Senior High School

Even though upper-secondary school is not compulsory in Japan, as of 2005 94% of all junior high school graduates entered high schools and over 95% of students graduated successfully from them compared to 89% of Americans.

To enter, students must take an entrance examination in Japanese, mathematics, science, social studies, and English, whether it is standardized for all public high schools in the prefecture or a test created by a private high school for that school alone. All upper-secondary schools, public and private, are informally ranked based on their success in placing graduates in freshman classes of the most prestigious universities. Success or failure on an entrance examination can influence a student's entire future, since the prospect of finding a good job depends on the school attended. Thus, students experience the pressure of this examination system at a relatively early age. Because of the importance of these exams in entering high school -- even more than the scholastic record and performance evaluations from lower-secondary school -- students are closely counselled in lower-secondary school so that they will be relatively assured of a place in the schools to which they apply.

Daily Life
Students walk, ride bicycles, or take public transportation to school. It is not uncommon for students to spend two or more hours each day on public transportation, taking time to sleep, study or socialize. What they can do on the way to and from school -- chewing gum, consuming snacks, reading books while walking -- anything that might reflect badly on the reputation of the school is heavily regulated to protect that reputation. Some schools even require students to leave seats open on buses and trains for other passengers "to demonstrate consideration." Each school has a unique uniform that makes its students easily identifiable to the public.

Every high school has a set of lockers for students to exchange their street shoes for a set of slippers, which in some schools are color-coded for gender.

High schools typically begin at 8:30, when teachers meet for a five-minute meeting, followed by homeroom. Students assemble in their homerooms of an average of between 40 and 45 students each, with some schools having a weekly schoolwide assembly beforehand. Homeroom teachers are in charge of morning and afternoon homeroom times, both about five minutes each, as well as a weekly one-hour long homeroom period.
The latter meeting "provides an opportunity for teachers to concentrate on student guidance. Typical activities include helping students develop greater awareness of themselves as high school students, encouraging them to reflect on their summer vacations, or perhaps asking them to contemplate the forthcoming advancement from one grade to another. These discussion topics are planned by teachers and scheduled in advance for the entire school year."

During the daily homerooms the students themselves conduct what they call "toban" -- taking attendance, making announcements, etc. -- that are shared on a rotating basis. "Two class leaders, one male and one female are elected every trimester, and many students are assigned to specific task committees in their homeroom class.
Regular classes begin at 8:45 AM and there are four classes of 50 minutes each before lunch. Students go to different classrooms for physical education, laboratory classes, or other specialized courses; otherwise, teachers change classrooms instead of the students for the entire day. Students typically attend between ten and fourteen courses a year; however, "you don't have all of your classes every day. The schedule rotates throughout the week, and in every classroom you enter you will find a schedule taped to the wall."

Most schools do not have their own cafeteria, students eating in their homerooms instead, and unlike elementary and middle schools high schoolers do not have government-subsidized lunches. Because of this many students bring a box lunch from home with foods such as rice, fish, eggs, vegetables, and pickles.

After lunch students have two more classes. All students then participate in a fifteen-minute cleaning the school ("osoji"). The students work in assigned groups of between four and six students, known as han, to clean their classrooms, corridors, and school grounds.

After osoji and the afternoon homeroom meeting, or at 3:30 PM, students are free to attend extracurricular activities,

Saturday schooling, when offered, ends at 1 PM after four courses. (As discussed below, Saturday courses were officially done away with in 2002 but many schools have either kept them or are trying to bring them back.)

In most schools, there are two types of extracurricular clubs:
sports clubs, like baseball, football, judo, kendo, track, tennis, swimming, softball, volleyball, and rugby;
culture clubs, like English, broadcasting, calligraphy, science, mathematics, and yearbook.

New students usually choose a club after the school year begins and only rarely change for the rest of their high school careers. Clubs meet for two hours after school every day, many times even during school vacations. Although there is a teacher assigned to each club as a sponsor, they often have very little input in the club's daily activities. These clubs are an important chance for students to make friends and learn the social etiquette and relationships like the "senpai" (senior)/"kohai" (junior) dynamic that will be important in their adult lives.

However, most college bound students withdraw from club activities during their senior year to devote more time to preparation for university entrance examinations. Homeroom teachers work with students and their parents at this time to discuss their admission prospects or career plans.

Free time
Outside of school and cram schools, research done in the late 1990s showed students doing approximately two hours of homework on weekdays and about three hours of it on Sundays. Every day students spent an average of two hours watching television, 30 minutes listening to the radio, an hour reading for fun, and less than half an hour hanging out with peers. Parents and teachers strongly discourage teenage dating, and most young people do not begin to do so until after high school.

As of the late 1990s Japanese students spent 240 days a year at school, 60 days more than their American counterparts even with the amount of time spent preparing for school festivals and events. Traditionally Japanese students attended class on Saturdays; although education reforms from 2002 have made them no longer mandatory, many schools have begun to bring them back to have more time to cover the rigorous material required by the Ministry of Education.

Schools have limited autonomy in developing their curriculum or choosing their textbooks. Instead, although the latter are written and produced in the private sector, the Ministry of Education has the final say over any and all content and materials. Typically students take three years each of mathematics, social studies, Japanese, science, and English, with additional courses like physical education, music, art, and moral studies. In particular social studies in Japan is broken down into civics, geography, Japanese history, world history, sociology, and politics/economics.

Because the amount of mandatory courses, electives are few. All the students in one grade level study the same subjects, although it is in upper-secondary school that differences in ability are first publicly acknowledged.
Most upper-secondary teachers are university graduates. Upper-secondary schools are organized into departments, and teachers specialize in their major fields although they teach a variety of courses within their disciplines. Teaching depends largely on the lecture system, with the main goal of covering the very demanding curriculum in the time allotted. Approach and subject coverage tends to be uniform, at least in the public schools.

Types of schools
General program

The most common type of upper-secondary schools has a full-time, general program that offered academic courses for students preparing for higher education.

According to 2005 research, while almost 90% of Japanese students attend public schools from kindergarten through the ninth grade, over 29% of students go to private high schools. A late-1980s study by the Ministry of Education had found that families paid about ¥300,000 (US$2,142) a year for a public high school and about twice as much for a private high school; however, as the name suggests, the 2010 "Act on Free Tuition Fee at Public High Schools and High School Enrollment Support Fund" did away with all public high school tuition.

Besides being free to attend, public schools are more popular because many students and experts have found the quality of education to be much better than that at private schools. Because of this entrance exams for public high schools are much more competitive among students than their private counterparts.

Japanese vocational and technical programs include several hundred specialized courses, such as information processing, metal works, fish farming, business English, and automotive industry. Business and industrial courses in particular accounted for 72% of all students in full-time vocational programs in 1989.

The first-year programs for students in both academic and commercial courses are similar. They include basic academic courses, such as Japanese language, English, mathematics, and science.

Training of disabled students, particularly at the upper-secondary level, emphasizes vocational education to enable students to be as independent as possible within society. Vocational training varies considerably depending on the student's disability, but the options are limited for some. It is clear that the government is aware of the necessity of broadening the range of possibilities for these students. Advancement to higher education is also a goal of the government, and it struggles to have institutions of higher learning accept more students with disabilities.

Nontraditional schools
A small number of schools offer part-time classes, night school or correspondence education.