Senior High Schools in Japan

30 September, 2021

 1. Outline of Senior High Schools in Japan

Outline of Senior High Schools in Japan

The Japanese education system is divided into six years of primary education and six years of secondary education (three years of lower secondary education and three years of upper secondary education). Of this, the nine years of primary education and lower secondary education form the compulsory education period.

Senior high schools in Japan are schools at the upper secondary level of education, and are normally attended for the three years between ages 15 and 18. The school year starts on April 1 and ends on March 31. In addition to the full-time course system, in which learning is mainly done during the daytime on weekdays, there are part-time courses when classes are held at night or other specific time periods, and correspondence courses, where classes are held through correspondence.

2. Public and Private Senior High Schools

Senior high schools in Japan are divided into public schools, run by prefectures or municipalities, and private schools, established by the private sector. Both types have their own characteristics.

School fees

According to the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT), the total amounts of school fees for senior high schools in Japan are as follows.

Public schools (full-time courses): 450,862 yen
Private schools (full-time courses): 1,040,168 yen

Source:  MEXT, “Results of Survey on School Fees for Children in FY2016”

School fees cover a range of items, such as class fees, incidental school expenses, and commuting expenses. Private schools are more expensive than public schools in all aspects, the difference being nearly 600,000 yen.


Public schools follow the same curriculum nationwide in general.
However, private schools have a greater range of curricula. Some are schools specialized in studying for university entrance exams that have advanced courses in their normal curriculum, while others are schools that have overseas study programs for their students, and others are school that have programs for starting up a business.


Public schools are run by the local government, so the standards of their facilities are at about the same level, but private schools are run according to their own particular principles, so they offer a range of distinctive facilities to suit each school. Some have observatories, others have horse paddocks, while others may have rooftop gardens for observing plants. Each has its own special features. Basic facilities, such as pools and toilets, also tend to be in better condition and more sophisticated in private schools.

Student demographics

Public school students are, in principle, mainly those who live in the local area, so they come from a wide range of backgrounds, without regard to family wealth or academic ability.
Private schools, at least those with a large number of courses, also tend to have a diverse range of students.


Many private schools have private school recommendation frameworks for universities, which means that doing well at senior high school makes it possible to enter university through recommendation, without having to sit an entrance exam.

3. Entrance Examinations

Entrance Examinations

The pass criteria for general entrance exams at public senior high schools are based on the total of the academic ability assessment (test scores) and the evaluation document (learning evaluation from junior high school). With some exceptions, entrance exams are standardized across each prefecture, but the calculation methods and relative weight assigned to results in each subject vary by senior high school.

Gaining entry to a private senior high school is in most cases by a general entrance exam, a single-application recommendation process for only one school, or a multiple-application recommendation process for multiple schools. However, even among the same entrance exam types, the content can vary between schools, and the relative weight assigned to results in each subject also varies. With general entrance exams, only academic ability is taken into account, unlike at public senior high schools. A single-application recommendation means that the applicant must enter that school if they pass, while a multiple-application recommendation allows the applicant to sit entrance exams for multiple schools even if they have already passed the multiple-application recommendation process and are awaiting entrance certification for that school. Even within the same school, multiple-application recommendations are screened more strictly than single-application recommendations.

4. Commuting Methods

These are the results of a survey on how senior high school students in Japan commute.

Commuting Methods Used for School

Commuting Methods Used for School

The most common answer overall was “Bicycle” with 56%, followed by “Train” with 48%, which was followed in turn by “Family car” then “Bus.” It is assumed that many students use multiple methods, such as cycling to the station and taking the train from there.

Going by sex, male students are more likely to use bicycles than female students, while female students are more likely to use the family car or buses.

In addition, there are large differences between regions. In areas like Greater Tokyo, with its highly developed rail network, the use of trains is common, whereas in areas with high snowfall, the use of the family car is more common.

Source: LINE Research

5. Class Content

Class Content

Senior high schools generally are divided into “standard courses,” where students learn the basics over a wide range of topics, “vocational courses (specialized training colleges)” or “other specialist courses” where students acquire specialist knowledge and skills in specific subjects and study to gain a qualification in them, and “comprehensive courses” which combine both standard courses and specialist courses.

“Standard courses” are curricula mainly aimed at students who will go on to higher education. Learning activities are based on the standard education subjects of Japanese, English, Geography and History, Civics, Mathematics, Science, Health and Physical Education, Home Economics, and Art. As students advance, they are assigned to either the Arts or Science stream, and then to more specialized streams, receiving education befitting their future paths.

In “vocational courses,” classes cover Agriculture, Industry, Commerce, Fisheries, Home Science, Nursing, Information, and Welfare. Projects are also assigned, and these courses are noted for the large amount of time assigned to practical classes.

“Comprehensive courses” are noted for students being able to select from a wide range of elective subjects such as International Relations or Information. Students can create their own timetables to suit their interests or future paths.

6. Daily Schedules for Senior High School Students

Here are two examples of how contemporary students in Japan typically spend their day.

Student A (Regular member in a sports club)

 6 :00

Wake. Breakfast.


Go to school.




Classes finish. Do homework in classroom.




Club finishes.


Return home. Dinner. Social media or games on smartphone.




Prepare for next day. Continue with homework.



Student B (Studying for entrance exams)

 5 :30

Wake. Breakfast.


Go to school.




Classes finish. Study for exams in library.


Return home. Dinner.






More study.



7. Future Paths

This part uses the latest survey data from MEXT to show what future paths senior high school students in Japan take after graduating.

The most common path taken after graduation by students in standard courses is university (including junior college), at 65%, followed by specialized training colleges (vocational school, higher specialized training colleges) at 21% and employment at 9%.

Future Paths
Source: MEXT, “Current Status of Senior High School Education”