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 (KOSEN) 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 (AY2021)
  Undergraduate level: 261 universities (34.8%, N=752)
  Graduate level: 342 universities (53.0%, N=775)

- Number of universities implementing each academic term system at undergraduate level (AY2021)
  Semester system: 694 universities (92.3%)
  Trimester system: 17 universities (2.3%)
  Quarter system: 49 universities (6.5%)
  Other systems: 120 universities (16.0%)

- Number of universities implementing each academic term system at graduate level (AY2021)
  Semester system: 592 universities (91.6%)
  Trimester system: 10 universities (1.5%)
  Quarter system: 37 universities (5.7%)
  Other systems: 96 universities (14.9%)

* Since the above figures represent the number of universities that have faculties and graduate schools implementing each academic term system and it may not be uniform within one university, the total does not equal the number of universities that responded to the MEXT’s survey.

[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3年度)" [Japanese only]
(AY2021: Status of university reform concerning educational content, etc.)

Statistics of Higher Education

(As of May 1, 2023)

Number of Higher Education Institutions

National Public Private Total
University*1 86 102 622 810
Junior College --- 15 288 303
College of Technology (KOSEN) 51 3 4 58
Professional Training College (Specialized Training College which offers Post-Secondary Course)*2 8 178 2,507 2,693
Education institutions operated by government ministries and agencies*3 3 --- --- 3

Number of Student Enrolment in Higher Education

National Public Private Total
University*1 600,177 165,915 2,179,507 2,945,599
Junior College --- 5,190 81,499 86,689
College of Technology (KOSEN) 51,034 3,814 1,728 56,576
Post-Secondary Course of Professional Training College*2 239 21,495 533,608 555,342

Number of Full-time Faculty and Staff in Higher Education

National Public Private Total
University*1 Full-time Faculty 63,778 14,807 113,293 191,878
Full-time Staff 90,084 20,075 153,905 264,064
Junior College Full-time Faculty --- 399 6,130 6,529
Full-time Staff --- 162 3,434 3,596
College of Technology (KOSEN) Full-time Faculty 3,551 284 149 3,984
Full-time Staff 2,609 102 53 2,764
Post-Secondary Course of Professional Training College*2 Full-time Faculty 77 2,578 33,238 35,893

<Reference> MEXT, School Basic Survey Results [Japanese only]

*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

Number of Japanese Students Studying Abroad

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.