A few problems of Japanese education system

To present the complexity of the Japanese education system Table No. 1 includes data on the types of schools, the number of pupils, students, teaching staff, academic staff and non-academic employees. In addition, from the total numbers the percentage of women will be extracted, which may be crucial to try to answer the question of whether the Japanese education system can effectively respond to the socio-economic challenges of Japan in the 21st century.

Table No. 1

List of the number of pupils, students and administrative staff, teachers and academic staff for 2016 (1) – summed up data includes the state, local and private sector.

  Institution Number of schools Number of learners % of women Teaching staff (full-time employed) % of women Non-academic employees (full-time employed)
1. Kindergarten (幼稚園) 11.252 1.339.761 49,34% 99.957 93,49% 17.798
2. Integrated center for early childhood education and care (幼保連携型認定こども園) 2.822 397.587 48,67% 57.118 94,52% 10.965
3. Elementary school (小学校) 20.313 6.483.515 48,84% 416.973 62,26% 69.478
4. Lower secondary school (中学校) 10.404 3.406.029 48,84% 251.978 42,98% 30.555
5. Compulsory education school (義務教育学校) 22 12.702 48,55% 934 53,96% 131
6. Upper secondary school (高等学校) 4.925 3.309.342 49,59% 234.611 31,66 45.604
7. Secondary school (中等教育学校) 52 32.428 50,44% 2.556 34,62 351
8. Schools for special needs education (特別支援学校) 1.125 139.821 34,64% 82.372 61,16% 14.188
9. College of technology (高等専門学校) 57 57.658 18,04% 4.284 10,08% 2.648
10. Junior college (短期大学) 341 128.460 88,72% 8.140 52,17% 4.438
11. University (大学) 777 2.873.624 43,41% 184.248[2] 23,73% 237.183
12. Specialized training college (専修学校) 3.183 656.649 55,68% 41.190[3] 52,69% 16.167
13. Miscellaneous school (各種学校) 1.200 120.629 46,75% 8.731 42,26% 3.657

Source: Own study based on data from the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sport, Science and Technology (MEXT), 学校教育総括 http://www.mext.go.jp/b_menu/toukei/002/002b/1383990.htm.

From the data presented in Table No. 1 it is possible to distinguish certain regularities. The first indicates that the higher the level of education, the clearly decreases the number of women (both on the side of learners and on the side of educators), that when we look at statistics related to university staff, only less than 24% are women. And although this may be significant in relation to the Eurocentric perception, it should be remembered that Japan remains a strongly masculinized country – referring to the Hofstede ranking (bearing in mind all reservations related to its methodology), the masculinization coefficient is 95. For comparison the United States coefficient is only 62. However, despite cultural factors clearly affecting this sphere, it should be remembered that the current status quo consolidates the unfavorable perception of women as unsuitable – apart from certain exceptions – to hold higher positions (Graph No. 1) and full participation in social and political life

Attention should be paid to the employment structure in the education sector, where women constitute a distinct minority among teaching cast – the exception is the pre-school, early school and the segment related to training and raising qualifications. It should be remembered that with a high level of collective society, children have been trained in competition for years as only the best individuals have the chance to get to prestigious universities. It often happens that after completing secondary education, young people are enrolled in post-secondary schools or private courses in order to prepare them for internal university exams. At the same time, it should be noted that according to The World University Rankings 2019, only two Japanese universities are among the top 100: University of Tokyo (position 42) and University of Kyoto (position 65). Undoubtedly, the low level of internationalization (oscillating around 10%) is one of the reasons for the situation – the leading universities listed in the ranking are Oxford (40%), Cambridge (37%) and Stanford (23%) respectively. A more complete list of leading universities including Japanese is presented in Table No. 2.

Table No. 2

A comparison of three leading universities in the world with three leading Japanese universities for 2019 – based on The World University Rankings.

Place in the ranking Name of the university Number of students Number of students per one lecturer % of foreign students Women to men ratio
1 Oxford 20,298 11.0 40% 46:54
2 Cambridge 18,749 10.9 37% 46:54
3 Stanford 15,878 7.4 23% 43:57
42 Tokyo University 25,828 7.6 11% No official data
65 Kyoto University 22,420 8.8 8% 24:76
251-300 University of Osaka 23,173 7.8 10% 31:69

Source: Own study based on data collected by The World University Rankings, https://www.timeshighereducation.com/world-university-rankings/2019/world-ranking#!/page/0/length/25/loca tions/JP/sort_by/rank/sort_order/asc/cols/stats.

Studying in Japan at leading universities is more individualized. This may be a positive element for the Japanese higher education system, however the remaining aspects cause that some problems related to the functioning of the system appeared on the horizon. Namely, the system itself offers little financial support to students who remain dependent to a large extent on the level of wealth of their families or the dedication to gainful employment from the first years of study. Moreover, almost 80% of students attend private universities (Graph No. 2) where state participation is less than minimal.

The reason for the increasing of higher education institutions was caused by unprecedented number of eager graduate students who wished to apply for studies – 75% in 2012 (including 25% of those who decided to choose post-secondary schools and other forms of training). To stressed once again, the Japanese higher education system strongly depends on private funds – in 2016, the OECD published a ranking of Member States in terms of public spending on education where on 33 places Japan took 31st. At the same time, increasing the availability of universities resulted in a decrease in the quality of teaching and increased perceiving the diploma of a university as a personal investment of a student. At the same time this is related to the fact that private universities depend on the tuition paid at regular basis – what causes a moral dilemma for visibly weaker students. However, there is another important factor, namely the reputation of the university – apart from the most noble ones such as University of Meiji, Tokyo University and others – depends on the proportion of graduates who find employment in the labor market. Thus, the university in the last year of education, de facto leaves the education, focusing on providing students with the greatest freedom in acquiring an employer.

Although the Japanese education system is one of the best in the world – based on international rankings – there are some problems that, if Japanese authorities do not try to solve them, may be crucial for the future of Japanese education. Now (March 2019) it seems that education system doesn’t fully respond to the socio-economic challenges of the country. On the contrary, such examples as falsification of the results of women applying for admission to prestigious universities or the perception of a female academic lecturer as a less competent person confirm certain stereotypes prevailing in the society.


[1] The table contains the latest official statistics published by MEXT. At the same time, it was decided to enter data on full-time employees. Where part-time employees constitute a clear majority, then it will be indicated in the appropriate annotation.

[2]It is worth noting that, as in the other institutions, the number of part-time employees is only an addition to the entire staff. At the Japanese universities the number of part-time employees reaches 196,476 people, which accounts for 51.60% of the total academic staff.

[3] As many as 114,564 people are employed part-time, which translates to 73.55% of the total cast.

[4] It should be noted that the data presented in the chart refer to the most important academic centers of given countries. This is important because in the case of Turkey, statistics concern 5 universities, in the case of Taiwan 7, United Kingdom 48, and the United States 111.


Takehiko K., Higher Education and the Japanese Disease, https://www.nippon.com/en/in-depth/a00602/.

Maciejewska E., Japonia przedostatnia w rankingu wydatków publicznych na edukację, Polska Agencja Informacyjna, http://interpresspai.pl/pl/japonia/item/4097-japonia-przedostatnia-w-rankingu-wydatkow-publicznych-na-edukacje.

Mizuho A., Tokyo Medical University scandal just reaffirmed what many female doctors already knew: The bar was higher for them, The Japan Times, https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2018/08/08/national/tokyo-medical-university-scandal-just-reaffirmed-many-female-doctors-already-knew-bar-higher/#.XHkDjvZFwnA.

British woman sues Ritsumeikan University over power harassment, The Japan Times, https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2018/11/03/national/british-woman-sues-ritsumeikan-university-power-harassment/#.XHkE FfZFwnA.

Country Comparison



https://www.timeshighereducation.com/world-university-rankings/2019/world-ranking#!/page/0/length/25/loca tions/JP/sort_by/rank/sort_order/asc/cols/stats