LWIF EP5: The Homework of a Japanese Student in Third Grade

Hello World! A lot of people think school in Japan is tough and there’s a lot of homework. Here’s a quick video showing what homework can be found in the backpack of a third grade elementary school student in Tokyo. There’s Kanji, reading, math, and even cleaning shoes.

I don’t know enough about the Japanese school system to comment on why there’s a abundance of homework (perceived or real), but one thing that is an undeniable fact is that learning to write Japanese is something kids do on a daily basis.

There are three Japanese alphabets: Hiragana, Katakana, and Kanji.


Hiragana is the first alphabet Japanese kids will learn, and the modern version consists of 46 characters. They also have a dakuten marker ( ゛) and a handakuten marker ( ゜) that can be affixed to characters to change their pronunciation.

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Katakana is quite similar to Hiragana, in that it has the same character set and pronunciations, but the character’s look different. Katakana is mostly used in words that come from a non-Japanese origin. I quote from the wiki page:

…it is used for transcription of foreign language words into Japanese and the writing of loan words (collectively gairaigo); for emphasis; to represent onomatopoeia; for technical and scientific terms; and for names of plants, animals, minerals, and often Japanese companies.

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Kanji is the tough one to learn. There are thousands of Kanji. It’s a set of adopted Chinese characters. Kids from grade 1-12 have to learn 2,136 Kanji characters by the time they graduate. This is called jōyō kanji, which means “regular-use Chinese characters”. Since kids have to learn a couple thousand Kanji by the time they’re 18, they practice learning and writing Kanji nearly everyday from 6 to 18 years old.

Frequently Asked Questions

Where can I get a backpack like that?

Any department store in Japan carries them. They are called “randoseru” (like land sale but pronounced in a Japanese way, although it’s from the Dutch word “ransel” which means backpack).  The colors and styling can change, but they are all built quite uniformly. There are slots for the backpacks in the classrooms and even hooks on the desks that are designed to hold them. If they weren’t uniform in dimensions, the storage system wouldn’t work so well.

Oh right, you want to know where you can get one, not learn about them. I quickly searched Amazon and here’s a link. I’m fairly sure that’s Aiko’s exact backpack. We’ve had it for a couple years and it seems fine to me. Honestly, all the backpacks I’ve seen on kids appear well made. The big difference in price seems to occur with synthetic vs. leather. Aiko’s backpack is a synthetic one.  Leather will probably cost 2-3 times as much. My wife tells me that synthetic is getting so good that some people prefer them for weight and durability reasons.

I would love to see a more in-depth video on school life and homework in Japan.

I’d love to show some more about what life is like in Japanese schools. There’s tons of interesting things going on, from how teachers are greeted, to how the kids clean the classroom, to the school lunch programs. Since filming around schools can be quite sensitive privacy-wise, it may be hard to gather footage and make it public.