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Students Get a Japanese Education at 2 Palos Verdes Schools

September 29, 1994|CHARLES HILLINGER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

At two Palos Verdes Peninsula schools, each day begins with a bow to the teacher and ends with the students cleaning the classroom as part of a strict disciplinary code.

In between, every student learns to play the flute, do calligraphy and work out on the bars as part of the required gymnastics program.

And it is all taught in Japanese.

The privately owned schools teach children of Japanese executives based in the South Bay.

Kokusai Gakuen, also known as International Bilingual School, was started in Torrance in 1979, moved to Hermosa Beach and then settled on the campus of the former Malaga Cove School in Palos Verdes Estates in August, 1992.

Nishiyamato Academy of California opened at the former Dapplegray School in Rolling Hills Estates in April, 1992.

The curriculum of both schools, mandated by the Japanese government, matches that of all elementary and junior high schools in Japan. Students learn Japanese language, literature, history, politics, geography, culture, home economics for the girls, music and art. The Japanese government provides textbooks.

Ninety government-sponsored and 20 privately operated Japanese schools are located throughout the world, wherever Japanese companies are concentrated.

"So far at our school, we have had more than 1,500 students enrolled who have returned to Japan," said Kokusai Gakuen founder Tadao Hara. "The majority of Japanese businessmen are assigned here three to five years, then return to their homes."

Hara said he started the school because Japanese children educated in the United States did not do well academically when they returned to Japan. As a consequence, many parents left their children in Japan when they were stationed in America.

In American schools, the students might learn English and experience American culture, but they did not learn the subjects they needed to pass the rigorous exams to get into Japanese high schools and universities. Japanese schools outside Japan help prepare students for these exams.

Each class at Kokusai Gakuen has a maximum of 15 students, and school is in session 210 days a year, compared to 180 days at American schools. The school charges $405 to $470 a month in tuition.

"Everything is just like it is in school in Japan except we learn English and learn about American culture," said Sho Toyoda, 14, a ninth-grader, who has been at the school two years. His father is an executive with Toyota.

All ninth graders at Hara's school take a trip to the East Coast as part of the school's program for students to get to know the United States.

"They go to a Broadway play, visit historic sites in Boston, Philadelphia, New York and Washington, D.C., visit the Japanese Embassy, Congress and the White House," Hara said.

The first year, his school had 48 students. By 1989 there were 269 students attending classes. "Then the bubble burst. Both Japan and America have been suffering economically ever since," he said. Enrollment this year is down to 175 students in grades one through nine.

In 1989, 693 Japanese companies were located in Southern California. Now there are 615. The number of Japanese expatriate managers and executives has dropped from a high of 3,800 to 3,400, said Sadao (Bill) Kita, executive director of the Japan Business Assn. of Southern California.

Hara said to boost enrollment, he is working with high schools in Japan to bring 30 to 40 students to the school from Japan to spend a semester. "This would expose them to American culture and the English language. Students would live with American families in the South Bay area," Hara said.

Despite the decline in the number of Japanese companies and Japanese executives in this area in the past four years, Japanese politician Kyotaro Tanose decided to open an overseas campus of his Nishiyamato Academy, which is located in Nara, Japan. Tanose is a member of the Diet, Japan's parliament.

"We believe there are enough Japanese families in this area knowing the Nishiyamato Academy reputation that will send their children to our school even during this period of economic decline," said Hideki Shindo, 28, vice principal of Nishiyamato's campus in Rolling Hills Estates.

Nishiyamato Academy of California started last year with 38 students in grades six through eight. Now it has 71 students enrolled in fifth through ninth grades.

The monthly tuition is $630.

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