Education system in Japan

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(Updated on November 21, 2016)

When a family moves to a new country, the first thing that comes to the mind of parents who have children is their education. Should we send our children to a local public school, a private school, or others such as an international school? Many parents struggle with such questions, as education has a major impact on their children’s future. Further, many parents sometimes make decisions on where to live based on their choice of education they want for their children.

For those who are planning to move to Japan along with their children, we would like to offer information on education in Japan to contribute to such important decisions. 

The relationship between the student’s age and grade, educational institution, and content of education offered in Japan is as shown in the table below. (Higher education is not included.)

 education system in Japan.PNG

(1) Preschool education (public and private)

  • - Kindergartens (public and private): Kindergartens provide education for preschoolers (aged 3-6 years) and are accredited under the School Education Act. The average annual tuition fee in 2014 for private kindergartens was about \500,000, which is more than twice the amount of that for public kindergartens of about \220,000. 


  • - Nursery schools (public and private): Nursery schools offer childcare services for infants (aged 0-6 years) on behalf of parents and are accredited under the Child Welfare Act. In the Tokyo Metropolitan Area, the number of “taiki-jido (child on the waiting list)” who cannot enter childcare facilities accredited by the municipality has been increasing year by year. There is no difference between the nursery fees at private accredited nursery schools and those at public accredited nursery schools, but unaccredited nursery schools (private only) are much more expensive than accredited ones.
  • Combined kindergarten and nursery institutes (public and private): A new type of institution to offer comprehensive services including education and childcare for preschoolers. Existing kindergarten facilities are utilized to offer such comprehensive services in order to solve the problem of “taiki-jido.


  • - Preschools, international schools (private only): The number of private educational institutions that offer education and childcare services using English and other foreign languages at independent facilities or international school premises are on the rise. There is an increasing number of cases where not only non-Japanese but also Japanese children enter such kind of school for reasons such as language education and international environment. Although the annual tuition fee is generally expensive, in the range of \1,000,000 to \3,000,000, many non-Japanese parents choose such institutions considering anticipated situations after leaving Japan to return to their country.

(2) Compulsory education (public and private)

In Japan, compulsory education is provided over 9 years to children aged 6 to 15 at elementary schools, lower secondary schools (junior high schools), secondary schools (chutokyouikugakko) (former curriculum), and schools for special needs education (elementary, lower secondary).

Children study at elementary schools for six years and at lower secondary schools (junior high schools) for three years. Children can enter elementary schools in the first April after their sixth birthday. After graduating from elementary schools, they enter lower secondary schools (junior high schools) or secondary schools.

Each school year starts in April and ends in March of the following year. Many schools divide a year into three semesters: the first from April to July, the second from September to December, and the third from January to March. The summer vacation is usually from the end of July until the end of August, while the winter vacation is from the end of December until the beginning of January.

The Basic Act on Education of Japan states that “No tuition fees are charged for compulsory education in schools established by the national and local governments,” and students can receive education free of charge at public elementary schools, lower secondary schools (junior high schools), secondary schools, and schools for special needs education (elementary, lower secondary). In addition, text books are provided to each student for free. Meanwhile, according to a survey conducted by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, the average annual tuition fees paid to private elementary schools and private lower secondary schools (junior high schools) in fiscal 2014 were about \890,000 and about \1,020,000, respectively.

With respect to school curriculum, in elementary school, students study Japanese, social studies, math, science, life studies, music, drawing and crafts, home economics, physical education, moral education, foreign language activities, integrated studies (cross-sectional and integrated studies beyond the frame of subjects, etc., a form of discovery-oriented learning), and special activities (student council, club activities, school events).

In lower secondary school (junior high school), students study Japanese, social studies, math, science, music, art, health and physical education, technical arts, home economics, foreign languages, moral education, integrated studies, and special activities.

(3) Upper secondary school and higher education (public and private)

Students who finished compulsory education can study at upper secondary schools (senior high schools), and can move on to universities (daigaku), junior colleges (tandai), or colleges of technology (koutousenmongakko). Education in these schools is for three years, four years, two years and five years, respectively. The average annual educational fee at upper secondary schools (senior high schools) in fiscal 2014 was about \410,000 for public schools and about \1,000,000 for private schools, according to a survey conducted by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology. Annual tuition fees of national and public universities are roughly said to be \500,000-\550,000 and private universities (arts courses) to be \900,000-\1,000,000, while science courses in private universities usually cost even more. Tuition fees differ significantly between schools, so please make sure to confirm the precise amount of the tuition fee of the school of interest on its website or other reliable sources.

Since the education provided at the schools mentioned above is not compulsory education, those who want to study at such schools will need to take entrance examinations. Those who have graduated from upper secondary schools (senior high schools) or secondary schools are eligible to take entrance examinations for universities. However, those who have not graduated from such schools can take the Upper Secondary School Equivalency Examination, and by passing this examination, will become eligible to take entrance examinations for universities, junior colleges, and colleges of technology.

(4) Procedures for applying for starting school (public elementary and             lower secondary school)

Japanese citizens are obliged to have all children under their protection to receive ordinary education at elementary and lower secondary schools (junior high schools), but those who are not Japanese citizens do not have such obligation. However, if non-Japanese parents want their child to attend a public elementary or lower secondary school (junior high school), this is possible by applying for enrollment of non-Japanese students through the procedures presented below. 

1)At the resident registration counter at the local municipal office, submit a notification of transferring into the municipality (tennyuu todoke). 


2) Inform the local Board of Education of your desire to have your children attend a Japanese school. 


3) Fill in the necessary items in the “Application Form for Enrollment of Non-Japanese Students” (Gaikokujin Jidou Seito Nyuugaku Shinseisho) and submit it to the local Board of Education. For children who will just start to attend school, you will receive the “Guide for School Enrollment” (Shuugaku annai). 


4) The local Board of Education will send you the “Enrollment Permit for Non-Japanese Students” (Gaikokujin Jidou Seito Nyuugaku Kyokasho). (There are cases where the Board gives it to you as soon as you submit the papers.) 


5) Confirm the name and address of the designated school.

Upon completion of the above procedures, parents should visit the school with their children and the “Application Form for Enrollment of Non-Japanese Students” to discuss the child’s school life with the school.

In Japanese schools, a child’s school grade is determined by the child’s age (children born from April 2 to April 1 of the following year will belong to the same school grade). Consequently, the school grade the child is admitted into might be different from the school grade in their home country. However, if it was decided that it is not suitable for the child to be in the curriculum for his/her age due to reasons including insufficient Japanese ability, the child may be temporarily admitted to a lower school grade. 

Aside from this, there may be cases depending on the area where the designated school is changed to a different one to enable the child to have enough Japanese language instruction. And if the child is disabled, the child may be admitted to a school for special needs education or to an elementary or junior high school with special classes for children with special needs. Please consult the Board of Education regarding these matters.

(5) Schools for foreigners

Besides the schools prescribed in the School Education Act of Japan, there are schools for foreigners where non-Japanese children can receive education in Japan. These schools include international schools, which run classes mainly in English, and schools for children who are native speakers of languages other than English such as French, German, Portuguese, Chinese or Korean.

According to the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, 127 schools for foreigners are accredited as “miscellaneous schools” under the School Education Act as of May 2011.

For international schools in Japan, the websites below should provide you with useful information.


Japan Council of International Schools (member schools throughout Japan including Tokyo) (Tokyo and Yokohama)


The Expat’s Guide to Japan (Tokyo and Yokohama)

(6) International Baccalaureate World Schools

The International Baccalaureate (headquartered in Geneva) (“IB”) offers highly respected programs of international education. IB World Schools are schools that practice the IBprograms and they can also be found in Japan.

The IB aims to develop inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect. The IBprograms encourage students across the world to become active, compassionate and lifelong learners who understand that other people, with their differences, can also be right.

 The following four IB programs are offered.

Primary Years Programme (PYP) For students aged 3 - 12 years
Middle Years Programme (MYP) For students aged 11 - 16 years 
Diploma Programme (DP) For students aged 16 - 19 years
Career-related Programme (CP) For students aged 16 - 19 years


By finishing all curriculums of the DP and achieving the scores required, students can receive a university entrance qualification (IB qualification). The IB qualification is widely accepted in many countries around the world. In Japan, students who hold the IB qualification and have reached the age of 18 years can receive a university entrance qualification. 


 The following schools are the IB World Schools located in Tokyo.

Tamagawa Academy (Lower & Upper Secondary Division) MYP、DP
Tokyo Gakugei University International Secondary School MYP、DP
Tokyo Metropolitan Kokusai High School DP
Aoba-japan International School PYP、DP
India International School in Japan DP
Canadian International School Tokyo PYP
K. International School Tokyo PYP、MYP、DP
Jingumae International Exchange School PYP
Seisen International School PYP、DP
St. Mary's International School DP
Tokyo International School PYP、MYP
Mizuho School PYP


(Source: Website of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology




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