The typical anime school day - Fact and again probably shouldn't come off as a surprise.
The way anime shows homeroom as very important and where you spend most of your time - Fact
First was the big picture overview of the school year and now it's time to talk about the day to day schedule of the students. Is Japanese school really 8 days a week and 29 hours long?
I know I've said this many times before and in my first blog post I made a big deal about pointing out how I'm just giving a very general summery and this is in no way 100% truth for every single school. I feel that this might be where my general example covers the least amount of schools just because every school varies in so many ways and has their own style for how things work, but I'll try and give the best picture I can so you can see if school days are really how they are made out to be. I'm pretty much trying to draw the average of all the schools I know and if I can think of any extreme examples I throw those in.
So when does the day begin? 8:00? 7:00?!! Morning homeroom typically starts about 8:50... yup. When I was a high school student my first class started at 8:20 so lets just say I was a bit surprised when the very first moment of stepping into a school the very first notion of the long Japanese school days was already way off what I expected. Some clubs, even in JHS, will have morning practice a few days a week though and that typically starts around 7:45-8:00 so that I would considering an early start, but that's for just the clubs that have a few morning practices during the week.
This is a good time to mention to that homeroom is SUPER important for Japanese schools. You're homeroom is everything. Compared to America where homeroom is the 5 minutes you sit trying to finish your homework from the previous day. Homerooms in Japan are a big deal. You probably get this feeling from watching anime where homerooms do everything together, are always together, it's where you're best friends are and you might not even know students outside of your homeroom. As I said last time Japanese schools have a ton more events and basically this closeness is because you are always doing something together with your homeroom. You have a festival, or cleaning, or trip, or activity day, or school competition. Also there are a number of special classes (JHS has homeroom, moral and integrated studies to name a few) that take place on a daily basis almost. These are classes where the homeroom teacher comes up with special activities or lessons for the students. Also students stay in their homerooms almost all day and only leave for a few specific subjects. So homerooms are everything in Japan.
While touching upon homeroom lets just mention homeroom teachers. Seeing as how homerooms are so important you can probably guess that homeroom teachers are big. A completely not exaggerated way to explain them are as second parents. Especially for JHS students your homeroom teacher is a major part of your life and can have a huge effect on you. If anyone has seen Kimi Ni Todoke where the teacher is always involved with the kids it's kinda like that. I'll just give one good example of just how important. So lets say a student isn't the best kid and maybe gets in trouble with the police one day for stealing a candy bar from a store, something like that. So it's 11:00 a night, who does the policemen call first... the parent... heck no! The homeroom teacher. That's right. This may not be the case 100% of the time, but I've heard many, many cases where this is how it happens.
Ok back to the school day. I've seen schools have 4 - 45 minute classes, 6 - 50 minute classes, 4 - 90 minutes classes, but the most common schedule I see is 5 classes, either 3 or 4 before lunch and 1 or 2 after lunch that are 50 minutes long. Break time between class is 10 minutes and lunch and recess are about 15 minutes a piece. So when does school get out? 4:00? 5:00? Average day maybe homeroom ends about 3:30. Ok so when I was in high school it started at 8:20 and finished at 2:45, had 8 - 40 minutes classes, 5 minutes between and 30 minutes for lunch. I don't know how this stacks up for the rest of you, but my school day and a Japanese students school day are pretty close in length.
Of course though you have clubs and committees. Japanese schools LOVE committees! There's a group of students whose job it is to replace to toilet paper in the bathrooms. I'm sure they have other responsibilities, but that's all I've ever really seen them do. So after school the majority of students will attend club and if it's the day their committee meets, they will attend that meeting. The time clubs finish depends on the month pretty much. Longer summer days clubs finish maybe 6:30 (now this I can see being a really long day), shorter winter days clubs maybe finish at 5:00. After clubs the only other thing for some students would be heading off to juku if they attend.
Lastly the famous notion of Saturday school. So do all Japanese schools have Saturday classes every week? No. Most? No. Half? No. A small fraction and it normally has a special circumstance to go with it? Yes. I know one school (a high level private school) that has Saturday class every week, but it's a half day and the students also have half days on Wednesday. The other school did 2 straight months of 6 classes a week, but that was so that they could start summer vacation earlier and save election because of the earthquake. Saturday school use to be the norm, but that was phased out in the early/mid 90's. I'm honestly not too sure about exactly when it was. My guess as to why it seems many American's still believe it to be the case? When the Japanese economy has booming in the 80's, it was the norm so when America looked at Japan and had news reports on this nation that was doing extremely well people would say "hey, they are thriving, how come? They have school 6 days a week! That must be why" because that's what was reported and then when they stopped doing it no one was taking an interesting so in America no one was aware and they just kept with the notion that it's still that way.
And well that's your very basic layout of a school day.