Student Commuters in Japan: Reasons Why the Government Encourages Commuting

Young Kids in Japan Commuting to School

A lot of people from other cultures find this fact from Japan to be quite unusual. Many tourists from other countries see children as young as seven years of age to be walking the neighborhood alone, especially for small communities. Many people have commented about the children’s safety. Some people are even so surprised that many Japanese parents will allow their children to commute to school noting that there is unforeseeable danger lurking around in the environment.

But what these people need to understand is the fact that students commuting to school is a common occurrence and it is highly encouraged by the Japanese government. In some schools, commuting to school is mandatory and parents are forced to swallow their fear and trust their child and the community for safety.

There are public schools in every city in Japan. For very large cities like Tokyo, there are public schools in almost every district. Students are supposed to enter the public school for which their residence is nearest, whether it is within the same or neighboring district. This is why a child’s house to their school can usually take a few minutes of walking or biking. Also, their classmates will also be from the same neighborhood and it is common to see groups of kids walking from school to their homes.

The only exception will come from students who are studying at a private school which could be located at city centers and significantly far from residential areas. Usually, it is these private school students who take public transportation going to their schools. For many students in Japan, they consider this freedom as a privilege. School buses are not too common and they get a feel of independence. On top of that, they learn how to protect themselves and become responsible for their own safety.

Chris 73 / Wikimedia Commons [GFDL 1.3 ( or CC BY-SA 3.0 (], from Wikimedia Commons

The Views of the Japanese Government to Student Commuters

A simple review of Japan’s history will tell anyone that the “walk-to-school” mandate has been practiced since the early 1950s. It has been strongly maintained since then and is still fully supported by the government up until today. Parents do this not so they could save up on the expenses of taking their kids to school, but it may be because they believe in what the government wants to do for their children.

One of the goals that the Japanese government has for this is that they want to improve the child’s self-reliance. It is through this independence that the child learns how to be responsible and run simple errands for the family. It gives them an impression that they have the ability to do what they want to do despite their age. Also, with the advent of technology, parents are more comfortable to allow their children to commute on their own. They have cell phones where they access map apps and other safety-related apps. Furthermore, with the modernization of transportation technology, parents can rest assured of their children’s safety.

On top of this, it always pushes developers of technology (regardless of field or industry) to include children in their range of users. One of their points is to develop programs that are user-friendly even for children that are very young. Although it is a challenge, there is always success in Japan’s development of child inclusion in technology.

Another reason why the Japanese government encourages walking to school is the fact that it is a great way to prevent childhood obesity. Obesity has been an increasing problem in Japan in the last 25 years, despite their generally healthy population.  It is known that the childhood obesity rates in Japan are only at less than 3%. Every year, with the government’s school lunch programs, this rate has been continuously decreasing. Walking from home to school for ten to fifteen minutes proves a great regular exercise for young children and helps them burn calories from the junk food that they consume.

However, the most important goal this mandate has is for the benefit not only of the child but also of the community. Many studies have noted that this act of encouraging young children to walk to school not only improves the child’s independence but it also improves “group reliance”. This means that at a young age, children need to learn that they can call on another person from the community to seek help. And in the same way, they have an equal social responsibility to be in service for others.

This means that from this experience, the community also learns. Each member of the community has the role of looking out for the child wherever they may be and extend help whenever needed. With this knowledge, parents are much more comfortable thinking that others will help their children in the same way that they will help those that are not their own.

By Luke Ma from Taipei, Taiwan ROC (Commuting - Sony A7R) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commonsdd

How the community helps student commuters in Japan

In Japan, there is a very strong sense of community. Although they are not that expressive regarding this, there is an unwritten rule and code as to an individual’s roles for the community or neighborhood. One of these responsibilities is to keep watch over their children, even those that are not their own. Young kids in Japan are very independent and they have an impressive sense of responsibility and freedom. However, all adults in the community have an equal responsibility to ensure these children’s safety, even if they are children that are not their own. Perhaps they know that other strangers will do the same for their children.

Many people from the west are always wondering why the Japanese government is quite strict with implementing dress codes and uniforms for their students. The presence of student commuters and their encouragement for this behavior is probably one of the reasons for the strict implementation of the uniform code. School uniforms have special markers to indicate the age of the child and what school they are from. This gives a clear alert for the community to keep these children in close watch. On top of these, pre-schoolers and grade-schoolers have specially colored flaps in their backpacks – an indication of their age. Among their roles is to keep these children within their sight and help these children cross the road, ride trains, and the like.

Different Means of Transport of School Children in Japan

Walking to School

Most students go to schools which are within the same district as their residence. This would mean that from their houses or neighborhoods, they could walk a short distance going to school. This is especially true for small communities and suburban areas in Japan. This is why it is easy to spot schools in Japan because blocks away, there will be hundreds of students walking towards it. The only time that the students cannot go to school walking would be during days of really low temperatures. Parents can also choose to walk their children in the morning and evening, during this time of year.

Walking to school provides good daily exercise for children especially since physical education classes are not held on a daily basis. It keeps them healthy and helps them burn excess calories that they have consumed for the time being. It is also a good way for young kids to make friends as they can choose to walk along with children from the neighborhood the same as them.

Biking to School

Even adults can choose to take the bike from their homes to their destinations. There are not much parking spaces for cars in Japan due to the lack of space, but most establishments have bike racks where users can leave their bikes in safety. Most schools have bike racks on the grounds where all students can leave their bikes locked in. Most subway and train stations also have bike storages or bicycle parking areas where people can leave their equipment before they continue riding the train.  

Riding the train and bus to school

Choosing the train or the subway to school is a common method of a commute for children living in the metro. It is important for parents to teach their children ways of reading timetables and train lines. This is to avoid children getting lost on their way to school. It is important for parents to provide proper instructions because unlike walking and biking to school, children would now need to ride along and compete with the rush hour crowd.

Safety of Public Transport in Japan

What people need to understand is the fact that Japan has an incredible reputation regarding safety. Annual homicide rates are less than 1%. There is an absolutely low level of crime in the country. Common crimes are theft, and this is what is always in the news. But there are very minimal occurrences of rape, murder, assault, kidnapping and the like. For small neighborhoods, it is reassuring to know that it is quite tight-knit where everyone knows everyone.

However, this does not mean that there will be absolutely no crime in the country. To countermeasure this, children can easily access police patrols and police stations which are in almost every neighborhood in the country. There are also kobans, or police boxes, in almost every corner which provides immediate assistance during times of need.

For children who are walking or biking to school, it is common etiquette for drivers to yield for cyclists and pedestrians. The sidewalks are also widened to accommodate both bike and foot traffic. Also, there are different urban spaces around the city that are made especially for pedestrians like parks, underground walkways, and more.

Japan probably has the most efficient transportation system in all of Asia. It takes pride in its punctuality and safety. There are timetables available online for which the parents can use to track the arrival of their children on the stations. On top of that, there are special passes for students that the parents can manage and that the students can use. There is public transport personnel which is on standby to help young children and people with disabilities in using the facilities.

However, it is difficult to deny that public transportation is pretty crowded during rush hour. For young children, this may be quite a scary experience. There are no special carts for children passengers in Japanese trains. Regardless of this, the Japanese people’s sense of community will surely prevail especially when around children.

Student Commuter Passes in Japan

Also known as the ‘teiki-ken’, a student commuter pass is an important tool for all students who would be commuting or taking the public transport to school. A parent or a student can purchase this kind of ticket and it will provide unlimited two-way passes for students for a specific duration of time. These tickets are also known as IC Cards and are like IDs with personal information like name, photo, and address. They are tappable cards which can be used not just for riding the train but also for buses or for other establishments around the country. This is quite convenient for students and parents alike.

To ensure the safety of students, these commuter passes can only be used over a definite or specific route. This is to help aids in determining whether a student or child is lost or have gone down the wrong station. Parents can also choose a pass option where students are expected to go from point A (home station) to point B (school station) and vise versa only. However, parents can also choose another option where they can add another stop to the pass. For example, point A is a home station, point B is a museum, a playground or a zoo, and point B is school.

Sometimes, these kinds of passes give special discounts to students. There are free drinks, free entries to museums and zoos, and the like. It is a good service which the government has provided to provide additional safety for children and older students. It is also a means of control for parents where they can ensure the routes that their students would take on a daily basis.

By Jim Epler from San Diego, USA (Flickr) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons