I have always liked abandoned Japanese schools. Not only they are sleeping beautifully far away in forgotten countrysides but they are also the cradle of the Japanese soul.
Those wooden schools were built before World War 2 and some of them are even from the Meiji Period. Today, most of them had to close since the number of young people went down really bad in small villages. There are now thousands of these schools all over Japan.
The way those little schools work represents still well today’s Japanese society. I will introduce the education system a little bit through interesting details and of course many photos.
The Japanese School
Students go to school on foot, sometimes with their mothers. In Japan, there is no school bus and most of the time it is forbidden to go to school by bicycle, especially in the cities.
Students all have very similar schoolbags, either bought or inherited from the family. Beware: those schoolbags must not be held by the mothers. In Japan, the kids must do everything by themselves. In China for example, it is the contrary and common sense to help the little kids holding their big schoolbags.
The very first day at schools are dedicated to how to behave in class. The students learn how to set-up theirs books and pencils on the desk, to stand-up and sit down, to take notes and ask questions. It’s only once everything is very well understood that the real classes can start.
Each class lasts 50 minutes with a break of 10 minutes at the end. The students don’t have to move to one room to the other, only the teacher move. There is no longer breaks than those with the exception of the lunch break.
In front of the schools, you can almost always find a statue of Ninomiya Sontoku, a philosopher and economist from the Edo Period. He is not a student, obviously, but he was known to study constantly.
He was studying and working every day in order to feed his baby brother and mother. Soon he became the great master Ninomiya Sontaku of Odawara. Yes, a nice guy!
The classroom is intimately linked to the ~ 40 students who are going to study there for one year or two years. It’s called the kumi.
The positioning and layout of the class is entirely up to the teacher. That avoids all the fights we always have to be in the back of the classroom like in France 😉
Most of the students are completely silent during the whole class. In theory, it’s possible to stop the teacher in order to ask a question but usually nobody dares doing it.
Therefore, the teacher comes in the classroom and gives a lesson of 50 minutes without stopping. For the students in difficulty, there is always the possibility of staying at school for more classes at the end of the day. They are called Juku.
The abandoned schools in Japan are exceptionally clean. The students are responsible for cleaning the school so maybe are they still coming and performing their duties?
The school is responsible for the behavior and appearance of the students inside the school but also outside of it. The teachers are going around the village to make sure of it.
They sometimes visit the parents in order to make sure they give the appropriate education to them.
The lunch is eaten in the same classroom. If it is a large school then there might be a kitchen where the dishes are prepared. Otherwise, the students have to bring their own bento.
The teachers inspect the students thoroughly, the nails and make-up included for the girls. However, their sense of hygiene has an interesting paradox: in primary school, the students don’t take a shower and sometimes keep the same clothes.
Japanese education doesn’t leave much room for individualism. The students can therefore only express their individuality through hobbies such as music, poesy or sports.
The nail that sticks out will be hammered down.
North Korea in Japan
Incredible but real: there are also North-Korean schools in Japan. Those two here are abandoned but there are still many in activity in Japan and there is even a big North-Korean university in Tokyo. But what are they doing here?
Japan occupied Korea for 40 years before World War 2 and during this time a lot of Koreans migrated to Japan. After the defeat of Japan, those Koreans got their nationality back and became Koreans national, with a right to stay on the Japanese territory.
In 1965, Japanese recognizes South Korea as a legitimate government and the Koreans in Japan can pick this new South-Korean nationality. Those who don’t do it become automatically North-Koreans since there is no Korea (Joseon) anymore.
The North-Koreans are usually proud of their Korean origins and has many differences with the new Americanized South-Korea. They decide to build their own school through the Chongryon association and financed by the Pyongyang government. They use books from North-Korea and they have, of course, the photos of the Dear Leaders displayed in the classroom.
They are 10,000 students in the North-Korean schools in Japan today.
We are in June and I am in a little abandoned school in Mie Prefecture. It is next to the sea, there is a cute harbour and the scene reminds me of Ponyo. My friends are visiting the inside of the school. I am patiently waiting outside, half-asleep.
An old man is walking-up the stairs to the school and I start to worry for my friends. Will the old man be furious about our break-in?
Actually, not at all. He is really happy about it. My friends come out of
We come back to our car and his wife calls us: “I made
Well, my stomach is empty, but my heart is, for sure, really filled with happiness.