In Japan, Why Does School Start in April? (And Everything Else Too?)

JAPANKURU
4 min readSep 11, 2023

The History of April Beginnings

In Japan, from the first day of school to new recruits at new jobs, and activities of all kinds, April is a month of new beginnings. Considering Japan’s love for seasonal traditions, one might assume that Japan’s spring starts are inspired by the romance of the month of April — warm weather, singing birds, new green bursting from the ground, and even pink cherry blossoms! But this tradition has less to do with poetic ancient traditions than you might hope.

The truth of the matter is that Japan shifted its school year (and eventually other things) to start in April for reasons that aren’t all that poetic, or even all that ancient, for that matter. Even just a couple centuries back, before Japan’s educational system was properly established, private interests determined school schedules (and educational options in general), having the school year start whenever they chose. In many cases, there was no official beginning or end at all, like for educational facilities set up by Buddhist or Confucian temples, or the intensive academies run by samurai clans.

Western influences began to seep into Japan in the mid-19th century, however, and in 1886 the Meiji Restoration turned the Japanese government on its head, marking a major change in policy that allowed a wave of Western culture to sweep through Japan. With new influences arriving from overseas, the Japanese education system made some big changes, mainly molding it to look more like schools across the West. For a time, Japan’s new school year started in September.

Making the Big Change to April

In the years after the Meiji Restoration, Japan made big moves going from year-round admissions to September, so why shake things up again to switch to April? It turns out, surprise surprise, it all comes down to a matter of money. In the year 1886, due to influences near and far, the Japanese government decided that the official fiscal year would now begin in April. There were a few reasons for this — for one, Japan’s many rice farmers harvested their crop in the fall and used the winter months to figure out their finances, which meant that spring was a much easier time to pay taxes. Another push came from the fiscal year of the United Kingdom, which possessed such economic power at the time that it was easier to just follow their schedule than to come up with something new. Of course, this made the funding and management of government-run schools a little bit difficult, considering the seriously staggered schedules. To avoid the headache of balancing two entirely separate schedules, the government ordered their “higher normal schools” (a kind of historical teaching college) to begin their new school years in April, and the trend eventually caught on at teaching colleges and elementary schools around Japan.

For the rest of Japan’s schools, including most high schools and universities, the April start didn’t actually become common until decades later, in the Taisho period (1912–1926). But by that point, institutions of all kinds were inspired to follow along, or deal with the inconvenient consequences. Even companies and organizations have become a part of this unique schedule! Japan’s “job hunting” students participate in a series of hiring events and interviews held throughout their final year of education, and more often than not, fresh graduates leave their alma matter and head en masse to jobs that start just a few weeks after graduation, marking a sort of new year at their workplace.

Fresh Spring Starts

It took decades and some big cultural changes, but these days, April has become a season of new beginnings in Japan. Students head off to new schools, start new semesters, and enter new classes. Fresh graduates move away to new cities, find new homes, and dream of all the things to come at their new jobs. In a very literal sense, all of this reaches back to some very practical fiscal decisions by the Japanese government, influenced by rice harvests and international economic pressures. But in the end, it means that Japan gets to experience a range of new beginnings under a picturesque rain of pink cherry blossom petals each spring — worth it!

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JAPANKURU

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