YIS: A Participant and Witness of the History of Yokohama

The idea of an international school in Yokohama, Japan, was germinated at a meeting held on September 18, 1924 shortly after the Great Kanto Earthquake. Six founding members pledged moral and financial support to the forming of a new school for foreign students to be named Yokohama International School (YIS). This was only the second school in the modern era to use the word ‘international’ in its name behind the International School of Geneva which opened its doors just weeks before. Morning classes commenced on October 27, 1924 in a rented room at the local YMCA with an enrolment of six students aged between six and twelve years and a locally employed female teacher. 

In the ensuing years, the number of students attending the school grew and in 1936, it was decided that YIS should open a boarding facility on the Principal’s residence to give more scope to this increasing enrolment. By March 1937, the number of students had reached 102 compared to 52 the year before. Twelve teachers were employed at the time. The Yokohama Country and Athletic Club in the same year agreed to the school using its field on Wednesday afternoons for cricket and football (soccer). By 1939 YIS had grown to 110 students spanning 21 nationalities. Two years later, due to the pressures of war, constraints were being imposed on the school by the Japanese Government and by December of that year, YIS had closed. Soon after, the site became a refugee centre for German nationals, and then later an air defense training school. Unfortunately, on May 29, 1945, the school buildings were swept away by an air raid fire leaving only the concrete structures intact.

Under the act of the ‘Restoration of the United Nations Nationality Property in Japan’, in November 1951, repossession of the land that housed YIS was formally completed. With active support of foreign businesses and an indemnity payment received from the Japanese government, a new building was erected on the original site and the school was reopened on September 15, 1955 with an enrolment of 8 children.

During subsequent years, there was rapid enrolment growth and on March 9, 1958, over 150 foreigners and families of five nationalities attended the opening of a second building. With a third building being added in 1962 (known as ‘the Middle Building’), it gave more room for growth and by 1967, the enrolment figure had reached 320 students. The ‘Main Building’ was added in 1969 and in the same year, the school became registered as a ‘School Juridical Person’, (Gakko Hojin).

The first cohort group of Grade 9 students began classes in the fall of the same year and this group of nine students became the first graduates of the school, the ‘Class of 1973’. In 1986, YIS began its first class for the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (IBDP), dispensing with the British ‘A’ Levels which were, up to that point, offered in the last two years of high school. The school became fully accredited in 1991 by the European Council of International Schools (ECIS) and the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC). Mid 1990’s, the school introduced the IGCSE (the International General Certificate in Secondary Education) in Grades 9 and 10, replacing the GCE’s (General Certificate in Education).

1999 was a year of celebration for the school – its 75th anniversary. A week of celebrations and events attended by dignitaries, former heads, parents, alumni, and the school community at large was organized, culminating in a huge party at the Pan Pacific Hotel in Yokohama with many ambassadors as guests of honour. In the same year the school founded the Schools Building Schools programme (SBS), a project involving the raising of funds to build schools in less fortunate countries around the world.

In 2000, YIS became the first school in Japan to offer the Reggio Emilia programme for the early learners, and a year later became the first school in Japan authorized to offer the Primary Years Programme of the IBO, the International Baccalaureate Organisation. By 2003, the school’s structure included the Early Learning Centre, (ages 3-5), an Elementary School (K-5), a Middle School, (Grades 6-8) and a High School, (Grades 9-12).

A successor to the International Center for Japanese Culture (ICJC), founded at YIS in 2011, our Japanese Culture Program helps students and our wider community develop an appreciation of, and respect for, the unique and rich culture of our host country through traditional and modern arts and culture classes and wide-ranging interactions with community organizations, artists, and other groups. 

In January 2022, YIS said goodbye to its original home on the Bluff and moved to a new campus in Kominatocho, Naka-ku, Yokohama, less than 2 kilometers away. Designed for learning by Kengo Kuma & Associates (KKAA), the Honmoku campus, about 50% larger than the Yamate-cho campus,  reflects the school's inquiry-based learning and teaching philosophy in making every space a learning space. The campus is comprised of two buildings incorporating Japanese and Western stylistic queues and natural design elements, a full-size athletic field, double gymnasium and swimming pool, a 411-seat auditorium, communal hubs on all classroom levels, and a 360-panel solar energy system. The school's new home establishes a base to prepare for its second century of quality international education in Yokohama.

Drawing on a tapestry of students from over 45 nations and staff representing over 20 diverse cultures, YIS offers a well-rounded international education, focusing on student-centered teaching. Inspired by the spirit of internationalism laid out by our founders and propelled by the ever-evolving nature of our educational programs, we are dedicated to nurturing the principles encapsulated in our mission statement Live, Learn, Lead to foster individual development and communal prosperity.