Families and Sick Leave
Family Related Healthcare
Families and Transportation
Bringing a Non-JET Spouse
Issues for Two JET Families With Children and Single Parents
Marriage in Japan
Divorce and Custody
Gender Role Expectations
Families and Re-entry Permits
Budgeting for Families
JET Families and Supervisors
The school academic year begins in April and ends the following March. Enrollment age:
Fill out a school admission application form and turn it in, with your child’s foreign registration cards, at the local board of education in the municipality (city, town, village) where you are registered.
When you want your children to enter school in the middle of a school year or from a certain grade, you have to apply to the local board of education. Prior to that, you are required to finish foreign registration for your children, then turn in the school application form. The local board of education will decide the school and the grade your child will be attending, taking into consideration your children’s situation and your requests. The school will decide which class your child will attend.
When you move to another school district, your children will have to change schools. Obtain a school transfer application form from the previous school and apply to the local board of education of the new district. The school board will give you a notification of school transfer form that you are required to submit to the new school.
Some elementary and junior high schools have Japanese language classes for foreign students. If you worry about your children taking classes in Japanese, consult the board about which schools have Japanese classes.
Guardians who have difficulty paying school expenses due to economic circumstances may receive support upon approval from local governments. The applicant can apply for help in the following areas: school supplies, commuting school items, after school activities, sporting goods for PE classes, school trips, transportation, school lunches, etc.
A: At preschool level (infant up to six years old) there are a range of options including kindergartens (yochien), nursery school (hoikusho, hoikuen) and private daycare. Children attend elementary school from the age of six and move up to junior high school when they reach twelve years old. At fifteen years old children start senior high school. Both public and private schools are available. Many major cities also offer international schools to foreign residents however these can be very expensive.
A: To minimize anxiety its important to discuss your child’s schooling options with your supervisor and/or local Board of Education (BOE) before departing your home country. If your predecessor contacts you, ask them to investigate possible options and lobby on your behalf. Of course, you can do a more in-depth search when you arrive, but experience has shown that even a little information can help ease stress and anxiety levels. In regard to choosing a school (of whatever level), sometimes zoning rules apply and there are no choices i.e. you must go to the one in your area. In rural areas your choices may be limited to whatever is available while in the city the choices could be endless. Be warned that some preschools have long waiting lists, so you may not be able to get your child into care immediately, some also prefer that foreign children have at least a basic understanding of the Japanese language prior to enrolment.
A: The costs vary across towns, cities, and prefectures. However outlined below is a basic rundown of the costs you could expect to pay.
The method for determining how much you pay differs between prefectures, cities and towns. In general, the fee amount is based on your child’s age and the amount of local taxes paid in the previous 12 months. For first year JETS this often means paying the lowest level of the fee scale (5,000 to 25,000 yen) – enjoy it while it lasts because the fee will increase in the second year.
These can be costly ranging anywhere from 10,000 to 25,000 yen. Your child will need most, if not all, of the following:
Elementary school’s are basically free, although there is a monthly charge at some schools (about 1000 yen per child) to cover general expenses such as school excursions and materials. Some schools also provide textbooks and notebooks free of charge.
Start-up costs can range from 15,000 to 50,000 yen per child. Your child will need most if not all of the following:
The regulation school backpacks are leather, black (for boys) or red (for girls). The cost ranges from 15,000 to 40,000 yen depending on the store. Most elementary school’s will not expect you to buy one of these for your child, especially if they know you will only be in Japan for 1-3 years. However, be aware of this as a possible issue, as it may come up depending on the school. Also, start and finish times at elementary school may very depending on the schedule.
Entrance fees, school fees, and textbooks are free in public elementary and junior high schools. However, you may be required to pay some school lunch expenses and teaching materials.
Start-up costs can range anywhere from 15,000 to 80,000 yen, depending on the school. Your child will need most if not all of the following:
A: Some schools may be really flexible and let your children not wear all or any of the uniform. Student’s will often wear the dress uniform to school, but once there will change into their sports uniform, only to change back into the dress uniform when they leave! Be sure to clarify the school uniform rules from the outset.
A: A cooked lunch is provided at most preschools and elementary schools however it is not compulsory. The cost can average anywhere from 2500 to 5000 yen, per month, per child. For JETs with two or more children buying school lunches can be costly. You may have to insist but it is possible to take home lunch every day – though your child may have to eat their lunch separated from the other student’s. While not spectacular and rather small by western standards the lunches are nutritious and teach your child to eat what everyone else is eating without (too much) complaint. Be sure to inform the preschool/school of any allergies your child might have. It may take some time for your child to adapt to the new food so try and be patient. Please also note that most preschools and elementary schools provide only one meal per day (lunch). Many JET children have found it difficult adjusting to this and often arrive home starved – so be prepared. At junior and senior high school, students have the option of taking lunch from home or buying it (if available) from the school cafeteria.
A: Many teachers use a renrakuchou or communication notebook for the students to write their homework assignments and such in. This book has proved useful for asking questions and getting answers from your child’s teacher, usually in Japanese, most supervisors and Japanese Teacher’s of English (JTEs) are willing to help with translation. JET parent’s have found teachers most willing to find ways to communicate and are often receptive to you taking a proactive interest in your child’s education. If in doubt, ASK.
A: You will receive a wealth of information at home to help you discern how your child is getting on. During the first few months your child may become aloof and withdrawn as they come to terms with the new culture and environment – don’t be alarmed. As your child starts to learn the language and make new friends they will regain confidence. Like adults, the time it takes your child to adapt will vary, be patient and supportive. JET parents have found that preschools, schools and local community, genuinely try to help out as much as possible. Remember your child is in such a new environment that just coping with each day is a major challenge. Some parent’s have found it helpful to create a small reward system for good behavior using charts and stickers.
A: As everywhere they are different depending on the teacher. Japanese teachers do, however, expect the kids to sit quietly a lot more of the time than in the west. There is not a lot of group work and most instructional learning is done as a whole class – often 40 kids (excluding preschool). Many older JET children find it difficult adjusting to the rules of the classroom which can often be difficult to work out. Physical contact, that would not be tolerated at home, can often go un-remarked here i.e. kid’s walloping each other. If possible try to obtain a list of class rules from the teacher outlining what behavior is acceptable and unacceptable. Some foreign children have been scolded for touching their ear or rubbing their head in the classroom. It is important to clarify the class rules beforehand.
A: Again this is different in each preschool/school, but you can get a feel early on – is the principal warm and receptive to foreign kids, are they seen as an asset to the school or a nuisance. You can see how the kids are too – do they seem happy, or strained etc. Sometimes it is tough though especially early on, to counter this it helps to plan fun weekends so your child has something to look forward to at the end of the school week. The social and teaching environment is different from in the West and whereas being unique and different is desirable and rewarded – here it is punishable. From JET children common complaints have been other children telling tales (over very petty things to them) and also touching, especially boys touching butts and private parts!! Support your child and tell them to make it very clear that they WILL NOT tolerate this behavior. If it continues contact the school to discuss the issue directly. One particular cultural difference that JET parent’s should be aware of is that some elementary and junior high schools allow both boys and girls to change clothes in the same room. If you or your child is uncomfortable with this insist that they be allowed to change elsewhere.
A: At preschool the focus is more on experiential learning, i.e. learning by doing. Students are exposed to a range of arts, culture, sports and activities with an emphasis on group participation. Generally speaking the class sizes are small (15-20 students). At elementary and junior high school, as in the west the subjects include language (Japanese and English), mathematics, physical education, social studies, science, music, and art. There are extra subjects such as doutoku – morals or civics (how to be a good citizen), calligraphy, and many opportunities particularly in a rural setting to experience the seasonal life of the community – planting rice and picking it, harvesting sweet potatoes, making noodles and mochi, etc. At the senior high school level student’s study core subjects plus any other optional subjects on offer. The emphasis is on the group rather than the individual, a philosophy that permeates throughout all areas of school life. At both junior and senior high school, students are actively encouraged to join a club such as tennis, kendo, judo, track, soccer, basketball etc. Japanese students take much pride in these activities, often training twice a day, up to seven days a week (including vacations), make sure your child is fully aware of club expectations before joining.
A: Generally the teacher stands at the front of the class and tells kids what to do. If you have a child who is a wriggler in class they will find it hard going – the teachers can be very strict about sitting still and listening. There are lots of repetitive drills that may or may not suit your child depending on what type of learner they are. If you have serious concerns about your child’s learning, try talking to the school. Failing that you could start your child on a correspondence course at home.
A: Your child will acquire the language much faster than you so don’t be alarmed if you can’t keep up with them. Try to learn basic commands and expressions and use these as often as you can in the home. The Japanese your child learns will be much different from that which adults use. Some JET children delight in taunting their parent’s with superior language skills so it may pay to get your supervisor or a friend to write a list of ‘not so nice’ names and words. As your child’s language proficiency develops they will become good helpers for you in situations when you are out and about.
A: Once you feel comfortable in your neighborhood, it is appropriate for your child to invite friends over. Always make contact with the child’s parents first, though you may find you need your child to translate for you! Many Japanese children are mostly left to their own devices after the age of 7 or 8 years old, so make sure to tell your child what your expectations are regarding playing outside your home. Most apartments have a large yard behind them where children can safely play with their friends.
A: Officially, a JET parent cannot use sick leave entitlement to care for a sick child, but must instead use annual leave (nenkyu). Unofficially, many JET parent’s DO take sick leave to care for their child, and pretend that they are sick. While not an ideal situation this is the reality for the time being. Some schools are relaxed about this and unless officially informed, will agree to you using sick leave (even if they are secretly aware that it is your child who is sick and not you). Other schools are not so relaxed – use your discretion. This is a BIG issue and one that needs a solution.
A: Yes, spouse and kids are covered for up to 70% of medical expenses incurred through illness. Medical costs incurred for a JET dependent under the age of six are fully refunded.
A: Many insurance companies will provide private cover to cover the 30% difference. You need to state whether you want to be covered for certain conditions (e.g. cancer, heart disease etc.) You can choose a cheaper policy that doesn’t include these illnesses.
A: Immunisation is available and is compulsory for all infants and toddlers. Free health checks for pre-elementary aged children are also provided.
A: It is advisable to bring all immunisation certificates/records from your home country and a record of your child’s blood type (a very important detail in Japan). If your child has any ongoing medical problems (e.g. asthma, ear infections), it would be worthwhile bringing records of what medication they usually respond to. Many doctors speak a good enough amount of English to get by. Don’t be afraid to ask your teachers or your supervisor for help. Also, when your child starts preschool there are a lot of questions about your child’s development (i.e. when your child stopped breast feeding, started eating solids, crawling, walking, talking). It may help to bring this information with you.
A: Children receive a visual (no poking or prodding) dental check at least once a year and if anything needs to be done you are told to see a dentist. Keep in mind that the school dental checks are not done by actual dentists so it would be unwise to rely on these checks alone. If your child is found to have a cavity, you will be asked to see a dentist. Check-ups are relatively inexpensive (500 yen or less) with the JET insurance. Also, there is no fluoride in the water here, so if this is an issue for you bring fluoridated toothpaste or fluoride pills.
A: Prenatal: Some western mothers are concerned about the frequency of ultrasound tests, as it seems like Japanese doctors want to buzz the child every check-up. Japanese women are generally less concerned, and look forward to watching the progress and even collecting photographs of the unborn baby. If you are extremely concerned about the frequency of the ultrasounds, consult your doctor(s) beforehand.
The following services are provided for pregnant women from pregnancy to childbirth:
Health examinations during pregnancy
These examinations are provided to prevent miscarriage, toxemia of pregnancy, premature delivery, etc. A free examination is offered once during the first half of pregnancy (until approx. the 27th week) and once in the latter half (from the 28th week on). The Maternity Health Record Book must be submitted along with a “general examination for pregnancy” certificate.
Classes are provided for mothers wishing to learn health care management during pregnancy, preparation for childbirth, nursing an infant, and other topics.
A: Not sure.
A: Not sure.
A: Not sure
A: According to the JET Model Contract, Article 15, Sections V, VI, and VII, expectant and new mothers are entitled to the following leave:
The requested period, from up to six weeks before a female JET’s delivery due date (fourteen weeks for a pregnancy involving more than one child) until the date of delivery is reached.
A period of eight weeks counting the day after a female JET has delivered a child. (Provided that at least six weeks have passed counting from the day after the birth, if the JET applies to return to work earlier and the JET is assigned to duties that a doctor accepts as not being harmful to her, then the period after returns is not counted as post-natal leave.)
For a female JET who is the mother of a child less than one year of age: two times per day for up to 30 minutes each. This leave is classified as special, unpaid leave. Male JETs are not currently entitled to any special leave for the birth of a child. Please be advised that this is taken from the Model Contract and your individual contract may differ slightly.
A: Maternity Health Record Book
This book is to record check-ups of both mother and fetus, as well as vaccinations until the child enters elementary school. It is required when receiving various checkups and also when giving birth. The mother-to-be should register at the health and sanitation section of her municipal office to receive a Maternity Health Record Book. The book issued at municipal offices is generally written in Japanese. However, Record Books in the following languages are available: English, Chinese, Portuguese, Spanish, Korean, Thai, Indonesian, Tagalog.
Notification of Childbirth
Childbirth must be reported within 14 days at the municipal office nearest the place where the birth occurred or where the parents reside.
Other necessary procedures:
A: Legally, seatbelts are compulsory for all persons riding in a motor vehicle. Most people mistakenly believe that only the front passengers require belts, but the letter of the road traffic law (article 71-3, part 3) clearly states that the driver must ensure his/her passengers, in front and back seats, are also wearing seatbelts. In reality, the police rarely stop drivers for seatbelt infringements by their passengers (they WILL stop drivers without seatbelts) so you will often see unrestrained children with their faces pressed against a vehicle’s window.
A: Child seats are also mandatory for children, with the types of seats governed by the child’s weight and height. As a rough guide, infants up to 9 months must use infant seats, up to 3 years, child seats, and booster seats for up to age 6. (Exceptions include buses and REGISTERED taxis: “Mum’s Taxi” is not an exception.) If your kids travel with other parents, or other kids travel in your vehicle, don’t be afraid to tell them that you want them strapped in. Car seats can be purchased from most major department stores.
A: A bus should be available for most preschool age kids. Most elementary school kids walk to school while junior high and above mostly ride bikes. Talk to your child’s preschool/school for more information.
A: For larger JET families a car is often a must, particularly for those living in rural areas. The insurance, parking and running costs can be reasonably expensive, but it gives your family the freedom to explore in the weekends. For JET families living in urban/semi-urban areas, the train system is fast, clean, efficient, and affordable making it relatively easy to get around without a car.
A: The majority of non-JET spouse’s are Japanese nationals. For those that aren’t, visas become an issue. Spouse visas, issued by the JET program before departure are usually for the same period of time as that of the JET participant. If you come to Japan on a spouse visa, you are only permitted to work up to 28 hours a week, and even then the official lines states that you must gain permission from the immigration department to do this. Unofficially, it is relatively easy for a non-JET spouse to obtain extra work (i.e. private tutoring) in excess of the 28 hours, without involving immigration officials.
For those spouses looking for full time work, a different visa category is required. The type of visa needed will depend upon the type of work but many visa types require submission of original graduation certificates, so if you have one, bring it with you. Remember though, that your visa will more than likely expire at a different time to the JET spouse. You will also need to get ANOTHER re-entry permit for the period of each new visa.
A: Whether your spouse is Japanese or not, the income from extra work WILL have bearing on your taxes. Speak to your supervisor about how best to submit your taxation documents. It is possible for the spouse’s income to be entered on the JET participant’s tax return, or to submit it separately. You will be required to submit group certificates. The tax refund issue is a tricky one. If your partner earns under a certain amount they may be able to get a 10% tax refund at the end of the year. But, don’t hold your breath, some people receive this and some do not depending on the circumstances – enough said.
A: Without the support of friends and family it can often be difficult for JET parent’s to take time-out. But don’t despair; while it will take time to build new relationships, you will eventually build friendships with people you can trust. To kick-start this process it can often help to make friends with other parent’s and families in your community – join a parent group, get involved in the local international association, attend community functions, etc. Let people know that you’re happy to offer your childcare services in exchange for theirs. You could also let your supervisor know and they may even offer to help-out. You will find that single JETs in your community are often more than willing to baby-sit for you in exchange for a good home cooked meal! Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it. You’ll find that there are many people in your community who are ready and willing to help.
A: This contentious issue has caused much angst amongst first year JET parents. CLAIR strongly advises against children attending these conferences and has clearly stated that children are not permitted to attend conference workshops. While they’ve informed JET parents that a childcare service is available the cost is astronomical (1500 to 2000 yen per hour). Please be aware that some JET parents HAVE taken children to both conferences. If you’re a JET couple with a child it is possible to take turns attending workshops and child watching. You could also take your child to the workshops – unless your child is screaming and causing a huge distraction you’ll find that most JETs are oblivious to a child being in the room. For single parents, try arranging shared childcare with other parents (this could be difficult for first year JETs). You could try talking to AJET or CLAIR beforehand to find out how many other parents are attending the conference with children.
JET parent’s that have taken children have had to deal with CLAIR and hotel staff that took issue with a child attending conference meals. For the most part, the parents and child walked away unscathed, but be warned that you may encounter such ‘unresponsive’ situations. We know how stressful it can be worrying about childcare before you’ve even left your home country. At the end of the day the choice is yours but know that it IS possible to bring your child to BOTH conferences. Many JET parents have concerns about the childcare support provided (or rather complete lack of it). This is another BIG issue that needs to be resolved.
A: Marriage between a foreign resident and a Japanese citizen: when such couples marry in Japan, a Marriage Registration form must be submitted to the local municipal office in accordance with Japanese law. In addition, a copy of the family registration is required if the marriage is registered at a municipal office other than that of the Japanese partner’s permanent address.
A: JET parents have commented that “If you ever find yourself in this situation, find a good lawyer.” You should be aware that Japan is not a signatory to the Hague convention and thus there are many parents of Japanese kids who are battling to take their kids home… or even find them! (Check out http://www.crnjapan.com/)
A: When divorcing in Japan, a Notification of Divorce form must be submitted to the local municipal office in accordance with Japanese law. A copy of the family registration of the Japanese party if the divorce is registered at a municipal office other than that of the Japanese partner’s family’s permanent address.
Other necessary procedures:
A: JET families should be aware of the differences and expectations that may be placed upon the mother of a child. In Japan it is expected that the mother will deal with everything to do with the child (i.e. sickness, fees, lunches, looking after your child during preschool/school vacations, etc). This can come as a shock to those JET couples that try to do an equal amount of child rearing and often places additional stress upon JET mothers. If this becomes a problem, each partner could try talking to their respective supervisor’s explaining your expectations and how you would prefer arrangements to work.
A: Your visa allows you into Japan (once), on the condition that you will observe the regulations regarding employment relating to that visa. Once you leave Japan, even for a short holiday, this visa becomes invalid, unless you have a re-entry permit. A single re-entry permit allows you to leave Japan and come back once, for a cost of 3,000 yen. A multiple re-entry permit costs 6,000 yen and allows you to leave Japan and return as many times as you like during the period of your visa’s validity. If you do not intend to leave Japan more than once during your 3-year visa validity, by all means ignore this advice, but a multiple permit is recommended. You never know when you might be called back to your home country in an emergency. Remember: The re-entry permit is only valid for the period of your visa. If you renew your visa, or change visa types (marriage, ALT-CIR type change, spouse/dependent, working visa etc.) you will need to get a new re-entry permit also.
A: Yes, your child needs a re-entry permit. The cost is the same as an adult permit. You can apply at your local immigration office, where it will be issued on the day. It is desirable to apply at least a few weeks in advance of travel. Please note that although the official line does not mention it, it is possible to get the re-entry permit (single only) at Narita Airport. Go through for your flight as early as possible and tell the immigration staff that you need one – they will get someone to help you. It does take time to fill out the forms and you will need your alien registration card but it costs the same amount. You’ll be advised that getting one at Narita is a one off thing, as normally you are not meant to do it this way.
It is quite possible to survive on a budget in Japan, although there will be times when the countdown to pay day is very real! Food items that are cheap include chicken, pasta, eggs, pork, and vegetables in season. Fish, meat and bento bought after 6 or 7pm usually gets discounted. Shop around and you will soon get to know the cheaper supermarkets in your area. Expensive foods are bread, cheese, cereals, milk and dairy products. Rice is the big surprise and can be expensive here. It’s definitely worth investigating where the bargains are – for example your local bread shop may give away the bags of crusts that it cuts off the sliced loaves. Fruit can be really expensive but again shop around, if you can find a local fruit and vegetable stand, prices are often significantly lower than those at the grocery stores and although the produce is often less than picture-perfect it is still good quality.
One store that JET parent’s have found great is Yamaya. They sell international foods, other Asian food, Japanese food and alcohol and it is by and large cheap. Buying food in bulk, at stores like this, will help cut costs dramatically. For larger families, cereals, instant ramen (two minute noodles), ice cream, canned foods etc are always a good buy. Other stores to look out for are places that supply restaurants – not only can you get ‘family sized’ things and cheap groceries but they also have some really cheap frozen foods. Items such as gyouza, vegetables, chicken, French fries and hash browns are just a sample of the goodies on offer. When in doubt, ask around your local community.
Buying children’s clothes doesn’t have to be a costly affair. Try searching for a used clothing store in your area, you’ll find quality clothes at a cheap price. Also, keep an eye out for the department store sales at the end of season; the discounts can reach up to 80%. Let your community know (via the BOE) that you’re happy to receive second hand clothes and uniforms. Some JET families receive a regular supply of clothes that are immaculate and some even brand new! You’ll be surprised by the quality of goods that Japanese families tend to throw away.
A: Unfortunately some JET parent’s have had to deal with supervisors who are ignorant of the specific needs of JET parent’s and children. It is a reality that most supervisors are used to dealing with single JETs fresh out of college/university and are therefore ill equipped to deal with family issues. This is a difficult situation to reconcile and can often make everyday life extremely taxing for JET families. If you should find yourself in this situation, try talking to other colleagues with children or seek advice from your Prefectural Advisor (PA). Often, it’s only after a JET parent has had a minor breakdown at school, that action is finally taken – ganbatte kudasai!
Families in Japan
Has information about the Japanese Education system for foreigners, a discussion group, and some more useful links. Definitely worth a look! http://www.gaijinpot.com/family.php
Tokyo Childbirth Education Association
Raising kids in Japan
Everything a JET with kids needs to know. Some of it is specific to the Tokyo area. But probably worth having a look at even if you’re not in the Tokyo area. Some great links as well. http://www.tokyowithkids.com/fyi/amf.html
TELL Lifeline is a professional non-profit organisation that provides counselling to English speaking Foreigners all over Japan. The service is available 365 days a year from 9am to 4pm and 7pm to 11pm on 03-5774-0992. For more info see the website http://www.telljp.com.
There is an AJET Special Interest Group called Family JETs SIG. You can join this group for free when you join AJET. And you can join this mailing group by contacting or by emailing .
AJET sponsors the Peer Support Group helpline. The Peer Support Group (PSG) operates its help line every day of the week from 8pm till 8am (basically, when the CLAIR JET Line is not operating). The TOLL FREE NUMBER for this help line is 050-5534-5566. Please direct all enquiries about the PSG help line to the following email address .
There are Prefectural Advisors (PAs) in each prefecture who have been trained by CLAIR to assist JETs with a wide range of problems and concerns. You will be told who your PAs are.
There is the CLAIR JET Line, run and staffed by the JET Programme Coordinators (former JETs). The CLAIR JET Line operates weekdays during office hours (9am-5:45pm) and the number for this service is (03) 3591-5489.
Dr. Berger is experienced as a therapist in individual counseling, marriage and couples counseling; particularly Japanese-Western couples, family counseling, and group psychotherapy. http://www.japanpsychiatrist.com/