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The Education System in Japan

Figure A-11. Levels of education in Japan, by age and year of schooling: 2013

Levels of education in Japan, by age and year of schooling: 2013

NOTE: Education levels are defined according to the 1997 International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED97). Ages represent the typical age at the beginning of the school year. Numbers in bold print indicate ages of universal enrollment (i.e., an enrollment rate of over 90 percent). Numbers highlighted represent the age at which compulsory enrollment begins through the age at which compulsory enrollment ends. No meaning should be inferred from width of subdivisions. Duration of first university degree program is generally 4 years in Japan.
SOURCE: Miller, D.C. and Warren L.K. (2011). Comparative Indicators of Education in the United States and Other G-8 Countries: 2011 (NCES 2012-007). U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.


  • Common name: Yochien
  • Ages of attendance: As early as age 3 through age 5
  • Number of years: 1 to 3
  • Start of universal enrollment: Age 4
  • Compulsory: No

NOTE: Around 55 percent of 5-year-old students attend Yochien (kindergarten), while most others attend Hoikusho (nursery schools that infants and younger children can attend). Recently, Ninteikodomoen, a program that combines Yochien and Hoikusho, was introduced in Japan.


  • Common name: Shogakkou
  • Ages of attendance: 6 through 11
  • Number of years: 6
  • Universal enrollment: Yes
  • Compulsory: Yes, begins at 6

Lower secondary:

  • Common name: Chugakkou
  • Ages of attendance: 12 through 14
  • Number of years: 3
  • Universal enrollment: Yes
  • Compulsory: Yes
  • Entrance/exit criteria: There are no examinations or other criteria to enter public schools for the majority of students. Private schools (enrollment in which accounts for 7 percent of all students) usually require a competitive examination for entry.

NOTE: Chutoukyoikugakkou, secondary schools that unify lower and upper secondary schools, were introduced in Japan in 1999.

Upper secondary:

  • Common name: Koutougakkou
  • Ages of attendance: 15 through 17
  • Number of years: 3
  • Universal enrollment: Yes, through age 17
  • Compulsory: No
  • Entrance/exit criteria: Students in Japan are placed into upper secondary schools based primarily on test scores and school report cards from lower secondary schools. Scoring well influences students' chances of attending the most prestigious upper secondary schools in their area.

NOTE: Juku refers to "cram school" or night school, which prepares students for upper secondary school entrance exams and/or gives students remedial lessons. Students may also choose to attend a college of technology (Koutousenmongakkou), which combines 3 years of upper secondary education with 2 years of higher education leading to the associate's degree. See below for details on Koutousenmongakkou.

Postsecondary and tertiary:

  • Common name: Tankidaigaku, Koutousenmongakkou, Daigaku
  • Ages of attendance: Varies
  • Number of years: 2 (Tankidaigaku, junior college); 5 (Koutousen-mongakkou, college of technology); 4 (Daigaku, university [excluding medical and dental degrees]); 6 (Daigaku, university [medical and dental degrees])
  • Universal enrollment: No
  • Entrance criteria: To enter national universities, most students take an entrance examination offered by the National Center for University Entrance Examinations and an examination conducted by the university itself. For many universities, entrance examinations are very competitive.

Common degree programs:

  • Jun-gakushi (at college of technology): 5-year programs that combine upper secondary education with vocational higher education. The first 3 years are spent at the upper second-ary level and the last 2 years at the postsecondary education level earning a jun-gakushi (associate's degree). These programs are given at Koutousenmongakkou, in subjects such as public works, mechanical engineering, and information technology.
  • Jun-gakushi (at junior college): Programs normally requiring 2 years of study, taken at junior colleges (Tankidaigaku), that prepare students for careers in fields such as home economics, humanities, education, and social science. Junior colleges have traditionally enrolled mostly women.
  • Gakushi: An academic degree normally requiring 4 years of study that is similar to a bachelor's degree. Given at a Daigaku (college or university). Preprofessional programs in medicine, dentistry, and veterinary medicine take 6 years.
  • Shushi: Graduate program taken at a Daigaku that normally requires 2 years of study beyond the bachelor's degree. Equivalent to a master's degree in the United States.
  • Hakushi: Academic graduate program at a Daigaku requiring at least 5 years beyond the bachelor's degree. This degree is equivalent to a doctorate in the United States.


Marlow-Ferguson, R. (Ed.) (2002). World Education Encyclopedia: A Survey of Educational Systems Worldwide, Vol. 1 (2nd ed.). Farmington Hills, MI: Gale Group.

Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology. (2010). Tokyo: Author. Retrieved March 26, 2013, from

Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. (1996). Education at a Glance: OECD Indicators. Paris: Author.

Robitaille, D.F. (1997). National Contexts for Mathematics and Science Education: An Encyclopedia of the Education Systems Participating in TIMSS. Vancouver, Canada: Pacific Educational Press.

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. (2000). The EFA 2000 Assessment: Country Reports, Japan. World Education Forum. Retrieved April 17, 2013, from