When Japan opened herself to the world in 1868, one of the government's high priority was catching up with Western standards in science and education. The Japanese education system was reformed mainly according to the German and French model which experts regarded as most suitable and advantageous.
After the second world war, the Americans reformed the Japanese education system after their own which consists of six years of elementary school, each three years of junior and senior high school and four years of university or two years of junior college.
Compulsory education includes elementary school and junior high school. Over 90% of all students also graduate from high school and over 40% from university or junior college. At universities the percentage of male students is higher than that of female students while the opposite is the case at junior colleges. The number of graduate university students is relatively low.
The Japanese school year starts in April and consists of three terms, separated by short holidays in spring and winter, and a one month long summer break.
A characteristic of the Japanese school system are entrance exams, and with them a high competitiveness among students. Most high schools, universities, as well as a few private junior high schools and elementary schools require applicants to write entrance exams. In order to pass entrance exams to the best institutions, many students attend special preparation schools (juku) besides regular classes, or for one to two years between high school and university (yobiko).
The most prestigious universities are the national University of Tokyo and University of Kyoto, followed by the best private universities.
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