Schools in Japan can be categorised into three types:
: In the UK we would refer to these as state schools, but, the principle is much the same. These schools are free from fees and available at almost every level from kindergarten to university. These types of educational establishments tend to always be co-educational and unlike many government schools in other countries, expatriates and non-Japanese nationals are able to enrol, although it may not be your child's first choice if they do not speak Japanese.
: Unlike government-run schools, private schools in Japan are selective and depend on passing relatively stringent exams and interviews. On top of this, tuition fees are relatively high but most private schools teach in English, and depending on your child’s preferences there are many options for both mixed and single-sex schools.
: Probably the most fitting option for UK families looking to relocate to Japan, international schools in Japan are mainly attended by expatriate students and follow a British or American syllabus. Much like Japanese private schools, fees here are rather high and the admissions process is rigorous with each school requesting different entry requirements.
A taste of education in Japan
Whilst international schools don’t tend to stray away from British and American educational nuances, they do try to incorporate some Japanese culture into school life in the same way government and private schools do. Students are taught the intricate and traditional arts of shodo and calligraphy, and a classically English-taught poem Haiku, that derived from Japan over 400 years ago.
School lunches in Japan are prepared on-site and contain a rich variety of healthy options to aid brain function and general health, and although these are one of the only areas government schools charge for, lunchtimes are looked forward to as part of the curriculum. Extracurriculars in Japan are popular, with science clubs being one of the most over-subscribed activities, although the abundance of clubs is a real strong point for every school type in Japan. From soccer and baseball to judo and gymnastics, sport is taken pretty seriously. Unique after school programmes are plentiful too, including 'Go' club, which involves playing back-to-back Go board games made famous through the Manga comic book.
However, one of the most impressive features of education in Japan is its academic record. Japan has one of the world’s best-educated populations, with 100 per cent attendance for compulsory years and zero per cent illiteracy. According to OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment
, Japanese students achieved some of the highest scores in the world, with science-related subjects being the most impressive. Whilst this is a strong positive for schooling in Japan, it has quite often been considered one of its downfalls too - the pressure Japanese students face to meet such high educational standards
can cause all sorts of problems for a child going through such an impressionable period in life. Conversely, education in Japan consistently ranks among the top five countries in the world for academia, and in recent years the schooling system has worked on developing students into 'whole people', and not just those who are capable of reciting facts and figures.
A school year in Japan
While the UK school year runs from September to July, the school year in Japan starts at the beginning of April through to the end of March and is split into three semesters. Schools run from Monday to Friday, although almost all offer Saturday school as an optional extra which most students attend, making it a six-day schooling week.
Additional information about education in Japan
- Extreme importance is placed on exams in Japan, which are used to determine a student's future career and rank in society. Many students enrol in 'cram schools' to prepare for exam season, and often start studying two years in advance.
- As part of the Japanese culture, a student's entire family is accepted into the school community, meaning parents will most likely be asked to serve as part of a committee and will be in regular communication with their child’s teachers through a 'communication book'.
- In public or government-run schools, janitors and cleaners are not employed. Students pitch in and help keep the school tidy as part of their well-rounded education, so don’t be alarmed by the less than glamorous appearance of these schools.
- Japanese society has a collectivist culture, which runs deep into every aspect of Japanese life including education. As a result, students are expected to wear identical uniforms and carry the same teaching materials to reduce class or status division.
- Class sizes in international schools are much smaller than in other schools in Japan, with around 10-20 as opposed to 37-45 students per class.
The best schools in Japan
Now you know more about education in Japan, delved into our reviews of the best schools in Japan. Our unbiased, in-depth reviews contain admissions and entry requirements for each school, SEND provisions and school community features: