School Grades in Japan

The school year in Japan begins in April and classes are held from Monday to either Friday or Saturday, depending on the school. The school year consists of two or three terms, which are separated by short holidays in spring and winter, and a six-week-long summer break.

The year structure is summarized in the table below.

Educational establishments
6–7 1 Elementary school
(小学校 shōgakkō)
Compulsory Education
Special school
(特別支援学校 Tokubetsu-shien gakkō)
7–8 2
8–9 3
9–10 4
10–11 5
11–12 6
12–13 1 (7th) Junior high school / Lower secondary school
(中学校 chūgakkō)
Compulsory Education
13–14 2 (8th)
14–15 3 (9th)
15–16 1 (10th) High school / Upper secondary school
(高等学校 kōtōgakkō, abbr. 高校 kōkō)
College of technology
(高等専門学校 kōtō senmon gakkō, abbr. 高専 kōsen)
16–17 2 (11th)
17–18 3 (12th)
18–19   University: Undergraduate
(大学 daigaku; 学士課程 gakushi-katei)
National Academy
(大学校 daigakkō)
Medical School
(医学部 Igaku-bu)
Veterinary school
(獣医学部 Jūigaku-bu)
Dentistry School
(歯学部 Shigaku-bu)
Pharmaceutical School
(薬学部 Yakugaku-bu)
National Defense Medical College
(防衛医科大学校, Bōei Ika Daigakkō)
Community College
(短期大学 Tanki-daigaku, abbr. 短大 tandai)
Vocational School
(専門学校 Senmon-gakkō)
19–20 Associate
21–22 Bachelor

(学士 Gakushi)

22–23   Graduate School: Master
(大学院博士課程前期 Daigaku-in Hakushi Katei Zenki)
National Academy: Master
(大学校修士課程 Daigakkō Shūshi katei)
23–24 Master

(修士 Shūshi)

24–25   Graduate School: Ph.D
(大学院博士課程後期 Daigaku-in Hakushi Katei Kōki)
National Defense Academy: Ph.D
(防衛大学校博士課程 Bōei Daigakkō Hakushi katei)
Medical School: Ph.D
(医学博士 Igaku Hakushi)
Veterinary School: Ph.D
(獣医学博士 Jūigaku Hakushi)
Dentistry School: Ph.D
(歯学博士 Shigaku Hakushi)
Pharmaceutical School: Ph.D
(薬学博士 Yakugaku Hakushi)
26–27 Ph.D

(博士 Hakushi)

27– Ph.D

(博士 Hakushi)


Primary School
Primary education in Japan covers grades seven, eight, and nine; children are generally between the ages of 13 and 15. The number of primary school students in Japan stood at 3.5 million as of 2012, down from over 5.3 million as recently as 1990. The number of junior high schools, meanwhile, has stayed relatively static, falling from 11,275 in 1990 to 10,699 as of 2012, while the number of junior high school teachers has barely budged at all (257,605 junior high school teachers in 1990, 253,753 in 2012). Around 8% of junior high students attend a private junior high, which account for around 7% of all junior high schools. Private schools are considerably more expensive: As of 2012, the average annual cost to attend a private primary school in Japan was 1,295,156 yen (approx. US$10,000 @ Y120.79/$) per student, roughly three times the 450,340 yen ($3728) cost for a public school. Japan's compulsory education ends with grade nine, but less than 2% drop out; the percentage of students advancing to senior high stood at under 60% as of 1960, but rose rapidly to over 90% by 1980, and has continued to rise each year, reaching 98.3% as of 2012.

Teachers often majored in the subjects they taught, and more than 80% graduated from a four-year college. Classes are large, with thirty-eight students per class on average, and each class is assigned a homeroom teacher who doubles as counselor. Unlike kindergarten students, primary school students have different teachers for different subjects. The teacher, however, rather than the students, moves to a new room for each fifty- or forty-five-minute period.

Instruction in primary schools tends to rely on the lecture method. Teachers also use other media, such as television and radio, and there is some laboratory work. By 1989 about 45% of all public primary schools had computers, including schools that used them only for administrative purposes. All course contents are specified in the Course of Study for Lower-Secondary Schools. Some subjects, such as Japanese language and mathematics, are coordinated with the elementary curriculum. Others, such as foreign-language study, begin at this level, though from April 2011 English became a compulsory part of the elementary school curriculum. The junior school curriculum covers Japanese language, social studies, mathematics, science, music, fine arts, health, and physical education. All students are also exposed to industrial arts and homemaking. Moral education and special activities continue to receive attention. Most students also participate in one of a range of school clubs that occupy them until around 6pm most weekdays (including weekends and often before school as well), as part of an effort to address juvenile delinquency.

A growing number of primary school students also attend juku, private extracurricular study schools, in the evenings and on weekends. A focus by students upon these other studies and the increasingly structured demands upon students' time have been criticized by teachers and in the media for contributing to a decline in classroom standards and student performance in recent years.

The ministry recognizes a need to improve the teaching of all foreign languages, especially English. To improve instruction in spoken English, the government invites many young native speakers of English to Japan to serve as assistants to school boards and prefectures under its Japan Exchange and Teaching Program. Beginning with 848 participants in 1987, the program grew to a high of 6,273 participants in 2002. The program was in a decline in recent years due to several factors, including shrinking local school budgets funding the program, as well as an increasing number of school boards hiring their foreign native speakers directly or through lower-paying, private agencies. Today, the program is again growing due to English becoming a compulsory part of the elementary school curriculum in 2011.

High school
Even though upper-secondary school is not compulsory in Japan, 94% of all junior high school graduates entered high schools as of 2005. Private upper-secondary schools account for about 55% of all upper-secondary schools, and neither public nor private schools are free. The Ministry of Education estimated that annual family expenses for the education of a child in a public upper-secondary school were about 300,000 yen (US$2,142) in the 1980s and that private upper-secondary schools were about twice as expensive.

The most common type of upper-secondary school has a full-time, general program that offered academic courses for students preparing for higher education as well as technical and vocational courses for students expecting to find employment after graduation. More than 70% of upper-secondary school students were enrolled in the general academic program in the late 1980s. A small number of schools offer part-time programs, evening courses, or correspondence education.

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. In upper-secondary school, differences in ability are first publicly acknowledged, and course content and course selection are far more individualized in the second year. However, there is a core of academic material throughout all programs.
Vocational-technical programs includes several hundred specialized courses, such as information processing, navigation, fish farming, business, English, and ceramics. Business and industrial courses are the most popular, accounting for 72% of all students in full-time vocational programs in 1989.

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.
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.

Universities and colleges
Higher education in Japan is provided at universities (daigaku), junior colleges (tanki daigaku), colleges of technology (koto senmon gakko) and special training schools and community colleges (senshu gakko). Of these four types of institutions, only universities and junior colleges are strictly considered postsecondary education providers.

As of 2010, more than 2.8 million students were enrolled in 778 universities. At the top of the higher education structure, these institutions provide a four-year training leading to a bachelor's degree, and some offer six-year programs leading to a professional degree. There are two types of public four-year colleges: the 86 national universities (including the Open University of Japan) and the 95 local public universities, founded by prefectures and municipalities. The 597 remaining four-year colleges in 2010 were private. With a wealth of opportunities for students wishing to pursue tertiary education, the nation’s prestigious schools are the most appealing for students seeking to gain top employment prospects.

The overwhelming majority of college students attend full-time day programs. In 1990 the most popular courses, enrolling almost 40 percent of all undergraduate students, were in the social sciences, including business, law, and accounting. Other popular subjects were engineering (19 percent), the humanities (15 percent), and education (7 percent).

The average costs (tuition, fees, and living expenses) for a year of higher education in 1986 were 1.4 million yen (US$10,000). To help defray expenses, students frequently work part-time or borrow money through the government-supported Japan Scholarship Association. Assistance is also offered by local governments, nonprofit corporations, and other institutions.

According to the Times Higher Education Supplement and École des Mines de Paris, the top-ranking universities in Japan are the University of Tokyo and Kyoto University.

The QS Asia University Rankings Top 20 included the University of Tokyo at 5th position, Osaka University at 7th, Kyoto University at 8th, Tohoku University at 9th, Nagoya University at 10th, Tokyo Institute of Technology at 11th, Kyushu University at 17th and the University of Tsukuba at 20th.

Based on the 2011 Times Higher Education–QS World University Rankings, there are 33 Japanese universities in the top 100 Asian university rankings.