Education in Japan is compulsory at the elementary and lower secondary levels.[5] Most students attend public schools through the lower secondary level, but private education is popular at the upper secondary and university levels.

Education prior to elementary school is provided at kindergartens and day-care centers. Public and private day-care centers take children from under age 1 on up to 5 years old. The programmes for those children aged 3–5 resemble those at kindergartens. The educational approach at kindergartens varies greatly from unstructured environments that emphasize play to highly structured environments that are focused on having the child pass the entrance exam at a private elementary school. The academic year starts from April and ends in March, having summer vacation in August and winter vacation in the end of December to the beginning of January. Also, there are few days of holidays between academic years. The period of academic year is the same all through elementary level to higher educations nationwide.

Japanese students consistently rank highly among OECD students in terms of quality and performance in reading literacy, math, and sciences. The average student scored 540 in reading literacy, maths and science in the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) and the country has one of the world’s highest-educated labour forces among OECD countries.[4] Its populace is well educated and its society highly values education as a platform for social mobility and for gaining employment in the country’s high-tech economy. The country’s large pool of highly educated and skilled individuals is largely responsible for ushering Japan’s post-war economic growth. Tertiary-educated adults in Japan, particularly graduates in sciences and engineering benefit economically and socially from their education and skills in the country’s high tech economy.[6] Spending on education as a proportion of GDP is below the OECD average. Although expenditure per student is comparatively high in Japan, total expenditure relative to GDP remains small.[6] In 2015, Japan’s public spending on education amounted to just 3.5 percent of its GDP, below the OECD average of 4.7%.[7] In 2014, the country ranked fourth for the percentage of 25- to 64-year-olds that have attained tertiary education with 48 percent. In addition, bachelor’s degrees are held by 59 percent of Japanese aged 25–34, the second most in the OECD after South Korea.[3] As the Japanese economy is largely scientific and technological based, the labor market demands people who have achieved some form of higher education, particularly related to science and engineering in order to gain a competitive edge when searching for employment opportunities. About 75.9 percent of high school graduates attended a university, junior college, trade school, or other higher education institution.[8]

Japan’s education system played a central part in Japan’s recovery and rapid economic growth in the decades following the end of World War II. After World War II, the Fundamental Law of Education and the School Education Law were enacted. The latter law defined the school system that would be in effect for many decades: six years of elementary school, three years of junior high school, three years of high school, and two or four years of university. Although Japan ranks highly on the PISA tests, its educational system has been criticized for its focus on standardized testing and conformity;[9][10] bullying problems;[9][11][12] and its strong academic pressure on students.[13]

1 History
1.1 Meiji Restoration
1.2 Post-WWII
2 School grades
2.1 Lower secondary school
2.2 Upper secondary school
2.3 Universities and colleges
3 Extracurricular activities
4 Criticisms
5 International education
6 See also
7 References
8 Further reading
9 External links
Main article: History of education in Japan

Terakoya for girls in the Edo period
Formal education in Japan began with the adoption of Chinese culture, in the 6th century. Buddhist and Confucian teachings as well as sciences, calligraphy, divination and literature were taught at the courts of Asuka, Nara and Heian. Scholar officials were chosen through an Imperial examination system. But contrary to China, the system never fully took hold and titles and posts at the court remained hereditary family possessions. The rise of the bushi, the military class, during the Kamakura period ended the influence of scholar officials, but Buddhist monasteries remained influential centers of learning.

In the Edo period, the Yushima Seidō in Edo was the chief educational institution of the state; and at its head was the Daigaku-no-kami, a title which identified the leader of the Tokugawa training school for shogunate bureaucrats.[14]

Under the Tokugawa shogunate, the daimyō vied for power in the largely pacified country. Since their influence could not be raised through war, they competed on the economic field. Their warrior-turned-bureaucrat Samurai elite had to be educated not only in military strategy and the martial arts, but also agriculture and accounting. Likewise, the wealthy merchant class needed education for their daily business, and their wealth allowed them to be patrons of arts and science. But temple schools (terakoya) educated peasants too, and it is estimated that at the end of the Edo period 50% of the male and 20% of the female population possessed some degree of literacy. Even though contact with foreign countries was restricted, books from China and Europe were eagerly imported and Rangaku (“Dutch studies”) became a popular area of scholarly interest.

Meiji Restoration
After the Meiji Restoration of 1868, the methods and structures of Western learning were adopted as a means to make Japan a strong, modern nation. Students and even high-ranking government officials were sent abroad to study, such as the Iwakura mission. Foreign scholars, the so-called o-yatoi gaikokujin, were invited to teach at newly founded universities and military academies. Compulsory education was introduced, mainly after the Prussian model. By 1890, only 20 years after the resumption of full international relations, Japan discontinued employment of the foreign consultants.

A modern concept of childhood emerged in Japan after 1850 as part of its engagement with the West. Meiji period leaders decided the nation-state had the primary role in mobilizing individuals – and children – in service of the state. The Western-style school was introduced as the agent to reach that goal. By the 1890s, schools were generating new sensibilities regarding childhood.[15] After 1890 Japan had numerous reformers, child experts, magazine editors, and well-educated mothers who bought into the new sensibility. They taught the upper middle class a model of childhood that included children having their own space where they read children’s books, played with educational toys and, especially, devoted enormous time to school homework. These ideas rapidly disseminated through all social classes.[16][17]

After the defeat in World War II, the allied occupation government set education reform as one of its primary goals, to eradicate militarist teachings and convert Japan into a pacifist democracy. Nine years of education was made mandatory, with six years in elementary education and three in junior high as an emulation of the American educational system. A number of reforms were carried out in the post-war period that aimed at easing the burden of entrance examinations, promoting internationalization and information technologies, diversifying education and supporting lifelong learning.[18][19]

In an effort to ease Japanese postwar sentiments, any nationalistic, militaristic, authoritarian, or Anti-American content was blackened from learning materials. This practice was known as suminuru, and was used as the primary method of educational reform until newly fashioned texts, Kuni no ayumi (Footsteps of the Nation), Nihon rekishi (Japanese History), and Minshushugi (Democracy) were written by the Ministry of Education and Civil Information and Education Section.[20] The Ministry of Education is now known as the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) and is responsible for educational administration.[21]

In successive international assessment tests, Japan’s fourth- and eighth-grade students have consistently ranked in the top five globally in both mathematics and science (see TIMSS).[22][23][24][25][26][27][28][29][30][31]

Despite concerns that academic skills for Japanese students may have declined since the mid-1990s,[32] Japan’s students showed a significant improvement in math and science scores in the 2011 TIMSS survey, compared to the 2007 scores.[33]