Summer Learning in Japan

By Christine Mason and Andrew Davis, CEI Intern

The United States has more than 14,000 day and resident camps. According to the American Camp Association, camping is an $18 billion industry.  How does this compare to other countries?  This year we take a look at summer camps and other summer vacation activities for Japanese children. (June 2017 and June 2016 issues of Wow! Ed have related articles on summer camp opportunities including STEAM and drama camps.)

Japan offers some exciting summer opportunities for students and families. While we couldn’t find statistics on the number of camps or the degree of participation by students, consider these possibilities:

  • Hakuba (Norway Village) mountain summer school with rafting, mountain biking, wake boarding, technology communications, and creative arts and music. Students have opportunities to produce a large sculptural mosaic, learn to play the Japanese flute and a recycled drum, and participate in street performances.
  • Nanbo Discovery Camp, an English language beach camp that has snorkeling, swimming, cycling hiking, cooking, journal writing and drawing, and arts and crafts.
  • Kids Cooking Program, an opportunity to cook global recipes.
  • The Sacred Heart Summer School Program has experiential learning for Prek-2nd grade students focusing on superheroes and ‘things that go.’ The program includes puzzles, games, experiments, sensory play, crafts, and problem solving. For grades 3-8, there are options for short film making, creative writing, robotics, creative computing, weird science, volleyball, crochet, dance, Japanese handicrafts, and photoshop basics.

Other summer programs include an English Adventure Camp with an English immersion and a challenge program that involves using English during camp life; a Kspace, survival camp; an Island adventure; and an ‘internet-fasting’ camp for teens who are addicted to their digital devices, where teens experience exciting adventures sans technology. Several of the Japanese summer programs are operated by private schools; others are run by international management teams that focus on such things as using English in the outdoors. Many of the programs are available to youth from ages 6-18; a few offer day programs to preschoolers as well.  Some programs, such as the English Adventure, offer Fall and Spring outdoor and also winter ski opportunities. Others offer credits towards International Baccalaureate degrees.

Summer Projects During Vacation. No review of summer for Japanese children would be complete without a few comments on differences in the educational school system that impact how time available. Typically, Japanese public schools operate year-round with breaks that may be 40 days in the summer and 10-day breaks between fall and winter and another 10-day break between winter and spring (Kids web Japan, n.d.). Students are often expected to complete a summer project. The summer project, known as the jiyu kenkyu, translates into an independent research project (Kittaka, 2017).

  • Students choose their topic, as long as it remains age appropriate and is educational. A range of things is possible, from building a food pyramid to writing an essay on an art exhibit to creating art.
  • Students reflect on their interests, what they want to know, and what they feel is important.
  • This project is important enough that for those who truly can’t think of anything, certain jiyu kenkyu kits are advertised in Japanese parenting magazines (Kittaka, 2017).

Projects for Younger Students. Younger children, for their projects, may take care of a rhinoceros beetle or a flower, for example, over the summer. Students document in words or through drawings how the bug or flower is growing and changing.Taking care of plants and insects over summer breaks requires them to think about what those plants and insects need and pay attention to how they are behaving.  It is not a stretch to assume that in being concerned over something that we may consider trivial, they could extend this concern and awareness towards other beings. School clubs can also meet over this period of time as well (‘Japanese Education System,’ 2000).

Mentors (Sempai)

A recent innovation demonstrates how the advantages of summer camps can be incorporated into traditional education programs. Seven years ago, Kenta Koga, a Japanese entrepreneur, began a two-week summer school program for 40 high school-aged students in Japan. ‘There, sempai, or mentors, guide students (kohai) through short projects designed to spark creativity and inspiration.’ (Noonoo, 2017).

For additional information on education for children in Japan see a May 2017 article in Wow! Ed by Rachel Kelly and Christine Mason.


Japanese Education System – Elementary Schools. (2000). Washington: Report from the U.S. Department of State and U.S. Department of Commerce. OERI Research Team for the U.S Study of Education in Japan.

Kids Web Japan. (n.d.). Explore Japan schools.

Kittaka, L. G. (2017, August 31).Been there, learnt that: When vacations involve homework.

Noonoo, S, (2017, Dec. 12). How a Japanese magician is turning summer school into project-based summer camps. Edsurge.


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