The Japanese Education System

Japan classroom

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The Japanese educational system was reformed after World War II. The old 6-5-3-3 system was changed to a 6-3-3-4 system (6 years of elementary school, 3 years of junior high school, 3 years of senior high school and 4 years of University) with reference to the American system. The gimukyoiku 義務教育 (compulsory education) time period is 9 years, 6 in shougakkou 小学校 (elementary school) and 3 in chuugakkou 中学校 (junior high school).

Japan has one of the world's best-educated populations, with 100% enrollment in compulsory grades and zero illiteracy. While not compulsory, high school (koukou 高校) enrollment is over 96% nationwide and nearly 100% in the cities. The high school drop out rate is about 2% and has been increasing. About 46% of all high school graduates go on to university or junior college.

The Ministry of Education closely supervises curriculum, textbooks, and classes and maintains a uniform level of education throughout the country. As a result, a high standard of education is possible.

Student Life

Most schools operate on a three-term system with the new year starting in April. The modern educational system started in 1872 and is modeled after the French school system, which begins in April. The fiscal year in Japan also begins in April and ends in March of the following year, which is more convenient in many aspects.

April is the height of spring when cherry blossoms (the most loved flower of the Japanese!) bloom and the most suitable time for a new start in Japan. This difference in the school-year system causes some inconvenience to students who wish to study abroad in the U.S. A half-year is wasted waiting to get in and often another year is wasted when coming back to the Japanese university system and having to repeat a year.

Except for the lower grades of elementary school, the average school day on weekdays is 6 hours, which makes it one of the longest school days in the world. Even after school lets out, the children have drills and other homework to keep them busy. Vacations are 6 weeks in the summer and about 2 weeks each for winter and spring breaks. There is often homework over these vacations. 

Every class has its own fixed classroom where its students take all the courses, except for practical training and laboratory work. During elementary education, in most cases, one teacher teaches all the subjects in each class. As a result of the rapid population growth after World War II, the numbers of students in a typical elementary or junior high school class once exceeded 50 students, but now it is kept under 40. At public elementary and junior high school, school lunch (kyuushoku 給食) is provided on a standardized menu, and it is eaten in the classroom. Nearly all junior high schools require their students to wear a school uniform (seifuku 制服).

A big difference between the Japanese school system and the American School system is that Americans respect individuality while the Japanese control the individual by observing group rules. This helps to explain the Japanese characteristic of group behavior.

Translation Exercise

  • Because of the rapid population growth after World War II, the number of students in a typical elementary or junior high school once exceeded 50. 
  • Dainiji sekai taisen no ato no kyuugekina jinkou zouka no tame, tenkeitekina shou-chuu gakkou no seitosu wa katsute go-juu nin o koemashita.
  • 第二次世界大戦のあとの急激な人口増加のため、典型的な小中学校の生徒数はかつて50人を超えました。


"~no tame" means "because of ~".

  • I didn't go to work because of a cold.
  • Kaze no tame, shigoto ni ikimasen deshita.
  • 風邪のため、仕事に行きませんでした。


dainiji sekai taisen 第二次世界大戦 World War II
ato あと after
kyuugekina 急激な rapid
jinkou zouka 人口増加 population growth
tenkeitekina 典型的な typical
shou chuu gakkou 小中学校 elementary and junior high schools
seitosuu 生徒数 the numbers of students
katsute かつて once
go-juu 五十 fifty
koeru 超える to exceed
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Abe, Namiko. "The Japanese Education System." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, Abe, Namiko. (2020, August 27). The Japanese Education System. Retrieved from Abe, Namiko. "The Japanese Education System." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 2, 2023).