Japanese Language and Culture Program

pic of young students playing Japanese drums in a performance

We believe that learning another language provides the opportunity to grow beyond one’s native tongue(s).

The Japanese program is an integral part of Nishimachi International School. Our goal is to stretch all the students' linguistic skills in Japanese as far as possible during their time here: non-native children to become functional, native-children to maintain the level of their heritage language, and everyone else in between.

The goal of Japanese education at Nishimachi is to develop the capability in each student to communicate in Japanese: reading, writing, listening, and speaking, while having a solid understanding of Japanese culture.

Sakura and Gym

History of our Japanese Language Program

To share, to live and learn together and yet keep a special identity…that is Nishimachi.

- Tané Matsukata, the founder of our school

Established in 1949, Nishimachi’s Japanese Language and Culture Program has continuously supported our learners for the past 70 years.

Native speakers continue to learn Japanese using the grade-level Monbukagaku-sho (Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology) approved Kokugo (Japanese) textbooks with the Monbukagaku-sho based Nishimachi curriculum. Today’s program uses the latest pedagogies and teaching strategies, with a student-centered classroom rather than the more traditional teacher-centered classroom.

Research regarding effective teaching illustrates the importance of a student-centered classroom.

In these environments, teachers participate in genuine dialogue with pupils and facilitate rather than control student learning, which encourages the development of higher-level cognitive skills over factual recall.

- Dr. Jeffrey Cornelius-White in his Review of Educational Research

four children posing in front of the school in its vintage days


Benefits of a Strong Japanese Language Program

Becoming fluent in a second language improves childrens’ cognitive functions, boosts their confidence, provides them the opportunity to grow beyond a single culture, strengthens their resumes, and opens more opportunities for them in career choices and advancement.

Though Nishimachi is not a bilingual school, our strong Japanese program supports families who have set a language goal for their children to be bilingual. Our Japanese Language and Culture Program is highly valued among our board, administration, homeroom and subject teachers, non-teaching staff, and the community.

In addition to the support from the school community, our students are also enthusiastic about learning the language as well as a deep understanding of the cultural aspects of Japan.

Our Japanese program not only helps students develop their linguistic skills, it also provides opportunities for students to develop a sense of appreciation and affection for Japan, her people, language and culture.

Approach to Learning

We use a project-based, active learning approach in our Japanese classes at all levels.

Our teachers design their instruction with a focus on collaborative learning and student engagement. Instructional approaches include critical and creative thinking routines, research-based instructional strategies, cross-grade activities, and total physical response (TPR) for students in lower grades and non-native Japanese speakers..

TPR is a method of teaching vocabulary and phrases by using physical movement to react to verbal input. It’s often used with our younger students. For example, in order to teach action verbs, we have students act out the verbs we’re trying to teach.

We want our students to learn language by using it in as real a way as possible. We also use role play, show and tell, reporting, interviews, etc.

Our quality teaching staff stay up-to-date in current pedagogical practices, and therefore their strategies incorporate the characteristics of the 21st Century International Education.

These characteristics include:

  • Technology
  • Collaboration
  • Project-based learning
  • Innovation in a student-centered classroom

Our Japanese teachers take advantage of different professional development opportunities just as homeroom and other subject teachers do. They learn and implement the latest researched pedagogical strategies in their units and lessons to maximize student learning.

image showing a teacher teaching three students in the classroom


students demonstrating learning via a performance


Japanese Language Curriculum

The Nishimachi-developed Japanese language curriculum references the Monbukagaku-sho Kokugo curriculum for Levels 1 to 4. For Levels 5 to 9, we use the Japan Foundation Standard for Japanese-Language Education and the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages.

From Kindergarten to Grade 5, students have a Japanese language class every day.

From Grade 6 to Grade 9, they have Japanese four times a week and Japanese Social Studies twice a week. Grade 9 students are required to write a graduation thesis/essay to demonstrate their experience and language skills acquired with our Japanese Language and Culture Program as part of their evaluation. Followed by formal presentations in front of judges and an audience.

The Continuum of Japanese Language Learners

Learning Japanese - and any language - occurs on a continuum. There are nine levels in the Japanese Language Program at Nishimachi to help guarantee our students are being challenged in a rigorous yet reasonable way.

For appropriate level placement, we use the results of various assessments. This ensures that students learn Japanese most efficiently and effectively.

As students make progress in their linguistic skills, they are able to move levels.


young girl using watercolor paints to write Japanese letters


Levels 1 - 4

Levels 1 to 4 are geared towards students who are better versed in the Japanese language, native or near-native speakers.

Classes use curriculum guidelines and materials mandated by the Monbukagakusho (Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology).

Levels 5 -9

Levels 5 to 9 are geared toward students who are not as familiar with the Japanese language.

As written above, we use the Japan Foundation Standard for Japanese-Language Education and the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages for these levels.

Classes draw upon a variety of teaching materials and strategies for second language instruction.

For these levels, we use second language learning strategies where teachers create materials to meet the needs of their students.

Level 5 is a transition level where the Monbukagakusho-approved Kokugo textbooks and other materials are used when appropriate.

Japanese Social Studies

Taught in Middle School, Japanese Social Studies (JSS) provides an extended opportunity for students to engage with Japanese geography, history, and culture. Depending on the student’s language level, they are placed in different JSS classes where either Japanese or English are used.

For example, the students in levels 1 to 4 conduct research and present their work in Japanese, while the students in levels 5 to 9 research in English and present in English and/or Japanese.

Materials for these classes - workbooks, movies, maps, online and supplementary resources, etc. - are in Japanese. Translation activities, where Japanese texts are changed to English, take place in the levels 5 to 9 classes.

Through the JSS program, students develop an understanding of the political, economic, and social systems of our host country.

Culture and the Japanese Language Program

Students learn the traditional aspects of each celebration and discover how to enjoy the cultural history behind them. Through activities, events, and celebrations, our aim is to help students develop a sense of appreciation towards not only other cultures of different countries, but also their own.

The culture part of the program is run by the Library Media Center with the help of Tomo no Kai (TNK).

Nishimachi celebrates most of the Japanese cultural events including:

  • Otsukimi (moon-viewing)
  • Oshogatsu (New Year’s) with Omochitsuki (rice-pounding) and Shishi-mai (a dance performed in a lion’s mask)
  • Setsubun (the eve of the first day of spring) with Mame-maki (the bean-scattering ceremony)
  • Hina-matsuri (Girls’ Day)
  • Ohana-mi (cherry blossom viewing)
  • Kodomo-no-hi (Boys’ Day)
  • Tanabata (the Star Festival) during summer school

The Japanese Language Program teaches the historical aspects and customs, as well as the language lessons appropriate for the grade level.

a middle school student is using playing a japanese game


two young girls holding a hoola hoop wearing kimonos


picture of a young boy beating a drum


two children are trying to push over a sumo wrestler




Frequently Asked Questions

Is Nishimachi a Japanese school?

No, Nishimachi is not a Japanese school. We are an English language-based, Grade K to Grade 9 international school in Tokyo with a strong Japanese language and culture program.

Our core subjects draw from Next Generation Science Standards, Common Core, and the AERO (American Education Reaches Out) framework. The overall academic program of English, mathematics, social studies and science is complemented by daily Japanese, as well as music, physical education, art, drama, exploratory, community service, and outdoor education programs.

Does Nishimachi offer a full Japanese/English bilingual program?

No, Nishimachi is not a bilingual school. According to The Routledge Handbook of Educational Linguistics, bilingual education is defined as the use of two languages in the instruction and assessment of learners.

At Nishimachi, we are an English language-based, Grade K to Grade 9 international school in Tokyo with a strong Japanese Language and Culture Program.

My children are native Japanese speakers. Does Nishimachi International School follow the Japanese national curriculum?

No, Nishimachi does not follow the Japanese national curriculum. We have our own curriculum for Levels 1 to 4 which uses the Monbukagaku-sho Kokugo curriculum (the Japanese national curriculum) as a reference. If your child is a non-native speaker, they are likely to be placed in Level 5 to 9 depending on the result of the entrance Japanese assessment.

How can my child move up Japanese levels?

Assessments take place throughout the course of the year and Japanese levels are evaluated. Without disruption to a student's learning, there might be times that they have the ability to move levels on a semester or year basis.

How does Nishimachi International School evaluate language proficiency?

To certify Japanese language proficiency, we have students write the Japanese Language Proficiency Test, a standardized criterion-referenced test to evaluate and certify Japanese language for non-native speakers.

Our Japanese Language Program provides native Japanese students the ability to maintain the level of Japanese needed to move on to and be successful at a local and prestigious Japanese school.

We are new to the Japanese language. How long will it take for my children to learn Japanese?

Japanese is not an easy language.

Language learning proficiency is dependent on:

  • Personalities
  • Attitudes
  • Motivation
  • Previous language learning experience
  • Positive learning environment
  • Support at home

According to the U.S. Foreign Service Institute, for complex languages such as Japanese, Korean, Arabic, Cantonese, and Mandarin, it takes up to 2,200 hours of learning in school - or 88 weeks - for a student to reach “professional working proficiency in the language”.

Basic interpersonal communicative skills (BICS) takes two to three years of language learning and cognitive academic language proficiency (CALP) takes five to seven years of language learning.

And according to Chika Keough, our Department Leader of Japanese, children can take even longer.

Until able to fully learn in the second language they will not be able to access the academic curriculum in the same way or at the same rate as a native speaker.

How will I know if my child is making progress?

Process is monitored by conferences, reports, communication with his/her teachers, end-of-the-year assessments (ES) and end-of-the-semester assessments (MS).

These formal assessments provide feedback for teachers and students to analyze and develop further in language skills. Conversations and support from home are also essential to help monitor a child's growth in language skills.

What are the expectations surrounding homework in the Japanese program?

Elementary School students have daily assignments which take about 10 to 20 minutes depending on the grade-level, but the homework varies from class to class. Levels 1 to 4 classes have a weekly assignment in addition to any regularly assigned homework

How do I support my child at home with language learning?

Though we offer a strong Japanese Language Program, 40 to 60 minutes is not going to guarantee your children will be bilingual. You need to make sure you are reinforcing language learning at home.