ERIC Identifier: ED406301
Publication Date: 1996-10-00
Author: Johnson, Marcia L. - Johnson, Jeffrey R.
ERIC Clearinghouse for Social Studies/Social Science Education Bloomington
Daily Life in Japanese High Schools. ERIC Digest.
Understanding the Japanese people and culture requires understanding the
factors that mold them. Particularly important are those components which
influence them in their formative years. The Japanese education system is one of
the most influential agents molding Japanese youth. Given the large amount of
time that Japanese students spend in schools, it is little wonder that the
education system plays a tremendous role in determining the fabric of Japanese
society. An examination of the "typical" high school experience illuminates the
function of the education system in Japanese society.
GETTING TO SCHOOL
Japanese high school students do not
drive cars. Many either walk or ride bicycles if the distance is not too great.
In other cases, students must take public buses and trains, often changing lines
several times in order to reach their destinations. It is not uncommon for
students to spend two or more hours each day on public transportation. After
junior high school, students attend schools based on standardized high school
entrance examination scores. As a result, some students travel a great distance
to attend the school determined by their test scores. The school day begins at
8:30, so students may leave home as early as 6:30. While some students sleep or
study during their long commute, public transportation also provides a chance
for socializing with peers. Student behavior on the way to school is regulated
by school policies. These policies may prohibit certain activities in
public--chewing gum, consuming snacks, reading books while walking--anything
that might reflect badly on the reputation of the school. Each school has a
unique uniform that makes its students easily identifiable to the public. School
policies often require students to stand on buses and trains, leaving seats open
for other passengers in order to demonstrate consideration. In practice,
however, the behavior of students tends to relax as they move farther away from
Once at school, the students usually enter an
area full of small lockers in which they place their street shoes and don school
slippers. These slippers may be color coded: pink for girls and blue for boys.
Many schools have a weekly school-wide assembly. Then students assemble in their
homeroom classes for the day's studies. The school day starts with classroom
management tasks, such as taking attendance and making announcements. These
activities usually are conducted by the students themselves on a rotating duty
schedule called "toban." Each homeroom has an average of 40-45 students.
Students stay in their homeroom classrooms for most of the school day while the
teachers move from room to room, operating out of a central teachers' room. Only
for physical education, laboratory classes, or other subjects requiring special
facilities do students move to different parts of the school. Between classes
and at lunch time, classrooms can be noisy, lively places. Some schools may have
a cafeteria, but most do not. 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.
Japanese students spend 240 days a year at school, 60 days more than their
American counterparts. Although many of those days are spent preparing for
annual school festivals and events such as Culture Day, Sports Day, and school
excursions, Japanese students still spend considerably more time in class than
American students. Traditionally, Japanese students have attended school for
half a day on Saturdays; however, the number of required Saturdays each month is
decreasing as the result of Japanese educational reforms. Course selection and
textbooks are determined by the Japanese Ministry of Education. Schools have
limited autonomy in their curriculum development. Students in academic high
schools typically take three years each of the following subjects: mathematics,
social studies, Japanese, science, and English. Other subjects include physical
education, music, art, and moral studies. All the students in one grade level
study the same subjects. Given the number of required subjects, electives are
At the end of the academic day, all students participate in "o soji," the
cleaning of the school. They sweep the classrooms and the hallways, empty trash
cans, clean restrooms, clean chalkboards and chalk erasers, and pick up trash
from the school grounds. After o soji, school is dismissed and most students
disperse to different parts of the school for club meetings.
Club activities take place after
school every day. Teachers are assigned as sponsors, but often the students
themselves determine the club's daily activities. Students can join only one
club, and they rarely change clubs from year to year. In most schools, clubs can
be divided into two types: sports clubs (baseball, soccer, judo, kendo, track,
tennis, swimming, softball, volleyball, rugby) and culture clubs (English,
broadcasting, calligraphy, science, mathematics, yearbook). New students usually
are encouraged to select a club shortly after the school year begins in April.
Clubs meet for two hours after school each day and many clubs continue to meet
during school vacations. Club activities provide one of the primary
opportunities for peer group socialization. Most college bound students withdraw
from club activities during their senior year to devote more time to preparation
for university entrance examinations. Although visible in the general high
school experience, it is in the clubs that the fundamental relationships of "senpai" (senior) and "kohai" (junior) are established most solidly. It is the
responsibility of the senpai to teach, initiate, and take care of the kohai. It
is the duty of the kohai to serve and defer to the senpai. For example, kohai
students in the tennis club might spend one year chasing tennis balls while the
upperclassmen practice. Only after the upperclassmen have finished may the
underclassmen use the courts. The kohai are expected to serve their senpai and
to learn from them by observing and modeling their behavior. This fundamental
relationship can be seen throughout Japanese society, in business, politics, and
An interesting component of Japanese
education is the thriving industry of "juku" and "yobiko," after school "cram
schools," where approximately 60% of Japanese high school students go for
supplemental lessons. Juku may offer lessons in nonacademic subjects such as
art, swimming, abacus, and calligraphy, especially for elementary school
students, as well as the academic subjects that are important to preparation for
entrance examinations at all levels. Juku for high school students must compete
for enrollment with yobiko, which exist solely to prepare students for
university entrance examinations. Some "cram schools" specialize in preparing
students for the examination of a particular school. Although it would seem
natural for students to dread the rigor of additional lessons that extend their
school day well into the late evening hours and require additional homework,
many students enjoy juku and yobiko, where the teachers often are more animated
and more interesting than some of the teachers in their regular schools. Also,
in many cases, the lessons studied in "cram schools" provide an intellectual
challenge for students bored with the standardized curriculum of their regular
Juku and yobiko are primarily private, for profit schools that attract
students from a wide geographical area. They often are located near train
stations, enabling students to transport themselves easily to juku directly from
school. Juku and yobiko thrive in Japan, where it is believed that all people
possess the same innate intellectual capacity, and it is only the effort of
individuals, or lack thereof, that determines their achievement above or below
their fellows. In Japanese schools, there is the tendency to pass students with
their grade cohort. Therefore, without the supplemental juku lessons, some
students could fall well behind their classmates. Yobiko also exist to serve
"ronin," "masterless samurai," students who have failed an entrance examination,
but who want to try again. It is possible for students to spend a year or two as
ronin after graduating from high school, studying at yobiko until they can pass
a university entrance examination or until they give up. "Cram school" tuition
is expensive, but most parents are eager to pay in order to ensure acceptance
into a selective junior high school, high school, or university, and thus, a
good future for their children.
In addition to university admission,
entrance to high school also is determined by examination, and the subjects
tested are Japanese, mathematics, science, social studies, and English. Private
high schools create their own examinations, while those for public high schools
are standardized within each prefecture. Students (and their parents) consider
each school's college placement record when deciding which examinations to take.
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. But, practice tests at school and juku help teachers to
direct students toward institutions whose examinations they are most likely to
FREE TIME. Japanese students devote approximately two hours per weekday on
homework, and about three hours on Sunday. They spend an average of two hours
per day watching television, half an hour listening to the radio, an hour
reading casually, and less than half an hour in social relations with peers
outside of school. Japanese adults tend to perceive high school students in many
ways as large children instead of young adults. And, while opposite sexes are
interested in each other, parents and teachers strongly discourage teenage
dating. Most young people do not begin to date until after high school. Finally,
for a variety of reasons, there are few drug problems among Japanese
REFERENCES AND ERIC RESOURCES
The following list of
resources includes references used to prepare this Digest. The items followed by
an ED number are available in microfiche and/or paper copies from the ERIC
Document Reproduction Service (EDRS).
Dolly, John P. "Juku and the Performance of Japanese Students: An American
Perspective." Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Japan-United States
Teacher Education Consortium, Tokyo, June 1992. ED 355 175.
Pettersen, Larry. "Japan's Cram Schools.'" EDUCATIONAL LEADERSHIP 50, no. 5
(1993): 56-8. EJ 457 365.
Rohlen, Thomas P. JAPAN'S HIGH SCHOOLS. Berkeley: University of California
Press, 1983. ED 237 343.
Seo, Kanehide. THE LIFE OF A SENIOR HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT. Tokyo: International
Society for Educational Information, 1986.
Tomlinson, Tommy. "Hard Work and High Expectations: Motivating Students to
Learn. Issues in Education." Office of Educational Research and Improvement,
Washington, DC. Report. April 1992. ED 345 871.
Tsukuda, Mamoru. "Institutionalized Supplementary Education in Japan: The
Yobiko and Ronin Student Adaptations." COMPARATIVE EDUCATION 24, no. 3 (1988):
285-303. EJ 386 063.
White, Merry. THE MATERIAL CHILD: COMING OF AGE IN JAPAN AND AMERICA. New
York: The Free Press, 1993.