Japan Country Profile - Education System

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System Structure

Japan has one of the most effective education systems in the world, with zero illiteracy and 100% enrolment in compulsory grades (age 6-16). Nearly half of Japanese schoolchildren go onto university. High standards of work, both in quality and quantity, are expected from Japanese children both by their teachers and parents.

The Japanese education system is regulated by the Ministry of Education and is publicly funded, although private schools are becoming more popular at the upper secondary level (ages 16-18). School is compulsory for children aged 6-16, and is divided into primary, middle and upper secondary. Attendance at upper secondary school is not compulsory but 98% of students choose to continue their studies following middle school.

Academic Year

The academic year runs from April to the following March and is divided into three terms. Children have a six-week summer break and two weeks off in winter and spring.  

The school day starts at 8am and finishes around 3pm, Monday to Friday (and some Saturdays). The majority of children attend after school clubs and further learning until at least 5pm most nights.

Higher Education

There are 778 universities in Japan, of which 80% are private. The higher education system in Japan is well regarded and many of the country’s universities feature in the top 30 of the QS World University Rankings. The most prestigious are the University of Tokyo (known as ‘Todai’) and the University of Kyoto, which are among the 20% of publicly-funded institutions in Japan. Students enrol by passing an entrance exam, rather than a grade point system, and competition to achieve the highest marks in the exam is intense. The Japanese Government aims to attract 300,000 international students to its universities by 2020. Measures to facilitate this include additional grants and scholarships being made available to foreign students and some courses taught in English. Certain courses will also start in September, bringing universities in line with Europe and America. More information about scholarships can be found here http://www.studyjapan.go.jp/en/index.html 


Japanese students pay annual tuition fees of around ¥535,800 (£2,868) with international students paying around £5,500 for both undergraduate and postgraduate degree courses while private universities can charge more. Partial and full tuition fee waivers are available to high achieving students from poorer backgrounds. A wide range of scholarships are also available.


Most degrees are taught over four years, except medicine, veterinary science and dentistry which take six to seven years. Postgraduate courses take two years to complete. Courses are mainly taught in Japanese although some universities now teach part of their courses in English. International students are required to pass the Examination for Japanese University Admission for International Students (EJU) - which can be taken in 14 countries worldwide - plus a Japanese language test.


Japan has a number of world-leading research universities, particularly in the scientific and technological fields. The country’s economy depends on the research and development of universities to advance some of its major brands, such as Panasonic, Canon and Sony. The Japanese Government invests heavily in research and offers various grants for international joint research activities.

Primary and Secondary Education

Attendance at school in Japan is compulsory from age 6 (grade 1) to age 15/16 (grade 9). Following primary school, students are enrolled in middle school until age 15 or 16 when they can choose to continue into the upper secondary grades, necessary for gaining entry into university. Class sizes in Japan are large, ranging from 30 to 40 pupils, and learning is centred around core subjects such as maths, science and Japanese combined with English and traditional arts such as haiku (Japanese 3-line poetry) and shodo (calligraphy). Education is taken seriously in Japan and children often have up to three hours homework a night on top of after-school activities and clubs.


Pre-school or kindergartens in Japan, known as yōchien, are widely available to children aged between 3 and 5. Parents can choose to enrol their child in a publicly-funded preschool or one of the many private yōchien which offer extra features such as English language tuition. Pre-school education in Japan emphasises play-centred learning and basic education needed for enrolment in primary school at age 6.


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