Elementary schools in Japan

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An elementary school class in Japan

Elementary school (小学校 Shōgakkō?) in Japan is compulsory.[1] All children begin first grade in the April after they turn six[1]--kindergarten is growing increasingly popular, but is not mandatory-- and starting school is considered a very important event in a child's life.


In the Edo period, some children attended terakoya or temple schools where they learned practical methods of reading, writing, and calculation.

In 1886, the modern elementary school system started as compulsory education. Until 1947, only elementary schools were compulsory. Immediately before and during World War II, state education was used as a propaganda tool by the Japanese fascist government.

Today virtually all elementary education takes place in public schools. Tuition to these schools are free, although families have to pay for school lunches, supplies, and non-school expenses such as extra books or lessons.

Less than 1% of the schools are private, partly because of the latter's expense. Some private elementary schools are prestigious, and they serve as a first step to higher-level private schools with which they are affiliated and thence to a university. Competition to enter some of these "ladder schools" is quite intense.

Elementary school classes are large, typically between thirty and forty students each.[1] Students are usually organized into small work groups, which have both academic and disciplinary functions.[1]

Courses of Study[edit]

The ministry's Course of Study for Elementary Schools is composed of a wide variety of subjects both academic and nonacademic.

Academic subjects include Japanese language, social studies, arithmetic, and science.[1] Japanese language is an emphasized subject due to the complexity of the written language and the diversity of its spoken forms in formal speech to seniors (keigo). The English Language is taught at some schools especially in the higher grades;[1] it is now mandatory at 5th and 6th grade from 2011,[2] as in 2002 TOEFL scores in Japan were the worst in Asia after North Korea.[3]

Nonacademic subjects taught include art (including Japanese calligraphy) and handicrafts, music, haiku or Japanese traditional poetry, homemaking, physical education, and moral education.[1] Children also take part in "special activities," scheduled time each week to take care of class business, plan for field trips and ceremonies, and similar tasks.

"Information technology is increasingly being used to enhance education, and most schools have access to the Internet."[1] There is a system of educational television and radio, and almost all elementary schools use programs prepared by the School Education Division of Japan's ex Broadcasting Corporation (Nippon Hoso Kyokai—NHK).

Daily life[edit]

Both Japanese elementary and middle schools begin around 7:50 AM, with lessons starting at 8:30 AM.[4] Japanese schools do not have school buses, both because of the small size of most school districts and because of the availability of public transportation.[5]

The first fifteen minutes of each day is set aside for either a schoolwide assembly (on Monday mornings) or attendance and announcements in homeroom.[4]

Classes are between 40 and 45 minutes each, with a 5-10 minutes break in-between.[4]


After four morning classes, at about 12:30 PM, students are sent to pick up their homeroom's lunches from the school kitchens.[4] Lunches are typically served in obento boxes, with small portions of a variety of freshly prepared foods.

These include "a whole range of meats, fishes, vegetables, and sea plants. A typical meal consists of stew or curry, boiled vegetables, a sandwich, and salad. Milk is served with each meal. Usually, there is also dessert, such as gelatin, ice cream, and fruit."[6]

Because there are relatively few cafeterias in elementary schools, meals are taken in the classroom with the teacher, providing another informal opportunity for teaching nutrition, health, good eating habits and social behavior. All students eat the same lunch, and are assigned to shifts for serving lunch to their homeroom.[4] Lunch lasts about 40 minutes.[4]


In lower elementary school, classes are over after lunch and children are allowed to go home.[4]

For upper elementary schoolers, there is one more class after lunch.[4] Some schools allow for a 20-minute recess in-between, which is sometimes used for cleaning the classrooms: sweeping, mopping, throwing away trash, etc. Students then usually leave school around three o'clock.[4]

After-school clubs like sports and English club are offered at elementary schools, but unlike middle and high school clubs these usually meet only once a week.[4]


Japanese elementary schooling is seen[who?] as effective, but not without some problems, notably increasing absenteeism and school refusal and a troublesome amount of bullying (77,630 reported cases in 2010 throughout the school system)[7] In addition, special provision for the young children returning to Japan from long periods spent overseas is an issue. The government also is concerned with the education of Japanese children residing abroad. However, in most urban centers there are at least private international schools which can accommodate such returnees.


A new course of study was established in 1989, partly as a result of the education reform movement of the 1980s and partly because of ongoing curriculum review. Important changes scheduled were an increased number of hours devoted to Japanese language, the replacement of the social sciences course with a daily life course- -instruction for children on proper interaction with the society and environment around them—and an increased emphasis on moral education. New emphasis also was to be given in the curriculum to the national flag and the Japanese national anthem. The ministry suggested that the flag be flown and the national anthem sung at important school ceremonies. Because neither the flag nor the anthem had been legally designated as national symbols, and because of the nationalistic wartime associations the two had in the minds of some citizens, this suggestion was greeted with opposition.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h "Schools - Explore Japan - Kids". Web Japan. Retrieved 2015-02-20. 
  2. ^ Tang, Warren M (2008-04-05). "Japanese primary schools to teach 285 English words in 2011 – Warren M Tang". Corpora.wordpress.com. Retrieved 2015-02-20. 
  3. ^ "Japan". Atimes.com. 2002-06-27. Retrieved 2015-02-20. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "A Day at School - Schools - Explore Japan - Kids". Web Japan. Retrieved 2015-02-20. 
  5. ^ "Ways to School - Schools - Explore Japan - Kids". Web Japan. Retrieved 2015-02-20. 
  6. ^ "Lunches - Schools - Explore Japan - Kids". Web Japan. Retrieved 2015-02-20. 
  7. ^ Japan Today

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]