Keep in mind, I have only worked in junior high schools. Elementary and high schools are run slightly different but there are many similarities. And also, when talking about different cultures, not everything is the same across the board. Just the same way there are small differences from school distrct to school district in America, it is the same in Japan. But a lot of the following seems to be pretty standard.
The school year starts in April in Japan and ends in March. There is only a two week break between the two. Summer vacation, starting in July, lasts about six weeks. Yep, barely a month and a half. If you are in a school club; mostly sports like basketball, tennis, baseball, and volleyball, you'll be expected to come to the school every day for club practice. This includes weekends. Most of the practices last about five hours, either outside or in the gym. Keep in mind, schools and school gyms have no central heat and air. That's right, no a/c in the gym during the day in August.
What happened to school books and pencils during summer break in America? Mostly tossed into closets and pushed under beds, never to be seen again until they are covered with dust bunnies when resurrected three months later. Again, it's different in Japan because the students are assigned summer homework. Given out on the last day of school, they are expected to be turned in when classes start back up.
While this may seem somewhat draconian for the students, it isn't much better for the teachers. Almost every teacher is involved in a club; if their students practice during the summer they have to be there as well. Also, many of the teachers take turns being at the school for security. Every day, at least one teacher is there for about eight hours to make sure it isn't vandalized or being improperly used. This includes weekends as well. Also, it is not allowed for teachers to get a part-time, second job. No chance of earning extra income during the year.
This isn't all doom and gloom. Some students and teachers don't have summer clubs. The prime traveling season is during Obon week in August, when most families go on trips and to festivals. Fireworks and festivals are in abundance during the summer, with most activities in the afternoons and evenings, giving students a chance to relax.
Questions or comments? Leave them below. As always, thanks for reading.