Education System in Japan: A Comprehensive Overview

Education System in Japan: A Comprehensive Overview

Japan is a land of technology, innovation, and tradition. But did you know that they boast one of the most highly-regarded education systems in the world? Under the principle of ‘Education for All,’ the Japanese government has made significant investments in developing a system that is equitable, of high quality, and accessible to all. This article will provide a comprehensive overview of the education system in Japan, from kindergarten all the way through higher education.


Japan’s education system has undergone numerous transformations over the years. Modernization in Japan started in the Meiji era (1868-1912), and the government made large-scale attempts to introduce new educational systems. The education system was reorganized under the Education Law of 1947, which established the current school system in Japan. The School Education Law defines the structure of education in Japan, with the aim of fostering intellectual curiosity and nurturing the development of responsible citizens.

Structure of the Education System

The education system in Japan is divided into three levels: primary education, secondary education, and higher education. Within these levels, there are different categories of schools that cater to students of different ages and abilities.

Primary Education

Primary education, which is compulsory for all children, starts at six years of age and lasts for six years. The objective of primary education is to develop foundational literacy and numeracy skills in children.

The first three years of primary education are referred to as “shogakko,” and the remaining three years are “chugakko.” Students in shogakko learn the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic. Chugakko expands the curriculum to include social studies, science, and foreign languages.

Secondary Education

Secondary education is divided into two levels: lower secondary education, which lasts for three years, and upper secondary education, which lasts for three years. Lower secondary education is called “chuugakkou,” and upper secondary education is called “koukou.”

Lower secondary education focuses on preparing students for upper secondary education and life beyond school. Students learn subjects such as science, mathematics, English, social studies, music, and physical education.

Upper secondary education provides various options for students to pursue. The most traditional option is to enroll in general education courses at a high school (“koutou gakkou”). These courses prepare students for university, as they cover subjects such as science, mathematics, foreign languages, and social studies.

There are also vocational schools, which provide students with practical training in fields such as nursing, engineering, and fashion. Technical high schools teach students basic academic subjects along with job-specific skills. Students can also choose to attend upper-secondary schools that are specialized in areas such as sports or arts.

Higher Education

Higher education in Japan includes universities, junior colleges, and technical colleges. Universities offer four-year undergraduate programs, two-year graduate programs, and doctoral programs. Junior colleges offer two-year programs in areas such as education and social work. Technical colleges provide education in fields such as engineering and information technology.

Public universities in Japan are funded by their respective prefectures or municipalities, while private universities rely on tuition fees and other sources of funding. According to the Times Higher Education Ranking 2021, the University of Tokyo is ranked as the best university in Japan and the 36th in the world.

Teaching Methods

Education in Japan emphasizes student-centered learning, which encourages students to take responsibility for their own learning. Teachers facilitate learning by guiding students through collaborative activities. Lesson plans include a variety of activities, such as discussions, projects, and field trips.

Apart from a strong emphasis on teamwork, the Japanese education system places a great deal of importance on discipline. Traditional disciplinary practices include standing in the hallways for being late or bowing as a form of respect for both teachers and classmates.

Assessment Methods

The assessment methods in Japanese schools are primarily based on the mastery of skills and knowledge rather than grades. Teachers assess students’ learning progress based on their day-to-day work rather than their test scores.

In secondary schools, students must take a standardized test called the Entrance Examination to qualify for admission to high school.


Q: What is the school year like in Japan?

A: The school year in Japan starts in April and ends in March. Schools have a summer break of about 40 days from late July to early September, a winter break of about ten days around the New Year, and various shorter breaks throughout the year.

Q: Are uniforms mandatory in Japanese schools?

A: Yes, wearing uniforms is mandatory in almost all Japanese schools.

Q: What is the average class size in Japanese schools?

A: The average class size in primary schools is around 30 students per class, while in secondary schools, it is around 40 students per class.

Q: How much do Japanese schools emphasize extra-curricular activities?

A: Japanese schools emphasize extracurricular activities, such as sports clubs, academic clubs, cultural clubs, and volunteer clubs, as a means of character development and team building.

Q: Do Japanese universities conduct classes in English?

A: Some universities in Japan conduct classes in English, but the majority of courses are taught in Japanese. However, many programs are designed for international students and taught in English.


The education system in Japan is renowned for its rigor, innovation, and efficiency. The Japanese government has invested a significant amount of resources to develop an equitable, high-quality education system that ensures all students receive quality education. Japanese students consistently rank near the top of international assessments of student achievement, making their education system a model for many other countries to follow.