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Everyday Life in Japan

The Japanese School System

The Japanese elementary and secondary school system is divided into elementary schools (6 years), junior high schools (3 years), and high schools (3 years). Out of these three, only elementary and junior high school are mandatory. However, close to 99% of students also attend high school.

Classes at Japanese schools start between 8:00 and 8:30 and end around 15:00 to 16:00. Typically, there are 5 to 6 classes each day. After classes end for the day, many schools have their student clean their classroom and the hallways.

A key characteristic of Japanese schools is the abundance of extracurricular activities. Many schools offer a wide range of options, from sports like traditional martial arts, baseball, and soccer and traditional martial to cultural and artistic activities like art, music and tea ceremony. These activities are organized in so-called “clubs,” with a teacher acting as a supervisor.

In the final year of elementary and junior high school, students take exams for the next school they want to go to. To prepare for these exams, it is common for students to quit their extracurricular activities and go to private “cram schools” (塾, juku).

Sometimes, multiple school types are run by the same institution, which allows students to switch from one school to the other without an exam. In some cases, this even allows exam-less entry into higher education (universities and vocational schools).

You can get more information about education in Japan from this site: Guidebook on Living and Working ~For foreign nationals who start living in Japan~

School Uniforms

School uniforms are very common in Japan’s secondary schools. Roughly 95% of junior high school students and 90% of high school students wear some sort of uniform. In elementary schools, however, uniforms are the exception rather than the rule, with only around 20% of students wearing one.

Traditionally, boys wear either a blazer or a dark jacket with a stand-up collar (called gakuran) with a light-colored shirt beneath, and simple trousers. The classic school uniform for girls usually features a blazer and shirt combined with a pleated skirt.

In recent years, there has been a trend towards “genderless” school uniforms that feature a pre-assigned wardrobe of items that can be freely combined by each student.

Cram Schools (Juku) and Preparatory Schools

Juku are privately-run, for-profit “cram schools” that provide additional education to students. Juku attendance peaks in junior high school at over 50%. Most students take extra classes 2 to 3 days a week.

In high school, traditional juku attendance drops to 20 ~ 30%. Instead, many students attend a preparatory school (予備校 yobikō). Yobikō are essentially juku that specialize in preparation for university entrance exams. While juku tend to offer a more generalized curriculum, Yobikō are heavily geared towards specific universities.

High school students who don’t pass the entrance exam for the university they applied to are called “wandering samurai” (浪人 rōnin). Many of them spend the time until the next year’s exam working part-time or attending preparatory schools.

Higher Education

According to official data from the Japanese government, around 58% of Japanese students pursued an education in the tertiary sector in 2020. Out of these 58%, around 54% chose a traditional university.

After graduating from high school, Japanese students have the following options:

  1. Traditional university with 4-year courses equivalent to a Bachelor’s degree and options for further education (大学 daigaku)
  2. Junior colleges with courses between 2 and 3 years (短期大学 tanki daigaku)
  3. Vocational schools/trade schools with courses between 1 and 4 years, mostly 2 years (専門学校 senmon gakkō)

While university education is common in Japan, relatively few students stay in university beyond their first degree. In 2020, only around 1 out of 9 students chose to stay in school to acquire the Japanese equivalent of a Master’s degree. Out of those who did, only 1 out of 9 students opted for a doctorate.

Outside of highly specialized fields, differences in initial salary for graduates with MA degrees or doctorates are minimal. In addition, the structure of many Japanese companies still has elements that reward seniority, which encourages an early start of work.

As a result of these factors, the typical student goes through a total of 16 years of education. Most students graduate and enter the job market around age 22.

Just like in primary and secondary education, extracurricular club activities play a big role in the lives of Japanese university students. It is not rare for universities to have multiple clubs for the same activity, which differ in atmosphere and organization (ex. strict regimes vs place where students come together for a common hobby).

Because of the prevalence and cultural significance of extracurricular activities in Japanese education, many employers ask freshly-graduated university applicants what kind of activities they were involved in and what role they played there.

Education Costs

There are both public schools (公立 kōritsu, 県立 kenritsu, 市立 shiritsu) and private schools (私立 shiritsu) in Japan. Tuition tends to be lower for public schools.

Educational quality and reputation differs from institution to institution. For example, two of the most prestigious universities in Japan are public institutions in Tokyo in Kyoto, but local public universities are typically considered to be “lower” than some private institutions in Tokyo.

Below, you can find a rough estimate on costs of education, based on 2018 data from Japan’s Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT). Optional costs, like tuition for private cram schools, are not included.






649,088 JPY

1,584,777 JPY

Elementary School

1,926,809 JPY

9,592,145 JPY

Junior High School

1,462,113 JPY

4,217,172 JPY

High School

1,372,072 JPY

2,904,230 JPY


4,994,000 JPY

7,170,000 JPY


10,404,082 JPY

25,468,324 JPY

*Costs for students living with their parents