Secondary education in Japan
Secondary education in Japan is split into junior high schools (中学 chūgaku) which cover the seventh through ninth grades, and senior high schools (高等学校 kōtōgakkō, abbreviated to 高校 kōkō) which mostly cover grades ten through twelve.
Junior High School
Lower-secondary schools cover grades seven, eight, and nine. Ages are roughly thirteen to fifteen with increased focus on academic studies. Although it is still possible to leave the formal education system after completing lower secondary school and find employment, fewer than 4% did so by the late 1980s.
Like most elementary schools, most junior high schools in the 1980s were public schools and government funded, but 5% were private schools. Private schools cost about 558,592 (Yen) (US$3,989) per student in 1988, about four times more than the 130,828 yen (US$934) that the ministry estimated as the cost for students enrolled in public junior high schools.
The minimum number of school days in a year is 210 in Japan, compared to 180 in the United States. However, students will typically attend school for 240 to 250 days a year. A significant part of the school calendar is taken up by non-academic events such as sports days and school trips.
The teaching force in lower-secondary schools is two-thirds male. Schools are headed by principals, 99% of whom were men in 1988. Teachers often majored in the subjects they taught, and more than 80% graduated from a four-year college. Classes are large, with thirty-eight students per class on average, and each class is assigned a homeroom teacher who doubles as counselor. Unlike Elementary students, junior high school students have different teachers for different subjects. The teacher, however, rather than the students, usually moves to a new room for each fifty-minute period.
Instruction tends to rely on the lecture method. Teachers also use other media, such as television and radio, and there is some laboratory work. By 1989 about 45% of all public lower-secondary schools had computers, including schools that used them only for administrative purposes. Classroom organization is still based on small work groups, although no longer for reasons of discipline. Students are expected to have mastered daily routines and acceptable behavior.
All course contents are specified in the Course of Study for Lower-Secondary Schools. Some subjects, such as Japanese language and mathematics, are coordinated with the elementary curriculum. The curriculum covers Japanese language, English, social studies, mathematics, science, music, fine arts, industrial arts, homemaking, health, and physical education. Moral education and special activities continue to receive attention. In science, students may take courses emphasizing the safety and necessity of nuclear power plants, with curricula written by government bureaucrats rather than teachers.
Many students also participate in after-school clubs. Sports clubs, such as Yakyu (baseball) tend to be especially popular among boys, while wind bands are the most popular club among girl students. Club activities were mandatory from 1972 to 2002 in name, while some students joined none of them in reality. Some junior high schools also encourage students to take ability tests such as the STEP Eiken for English or the Kanji kentei for Japanese.
Senior High School
Even though upper-secondary school is not compulsory in Japan, 94% of all lower-secondary school graduates entered upper secondary schools in 1989. As of 2005, over 95% of students graduated successfully from high school compared to 89% of Americans. 
To enter, students must take an entrance examination in Japanese, mathematics, science, social studies, and English, whether a test that is standardized for all public high schools within each prefecture or a test created by a private high school for that school alone. All upper-secondary schools, public and private, are informally ranked based on their success in placing graduates in freshman classes of the most prestigious universities.
"Success or failure on an entrance examination can influence a student's entire future, since the prospect of finding a good job depends on the school attended." Thus, students experience the pressure of this examination system at a relatively early age."  Because of the importance of these exams in entering high school--even more than the scholastic record and performance evaluations from lower-secondary school-- students are closely counseled in lower-secondary school so that they will be relatively assured of a place in the schools to which they apply.
High schools typically begin at 8:30. Since students are not legally old enough to drive, they walk, ride bicycles, or take public transportation. "It is not uncommon for students to spend two or more hours each day on public transportation,"  taking time to sleep, study or socialize. What they can do on the way to and from school--"chewing gum, consuming snacks, reading books while walking--anything that might reflect badly on the reputation of the school"  is heavily regulated so as to protect that reputation. Some schools even require students to leave seats open on buses and trains for other passengers "in order to demonstrate consideration."  Each school also has a unique uniform that makes its students easily identifiable to the public.
Every high school has a set of lockers for students to exchange their street shoes for a set of slippers, which in some schools are color-coded for gender. Students assemble in their homerooms of an average of between 40 and 45 students each, with some schools having a weekly schoolwide assembly beforehand. The students themselves conduct what they call "toban"- taking attendance, making announcements, etc.- that are shared on a rotating basis. Students go to different classrooms for physical education, laboratory classes, or other specialized courses; otherwise, teachers change classrooms instead of the students for the entire day.
Most schools do not have their own cafeteria."Even in schools where a lunch is prepared and provided to the students, they usually eat together in their homeroom classrooms. In most schools, students bring a box lunch from home, almost always consisting of foods prepared by the mother in the early morning hours, such as rice, fish, eggs, vegetables, and pickles." 
At the end of the school day, all students help to clean the entire school ("osoji") and disperse for extracurricular meetings.
In most schools, there are two types of extracurricular clubs: one) sports clubs, like baseball, football, judo, kendo, track, tennis, swimming, softball, volleyball, and rugby; and two) culture clubs, like English, broadcasting, calligraphy, science, mathematics, and yearbook.
New students usually choose a club after the school year begins, and only rarely change for the rest of their high school careers. Clubs meet for two hours after school every day, many times even during school vacations. Although there is a teacher assigned to each club as a sponsor, they often have very little input in the club's daily activities. These clubs are an important chance for students to make friends and learn the social etiquette and relationships like the "senpai" (senior)/"kohai" (junior) dynamic that will be important in their adult lives. However, "most college bound students withdraw from club activities during their senior year to devote more time to preparation for university entrance examinations." 
Outside of school and cram schools, research done in the late 1990s showed students doing approximately two hours of homework on weekdays and about three hours of it on Sundays. Every day students also spent an average of two hours watching television, thirty minutes listening to the radio, an hour reading for fun, and less than half an hour hanging out with peers. Parents and teachers strongly discourage teenage dating, and most young people do not begin to do so until after high school.
As of the late 1990s Japanese students spent 240 days a year at school, 60 days more than their American counterparts  even with the amount of time spent preparing for school festivals and events. Traditionally Japanese students also attended class on Saturdays; although educational reforms from 2002 have made them no longer mandatory,  many schools have actually begun to bring them back to have more time to cover the rigorous material required by the Ministry of Education.
Schools have limited autonomy in developing their curriculum or choosing their textbooks. Instead, although the latter are written and produced in the private sector,  the Ministry of Education has the final say over any and all content and materials. Typically students take three years each of mathematics, social studies, Japanese, science, and English, with additional courses like physical education, music, art, and moral studies.  In particular social studies in Japan is broken down into civics, geography, Japanese history, world history, sociology, and politics-economics. 
Because of the amount of mandatory courses electives are few. Interestingly, all the students in one grade level study the same subjects, although it is in upper-secondary school that differences in ability are first publicly acknowledged.
Types of Schools
According to 2005 research, while almost 90% of Japanese students attend public schools from kindergarten through the ninth grade, over 29% of students go to private high schools.  A late-1980s study by the Ministry of Education had found that families paid about ¥300,000 (US$2,142) a year for a public high school and about twice as much for a private high school; however, as the name suggests, the 2010 "Act on Free Tuition Fee at Public High Schools and High School Enrollment Support Fund" did away with all public high school tuition.
The most common type of upper-secondary schools has a full-time, general program that offered academic courses for students preparing for higher education.
However, there are also vocational and technical programs that include several hundred specialized courses, such as information processing, metal works, fish farming, business English, and automotive industry. Business and industrial courses in particular accounted for 72% of all students in full-time vocational programs in 1989.
A small number of schools even offer part-time or evening courses or correspondence education.
The ministry recognizes a need to improve the teaching of all foreign languages, especially English. To improve instruction in spoken English, the government invites many young native speakers of English to Japan to serve as assistants to school boards and prefectures under its Japan Exchange and Teaching Program. By 2005 participants numbered over 6,000. In the last few years, several school boards in Japan have relied on ALTs (Assistant Language Teacher) from private dispatch companies.
As part of the movement to develop an integrated curriculum and the education reform movement of the late 1980s, the entire Course of Study for Lower-Secondary Schools was revised in 1989 and took effect in the 1992–93 school year. A main aim of the reform is to equip students with the basic knowledge needed for citizenship. In some measure, this means increased emphasis on Japanese history and culture, as well as understanding Japan as a nation and its relationships with other nations of the world. The course of study also increased elective hours, recommending that electives be chosen in light of individual student differences and with an eye toward diversification.
A further revision to the law was carried out on 15 December 2006. The revised law leaves the structure of schooling basically the same but includes new emphases on respect for Japanese culture (Article 2.5), school discipline (Article 6.2), and parental responsibility (Article 10).
Junior High Issues
Two problems of great concern to educators and citizens began to appear at the lower-secondary level in the 1980s: bullying, which remains a major problem, and the school-refusal syndrome (toko kyohi—manifested by a student's excessive absenteeism), which was on the rise. In 2008, there were 42,754 incidents of problematic behavior in junior high schools, according to a government survey.(The Daily Yomiuri 2/12/2009)
Experts disagreed over the specific causes of these phenomena, but there is general agreement that the system offers little individualized or specialized assistance, thus contributing to disaffection among those who can not conform to its demands or who are otherwise experiencing difficulties. Another problem concerns Japanese children returning from abroad. These students, particularly if they have been overseas for extended periods, often need help not only in reading and writing but also in adjusting to rigid classroom demands. Even making the adjustment does not guarantee acceptance: besides having acquired a foreign language, many of these students have also acquired foreign customs of speech, dress, and behavior that mark them as different.
Senior High Issues
The upper-secondary curriculum also underwent thorough revision in 1989. That year a new Course of Study for Upper-Secondary Schools was announced that was to be phased in beginning with the tenth grade in 1994, followed by the eleventh grade in 1995 and the twelfth grade in 1996. Among noteworthy changes is the requirement that both male and female students take a course in home economics. The government is concerned with instilling in all students an awareness of the importance of family life, the various roles and responsibilities of family members, the concept of cooperation within the family, and the role of the family in society. The family continues to be an extremely important part of the social infrastructure, and the ministry clearly is interested in maintaining family stability within a changing society. Another change of note was the division of the old social studies course into history-and-geography and civics courses, not to mention, this has nothing about subject expectations.
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