Japanese School System and What We Can Learn from it?

This post was originally posted on: https://theedvolution.com/japanese-school-system-and-what-we-can-learn-from-it/

The Japanese school system has the most holistic approach to teaching you will ever see. Instead of solely being a center for academic education, they teach kids life skills and discipline, unlike any other system in the world.

The main area where a Japanese system differs from the other systems is the emphasis they place on ethics and morals. Their system includes 6 years of elementary school followed by 3 years of junior high, 3 years of high school, and then 4 years of university.

With a 99.9% literacy rate as per a survey in 2019, Japan has one of the leading systems of education. Education in subjects of mathematics, language, and now STEAM, coding, and robotics begins from an early age of 6 and continues till 16 years, which is the age cap on compulsory education in Japan.

Even though the Japanese system is criticized for being too homogenous and giving kids less room to think on their own, the simple fact is that it works and it works rather well. This is shown in the literacy rates and the high ranking in the international standardized tests and surveys. Plus the unemployment rate in Japan is 2.29% as compared to America’s 3.79% and Russia’s 4.43% in 2019. It is all thanks to their comprehensive education system. To make other school systems better, there are a few tips we can pick from the Japanese school system.

This education system of Japan has led the country to form a stable government, a widely literate population, and success in the internationally competitive economical market. There is something to be learnt from that. So here in this article, we have compiled a few aspects of the Japanese education system that we should all apply into the educational systems of our countries, so perhaps we can improve the quality of education and literacy rate in our countries.

What is Special about the Japanese School System?

The Japanese education system is very disciplined and organized. With the school year divided into three terms, the students have a total of 6 weeks of holidays, and they have to study during that time as well. The regular school day is 6 hours long with many more after-school activities and homework to do.

This system performs well. Japanese students’ world ranking places them second in mathematics and first in science and reading in standardized test scores, according to the program of international student assessment. The reason for doing so well is the strict discipline and routine that everyone follows, and an incredible amount of responsibilities the students are given.

From a young age, the kids are taught to respect the teachers and the elders in the community. The subjects covered in a Japanese school include the traditional social studies, science, mathematics, home economics, and the new subjects also include STEAM education, coding, and robotics as well.

The special feature of the Japanese system of education is their focus on all-around growth and development of kids and not just academia. The home economics studies teach basic life skills such as cooking, sewing, and fixing stuff around the house.

Interesting Facts about the Japanese School System

The Japanese system of education is quite different from western school systems. For instance, almost all schools require students to wear a uniform which is a rarity in other parts of the world. Some other interesting features of a Japanese school include

  1. Two pairs of shoes

Students are required to have two pairs of shoes in the uniform, one is an outdoor pair and the other is an indoor pair. The mud and dirt from the outside do not make it inside the school doors. There is a separate changing area at the entrance where kids leave the outdoor shoes (neatly in assigned boxes I might add) and put on the indoor ones.

This is almost unheard of in the other countries of the world but is a very usual thing for the Japanese. When you look deeply into this, this practice is superbly hygienic and promotes cleanliness in kids.

2. Quality of lunches

The lunches provided in schools are not hotdogs or a packet of potato chips, rather nutritional meals designed by health experts are served in schools. Instead of water or soda, kids are given milk to take with the food for extra nutrition. This school lunch is standardized and includes a portion of all major food groups. Vegetables, meat, and fiber are all included and kids eat the same thing throughout the year.

3. Junior high is the last compulsory year of education

Instead of compulsory education until high school that is K-12; Japanese kids are only required by law to be in school until the age of 16 years. Afterward, higher education is a choice and even then 96% of the students choose to continue and get a high school diploma. This is because the value of education is emphasized upon from a very young age and so kids are motivated to study even when they are not required to do so by law.

What we can learn from the Japanese School System

Besides having the longest school days as compared to other educational systems Japan makes sure that the resources allocated to the schools are utilized most efficiently. The teachers hired are dedicated and exceptionally respected plus paid well; this is the sign of their high status in the community. Some other aspects of the Japanese school systems that we can all learn from include:

  1. No changing of classrooms for the students.
  2. Uniformity in the curriculum and school lunches.
  3. Responsibility in kids.
  4. The detailed obligations of a teacher.
  5. The extra after school programs for students.
  6. The specific order of beginning and ending the class and greeting the teacher.
  7. The unique methods to improve creativity.
  8. Special focus on character building.
  9. The strong connection to culture and history.
  10. The importance paid to vocational education.

Now we will discuss each of these aspects in detail:

  1. Students stay in the same classroom

In western schools, the culture is for the students to shift between classrooms for different subjects. For the most part, no student attends two separate subject classes in the same room. But the Japanese system does this the other way around; instead of the students, the teachers are the ones who move between classes all day long. The students have one classroom assigned for the entire year where they take all the classes. Except for the PT, computer classes, science lab or STEM education classes that require a lab or the outdoors.

This approach benefits the students in the way that they don’t have to quickly gather their belongings and rush around the school to get to their next class. It helps to manage overcrowding in the hallways. Instead of 30 students making their way to a different classroom, only one teacher has to move! It saves time and energy on the part of the students.

While on the topic of classrooms, it is worth mentioning the organization and décor of a Japanese class. The posters on the walls and the furniture are all an appropriate representation of the goals of education; which is to teach traditional subjects all the while teaching self-discipline, cleanliness, order, character and good moral behavior

2. Uniformity

From food to curriculum and uniforms everything is done according to one set of rules to maintain uniformity across all schools. Wearing a uniform is compulsory for higher grades in all private and public schools. The benefit of this approach is to disregard any social barriers the kids might experience with expensive branded clothing and accessories.

The lunch’s serves during school hours are the same throughout the year and made by the school itself or by special lunch centers specialized in school lunches. Also, the portions served to each student is the same.

Uniformity in everything creates a sense of community between the students and the teachers. It teaches discipline. The similarity in clothing and eating habits is something inherent to the Japanese culture.

The reason why Japanese schools do well is that the principals, teachers, lawmakers, and parents understand and agree upon the same set of goals, there is uniformity in what they want to achieve and they work together to provide all the resources to the students. Recognizing the importance of a consistent system of education has allowed Japan to make tremendous progress in schools, and that is what we all need to apply in our systems as well.

3. Responsibility

An admirable feature of the Japanese school system is their approach to teaching responsibility from a very young age. Students as young as 10-years-old are given chores and tasks to complete around the school. It is a part of the curriculum and not optional to accept and reject the duties assigned.

To teach responsibility, tasks assigned include serving lunch to other students, cleaning the classrooms, and going home after school by yourself. Kids are responsible for showing up to class on time. Being late is frowned upon and seldom happens. The news lens and the social studies website have details on how to give responsibility to young kids the Japanese way.

When kids are given tasks to do around the school, they feel a sense of belonging to the place. Having to take care of the space makes them care about it more and they are motivated to keep it clean.

Children learn and do more when they know what is expected of them. By giving these small jobs to kids they realize that they are expected to take care of society as if it were their home. Responsibility also sets high expectations from kids, in turn, they tend to expect more from themselves and strive to achieve more. By giving all the kids the same level of responsibility, the system shows them that all kids have the same potential to be great. No kid is marked as being less than. This allows kids to explore their potential freely.

4. Duties of a teacher

The teachers have a lot of duties to handle in a Japanese school system. From helping kids with classwork to after-school coaching teachers are very busy throughout the week. Staff rooms are for teachers to prepare lesson plans and take a break between classes.

Any student that missed a lesson for some reason, or is lagging behind the other students in the class can take private lessons from the teachers in the staff rooms. Due to this vigilant care and extra effort by the teachers, a student rarely repeats a grade, and the entire class graduates on time along with the mates they enrolled with. Nippon and cosmonication have more information on what the teachers are required to do in Japan.

A teacher must conduct himself in a way that reflects the values the school is trying to instil in the kids. Disciple and integrity in a teacher are translated into the behavior of the students. While a teacher gives lessons on traditional subjects, his attitude towards different situations gives a moral education to kids, so the teachers are required to keep in mind how they unconsciously affect students.

Instead of repeatedly telling kids about right and wrong, good or bad, the teachers demonstrate it in their behavior and that is enough for kids to realize the socially appropriate ways to behave.

5. Extra curriculum and after school programs

To stimulate kids’ creativity and instill in them a sense of service to the community they are encouraged to take part in extracurricular and community activities. Festivals, exhibitions and song celebrations are very common and seeing school kids engaged in decorations and plays is a norm in Japan.

Extracurricular activities also include sports and after school preparatory classes. The after school programs are mostly for older kids looking to apply to high schools and universities. Prep scholars and Tokyo creators kids have various after school activities you can start in your school.

While kids are encouraged to participate in extracurricular, the school is always clear on the main goal of education which is to improve cognition and independence in kids. Schools are clear on the fact that they are not sports centers or musical institutions, so the primary goal is not to make the kids proficient in physical activities or playing instruments. For that, the kids have a choice to go to vocational schools after the completion of compulsory education after the age of 16.

6. Start and end the class in a specific order

To get into the studying mindset the classes all start and end with a ritual where the students greet the teacher and bow to show respect, then request the teacher to teach them. These words include kiritsu (stand up); Rei (bow) and chakuseki (sit down). After the lesson is over they stand up to respect the teacher for the effort and energy put in teaching. The teacher thanks the students at the end of class before the students are dismissed.

The benefit of this approach and the reason why the world needs to adapt it is this; not only are students more energized for the lesson this way but also are laser-focused to learn because of this unconscious reminder that the time of learning has begun.

Supreme character, deep-rooted values, and good behavior are significantly promoted by the formal education system. These values are learned by kids from the environment at home or in kindergarten classrooms, but throughout the compulsory education years, the system motivates kids to uphold the cultural values of discipline and respect towards others.

7. The concept of “Nameless paints”

To improve creativity and open-mindedness in kids the Japanese use a system called nameless paints. Although it is not very popular, it did win the 2012 Kokuyo Design award. The tubes of paint have spots of the primary colors and the plus sign in the middle of two colors to depict the final paint color in the tube. The sizes of the spots differ and the kid can imagine the paint color based on what you will get when you mix the spots in certain portions.

What the concept of nameless paints does to school kids is it gives them the freedom to try and experiment to find their way. Although the Japanese system is somewhat rigid, they have, however, developed a system where they give kids the freedom to be themselves while staying incredibly disciplined and a part of the bigger community.

8. Manners before knowledge

The Japanese school system pays special attention to the behavior and manners of kids from a young age. The entire community is involved in raising the kids so the school takes a major role in setting good morals. There is a separate curriculum for kids to follow where they learn life skills.

In this curriculum, they learn to be kind and respectful towards others including animals and plants. They learn qualities such as self-control, empathy, and compassion.

The emphasis on morals is shown in the fact that there are no exams for young kids up till the age of 10 years; all they have to do is learn the basics of being kind and caring human beings and valuable members of society.

Once a child is in daycare the parents are very much involved in everything the kid learns. One can say japan has found the best way to integrate parenting with formal education. When kids are under the age of ten they do learn the traditional subject but without any form of tests, the main focus remains on the learning of morals and developing personality. The involvement of parents in the education of the kids remains true until they are in junior high. The parents are informed about everything that goes on in school that way the education continues in the home as well because home is where kids learn habits and behavioral patterns.

9. Calligraphy (called Shodo) and poetry (called Haiku)

Learning calligraphy and poetry is sometimes included in regular classroom curricula, other times it is a part of the after-school programs, the reason behind teaching kids these skills is to connect them to the culture and heritage of the country. By engaging young students in culturally stimulating activities, you can help them connect with their ancestors. This way kids feel a sense of connection to the country and grow up to love and serve their nation.

Not many international education systems around the world pay much attention to cultural activities and focus on in-depth practical history lessons for kids. But the Japanese believe that their youngsters will perform better when they understand the history of the nation and all that the ancestors have overcome. It develops a sense of belonging and the students are better equipped to stand for their country and its beliefs.

Another reason for teaching calligraphy and poetry or more accurately Shodo and Haiku to kids is to help them learn lessons from the experiences of their elders. That way they can continue the growth and development of the nation from where the previous generation left off, without repeating the same mistakes that the people made in the past.

This is an aspect of formal education that we should all incorporate into our school systems because Japan has shown us that it is one way to make remarkable growth as a nation and make our mark in the world.

10. The popularity of vocational schools

One thing we should definitely adopt from the Japanese school system is their acceptance of vocational school education. The world is obsessed with a college education and a university degree. Vocational schools are a great option for most students who do not want to go to college and study theory and solve exams for another 4 years or so.

Learning life skills such as carpentry or agriculture is just as beneficial for the economy of a country as a college degree. Students in Japan enroll in vocational schools after junior high or high school. The taboo surrounding such education is much less in Japan as compared to other places. And it is something we can learn and apply to other systems around the world.


The Japanese people have devised an extraordinary system of education that works well for their students. Minimizing distractions and instilling discipline in kids saves a lot of time spent in unproductive activities. By starting the lessons with a formal greeting and wearing a uniform to school, kids are mentally prepared for a day of learning from the moment they enter the school.

Given the success of this system, the world can and should adopt some of the simple ways that make the Japanese school system so admirable. You can use the aforementioned tips to improve your education system so the students in your country or school can do as well educationally as the Japanese kids.

These tips are easy to follow for most schools as it requires no drastic change in the ways education is approached across the world. Share this informative article with your coworkers and education policymakers to make some real change and improve the quality of education your students receive.



EDVON offers coding, robotics, mental math and home tuition online 1:1 live classes for the kids ages 6-18.

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EDVON offers coding, robotics, mental math and home tuition online 1:1 live classes for the kids ages 6-18.