Country Listing

Japan Table of Contents




Figure 5. Structure of the Education System, 1987

Source: Based on information from Robert Leestma, et al., Japanese Education Today, Washington, 1987, 6; and Japan, Ministry of Education, Science, and Culture, Education in Japan: A Graphic Presentation, Tokyo, 1982, 14.


An elementary-level juku poetry-reading class
Courtesy The Mainichi Newspapers


Mathematics class, Fukuoka Upper-Secondary School, Iwate Prefecture
Courtesy Eliot Frankeberger


Students at Shokutoku Junior College
Courtesy The Mainichi Newspapers

Many of the historical and cultural characteristics that shape Japanese arts shape its education as well. Japanese tradition stresses respect for society and the established order and prizes group goals above individual interests. Sschooling also emphasize diligence, self-criticism, and well-organized study habits. More generally, the belief is ingrained that hard work and perseverance will yield success in life. Much of official school life is devoted directly or indirectly to teaching correct attitudes and moral values and to developing character, with the aim of creating a citizenry that is both literate and attuned to the basic values of culture and society.

At the same time, the academic achievement of Japanese students is extremely high by international standards. Japanese children consistently rank at or near the top in successive international tests of mathematics. The system is characterized by high enrollment and retention rates throughout. An entrance examination system, particularly important at the college level, exerts strong influences throughout the entire system. The structure does not consist exclusively of government-sponsored, formal official education institutions. Private education also forms an important part of the educational landscape, and the role of schools outside the official school system can not be ignored.

A majority of children begin their education by attending preschool, although it is not part of the official system. The official structure provides compulsory free schooling and a sound and balanced education to virtually all children from grade one through grade nine. Upper-secondary school, from grades ten through twelve, although also not compulsory, attracts about 94 percent of those who complet lower-secondary school. About one-third of all Japanese upper-secondary school graduates advance to postsecondary education--to full four-year universities, two-year junior colleges, or to other institutions.

Japan is a highly education-minded society. Education is esteemed, and educational achievement is often the prerequisite for success in work and in society at large.

Data as of January 1994