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Educational Institutions

Since compulsory education in Japan is for 9 years, high school education is not mandatory. Children begin school at age 6 with the school year divided into three terms:

  • 1st term (April to late July)
  • 2nd term (September to late December)
  • 3rd term (January to late March)

Previously, students attended school on Saturday mornings twice a month; but as of 2002, all Saturdays are now free. In 1947, Japan enacted the Fundamental Law of Education to reform the education system. Under the new system, education is organized in the following years:

  • Elementary School (6 years)
  • Junior High/Middle School (3 years)
  • High School (3 years)
  • University (2 or 4 years)

Education in Japan.

  • Pre-school education:
    Prior to elementary school, education starts in kindergarten (yochien) and day-care centers (hoikuen). Kindergarten varies considerably from an unstructured environment emphasizing play with little formal instruction to a highly structured environment. A formal structured education prepares the child to pass the private elementary school examination.

  • Elementary schools (6 years):
    Beginning in elementary school, attendance is compulsory. Throughout Japan, a single uniformed curriculum includes the following subjects: Japanese, Social Studies, Arithemtic, Science, Life/ Environmental Studies, Music, Arts & Crafts, Physical Education, Homemaking(Home Economics), Moral Education(Once Per Week).Reading and writing are important subjects to master as students are expected to learn at least 1006 characters by the end of 6th grade. Although academics are heavily emphasized, students may also participate in extracurricular activities.

  • Junior high (middle) schools (3 years):
    Attendance is compulsory. The curriculum includes the following required subjects: Japanese language, social studies, mathematics, science, music, fine arts, health, and physical education, and industrial arts or homemaking. In addition, there are also foreign language electives (almost always English), extracurricular activities, and one hour a week of moral education.

  • High schools (3 years):
    Although attendance is optional, 90% of students attend public school, while the rest attend private high schools. Entrance is based on exam performance and are intensely competitive for top high schools. The best schools have a reputation of past graduates entering the top universities. The high school curriculum includes the following mandatory subjects and electives: Japanese, Geography and History, Civics, Mathematics, Science, Health, Physical Education, Art, Foreign Lamnguage, Home Economics.

  • Universities (two-year junior college or four-year university):
    Entrance to top-rated universities is intensely competitive. High school students failing to enter one of these universities may spend the following year as “Ronin.” (masterless samurai studying to re-take the exam). Entrance tests are commonly referred to as, “examination hell.” The competitive process is a result of the private and public sectors hiring practices. Many corporations and government bureaucracies prefer to recruit from top universities for managerial track positions.
  • The intense competition in high school and university entrance tests that are called "examination hell" (juken Jigoku) is both a symptom and a cause of a wide range of problems in Japanese schools and society. The competition is a result of the employment practices of Japan's major corporations and the government bureaucracy, both of which tend to recruit almost exclusively from a relatively small group of top universities for new managerial career-track employees. The majority of university admissions is based on the results of multiple-choice-type tests.

    This information comes from Japan Access (March 1998) and was produced for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs by Kodansha International Ltd.

Taken from Education USA

The following links provide additional background on Japanese education as well as links to universities around the country:


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