Japan’s schools begin to reopen with staggered attendance


Schools in many regions across the nation reopened Monday with staggered attendance, in preparation for a full-scale restart of classes, following the government’s lifting of the state of emergency in 39 of the nation’s 47 prefectures last Thursday.

After the emergency closures, schools are welcoming back students while taking measures to prevent infections of the new coronavirus, such as avoiding overcrowding and shortening school hours.

All elementary and junior high schools in the city of Yamagata resumed classes on Monday. At a municipally run elementary school in the prefectural capital, students wearing face masks started arriving at around 7:30 a.m.

Returning after the two-and-a-half-month school closure, some of them happily talked with friends. “I’m a little afraid that I may get the virus, but I look forward to seeing everybody,” said a second-grade boy, age 7.

With this week as a “warm-up” period, the school will offer classes only in the morning on the first three days. A simple lunch, with only bread and milk being served, will be added to the schedule on Thursday and Friday. The school timetable is slated to return to normal next week.

“First, we need to help students correct their rhythm of life (undermined by the school closure),” said an official at the board of education of the city.

“We aim to take the steps needed gradually, including getting students accustomed to new school lunch rules designed to prevent coronavirus infection,” the official added.

In Toyama Prefecture, schools operated by the prefectural government also reopened Monday — earlier than the initial plan for them to remain shut until the end of this month.

To prevent overcrowding, each student is allowed to attend school just once or twice this week.

At Toyama Chubu High School in the city of Toyama, the prefectural capital, third-grade students were divided into two groups. On Monday, students in one group attended school in the morning while those in the other attended in the afternoon.

One student voiced concern over upcoming university entrance exams, saying, “Studying on my own is difficult.”

“We are concerned whether students will be able to take university entrance exams as scheduled, but we will do everything we can” to support them, said Koichi Hongo, the principal of the high school.

In contrast, the city of Kumamoto remains cautious, planning to start staggered school attendance next week or later. It aims to resume classes fully on June 8.

A municipal official in the prefectural capital said that many people found to have been infected with the novel coronavirus in the prefecture are within the city.

“We need to confirm infection numbers after the end of the Golden Week holiday period” earlier this month, the official added.

Kumamoto Prefectural Government reopened prefecture-run schools on Monday.

Yamagata, Toyama and Kumamoto prefectures are among the 39 for which the coronavirus state of emergency was lifted. The other eight prefectures that remain subject to the state of emergency are Hokkaido, Tokyo, Chiba, Kanagawa, Saitama, Kyoto, Osaka and Hyogo.



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