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Overview of the Japanese Education System

Overview of the Education System

The Japanese educational system starts with pre-school education, followed by 6 years of elementary education, then 6 years of secondary education (3 years of lower secondary and 3 years of upper secondary education), which leads to a wide range of higher education. The 9 years of elementary and lower secondary education cover compulsory education.

There are kindergartens (幼稚園 yochien), day care centers (保育所 hoikusho), and “centers for early childhood education and care” (認定こども園 nintei-kodomo-en) for pre-school education. As for elementary and secondary education, typical educational institutions include elementary schools (小学校 shogakko) for elementary education and lower secondary schools (中学校 chugakko) and upper secondary schools (高等学校 kotogakko) for secondary education. There are also schools for special needs education (特別支援学校 tokubetsu-shien-gakko) [departments of kindergarten, elementary, lower secondary, and upper secondary] for children and students with disabilities.

In addition, in 1998, it became possible to establish 6-year Secondary Education Schools (中等教育学校 chuto-kyoiku-gakko) which combine lower and upper secondary education, and in 2016, it became possible to establish Compulsory Education Schools (義務教育学校 gimu-kyoiku-gakko) which combine elementary and lower secondary education.

For upper division of Secondary Education Schools and upper secondary schools, there are also schools that offer part-time courses (定時制 teiji-sei) in the evening or at other specific times and periods, correspondence courses (通信制 tsushin-sei) that offer distance education, and 高等専修学校 koto-senshu-gakko which is Upper Secondary Courses of Specialized Training Colleges (専修学校高等課程 senshu-gakko-koto-katei).

Types of higher education institutions (HEIs), higher education qualifications, and admissions are described in the following sections.

Organization of the School System in Japan


Academic Calendar

Governed by law, the academic year for elementary and secondary education institutions and Colleges of Technology starts on April 1 and ends on March 31. At universities and Specialized Training Colleges, rectors or presidents determine the beginning and end of the academic year for their institutions. At upper secondary schools, upper secondary department of schools for special needs education, and universities, matriculation and graduation of students may take place in the middle of an academic year according to the division of academic term of each institution.

Many universities in Japan use a semester system (first semester from April to September, and second semester from October to March), but there are also some universities that use trimester or quarter systems.

     Number of universities admitting students at times other than April (AY2019)
            Undergraduate programs: 244 universities (33% of total)  
            Graduate programs: 325 graduate schools (52% of total)

  [Source] Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT)
                 "大学における教育内容等の改革状況について(令和元年度)" [Japanese only]
                 (AY2018: Status of university reform concerning educational content, etc.)

Statistics of Higher Education

(As of May 1, 2021)

Number of Higher Education Institutions

National Public Private Total
University*1 86 98 619 803
Junior College --- 14 301 315
College of Technology 51 3 3 57
Professional Training College (Specialized Trainng College which offers Post-Secondary Course)*2 8 183 2,563


Education institutions operated by government ministries and agencies*3 3 --- --- 3

Number of Student Enrolment in Higher Education

National Public Private Total
University*1 597,450


2,160,110 2,917,998
Junior College --- 5,363 96,869 102,232
College of Technology 51,316 3,772 1,817 56,905
Post-Secondary Course of Professional Training College*2 296 22,538 584,195 607,029

Number of Full-time Faculty and Staff in Higher Education

National Public Private Total
University*1 Full-time Faculty 63,911 14,338 112,199 190,448
Full-time Staff 87,697 19,098 152,016 258,811
Junior College Full-time Faculty --- 404 6,611 7,015
Full-time Staff --- 173 3,714 3,887
College of Technology Full-time Faculty 3,645 289 151 4,085
Full-time Staff 2,566 87 54 2,707
Post-Secondary Course of Professional Training College*2 Full-time Faculty 76 2,697 34,290 37,063

<Reference> MEXT, School Basic Survey Results

*1 Includes graduate schools

*2 32 prefectural colleges of agriculture (農業大学校) are included in 'Public'.

*3 Only the institutions defined by the "Guideline for the Recognition of Higher Education Qualifications - Asia-Pacific Regional Convention on the Recognition of Qualifications in Higher Education" (MEXT, 2019) are included. There is no published statistical data on the numbers of student enrolment, full-time faculty and staff.

Number of International Students in Japan

Foreign students studying in Japan(EN)_1058x846

Number of Japanese Students Studying Aborad

Japanese students studying abroad (EN)_964x739

Major Laws and Regulations Pertaining to Higher Education

For the laws and regulations listed below, English translation is avialable for Basic Act on Education only. Please also note that only the original Japanese texts have legal effect, and the English translations are to be used solely as reference materials. 

Links to Standards for the Establishment of each type of higher education institutions are listed on the Quality Assurance System page.