Yukiko Kawasaki is having a hectic afternoon when Savvy Tokyo visits her workplace, Tokyo West International School (TWIS), in the middle of December, with preparations for holiday and end-of-term events in full swing.
As we sit down to begin the interview, a little girl knocks and then pops her head round Yukiko’s office door. “Excuse me, but where are the candy canes?” Yukiko replies with a reassuring smile and, satisfied, the student skips off.
Since taking on her present role in June of last year as the admissions director and head of the Japanese department, Yukiko has been working to expand programs in order to better serve a very diverse student body.
The school follows the Japanese academic calendar and Yukiko wasn’t fazed about jumping into her new job in the middle of the first term. This dynamic educator has worked with a variety of students and schools in her career, which has taken her from Japan to the USA and back again.
“I’d heard from TWIS that they wanted to expand their bilingual program and I came on board in a brand-new capacity. I love building things up and I have a soft spot for smaller schools, so it has worked out well,” Yukiko explains.
Her experience is a perfect match for the school. The 200 students at the K to 9 school come from varied backgrounds, ranging from Japanese families who don’t use English at home, to bicultural children, returnees and those who commute from a nearby military base. It is challenging to serve the needs of such a diverse group, but Yukiko thrives on challenges and has always actively pursued opportunities where she can make a difference and have a lot of input.
From Japan to the US
“I started off as an English teacher at a juku (a so-called “cram school”) in Japan. I actually had a lot of freedom there — more so than at regular Japanese schools. The kids at a juku come by choice, in order to pass exams or improve their grades. I enjoyed having the freedom to choose my teaching style and methods,” she recalls.
Like many women in a dual-career couple, Yukiko’s initial reason for moving abroad was for her partner’s job. Her daughter was an infant at the time. The young family settled in California, where Yukiko’s husband attended business school at Stanford University.
Searching for a preschool, Yukiko was delighted when her daughter got a place at the Bing Nursery School. This facility operates as a program within the School of Humanities and Sciences at Stanford, with the mission of promoting understanding of child development. “The preschool was famous for its research