By and large, expat families choose to send their children to international schools in Tokyo rather than to public schools, although that’s not always the case. Japanese public schools are of quality caliber, with the only downfall being that the English taught in Japanese public schools cannot compare to what the international schools can offer. In addition, international schools are known for having greater success in graduating students to Western universities as the schools’ tend to base their curriculum on Western systems. Some foreign children attend public school in search of Japanese fluency since all classes, with exception to English class, are taught in Japanese (although many of the international schools offer some classes in Japanese). Others opt for public schools as the costs for attendance are far less (requiring fees just for uniforms, materials, etc.) than international programs which can run over US$20,000 a year.
The Japanese school year follows the nation’s fiscal year, beginning in April and concluding the following March. While public schools have a variety of holidays throughout the year, naturally including Japanese public holidays, winter vacation generally begins on December 22 and lasts until January 7 while summer vacation begins on July 21 and lasts until the end of August.
Your local Ward office (this site provides Ward office details for the ku that you reside within: http://www.metro.tokyo.jp/ENGLISH/LINKS/links1.htm) can give you specific details on which public schools are available to you, what admissions requirements exist (including application materials for registering in advance of school beginning), and what schools might be most appropriate for teaching foreign students. By and large children with foreign citizenship can be enrolled in public school by visiting the local Ward office’s School Affairs Section with documentation verifying the child’s address and birth date, such as an alien resident registration card (as discussed in the registration contents within the visa section of this guide).
Alternatively you can contact the Tokyo Metropolitan Government’s Guidance Planning Section within the Curriculum and Guidance Division of the Office of Education at Tel: 03-5320-6836.