Whether you are new to Japan or simply want to learn more about high school education, this guide will tell you everything you need to know, including the history of high school education, the philosophy behind high school education, high school students and teachers, the high school curriculum and more.

High school education in Japan

Senior high school attendance is optional in Japan. Entry into high school is based on performance in exams, and the competition is fairly intense for top schools. Students who attend unified junior and senior high schools avoid the pressure of high school entry exams, but there are few unified public schools.

The high school curriculum includes a few required subjects, including geography, history, civics, Japanese language, mathematics, science, physical education, health, art, foreign language, home economics, and information. The high school curriculum also includes extracurricular activities and integrated study, and students in vocational programs take courses in their area of study while spending less time on the core subjects. Vocational programs are available for subjects like agriculture, industrial arts, and business.

History of high school education in Japan

The high school enrollment rate more than doubled during the economic boom, from 42.5 percent in 1950 to 90.8 percent in 1974. At the same time, college enrollment rates in Japan for 18-year-olds increased nearly four fold from 10 percent in 1960 to 37 percent in 1975. Many sons of farmers became white-collar and college-educated employees, helping form a new middle class by the 1970s.

The 1999 high school education course of study for 2003 to 2012 was created to boost diversity, individuality, internationalization, deregulation, and information technology. The course of study also promotes volunteer service, moral education, and employment experience. The course of study reduced the number of class hours, consistent with a five-day school week, and created more elective classes. Most high schools have 30 hour-long units per week for 35 weeks per year, and one hour-long unit is 50 minutes long.

High schools in Japan

High school students are typically sorted into three different types of high schools, including academic high schools, vocational schools, and new comprehensive high schools. High school students tend to participate in extracurricular activities and work part-time after school. Nearly two-thirds of high school graduates tend to enroll in colleges, universities, and specialized training colleges. Securing admission to these higher educational institutions, like colleges and universities, is not particularly difficult in Japan. Only the top 20 to 30 percent of high school students study hard to enter the top college and universities, while more than half of the high school students study for only about an hour or less per day.

Most of the 5,500 high schools in Japan are public schools, while about 24 percent of the high schools are private. There are 15 national high schools associated with national universities and 104 new comprehensive six-year secondary schools. About 51 percent of private schools and 4 percent of public schools are single-sex institutions. There are also correspondence high schools and evening high schools, in addition to regular daytime high schools. There are special high schools for children with visual impairments, hearing impairments, orthopedic disabilities, chronic illness, and other disabilities.

High school students and teachers in Japan

About 98 percent of 15-year-old middle or junior high school graduates go on to attend high school or private specialist institutions. A high school diploma is considered the minimum requirement for most basic jobs in Japan. About a quarter of all students attend private high schools, some of which are elite academic high schools. Most high school students attend day high schools, and about three-quarters of all students are enrolled in academic courses. Other students have enrolled in correspondence high schools or high schools that support correspondence courses.

High school curriculum in Japan

High schools in Japan adopt highly divergent high school curricula. The curriculum might include very general or highly specialized subjects, depending on the different kinds of high schools. The course of study mandates that students take 74 units, including 31 required core units and 25 elective units.

The required subjects for general education are world history, Japanese language units, Japanese history or geography, contemporary society, ethics, political science, economics, mathematics, basic science, physics, chemistry, biology, geology, physical education, public health, music, arts, craftwork, calligraphy, oral communication, English, home economics, daily life technology, and information science.

All high schools are also required to teach three to four units of integrated study, and all high schools have hour-long homeroom classes. Each school can also create one school-specific subject based on the needs of the students, and high-ranked academic high schools offer advanced courses. Vocational high schools offer basic academic courses and specialized vocational courses. International schools follow different curricula enabling parents to choose one that best suits the plans for your child’s future plans.