The 12 Biggest Similarities And Differences Between Anime School And Real Life School In Japan

The vast majority of anime are at least partially set in Japanese high schools... but the depictions aren't always accurate. How do anime high schools compare to the real thing? 

There's no single answer to that question because each school makes its own rules. However, there are some broad trends. Japanese schools can be incredibly strict, prohibiting their students from having hair that isn't black to going to karaoke or arcades outside of school. They tend to be deeply involved in students' personal lives, beyond what is depicted in anime where authority figures often don't exist. Events like the culture festival do exist and are often just as important in real life as they are in anime - though they'll rarely be as risque as some anime festivals are.

There are plenty more ways that anime depictions of school life don't exactly align with the real world, so let's learn about it.

Photo: TMS Entertainment / Wikimedia Commons

  • There Are Strict Rules About Transportation

    There Are Strict Rules About Transportation
    Photo: Madhouse

    One thing that often doesn't come up in anime are the strict rules about transportation. Students are often banned from driving to school. Instead, they have to walk, bike, or take public transportation. While taking public transportation, they are often required to stand, in order to leave seats open for elderly or disabled people - no word on what is expected from disabled students. 

    Students also must arrive alone or with other students - they are not to be dropped off by parents, relatives, or friends who don't attend the school. This is in the name of public safety.

    This kind of thing often doesn't come up in anime, since character's relationships with their classmates are usually considered more important than parental ones, and there's nothing unusual about walking to school or taking public transportation. Still, some of these prohibitions may come as a surprise.

  • Japanese High School Students Rarely Live Alone

    Japanese High School Students Rarely Live Alone
    Photo: Shaft

    One of the strangest aspects of high school life in anime is a large number of students who live by themselves. Unlike in America, this can happen without child protective services getting involved, but it's not nearly as common as anime makes it seem. In real life, on the rare occasion that it does occur, it's because a student got into a prestigious high school that's far from home and doesn't offer housing. In that case, parents with the means to do so may rent out an apartment for their child.

    However, this is not only unaffordable for many parents, but also undesirable. Just like parents anywhere, Japanese parents want to make sure that their underage children are properly cared for. Even those who allow it may insist that their kids come home on weekends, or at least check in regularly. 

  • Some Schools Really Do Ban Working Outside Of School

    Some Schools Really Do Ban Working Outside Of School
    Photo: J.C.Staff

    In anime, students often aren't allowed to have part-time jobs outside of school and can be severely punished if they do. That's why Anzu from Yu-Gi-Oh! was once successfully blackmailed by someone who took a photograph of her working at a fast food restaurant - if her school found out, she'd be toast. This is actually reflective of reality. While each school sets its own rules, many schools do choose to ban students from working on the grounds that they want them to focus on their studies and on school clubs.

  • School Uniforms Aren't Quite Like They Are In Anime

    In anime, students are almost always seen wearing their school uniforms. In reality, most schools do require a uniform of some kind. However, these uniforms tend to be plainer than what appears in anime. It's unlikely that a real Japanese student would have a uniform with a pastel pink mini skirt - rather, it would be a longer skirt in a more conservative color, like navy or beige. The range of uniform styles isn't quite as wide as it is in anime either - most schools stick to a few basic designs, including blazers with pants or a skirt, sailor uniforms, or the gakuran - an all-black uniform with a high neck and gold buttons. 

    However, not all schools require uniforms. Some allow students to wear street clothes, or to construct their own uniforms from popular uniform supply companies. In a school like this, there might be clothing trends, but no two students will be dressed exactly the same.

  • The Student Council Doesn't Have That Much Power

    The student council is one of the most powerful forces in an anime high school. They can enforce and even create the school rules without answering to the school administration, and in some extreme cases, like in Kill La Kill, their jurisdiction even goes beyond the borders of the school itself - the student council in that show can even control what jobs' a students' parents have.

    Being a member of the student council seems like a pretty sweet gig, but the reality isn't so impressive. Student council members actually possess little meaningful authority - everything is decided by school administration, and while they may occasionally get a chance to voice their opinions, they have little to no decision-making powers.

  • Personal Expression Is Limited

    Anime characters often boast all kinds of unusual appearance markers, from excessive jewelry to multi-colored hair. While a real person clearly would not have naturally green hair, some schools do have students who have dyed their hair green. This is rarely allowed in Japanese schools. Students are expected to maintain a conservative appearance, often with some really strict rules. In some schools, limits are placed on hair length, and students aren't allowed to shave or wear makeup.

    Other schools have a laxer approach, but it's still unlikely that you'll see a kid with green hair. In fact, black or brown hair is so preferred that there are a few cases in which students whose hair was naturally brown were asked or even forced to dye their hair black. This policy has been hotly contested and has resulted in lawsuits.