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Educational Institutions

Compulsory education in Japan is for 9 years, so high school education is not mandatory! Children start school at age 6 with the school year being divided into three terms. The first term goes from April to late July, the second term goes from September to late December, and the last term goes from January to late March. As of 1998, children still attended school on Saturday morning two or three times a month but schools are gradually moving to a five-day week.

Japan enacted the School Education Law in 1947 that defines school to consist of six years of elementary school, three years of junior high (middle) school, three years of high school, and two or four years of university. There is no variation in the years of education at each level, e.g. no 5-year elementary school, or 4-year high schools in Japan.

Education in Japan.

  • Pre-school education:
    Education prior to elementary school is provided at kindergartens (yochien) and day-care centers (hoikuen). The educational approach at kindergartens varies considerably, from unstructured environments that emphasize play and provide little formal instruction to highly structured environments that are narrowly focused on preparing the child to pass the entrance examination at a private elementary school.

  • Elementary schools (6 years):
    Attendance is compulsory. The curriculum is uniform throughout Japan and includes the following subjects: Japanese language, social studies, arithmetic, science, life environmental studies, music, arts and crafts, physical education, and homemaking. There are also extracurricular activities as well as one hour a week of moral education. Reading and writing are very important as students are expected to learn at least 1006 Chinese characters by the end of the 6th grade.

  • 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):
    Attendance is optional. High school entrance is based on exam performance and the competition is intense for favored schools. The most popular schools tend to be the ones where many past graduates were able to get into better universities. The curriculum includes required courses and electives in the following subjects: Japanese language, geography and history, civics, mathematics, science, health and physical education, art, foreign languages, and home economics.

  • Universities (two-year junior college or four-year university):
    The great majority of junior college students are women. The competition for the top-level schools is unbelievably intense. High school students who fail to get into the desired university sometimes spend the next year as ronin (a "masterless samurai" studying and try again. Graduate schools vary in length depending on the program.
  • 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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