Sustainable Education

Sustainable Education

Hakuba International School offers modern learning in a beautiful setting.

Children of today will face a variety of challenges by the time they reach adulthood, particularly when it comes to the environment. Achieving solutions at global and local levels will require a combination of academic ability, creativity and emotional aware­­ness, and young learners will need them to successfully face a changing world. Hakuba International School (HIS) aims to develop these qualities through an innovative learning approach.

Located in the stunning surroundings of the Japanese Alps in the village of Hakuba, Nagano Prefecture, HIS will open this September. The new boarding school will be for students in grades 7 to 12, and it plans to offer International Baccalaureate diplomas.

The school was founded by Tomoko Kusamoto, who moved to Hakuba 13 years ago after a career in finance. The mother of three became involved in the community, establishing the Hakuba SDGs Lab and becoming the local public high school’s global coordinator. Bringing new educational ideas to this school inspired her to launch HIS, which has been offering a series of holiday programs since 2016.

Blending Methods
Key to the school’s curriculum is project-based learning (PBL), which allows students to learn material and put it to use through real-world activities. It will be the primary focus of lessons for students in grades 7 to 10. As Kusamoto explains, “When kids are doing projects, they are motivated to learn and they naturally want to do well. They really see the need to learn the skills and knowledge needed to get projects going and make them successful.”

Image: Tomoko Kusamoto

Kusamoto adds that another pillar of an HIS education is social-emotional learning, which is grounded in five elements:

  • Self-awareness
  • Self-management
  • Social awareness
  • Relationship skills
  • Responsible decision making

Brought together, these elements empower students to discover their unique strengths and explore how they can put them to use. Kusamoto points out this will be a central element of the HIS experience. “Many schools try to form students into a kind of mold for what a ‘good student’ is,” Kusamoto says. “But we will encour­age students to really explore and discover themselves, find out who they are, be confident about what they’re passionate about and help them figure out how to use that passion to contribute to the world.”

The Right Environment
The beautiful setting is one of the school’s greatest strengths and will influence its educational approach. Kusamoto says she has already seen changes in the local climate since moving there, and nurturing an awareness of sustainability runs deep through the school’s curriculum. For example, sustainability will be a primary compo­nent of PBL activities at HIS.

This awareness is also supported by the range of outdoor activities that students can enjoy amidst forests, mountains, rivers and lakes. Kusamoto points out that this closeness to one’s natural surroundings brings the concept of sustaina­bility to the forefront: “Unless you really know and experience nature, it’s hard to really care about preserving it.”

True to the school’s pioneering spirit and environmental sensibility, the final design for HIS’s first permanent building, which will be carbon neutral, will be shaped by the input of the school’s inaugural classes. It is scheduled to be completed in 2024.

As Kusamoto explains, the combination of learning approaches that HIS will offer sets it apart among international schools and has the potential to affect the future of learning. “Bringing together sustainability, project-based learning and social-emotional learning is not something that many other schools do now,” she says. “I’m hopeful that our school will be able to demonstrate a new type of education in Japan.”

HIS is now accepting applications for grades 7 and 8 as the school’s inaugural class, and plans to host a winter school program from February 17 to 19. To find out more about the remarkable learning opportunities an HIS education can provide, visit