Sightseeing around the various temples and riding buses in Japan, especially in Kyoto, we were perplexed by the number of children running around at all the sites. We’d go to a temple on a Tuesday afternoon and there would be kids in school uniform everywhere. It turned out the kids were just following their standard curriculum. All kids in Japan, throughout the entire country have to travel to the city of Kyoto and around the the mainland to learn about the history.
At first I was a bit confused, why do we need to learn so much history when we are so young, even in the American school system? We mostly don’t remember what we learn in school when we’re young. But as we traveled more and encountered more kids I had a realization: these kids are taught real life skills of riding buses and trains on their own or with friends. They’re taught to read signs and have encounters with foreigners. In fact, they are required to speak to English speaking foreigners as a part of their curriculum as well. One project they have is to interview tourists in English and transcribe answers. As a result they’re exposed to a lot from a young age and taught a lot about real life, not basic history and “after school” like we do in the states.
Overall we were quite impressed with the Japanese curriculum, one thing we caught on tape at the Golden Temple in Kyoto and thought was cute was when a young boy in his class came up to us and started to speak to us in English. He was communicating well with absolute strangers in a foreign language (we have the video here) and he couldn’t have been more than 10 years old. We quickly learned that this communication where kids would ask “hi, can I ask you a question, where are you from?” Was something they were assigned to do while visiting tourist sites.
We were happy with our realization and absolutely support this aspect of their curriculum. Japanese children are taught valuable communication tools that help them gain some insight into other cultures. And, even more importantly, they’re taught to have confidence and independence from a young age.