Founded in 1924 with one teacher and six students, Yokohama International School (YIS) was the second authorised international school in the world. Today, it’s one of the leading schools in the city.
The big news at YIS was the move at the beginning of 2022 to a new campus in Honmoku. The architects (who also designed the stadium for the Tokyo Olympics) have made use of natural light as much as possible, as well as materials such as wood to create a modern yet welcoming space. It consists of two low-rise buildings (North and South) connected by The Bridge, below which there is an area with basketball hoops known as The Street.
The North Building houses the cafeteria, library, performing arts centre, art and design rooms and most of the classrooms. The school wanted to make the most of the space by creating shared hubs – even the classrooms have large bi-fold windows that open internally into the corridor to create a natural flow of learning. Sustainability is high on the list, and the new buildings have a solar-panel energy system, green roofs and walls, and a water-recycling system. The real stand-out feature is the Japanese Cultural Centre, which is designed like a Japanese tea room and has a Japanese garden.
The South Building is home to the early learning centre (ages 3 to 5), swimming pool and gymnasium. A large sports field runs along the front of both buildings. Other sports facilities include the 25m indoor swimming pool with a viewing balcony and a large gym with two basketball courts.
Yokohama City bus routes connect to local trains that whizz pupils into Shibuya in Tokyo in under 35 minutes. There is no parking or dropping off at the school – it’s best to park in Honmoku shopping mall next door and walk in.
New Zealander head of school Craig Coutts joined YIS in 2013 after a 12-year stint at UWC South-East Asia in Singapore. He has more than 20 years in education, including in the UK and Indonesia. One of his priorities at YIS is developing the service programme.
High-school principal Australian Liz Andrews joined the school in 2019 and has been working in international education for more than 20 years.
There are rolling admissions for applicants outside Japan. If both parents are Japanese nationals, they can apply if their child has been educated at a non-Japanese or international school whose language of instruction is English (this needs to be supported by a letter stating why the prospective pupil needs to study in an international school). At least one parent must be able to understand English.
From Grade 5, pupils must be competent in English, the language of instruction. If YIS has any concerns, applicants sit a test and in some cases receive English tutoring as a condition of admission. Learning needs must be flagged and assessed to see whether the school can offer full support. This takes the form of parent interviews, trial days and diagnostic screenings or assessments.
High-school applications require school grade reports for three years, an official transcript from previous high schools attended in Grade 9 and above, two confidential reports and a maths placement recommendation from a current maths teacher. No scholarships are offered.
Pupils in high school (ages 15 to 18, Grades 9 to 12) take the IB Middle Years Programme (MYP) for the first two years before going on to study towards the YIS High School Diploma. To achieve this, students must complete 23 Carnegie Units, which most do by the end of Grade 12. In addition, they write a senior research paper (extended essay) in an area of interest and get involved with service (this is an integral part of YIS).
In Grades 11 and 12, students can also take the IB Diploma and the Global Citizen Diploma (GCD), which allows them to explore their interests and passions along with their perspectives as world citizens. All classes are taught as IB courses, regardless of whether the IB Diploma Programme (IBDP) is taken. In 2021, there was a 100 per cent pass rate for the IBDP, with an average score of 37 – the school’s highest result in six years.
YIS strongly supports home languages, regarding them as fundamental in the development of English language skills. The school provides the classroom space and helps to arrange home-language teachers, for whom parents pay externally. Current home languages include Chinese, French, German, Spanish and Korean, and the school will consider other family-language options too.
In Grades 9 and 10, pupils study Japanese (beginner and intermediate, advanced and native). Spanish and French can be taken at beginner, intermediate or foreign-language level. For the IBDP, the options are: Japanese and German as Language A; Japanese, German, Spanish and French as Language B; ab initio for Japanese; as well as online options for French, Spanish and Mandarin.
The Japanese Culture Programme helps students and the wider community to develop an appreciation of their host country through traditional and modern arts and culture classes, which include Japanese dance, music – koto (a traditional harp-like instrument), singing, taiko drumming – and tea-making.
YIS very much believes in inclusion and caters for pupils who need support with diverse learning needs. The learning support department can provide both psycho-educational and speech and language evaluation, and if requested will arrange for parents to get external assessments. YIS helped establish and belongs to the Japanese division of SENIA, a network of educators, professions and parents who support children with special needs. EAL is available to pupils who are new to English, as well as those who need support to get them to the required level for the IB programme.
There are two university counsellors on hand to help students find their ‘best fit’. Most graduates go on to the US, followed by the UK, Canada and Europe.
The art and design area of the new campus has a workshop, an electric kiln for the ceramics programme and plenty of space for creative design. The standard is high: the IBDP exhibition in 2021 produced some exceptional pieces. As part of the Japanese Heritage programme, YIS offers Grades 4 to 12 the opportunity to play the koto. YIS has won prizes in key national music awards for pupil performances; the new auditorium also has a black box teaching room where pupils can perform. There are annual elementary, middle and high school productions.
The athletics field and indoor pool on the new campus have raised the level of sports on offer. These include volleyball, cross-country, tennis, soccer, basketball, hockey and baseball. Middle and high school take part in competitions around Tokyo as part of the KPASS (Kanto Plains Association of Secondary School) league. The high school also competes in the Kansai region as a member of the WJAA (Western Japan Activities Association) and the AISA (Association of International Schools in Asia) leagues in Japan and Korea.
The majority of middle and high school activities are run by staff and as such there is no cost. Options include astronomy club, DofE, mental health awareness, Model United Nations, Sakura book club, TEdx Youth @YIS, YIS Magazine and digital illustration. We love the fact that the school doesn’t offer these on a first-come, first-served basis but as a more balanced approach that looks at gender split, number of participants per activity and ages.
Service is an integral part of YIS and starts in the early learning centre, when children from the local orphanage are invited to come to the school to play. Older pupils might help distribute essentials to the homeless, serve lunch to people in poverty or raise funds to help refugees in Japan.
Expeditions for Grade 4 upwards take place around Japan and range from camping and whitewater rafting to an awesome snowshoe expedition in Nozawa in Grade 10. Grade 12 have a senior YIS retreat where they are taught skills such as first aid, responsible cooking and life hacks.
Parents tell us that the community spirit here is very strong and the welcoming feeling is tangible the minute you arrive on campus. Different school divisions have dedicated counsellors who provide support through individual as well as group sessions. The LGBTQ+ community is well supported and orientation sessions are held for new families.
This truly is an international school, with 54 nationalities. Parents say they love the way the PTSA (which supports not only parents but teachers and pupils too) matches new families with ‘mentor’ families who have children in the same grade or are from the same home country.
There are lots of events to involve the community, from Ikebana - traditional Japanese flower arranging - cooking and hiking to a bingo evening with the children and robotics with families. The Food Fair is the major fundraiser at YIS and has been held for 40 years. It celebrates diversity in the community through food stalls from different nations.
We like the fact that pupils who are involved with AISA (Association of International Schools in Asia) events, whether arts or sport, are asked if their families can provide homestay accommodation to their visiting counterparts. his demonstrates the YIS community in action.
Two time capsules have been buried on the new campus under a sakura tree. They include items from pupils across the school, so that those studying here in the future can see what life was like in 2021.
All food is made fresh on site by Dragon Dining and eaten in the new dining area, which has a spill-out terrace with a shaded pergola. Pupils may also bring in their own lunch.
An excellent, well-rounded and popular school with waiting lists that will probably get even longer now that YIS has settled into its new campus.