The Japanese school system |


Compulsory education lasts nine years in Japan, between 6 and 15 years. Most students at least continue on to secondary school, while there are various higher education options beyond.

Nine years of compulsory education

In Japan, education is compulsory from about 6 years to 15 years. The school year begins in April, so almost all children who turned 6 on April 1 of each year enter primary school. After completing six years of basic education in primary school, they move on to college, which they attend for three years before graduating.

Further reading

Power Lunch in Japanese schools A look at school lunches in Japan, which not only provide nutrition but also instruction on healthy eating habits to last a lifetime.

There are no entrance exams or tuition fees for public primary and secondary schools, and textbooks are distributed free of charge. The main expenses of parents or guardians are uniforms, additional equipment, meal costs and school travel costs. However, many private primary and secondary schools offer a better chance of getting into top secondary schools and attract many applicants despite the sometimes sky-high tuition fees.

The school participation rate for compulsory education years in Japan is one of the highest in the world at 99.8%. Before going to primary school, many children also attend kindergarten from the age of 3, but this is optional.

Foreign children who live in Japan are not legally required to attend school, but if they wish, they can receive free education and textbooks in public primary and secondary schools, just like Japanese children.

High Schools and Higher Education

After completing compulsory education, students have a number of choices. There are many types of institutions to study for ages 15-18, including standard high schools offering general education, as well as agricultural, industrial and commercial high schools. It is also possible to study for a high school diploma during the evening or through correspondence while working. Five years ago kōtō senmon gakkō (colleges of technology) also, which combine general education with specialized technical training. In Japan, 98.1% of lower secondary graduates continue their education in one of the above ways.

New types of schools have emerged recently, such as combined middle and high schools, which attract students with their six-year programs and extensive preparation for college entrance exams. Another trend, which can be a sign that times are changing and more parents are posted abroad, is the growing number of schools welcoming children who have completed part of their studies abroad. Examples include International Christian University High School, where 70% of students are returnees.

At the higher education level, there are universities with four-year programs, two-year colleges, and senmon gakko (vocational colleges) with programs lasting two years or more. After graduating from university, it is also possible to spend two more years in specialized studies for a master’s degree or three or more years for a doctorate.

Many Japanese companies set a university degree as the minimum requirement for recruitment. In 2013, 50.8% of high school graduates passed entrance exams to continue their studies at university. Despite this, 97% of high school graduates who immediately looked for work were able to find a job.

Specialized skills

For high school graduates who have specific careers in mind, senmon gakko are a popular choice. Different institutions offer a wide range of subjects including nursing, cooking, agriculture, civil engineering and construction, anime, linguistics, design, video games, film and theater, and sports. . Some have even acquired an international reputation, such as Mode Gakuen, specialized in fashion; HAL, which specializes in anime and games; and Kuwasawa School of Design.

It is not uncommon for people to attend senmon gakko to gain specialist qualifications while studying at university or working. In some cases, companies may pay tuition fees to strengthen the technical knowledge of their employees.

Links to more information:

Interested in studying in Japan? Check Student Guide to Japan, published by the Japan Student Services Organization in English and many other languages.

(Banner photo: Children in a primary school class in Kazo, Saitama prefecture. © Jiji.)

Further reading

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