Saturday Juku in Miyamoto sensei’s class

It took me about 30 minutes to find Miyamoto sensei’s classroom after getting off the subway. Google maps has been great here, but I was wandering around because I think my chome was off. Then I noticed some parents with younger children coming out of exit A7 at Nihombashi station, so I accosted one of them and they showed me the way to the very non-descript building…


Miyamoto sensei’s class was exactly as I had heard: NO TALKING! Students came in, checked the board (more on this later), got right to their work, and did not stop until the session was over. In the morning, 3rd graders worked on puzzles for 1.5 hours. In the afternoon, the 5th graders worked on other clever problem sets for 2.5 hours and then reading for another 1.5 hours – ALL WITH NO BREAKS. Barely any bathroom uses. Their concentration level was so amazing that you would not have been able to tell the difference between the first five minutes of class and the last five minutes. Same mood, same tone, same energy. How was this possible? I admit, after a 4-hour session in the afternoon I was getting a little restless.


Miyamoto sensei’s class is based heavily in a point/ranking system. All puzzles/problems are timed, and students are given points based on their performance. Miyamoto sensei personally checks all work, and students are given points (and are only allowed to move on ) for correct solutions. Mistakes mean you lose points. Points are tallied after each class, and there is a new ranking every week. Kids rush to the board at the beginning of class to see who is number 1.

There are many fine details to this system that was explained to me by one of his students over dinner (more on this later). One interesting detail is that being the top ranked student in the class has its benefits but also its pressures. If students in the class make mistakes on problems, the top ranked student has the ability to add points on to his score simply because others are making mistakes. It’s good to be the king (or queen). But, if nobody in class can find a solution to a problem, the top-ranked student and only the top-ranked student loses points.

There is no lesson – only problem sets. When students complete a puzzle or problem, Miyamoto sensei says only two words: MARU, which means OK, or BOTSU, which means WRONG. This is all he says. No cajoling, no encouragement. The challenge, the incentive, the ethos are all implied. As I watched this go on for several hours, I wondered: Could I be that minimalist in my class? At least sometimes?  It didn’t matter to Miyamoto sensei whether you were on fire or struggling. He just paced the room, diligently checked work when asked, set a new timer when he needed to, and tracked points on the board as well as his sheet. It seemed, for him, the hardest of his work was in the preparation of the materials – puzzles, problem sets, reading passages. From there, he executed his system flawlessly, and the kids worked more diligently than I could have imagined.

As I sat in the back of the room, I completed my first 9×9 no operations puzzle. Miyamoto sensei definitely has something here: there is great satisfaction in solving a difficult puzzle.


Little did I know, Miyamoto has many different kinds of puzzles, so I also learned a new one. It took me a little while to figure out, but I finally got it. Again, victory! The rules, a sample solution, and a new puzzle are below. Print it out, solve it, and post your solution!

-Lights are coming from where the letters are. When a light hits a mirror, it turns 90 degrees. Which direction it turns depends on which way the mirror is angled (/ or \).
-Lights coming from a letter must arrive at the same letter.
-Lights pass through at the center of squares.
-Only one mirror per cage (dark outlined area).
-The number next to the letter tells you how many times that light turns 90 degrees.

Good luck!

photo 2

photo 1



  1. Kaz,
    I see in the pic that the sensei is using the board. I read that the Japanese teachers use the board strategically. Could you get more on that from sensei?

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