Compulsory education in Japan lasts nine years, including six years of elementary school and three years of junior high school. More than 50% of children attend kindergarten and 98% of middle school graduates go on to high school. In addition, Japan’s university and junior college enrollment rate is about 60%, making it the third highest in the world after South Korea and the United Kingdom. The percentage of students going on to graduate school is not very high.
In order to be admitted to a high school or college, you usually have to take an exam. Recently, some junior high and high schools have joined together to form six-year school.
Even though it seems to be easier to get into a school than it used to be due to the low birthrate, it is still difficult to get into a high-status school. Some mothers believe that a good elementary school or kindergarten is the best place to start in order to attend a famous university.
Japanese children enter the first grade of elementary school in April, after their sixth birthday. A typical elementary school class has about 30 to 40 students. Subjects taught include Japanese, math, science, social studies, music, crafts, physical education, and home economics (learning simple cooking, sewing, etc.). There is also an increasing number of elementary schools that teach English. The use of information technology in education is also on the rise and most schools now have access to the Internet.
You will also learn traditional Japanese performing arts such as shodo (calligraphy) and hiku, which involves dipping a brush in ink and using it to write in the artistic styles of kanji and kana. Haiku is one of the poems that originated in Japan about 400 years ago. A haiku is a short poem of 17 syllables, divided into five, seven, and five syllable units. Haiku aims to convey a deep emotion to the reader through simple expressions.
English has been taught as a compulsory subject since junior high school.
Almost all of the students who go on to high school will be studying English for a total of six years. Although English education in Japan has improved since the placement of native English teachers as assistants in public junior high schools, the lack of communication skills is said to be a serious problem.
In addition, English as a foreign language activity for 5th and 6th graders has been made compulsory in recent years.
In Japanese elementary schools, the class is divided into small teams to engage in various activities. For example, as part of their education, they work as a team to clean classrooms, halls and school grounds every day. In many elementary schools, students eat lunch together in the classroom and enjoy meals prepared by the school and local school lunch centers. They are divided into small teams and take turns serving meals to their classmates. The school lunches are often healthy and nutritious, and the students look forward to them.
A variety of events are held throughout the year, including athletic events such as tug-of-war and Ekiden (relay race) competitions, visits to historic sites, and art and cultural festivals with children’s dances. Also, in the upper grades of elementary, middle, and high school, students may take a trip for a few days to a culturally important city such as Kyoto or Nara, or a ski resort.
Most middle and high schools require students to wear a uniform. Standing collar trousers or jackets are common for boys, and sailor collar two-piece suits or blazers and skirts are common for girls.
Most Japanese elementary and junior high schools start at around 8:30am.
Every Monday, before classes begin, there is a morning assembly, where everyone attends a 15-minute assembly and the principal greets the students. The rest of the day is used for announcements and attendance in each classroom. After that, the class begins.
One class is 40 to 45 minutes in elementary school and 50 minutes in middle school. There will be a 5-10 minute break between consecutive classes. There are four classes during the morning hours, and many elementary schools have a 20-minute recess period.
Lunchtime is approximately 40 minutes from 12:30 p.m. In public schools that have school lunches, students carry the food to their classrooms, serve what they have eaten, and clean up after themselves.
After lunch, it’s time for a recess, which is about 20 minutes long. Some schools use this time to clean their classrooms. Students move their desks and chairs to one side of the room, wipe the floor with brooms, clean up the blackboard, and throw out the trash. When the cleaning is done, the afternoon classes begin.
In the lower elementary grades, classes are only in the morning and the children go home after lunch. However, there are five sessions a day for upper elementary school students and above, and some days middle school students have six sessions a week.
After-school clubs for elementary students are usually held once a week and there are many different types of clubs to choose from. Through club activities, students are able to train for sports and develop an understanding of the subjects they are interested in. Japanese elementary school students leave school at around 3:00 a.m.
However, once students enter junior high school, extracurricular activities are in full swing. There are club activities several times a week, or even every day, and some days we don’t get out of school until about 5:00.
Most middle school students participate in their favorite extracurricular activities, such as sports teams, musicals and art and science clubs.
Among the boys, the baseball clubs are very popular. The soccer clubs are also growing in popularity. The judo club, which practices judo, a traditional martial art, is popular with boys and girls alike. They may be inspired by the many great Japanese judo players, both men and women, who have won medals at the World Judo Championships and the Olympics. Other popular sports clubs include tennis, basketball, gymnastics, and volleyball. As with any sport, there are many inter-school and regional level competitions where pupils have many opportunities to compete.
On the other hand, in the culture club, the Go club has recently become very popular. Go is a strategic board game in which black and white stones are used. Since the publication of the manga, the number of elementary school students who enjoy playing Go has increased. Other options include choir and art club. The brass band, tea ceremony club, and flower arrangement club are also popular.