Japanese Schools



Japanese Schools in the news

Japanese signal new era in ties with NATO 

International Herald Tribune - Jan 12 11:52 AM
On the first trip by a Japanese leader to NATO headquarters in Brussels, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe signaled Friday that Tokyo was seeking a more active security role in international organizations.
The job placement ratio rose for Japanese university and high school students ... 
Kyodo via Yahoo! Asia News - Jan 12 2:14 AM
_ The job placement ratio rose for Japanese university and high school students scheduled to graduate in March, due to the imminent massive retirement of baby boomers and economic recovery, a joint survey by the labor and education ministries showed Friday.

Japanese students face chopstick test 
AFP via Yahoo! News - Jan 10 9:09 AM
It's no secret that the Japanese are obsessed with education but in addition to the usual reading, writing and arithmetic some students will soon be tested on their ability to use... chopsticks.

Japan gives more fundings to build primary schools 
Nhan Dan - Jan 10 1:17 AM
The second phase of a Japanese-funded project on building primary schools in northern mountainous provinces commenced in Phu Tho province on January 9.

- Japanes Schools

Here is an article on Japanese Schools.

A typical Japanese classroom

Education has been and is an important Japanesse Schools issue in Japanese society. There are three ways that Japanes Schools a child is educated in Japan: by attending a public school for Japanees Schools a compulsory education, by attending a private school for a compulsory education, or by attending a Japnese Schools private school that does not adhere to standards set by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Jappanese Schools Technology (MEXT).

While high school ("upper secondary education") is not compulsory, more Japanse Schools than 90% of the population attends high school. More than 2.5 Japannese Schools million students advance to universities and colleges. In the past, the selection process Japanee Schools for advancing to higher education had been described as "hellish" and "war-like"citation needed]. But with the Japamese Schools number of Japanese children being born set to decline in the near future, Japanesee Schools the tide has turned the other way. Now Japnaese Schools schools are having to compete amongst themselves to gather students. However, many children continue to be sent to Jpanese Schools Juku (cram schools) in addition to state school.


  • 1 Education in Japanese society
  • 2 History
  • 3 Primary and secondary education
  • 4 Structure
    • 4.1 Legal foundation
    • 4.2 The Ministry of Education
    • 4.3 Local boards of education
    • 4.4 Financing
    • 4.5 Teachers
  • 5 See also
  • 6 Further reading

Education in Japanese society

Japanese tradition stresses respect for society and the established order and prizes group goals above individual interests. Schooling also emphasizes diligence, self-criticism, and well-organized study habits. More generally, the belief is ingrained that hard work and perseverance will yield success in life. Much of official school life is devoted directly or indirectly to teaching correct attitudes and moral values and to developing character, with the aim of creating a citizenry that is both literate and attuned to the basic values of culture and society (see Japanese values).

At the same time, the academic achievement of Japanese students is high by international standards. Japanese children consistently rank at or near the top in successive international tests of most mathematics (see TIMSS). PISA scores for 15 year olds in Japan, 2005: http://www.apa.org/monitor/mar05/scores.html. The system is characterized by high enrollment and retention rates throughout. An entrance examination system, particularly important at the college level, exerts strong influences throughout the entire system. The structure does not consist exclusively of government-sponsored, formal official education institutions. Private education also forms an important part of the educational landscape, and the role of schools outside the official school system cannot be ignored, indeed private colleges, often with very little emphasis on academics, constitute the majority.

Most children begin their education by attending preschool, although it is not part of the official system. The official structure provides compulsory, free schooling and a sound and balanced education to virtually all children from grade one through grade nine. Upper-secondary school, from grades ten through twelve, although also not compulsory, attracts about 94 percent of those who complete lower-secondary school. About one-third of all Japanese upper-secondary school graduates advance to tertiary education—to full four-year universities, two-year junior colleges, or to other institutions.

Traditionally, Japan has been a highly education-minded, regimented society. Education was esteemed, and achievement was often the prerequisite for success in work and in society at large. Today's landscape illustrates a different view. With schools competing for enrollment, entrance examinations have become stolid in an attempt to maintain operations. Today, schools often function with enrollment rates far below full capacity. At the public level, this translates into severe funding issues. Schools which were constructed to house 1,000 students sometimes contain less than one-third of that number. Unfortunately, this does not equate to small class sizes. Classrooms commonly accommodate between 35 to 45 students.


Main article: History of Education in Japan

Formal education in Japan began with the adoption of Chinese culture in the 6th century. Buddhist and Confucian teachings as well as sciences, calligraphy, divination and literature were taught at the courts of Asuka, Nara and Heian. Scholar officials were chosen through an Imperial examination system. But contrary to China, the system never fully took hold and titles and posts at the court remained hereditary family possessions. The rise of the bushi, the military class, during the Kamakura period ended the influence of scholar officials, but Buddhist monasteries remained influential centers of learning.

During the Edo period (1603-1867), the daimyō vied for power in the secluded and largely pacified country. Since their influence could not be raised through war, they competed on the economic field. Their warrior-turned-bureaucrat Samurai elite had to be educated not only in military strategy and the martial arts, but also agriculture and accounting. Likewise, the wealthy merchant class needed education for their daily business, and their wealth allowed them to be patrons of arts and science. But temple schools (terakoya) educated peasants too, and it is estimated that at the end of the Edo period 50% of the male and 20% of the female population possessed some degree of literacy. And even though Japan was isolated from foreign contact, the shogunate still imported books from China and Europe, to allow rangaku ("Dutch studies") for a select few.

When Japan was opened during the Meiji Restoration, the adoption of western learning was seen as a way to make Japan a strong, modern nation. Students and even high-ranking government officials were sent abroad to study, such as the Iwakura mission. Foreign scholars, so-called o-yatoi gaikokujin, were invited to teach at newly founded universities and military academies. Compulsory education was introduced, mainly after the Prussian model. Around 1890, only 20 years after the country was opened, Japan had already enough western-educated academics to send most of the foreigners home. At the same time, conservatives called for "Western technology, Japanese soul", to reduce the western influence on Japanese society and to strengthen "Japanese values".

The rise of militarism led to a misuse of the education system to prepare the nation for war. The military even sent its own teachers to schools. After the defeat in World War II, the allied occupation government set an education reform as one of its primary goals, to eradicate militarist teachings and "democratize" Japan. The education system was rebuilt after the American model.

The end of the 1960s were a time of student protests around the world, and also in Japan. The main subject of protest was the Japan-U.S. security treaty. A number of reforms were carried out in the post-war period until today. They aimed at easing the burden of entrance examinations, promoting internationalization and information technologies, diversifying education and supporting lifelong learning.

Primary and secondary education

Elementary students on a field trip to Kanazawa Castle pose for a photograph.
Japanese junior high school students in sailor fuku
Japanese high school students wearing the sailor fuku

For education before this, see Preschool and daycare in Japan.

Main articles: Elementary school in Japan, Secondary education in Japan
  • Elementary school (小学校 shōgakkō, lit. small school): 6 years, 6–12 years old
  • Middle school (中学校 chūgakkō, lit. middle school): 3 years, 12–15 years old
  • High school (高等学校 kōtōgakkō or 高校 kōkō, lit. High school): 3 years, 15–18 years old

Education is compulsory and free for all schoolchildren from the first through the ninth grades. The school year begins on April 1 and ends on March 31 of the following year. Schools use a trimester system demarcated by vacation breaks. Japanese children formerly attended school five full weekdays and one-half day on Saturdays, however this was phased out completely by 2002. Many teachers, however, coach on weekends and their presence is required during the student's summer vacation, usually the month of August. The school year has a legal minimum of 210 days, but most local school boards add about thirty more days for school festivals, athletic meets, and ceremonies with non-academic educational objectives, especially those encouraging cooperation and school spirit. With allowance made for the time devoted to such activities and the half-day of school on Saturday, the number of days devoted to instruction is about 195 per year.

The Japanese hold several important beliefs about education, especially compulsory schooling: that all children have the ability to learn the material; that effort, perseverance, and self-discipline, not academic ability, determine academic success; and that these study and behavioral habits can be taught. Thus, students in elementary and lower-secondary schools are not grouped or taught on the basis of their ability, nor is instruction geared to individual differences.

The national curriculum exposes students to balanced, basic education, and compulsory schooling is known for its equal educational treatment of students and for its relatively equal distribution of financial resources among schools. However, the demands made by the uniform curricula and approach extracts a price in lack of flexibility, including expected conformity of behavior. Little effort is made to address children with special needs and interests. Much of the reform proposed in the late 1980s, particularly that part emphasizing greater flexibility, creativity, and opportunities for greater individual expression, was aimed at changing these approaches but has made little progress. Critical thinking is not a concept that is valued in the Japanese education system. Instead, students are generally instructed to memorize the text from which they will be tested, resulting in high test scores that do not require manipulatives nor reflect the students' actual ability.

The inherent problem with the concept of "hammering" the student who sticks out also manifests itself in the classroom. Because students are limited to grade specific courses, the needs of gifted students and others with learning disabilities are neglected. If, for example, a student is a native English speaker, she or he is automatically assigned to the English class corresponding to her or his year in school. The same is true of the third year junior high student who has not mastered first year math; she or he is enrolled into a course that is beyond her or his ability. There are no remedial or honors classes to meet the needs of the individual. In extreme cases, students who have developmental disabilities are mainstreamed into regular classes with teachers who lack any training necessary to properly instruct them.

It should be noted, however, that this can sometimes be the result of parents who refuse to admit that their child has a special need. As in the United States, most districts have specialized, skills-based schools for students with severe disabilities. In this case, each student is assigned a teacher or care person to assist them. While these schools offer a superior service for minors, adult services are gradually being phased out due to budget cuts.

Exceptions to the compulsory ruling exist. Children whose parents are not Japanese, such as migrant workers, are permitted to attend school, although it is not compulsory. In this way, the onus for educating language minority students falls on local schools who most likely are unable to provide the first and second language needs of these children. Furthermore, as instruction is not geared to individual differences, the children of migrant workers who have language difficulties are unlikely to have high achievement levels in Japanese schools. Even those who are fluent in Japanese, however, do face discrimination. As a result, students who are not Japanese often take a Japanese name and sometimes feel compelled to hide their identity from everyone but their closest friends. However, it is a misconception that non-ethnically Japanese students cannot participate in school speech contests or foreign exchange programs. Of course, students who have lived in an English-speaking country for a period of time are barred from speech contests, but ethnicity is not a factor. At least in Kyoto Prefecture, for example, ethnically Chinese and Korean students participate in both foreign exchange programs and speech contests.

Textbooks are free to students at compulsory school levels. New texts are selected by school boards or principals once every three years from the Ministry of Education's list of approved textbooks or from a small list of texts that the ministry itself publishes. The ministry bears the cost of distributing these books, in both public and private schools. Textbooks are small, paperbound volumes that can easily be carried by the students and that become their property.

Almost all schools have a system of access to health professionals. Educational and athletic facilities are modest; almost all elementary schools had an outdoor playground, roughly 90 percent have a gymnasium, and 75 percent have an outdoor swimming pool. Most classrooms, however, lack computers and overhead projectors. Technology is rarely used in instruction or student projects. The internet, as a resource tool for teachers and students, remains unutilized.

In primary school up to high school the students stay in their same homeroom groups every year, meaning they are interacting with the same students in their homerooms for their entire formative year. Teamwork and pride in their school is taught by the homerooms and the curriculum. Japanese schools have very few janitors as each class is responsible for the cleanliness of their school.


Education in Japan is a national, prefectural, and municipal responsibility. The MEXT has dozens of internal study groups that study methods of education and provide guidance and advice to prefectural governments based on this research. In the past, this "guidance" and "advice" has been something to be studiously observed, and straying from it resulted in cuts in the budget and other difficulties. However, recent reforms have handed over more power to prefectural governments. The MEXT also checks textbooks to see that they are neutral in their points of view and include correct information that should be taught according to grade levels. One of the important points from the recent reforms is that in the past, the MEXT set the maximum of information to be included in a textbook. But today, the MEXT sets the minimum amount of information to be included in a textbook. Schools used to have textbooks and supplementary textbooks not checked by the MEXT because the textbooks contained minimal information that made teaching difficult as the textbooks lacked information that would help develop a deeper understanding of the subject.

Every prefectural government has its own Prefectural Board of Education that offers guidance, advice, and directs prefectural schools and private schools. This Prefectural Board of Education has a wide variety of responsibilities including, but not limited to, choosing textbooks to use, hiring teachers, and along with the governor, making the budget.

Both the MEXT and the prefectural government give guidance and advice to municipal governments. The municipal government also has its own Municipal Board of Education that has the same task as its prefectural counterparts.

Legal foundation

The late twentieth-century Japanese education system has a strong legal foundation. Three documents in particular, the Fundamental Law of Education, the School Education Law, and the new Constitution, all adopted in 1947, provide this legal basis. The system is highly centralized, although three levels of government administration--national, prefectural, and municipal--have various responsibilities for providing, financing, and supervising educational services for the nation's more than 62,000 schools and more than 25 million students (in 1991). At the top of the system stands the Ministry of Education, Science, and Culture (hereafter, the Ministry of Education, or Monbusho), which has significant responsibility for funding, curricula, textbooks, and national education standards.

The Ministry of Education

More general responsibilities of the Ministry of Education are the promotion and dissemination of education, scientific knowledge, academic research, culture, and sports. The ministry is supported by advisory bodies and standing councils, such as the Central Council on Education, and by ad hoc councils, such as the National Council on Educational Reform.

The ministry's authority and responsibilities are not limited to public institutions. Most of its regulations, particularly concerning compulsory education, also apply to private institutions. The ministry has power to approve the founding of universities and supervises the national universities. In addition, it provides financial assistance and guidance to lower levels of government on educational matters and is empowered to mandate changes in local policies.

The ministry drafts its annual budget and education-related legislation and submits them to the National Diet. Monbusho administers the disbursement of funds and cooperated with other agencies concerned with education and its finance. In 1990 a main ministry activity was implementing reforms based on the reports and recommendations of the National Council on Educational Reform, whose final report was submitted to the prime minister in 1987.

Local boards of education

Each of the forty-seven prefectures has a five-member board of education appointed by the governor with the consent of the prefectural assembly. The prefectural boards administer and operate public schools under their supervision, including most of the public upper-secondary schools, special schools for the handicapped, and some other public institutions in the prefecture. Prefectural boards are the teacher- licensing bodies; with the advice of municipal governments, they appoint teachers to public elementary and lower-secondary schools; they also license preschools and other schools in their municipalities and promote social education.

Municipal-level governments operate the public elementary and lower-secondary schools in their jurisdictions. Supervision is conducted by the local board of education, usually a five-member organization appointed by the mayor with the consent of the local assembly. The board also makes recommendations to the prefectures about the appointment or dismissal of teachers and adopts textbooks from the list certified by the Ministry of Education. Mayors also are charged with some responsibilities for municipal universities and budget coordination.


All three levels of government--national, prefectural, and municipal--provide financial support for education. The national government is the largest source of direct funding, through the budget of the Ministry of Education, and is a significant source of indirect funding of local education through a tax rebate to local government, in a tax allocation grant. The national government bears from one-third to one-half of the cost of education in the form of teachers' salaries, school construction, the school lunch program, and vocational education and equipment.

The ministry's budget between fiscal year (FY) 1980 and FY 1988 increased a total of about 7 percent. But as a percentage of the total national budget (before the deduction of mandated expenses and debt service), the ministry's share actually declined steadily during the 1980s, from about 10 percent in 1980 to about 7.7 percent in 1989. A slight increase was seen in the early 1990s. For example, the FY 1992 budget provided 5.319 trillion Yen, or 7.9 percent of the national budget.


Teaching remains an honored profession, and teachers have high social status, stemming from the Japanese cultural legacy and public recognition of their important social responsibilities. Society expects teachers to embody the ideals they are to instill, particularly because teaching duties extend to the moral instruction and character development of children.

A teachers' room at Onizuka Middle School in Karatsu, Japan

Formal classroom moral education, informal instruction, and even academic classes are all viewed as legitimate venues for this kind of teaching. Teachers' responsibilities to their schools and students frequently extend beyond the classroom, off school grounds and after school hours. Students who refuse to go to school are often visited by their homeroom teachers in an attempt to keep them in school. Teachers of students who commit crimes off campus, be they insignificant or violent, are expected to bear the responsibility and issue an apology. The same is true of employers whose employees break the law, as in the case of the arsonist Hirofumi Kasamatsu, a reporter for NHK, Japan's public television service.

Teachers are well paid, and periodic improvements also are made in teachers' salaries and compensation. Starting salaries compare favorably with those of other white-collar professionals and in some cases are higher. In addition to their salaries, teachers are eligible for many types of special allowances and a bonus (paid in three installments), which amount to about five months' salary. Teachers also receive the standard health and retirement benefits available to most salaried workers.

Those who are now applying to be teachers probably made the decision to pursue teaching during Japan's recent recession. Teaching at a public school is a civil service job, and as such provides benefits that remain unchanged regardless of the fluctuations of the economy. Whether for economic reward, social status, or the desire to teach, the number of people wishing to enter teaching exceeds the number of new openings by as many as five or six applicants to every one position. Prefectural boards and other public bodies select the best qualified from a large pool of applicants.

By the late 1980s, the great majority of new teachers were entering the profession with a bachelor's degree, although about 25 percent of the total teaching force at the elementary school level did not have a bachelor's degree. The program for prospective teachers at the undergraduate level included study in education as well as concentration in academic areas. Most new teachers majored in a subject other than education, and graduates of colleges of education were still in the minority. After graduation, a teacher had to pass a prefectural-level examination to be licensed by a prefectural board of education.

Changes also occurred during the 1980s in in-service training and supervision of new teachers. In-service training, particularly that conducted under the auspices of the Ministry of Education, had been questioned for many years. After considerable debate, and some opposition from the Japan Teachers Union (Nihon Kyoshokuin Kumiai-- Nikkyoso), a new system of teacher training was introduced in 1989. The new system established a one-year training program, required new teachers to work under the direction of a master teacher, and increased the required number of both in-school and out-of-school training days and the length of time new teachers were under probationary status. Teachers who successfully complete these requirements are not required to attend additional development courses or higher degree programs, though recently there has been talk of adding such a program.

See also

  • Boards of education in Japan
  • Education law of Japan
  • Eikaiwa
  • Elementary school in Japan
  • Higher education in Japan
  • Imperial universities
  • Japanese Society for History Textbook Reform
  • Juku
  • Language minority students in Japanese classrooms
  • List of schools in Japan
  • List of universities in Japan
  • Preschool and daycare in Japan
  • Saburo Ienaga
  • Scout Association of Japan
  • Secondary education in Japan
  • All-Japan Band Association - world's largest music contest

Further reading

Christopher P. Hood, Japanese Education Reform: Nakasone's Legacy, 2001, London: Routledge, ISBN 0-415-23283-X.

Search Term: "Education_in_Japan"