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Education System in Japan: All You Need to Know

Updated on 08 November, 2023

Shivangi Mishra

Shivangi Mishra

Sr. Content Editor

Did you know Japan's literacy rate is around 99%? Various studies have found that Japanese students lead the world in numeracy and literacy skills. So, what is it about the education system in Japan that students excel in academics and perform consistently at a professional level as well? In this article, we'll touch upon the essential aspects of Japan's education structure, highlighting what makes it unique and well-known worldwide.


Education System in Japan: Why It Stands Out

Japan proudly holds the stature of one of the world's most literate and technically advanced nations. Take a look at the following unique facts about the education system in Japan: 

  • Japan shares the second spot alongside Korea as the second highest-performing OECD country with 520 points in Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). 
  • Students in Japan hardly ever repeat their grades in Junior High School or Elementary School. 
  • Moral science class is mandatory for students between the age of 6 to 15 years in primary and secondary school in Japan. 
  • There is a strong emphasis on group learning in Japan, where students frequently collaborate on projects. 
  • In Japanese schools, students are asked to clean classrooms as part of their learning experience. 

A Look into the School Education System in Japan

From its age-specific curriculum to its emphasis on extracurricular initiatives, the education system in Japan is one of the best in the world, promoting well-rounded development

The basic education system of the country consists of elementary school (six years), pre-secondary or middle school (three years), senior secondary or high school (three years), and college or university (four years). Compulsory education lasts nine years through elementary and middle school, and most students opt for higher education. 

Elementary Education (Grades 1 to 6)

Elementary education in Japan starts at age 6 and follows pre-primary education at kindergartens and daycare centres. The subjects mainly taught include Japanese, English, Mathematics, Social Studies, Science, Crafts, and Moral Education, complemented by Arts, Music, and Physical Education

Middle or Junior High School (Grades 7 to 9) 

The middle school spans three years, comprising grades 7 to 9 and children roughly between the ages of 12 to 15 years. In contrast to elementary levels, the students acquire advanced knowledge of topics in various subjects such as Social Studies, Mathematics, Fine Arts, and Science, among others.

High School (Grades 10 to 12) 

Even though high school or upper-secondary education is not compulsory in Japan, almost all students passed through middle school go for high school education. They usually enter a general academic stream that, after grade 9, divides into vocational courses. 

Vocational courses fall into three categories: technical, agricultural, and commercial. Some academic and vocational high schools have special departments for comprehensive course programs, home economics, social welfare, fishery, arts, nursing, information science, physical education, music, and international relations.

Higher Education System in Japan 

In Japan, higher education is not mandatory for students after high school. But those who wish to pursue higher studies in Japanese universities appear for an entrance test. Pupils would also have to meet other eligibility requirements listed by their interested university.

In general, the higher education system in Japan is divided into five types:

Institute of Education Programs Offered Degree/Title Awarded Required Study Period Number of Credits Earned 
College of Technology Engineering programs Associate Degree 5 years 167 or more credits earned 
University (Undergraduate courses) General Programs and courses on Medicine, Dentistry, Pharmaceutical Science, Veterinary Medical ScienceBachelor's degree 4 years - 6 years

For 4-year courses – 124 or more credits 

For 6-year courses – 

Medicine and Dentistry: 188 credits or more 

Veterinary: 182 credits or more 

Pharmaceutical Science: 186 credits or more 

Junior Colleges General programsAssociate degree 2 to 3 years 

2-year programs: 22 credits or more 

3-year programs: 93 credits or more

Professional Training Colleges Specialized training college's post-secondary courses Diploma and Advanced Diploma 2 - 4 years 

62 credits for Diploma 

124 credits for Advanced Diploma 

Graduate Schools 

Doctoral Program 

Master's Program/

Professional Degree Program 

Doctoral Degree 

Master's Degree 

2-5 years 

30 credits or more 

30 credits or more 

Higher education system in Japan currently has 86 national, 101 public, and 620 private undergraduate-level universities, and 14 public and 295 private junior colleges. Additionally, there are 86 national, 89 public, and 482 private Graduate schools.

How is Japan's Education System Better than India's

The Japanese education system is considered one of the best in the world, renowned for its high-quality educational content, holistic approach, and strong emphasis on ethics and morals. 

Nine years of elementary and lower secondary/middle school education is compulsory in Japan and is provided free of cost by public and national schools in the country. As a result, almost 99.98% of the students receive primary and lower secondary education in Japan. Afterwards, pursuing higher education is a choice, and even then, nearly all Japanese high school students decide to study further. However, Universities in Japan offer admission with notoriously competitive entrance exams. 

In contrast, India has taken several legal and policy measures, such as the Right to Education, to improve access to education in the country. Even then, many children do not get the opportunity to attend primary schools – especially those from underprivileged sections- owing to a lack of awareness and growing population size.

Further, the education systems of both countries cover a wide range of disciplines, including arts and humanities. However, Japan's curriculum strongly emphasizes and makes it compulsory to study Science and Math, among other subjects. 

Summing up, equity in education, a well-rounded approach to teaching, and a focus on discipline and ethics are all hallmarks of the education system in Japan.

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Is education free in Japan?

In Japan, compulsory education that is from primary to lower secondary education by national and public schools is offered free of charge. In higher education, around 77% of institutes are private, and the remaining are public. They charge tuition fees for international students. However, there are scholarships available.



How long are schools in Japan?

Typically, Japanese schools are about six and a half hours from Monday to Friday. However, most children also participate in after-school clubs and attend Juku (cram school) in the evening for tuition.

Is Japan education system good?

The Japanese education system is considered one of the best in the world, renowned for its high-quality educational content, holistic approach, and strong emphasis on ethics and morals. The country has an adult literacy rate of 99%.

Did you find this article helpful?

Shivangi Mishra

Sr. Content Editor

She is an experienced writer and journalist who has extensively covered the education sector in India and Abroad. Now helping Indian aspirants realise their foreign education dream by providing them with relevant content and information through upGrad Abroad. Amateur traveller, loves to read Architectural Digest!

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