Education in Japan
Education in Japan is administered by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and
Technology (MEXT), and includes kindergarten and nursery school, elementary school, junior high school,
high school (including vocational schools), college, and graduate school. Compulsory education runs through
junior high school, and although high school is not compulsory, most Japanese students finish high school and
a high percentage attend college.
Japanese Entrance Exams and Cram Schools
One prominent characteristic of education in Japan is its rigid system of entrance examinations.
While many people are familiar with Japan’s infamously rigorous college entrance examinations, you may be
surprised to learn that entrance exams can also be required in order to get into some of Japan’s more
prestigious high schools, junior high schools, and even elementary schools!
In order to gain admission to the best schools, many students at all levels of education
(even kindergarten!) attend special cram schools, called juku (塾), on top of their regular
school studies. The singular goal of these schools is to prepare students for their entrance examinations.
College Life in Japan
A unique attribute of Japanese society that affects its system of education is its emphasis on
college entrance exam results, rather than actual college performance, as the primary determining factor for
the type of career college students can look forward to after they graduate.
In fact, so strenuous is the process of studying for and passing entrance examinations in the years leading up
to college, that the actual college years are regarded by many students as a thankful four-year vacation
between the exhausting high school years and the highly demanding career following college. As such, study for
many college students takes a distant back seat to participation in a school club focused on an area of
personal interest, such as sports, music, or art. These clubs, or “circles” as they are referred to in
Japanese, often become the focal point of the students’ social life and activity during and even after college.
The University of Tokyo (Todai) and Kyoto University (Kyodai) are regarded as Japan’s two most prestigious universities.
Pros and Cons of Education in Japan
As evidence of the success of its education system, Japan boasts a literacy rate of 99%,
which ranks among the top globally. Japanese students also tend to score near the top in internationally
ranked math and science tests.
Japan’s education system is sometimes criticized as being too focused on rote learning and group conformity to
the detriment of individual creativity and self-expression. However, recent curriculum changes have attempted
to address these issues. Another serious issue in Japan’s education system is the problem of bullying,
which in the most serious cases have resulted in the bullied students committing suicide.