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State School Systems for Expats in Japan

Submitted: February 2014

State schools in Japan are free not only to Japanese citizens but to foreign nationals as well. Education is compulsory from the ages of 6-15. However many children enter the education system from as early as 3 years old. The state school system in Japan can be divided into four stages:


Kindergarten (“Yochien or Hoikuen”): Ages 3-6

This stage of your child’s school life is not compulsory. However many parents choose to send their children to these centres in order help their children socially as well as to learn some basic skills.  Yochiens are more academic in their approach as opposed to Hoikuens which are basically daycare centres and are provided for working parents. It should be noted that attendance at even public kindergartens may attract a fee although they are subsidised by the State. You can visit the blog below for a detailed account of a kindergarten experience in Japan:


Elementary Schools (“Shougakkou” Ages 6-11

Elementary schools aim to have students proficient in a range of subjects including Japanese, math, science and social studies in order to provide students with a solid foundation for entry into the secondary education system. For a detailed description of primary school life in Japan with regard to timetables, classes, etc., please see the link below:


Lower Secondary Schools (Junior High Schools or “Tyugakko”): Ages 12-15

Students continue to receive a fundamental secondary education in the core subjects mentioned above.  For a detailed look at Junior High school life, please see the document below:


Upper Secondary Schools (High Schools or “Koukou”): Ages 15-18

Students first have to sit rigorous entrance exams in order to be admitted. Students may attend technical or traditional upper secondary schools. For a comprehensive overview of High Schools in Japan, please refer to the link below:

For a helpful overview of the compulsory education system in Japan with specific reference to foreign students, please refer to the following document below:

Students attending state schools are required to follow the national curriculum or “Course of Study”. This is especially advantageous to parents who are required to move often as their children would be able to transition easily into a new school. However, it must be noted that classes are taught in Japanese. This can be a particularly daunting prospect for foreign students. Fortunately, the Japanese Education Ministry has recently introduced Japanese language lessons for non-Japanese speaking students. You can also contact your local ward office (city hall)  for information about after-school language classes for your child.

If you feel that your child needs additional help, you can consider options such as enrolling your child in a Japanese language school to supplement their learning of the language or you can enlist a private tutor.

It should be noted that the academic year in Japan begins in April so you should keep this date in mind when considering your move or the registration process. For admittance in state schools, parents should contact their local ward office in order to register their children.  For list of ward offices in some areas, please see the links below:







The ward office will have a list of all the public schools in the area including kindergartens. You will need to walk with your alien registration card or residence card in order to register your child along in order to show your address as well as your any official document which verifies your child’s birth date. The decision as to which state school a child attends is governed by your place of residence. Therefore, students often have to attend the state school that is nearest to their home. The registration process is quite straightforward.

Please be advised that while tuition and school text books are free of charge, you will be required to pay a monthly fee for your child’s school lunch and supplies as well as the cost of their school uniform.

For a helpful insight on school life in Japan, please refer to the link below:



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