP) testing takes place annually in reading and maths from Grade 1 onwards (results are above the global average for both).
Primary school children (kindergarten 1 to Grade 5) follow the PYP, with specialist teachers for Japanese, art, library sessions, music and PE. Pupils learn Japanese from kindergarten 1 onwards and it’s taught daily from Grade 1 with three fluency levels. First-language lessons are available too. These classes are organised by parents and take place at school outside of the timetable – currently Dutch, Finnish and Swedish lessons are on offer.
TIS has been an Apple Distinguished School since 2016. Laptops and iPads are supplied in the younger years from kindergarten 2 to Grade 4; those in Grade 5 onwards must provide their own laptop for school.
SEN is available from kindergarten 2. At primary level, new English learners are supported through extra English lessons while other pupils are learning Japanese. Before children join, the admissions team will make sure that they are able to provide assistance and look at the language make-up of the year group the child is going into. EAL is on offer too, although it is dependent on the current cohort and how much help is already provided in that class (in Grades 1 to 4, EAL support is available for a maximum of three pupils per class; Grade 5 EAL support is done on a case-by-case basis). EAL is offered in place of Japanese lessons, until the child is able to start Japanese.
We like the Tinker Cart for primary children which roves around the school, crammed full of things needed for design. There is an annual PYP concert in term three and an MYP musical day.
Sport follows the Australian Curriculum: Health and Physical Education within the IB framework. Teams compete with other international schools in sports such as volleyball, basketball, football, netball and cross-country, and what we like here is the inclusivity: there are no tryouts, all are welcome. Although this is a small school, it has a good reputation and brings home plenty of trophies (the girls’ football team are currently sitting at the top of the league after their two wins). Sports day takes place in April, off campus at a local sports stadium. We hear that the staff versus Grade 8 dodgeball match is very competitive on all sides!
There are more than 50 after-school clubs on offer, split into sports and cultural. These include medieval combat, knitted stuffed animal club, and reuse and recycle crafts. We also like the fact that TIS has a bicycle club, where children can learn road safety and how to ride a bike.
There are service-learning opportunities and pupil-led initiatives: last year TIS raised over 320,000 yen (around £1,950) for charities through pyjama and dress-up days, creative hair days and bouncy ball sales. TIS Cambodia, a lower secondary school, was set up in 2007 with funds donated by TIS and is a cause close to the school’s heart. Grade 4 onwards have residential trips to places such as Mount Fuji and Hokkaido, as well as an annual snow trip to the Japanese Alps. The residential trips are known as ‘Week without Walls’ and usually take place at the end of March.
TIS currently comprises pupils from nearly 60 nationalities and the fact that it has a 20 per cent cap on any one nationality means that it is a truly international school (more than 90 per cent are non-Japanese, with a high proportion of American and Australian students). There is a child-minding service available while extracurricular activities (ECAs) are on from 3.30pm to 4.30pm at an additional cost (handy for siblings not taking part in an activity). A nurse and counsellor are both on site to help with the transition into the school, as well as for emotional support.
Lunches are produced by Kiwi Kitchen; families need to order online and it is delivered to the pupils in the classroom – note there is no cafeteria. Home lunches can be brought in too.
There is an orientation day for all new pupils and families before the start of the academic year and teachers really do their homework so they can genuinely make them feel welcome when they arrive. New children are paired with a classmate who looks after them and makes sure they settle in.
TIS Family Community (TFC) is the parents’ association and all families automatically become members. Parents can get involved and mix with others at everything from sake nights to taiko (drumming) and running club. There are also fundraising opportunities and the chance to volunteer in the classroom or library; current parents help new families acclimatise to life in Tokyo. The Cherry Blossom Fair (CBF) is a huge fundraiser organised by parents that’s one of the big events at the school – the fair includes a celebration of international food, games and an auction. Parent workshops are held throughout the year; recent topics have been ‘Technology and Kids Today’ as well as ‘Family Engagement and Inter-Cultural Transitions’.
Parents describe the school as ‘positive and creative’ to us and those who have left cite the community as one of the things which they miss most. One tells us that it feels like a big family.
TIS is one to watch as it starts its foray into becoming a high school.