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School System

The Japanese educational system was reformed after World War II. The old 6-5-3-3 system was
changed to a 6-3-3-4 system (6 years of elementary school, 3 years of junior high school, 3 years of
senior high school and 4 years of University) with reference to the American system. The gimukyoiku
(compulsory education) time period is 9 years, 6 in shougakkou (elementary school) and 3 in
chuugakkou (junior high school).
Japan has one of the world's best-educated populations, with 100% enrollment in compulsory grades
and zero illiteracy. While not compulsory, high school (koukou) enrollment is over 96% nationwide
and nearly 100% in the cities. The high school drop out rate is about 2% and has been increasing.
About 46% of all high school graduates go on to university or junior college.
The Ministry of Education closely supervises curriculum, textbooks, classes and maintains a uniform
level of education throughout the country. As a result, a high standard of education is possible.
Student Life
Most schools operate on a three-term system with the new year starting in April. The modern
educational system started in 1872, and is modeled after the French school system, which begins in
April. The fiscal year in Japan also begins in April and ends in March of the following year, which is
more convenient in many aspects.
April is the height of spring when cherry blossom(the most loved flower of the Japanese!) bloom and a
most suitable time for a new start in Japan. This difference in the school-year system causes some
inconvenience to students who wish to study abroad in the U.S. A half year is wasted waiting to get in
and often another year is wasted when coming back to the Japanese university system and having to
repeat a year.
Except for the lower grades of elementary school, the average school day on weekdays is 6 hours,
which makes it one of the longest school days in the world. Even after school lets out, the children
have drills and other homework to keep them busy. Vacations are 6 weeks in the summer and about 2
weeks each for winter and spring breaks. There is often homework over these vacations.
Every class has its own fixed classroom where its students take all the courses, except for practical
trainings and laboratory work. During elementary education, in most cases, one teacher teaches all
the subjects in each class. As a result of the rapid population growth after World War II, the numbers
of students in a typical elementary or junior high school class once exceeded 50 students, but now it
is kept under 40. At public elementary and junior high school, school lunch (kyuushoku) is provided on
a standardized menu, and it is eaten in the classroom. Nearly all junior high schools require their
students to wear a school uniform (seifuku).
A big difference between the Japanese school system and the American School system is that
Americans respect individuality while the Japanese control the individual by observing group rules.
This helps to explains the Japanese characteristic of group behavior.
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When Japan opened herself to the world in 1868, one of the government's high priority
was catching up with Western standards in science and education. The Japanese
education system was reformed mainly according to the German and French model
which experts regarded as most suitable and advantageous.
After the second world war, the Americans reformed the Japanese education system
after their own which consists of six years of elementary school, each three years of
junior and senior high school and four years of university or two years of junior college.
Compulsory education includes elementary school and junior high school. Over 90% of
all students also graduate from high school and over 40% from university or junior
college. At universities the percentage of male students is higher than that of female
students while the opposite is the case at junior colleges. The number of graduate
university students is relatively low.
The Japanese school year starts in April and consists of three terms, separated by short
holidays in spring and winter, and a one month long summer break.
A characteristic of the Japanese school system are entrance exams, and with them a
high competitiveness among students. Most high schools, universities, as well as a few
private junior high schools and elementary schools require applicants to write entrance
exams. In order to pass entrance exams to the best institutions, many students attend
special preparation schools (juku) besides regular classes, or for one to two years
between high school and university (yobiko).
The most prestigious universities are the national University of Tokyo and University of
Kyoto, followed by the best private universities.