Japanese education system

While children may be accepted to nursery schools from as early as a few months old (depending upon certain conditions and openings), in general any child may attend kindergarten from the first April after he/she turns 3 years old. The compulsory education system then begins from the April after children turn 6 years old, when they will enter elementary school. Elementary school is 6 years and is then followed by Junior high school (3 years), which is the end of the compulsory education system, and high school (3 years), to which a majority of students choose to enter. Almost 70% of high school graduates choose to continue studying in some form of higher education institution.

Basic components of Japanese education system

  • Nursery school (0 - 6 years of age)
  • Kindergarten (3 - 6 years of age)
  • Kodomoen (Comprehensive day care center) (0 - 6 years of age)
  • Elementary school (6 - 12 years of age) 【Compulsory education】
  • Junior high school (12 - 15 years of age) 【Compulsory education】
  • High school (15 - 18 years of age)

The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT), which determines all national education policies throughout Japan, has released a guide for foreign students that plan to enter the Japanese education system.
Guidebook for Starting School (in English, Korean, Vietnamese, Filipino, Chinese, Portuguese, and Spanish)

For more information about schools, admissions and specific information and contact details, see the International Student Handbook

Some important characteristics of the Japanese education system (for public schools)

(Please keep in mind that school rules and regulations vary.)

Walking to and from school (elementary school)

In groups:
In many cases students gather together in pre-arranged areas and come to/ return home from school in the same group. Often the route for these groups is decided to ensure the safest route and keep students from straying to different areas.
If there are no children in the same grade living in the area, students may choose to walk with older or younger students, and if there are no other children living in that area, the students may choose to walk with their parents or guardians.

Lunch program (elementary and junior high school)

The Japanese Lunch program is unique in that students are responsible for serving lunch to other students. Students take turns be in charge of preparing for, serving and cleaning up after lunch. For those students that have allergies or dietary restrictions, etc., lunches prepared at home or separately prepared lunches may be possible.

Cleaning (elementary and junior high school)

A very distinct aspect of the Japanese education system is that children are responsible for cleaning the school. While there may be some maintenance staff, most of the cleaning within school grounds is performed daily, distributing different responsibilities throughout the classes and scheduled throughout the year.

Equipment, materials and costs

Nursery schools, Kindergartens and Kodomoen all may require some sort of uniform and/ or exercise clothing, in addition to fees for materials. Tuition for these is determined by the family's income for the previous year in Japan.

For compulsory education, students are required to prepare various schools supplies and equipment. In addition to stationary and other basic supplies, elementary students may have to prepare school bags (randoseru), indoor shoes, exercise clothing, an apron, musical instruments, sewing kits, and other materials throughout the 6 years of study. These and other requirements differ from school to school so parents have to contact the school they plan to attend in order to determine what they will need to prepare. Junior high school and high school students often need to buy uniforms and other equipment and materials. While there are no tuition fees for both elementary and junior high schools, materials and equipment fees may be around JPY 50,000 a year and schools lunch fees around JPY 40,000. However, fees vary with schools, so parents must check with their children's school for actual costs. High school tuition, fees, etc. vary greatly from school to school, and private high school tuition may cost over JPY 1,000,000 for a year A financial assistance program to offer partial support is available for students who are not be able to pay for various materials, etc.

School day schedule for elementary school (Example)

Going to school 8:00~ 8:20
Morning greetings 8:30~ 8:50
1st period 8:50~ 9:35
2nd period 9:45~10:30
20 minute break 10:30~10:50
3rd period 10:50~11:35
4th period 11:45~12:30
Lunch & break 12:30~13:25
Cleaning time 13:25~13:45
5th period 13:45~14:30
6th period 14:35~15:20
Closing gathering 15:20~15:30
Going home
(When school gates close)
(Winter) 16:00