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Daily Life in Japanese High Schools

Getting to school, extracurricular activities, "cram schools", entrance examinations, questions for consideration, references and resources.

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.

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 school.

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 s rice, fish, eggs, vegetables, and pickles.

Japanese students spend 240 days a year at school, 60 days more then 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 few.

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 social dealings.

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 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 schools.

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 pass.

Japanese students devote approximately two hours per weekday to 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 adolescents.

What fundamental social values are reflected in the education systems of the United States and Japan?

What are the intrinsic and extrinsic incentives motivating American and Japanese students?

Imagine high school life without cars. How would it be different?

There are different definitions of democracy as applied to education. In the United States, recognition of different talents=democracy. In Japan, "equal access" based on standardized scores=democracy. What do you think?

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

Tomlinson, Tommy. "Hard Work and High Expectations: Motivating Students to Learn." Issues in Education. Office of Educational Research and Improvement, Washington, D.C. Report. April 1992. ED 345 871

Tsukada, Mamoru. "Institutionalized Supplementary Education in Japan: The Yobiko and Ronin Student Adaptations." COMPARATIVE EDUCATION 24, no. 3 (1988): 285-303. EJ 386 063


Marcia L. Johnson is the former Associate Director of the National Clearinghouse for U.S.-Japan Studies. Jeffrey R. Johnson has an MA in East Asian Studies and is a graduate student of history at Indiana University. The Johnsons have lived and taught in Japan for six years.

japan homework policy

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Do kids really need homework? Shogi star Fujii, Japanese educator question tradition

December 11, 2022 (Mainichi Japan)

Japanese version

japan homework policy

TOKYO -- Schools across Japan give homework to students almost daily, resulting in headaches for many parents trying to get reluctant children to get it done. But are these assignments truly necessary for a child's education? Shogi star Sota Fujii and a leading educator question this long-held practice.

So why do schools give homework? The reasons may vary, from helping students develop good study habits to enhancing their academic abilities. While it's been taken for granted that children do homework, Fujii, 20, once asked his junior high school homeroom teacher why he had to do homework even though he listened to teachers well during classes.

Fujii's mother Yuko previously told the Mainichi Shimbun, "Sota has this theory that giving homework is nonsense."

According to Yuko, her son complained to her, "Kids who don't listen during class and then just copy their homework answers from others are getting credit. I wonder who is better, these students or the ones who skip their homework because they've paid close attention in class?"

japan homework policy

As a shogi prodigy, Fujii needed to discipline himself to tackle tasks within a limited time by setting priorities, and might well have thought that it was a waste of time to do homework, even though he had already concentrated on and understood what was taught at school.

Yuichi Kudo, principal of Yokohama Soei Junior & High School and a school reform leader in Japan, abolished homework when he was the principal of Kojimachi Junior High School in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward. He asserts that, for children to boost their academic skills, it is important to help them understand problems they have no clue about. And to do this, he states in his book, two points are essential: for students to ask about or do research on things that they do not understand, and to have children repeat the steps to truly acquire what they have learned. He says it's crucial to find out the best method for each student based on their respective properties.

But homework, which has the same questions for every child in a class, is a waste of time for those who already understand the content. And it is a burden for children who have a hard time coming up with answers, sometimes leading them to skip whatever they do not understand, according to Kudo. Furthermore, the more homework is assigned, the more its purpose becomes simply to hand it in.

"Uniform assignments do not work for children," Kudo warns. He recalled abolishing standardized, mandatory homework in favor of a system where students can voluntarily try to learn things they are unsure about.

(Japanese original by Mizuki Osawa, Digital News Center)

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All Homework, No Play: Summer Vacation Tasks Pile Up for Japanese Elementary School Students

japan homework policy

When the education company Benesse asked members of its elementary school students’ correspondence course in Japan what kind of summer vacation homework they had been given, more than 76% said “writing kanji and other Japanese language tasks” and a similar percentage answered “arithmetic and other math problems.” This was followed by “research projects and crafts” with 62%. More than 50% were also assigned longstanding classic tasks like “diaries and picture diaries” along with “book reports.” Most children will certainly be busy.

japan homework policy

When the participating children were asked which homework was fun and which was difficult, the most enjoyable by far was “research projects and crafts,” but it also came second for being the most difficult. In the section of the survey aimed at parents, approximately 80% said that they gave some form of help to their children with their research projects.

japan homework policy

(Translated from Japanese. Banner photo © Pixta.)

education children summer elementary school

japan homework policy

#3: Homework Challenges

Chatroom japan.

Elsa is from the Faroe Islands. Her two children attend a Japanese public school. She feels sad that she cannot always help them because of language issues.

Program Outline

  • Education, Health, Transportation, Energy - Education


School life in japan.


According to the Education in Japan website: “Student life in public elementary schools in general is however acknowledged by most Japanese to be largely enjoyable, except for some students that can set in during the transition to junior high school. Rigorous swotting for entrance exams is said to characterise student life in Japanese schools beginning just before entry to middle schools. To secure entry to most high schools, universities, as well as a few private junior high schools and elementary schools, applicants are required to sit entrance exams and attend interviews. As a result, a high level of competitiveness (and stress) is often observed among students (and their mothers) during pre-high to high school years. In order to pass entrance exams to the best institutions, many students attend private afterschool study sessions (juku or gakken) that take place after regular classes in school, and/or special private preparation institutions for one to two years between high school and university (yobiko).[Source: Education in Japan website ]

The great majority of those who complete the required education of nine years by age 12 go on to three-year senior high school, specifically 94.3 percent of the boys and 96.4 percent of the girls. Advancement to colleges and universities is 36.3 percent for men and 39.2 percent for women. This trend to high academic achievement orientation has created stress and mental pressure in the “entrance examination war” all Japanese youths experience. Because of overemphasis on the entrance examination, many recognize the necessity of Juku, extracurricular schools in the evenings and on holidays, tutors, and/or correspondence courses to prepare for the examinations. Such practices are common in Japan these days, perhaps more so than in other countries, suggesting the need to discuss the effects and consequences of the Juku for the social life of Japanese adolescents and young adults. [Source: Yoshiro Hatano, Ph.D. and Tsuguo Shimazaki Encyclopedia of Sexuality, 1997 ]

After the 1947 educational reform, the Japanese educational system was redesigned around a uniform 6-3-3-4 system (six years of elementary school, three years of middle school, three years of high school and four years of college). The academic year runs from April 1 to March 31. Beginning in April 2002, the school week is five days long and the academic year is 210 days long. [Source: Ishikida, Japanese Education in the 21st Century, ; iUniverse, June 2005 ~]

Primary and secondary schools follow a trimester system, with forty-day summer vacations and two-week winter and spring vacations. The Japanese Ministry of Education (MOE) has recommended that the boards of education should allow more flexible summer vacations. After deregulation permitted some schools to replace the trimester system with a semester system, they introduced an autumn recess between semesters. In the 2004-5 school year, 9 percent of public elementary schools, 10 percent of public middle schools and 26 percent of public high schools had the semester system (As of January 31, 2005). ~

Average years of school for people 25 years and older: 10.6 years for females; 10.8 years for males (Compared to 1.2 years for females and 3.5 years for males in India; and 12.4 years for females and 12.2 years for males in the United States.

In 1986, around 94 percent of all students entered high school (a similar ratio to the United States) and 35 percent of all secondary school graduates continued on to university. The drop out rate in Japan is 10 percent compared to 25 percent in the United States. About 87.6 percent of all students attend public schools. Some families spend half their income on private schools for their children. The number of students is declining. In 2003, 1.27 million students graduated from high school down from a peek of 1.8 million in 1992.

Good Websites and Sources: Good Photos at Japan-Photo Archive ; Lives of Japanese Elemtary School Students ; Shinjuku Board of Education on School Life ; A Day in the Life of a Japanese Kid ; Kids Web Japan ; Kid’s Life on Japan ; Daily Life in a Japanese High School ; Wikipedia article on Secondary Education in Japan Wikipedia ; International Study on Working Conditions of School Personnel pdf file


School Uniforms and Changing Clothes in Japan


There are winter uniforms and summer uniforms and spot checks on the uniforms to make sure they are in order. As might be expected, students, especially girls, flaunt the rules by wearing their uniforms in ways they were not meant worn. Girls wear their short tails out, their collars turned up and pull their skirts way up so the become ultra short miniskirts. They often bring make-up and current fashion items in their school bags and change into them after school. See Loose Socks, Fads.

In some places, girls wear uniforms to school that don’t use uniforms and school uniform manufacturers have opened up boutiques to sell their clothes to the general public.

In elementary school, boys and girls change into sports clothes together in the same classroom in in first, second and third grade. Boys generally don’t give the girls a second glance. Girls usually wear skirts that day so they can slip on their sports pants without having to take anything off. From the forth grade on they change clothes in different rooms.

School Rules in Japan


Students who have been caught cheating have had their heads shaved and have been expelled from school.

Children in Japan learn preparedness at an early age. In kindergarten they are taught to fold their jackets properly and always have tissue in one pocket and a handkerchief in the other. In grade school they learn to have three sharpened pencils in their desk — not four, not two — and always have glue, rulers and erasers close at hand in their pencil boxes. Elementary school students change into slippers when they arrive at school and put their shoes on special shelves. They all carry the same kind of correct backpack and are informed of the one correct way to adjust its straps.

Japanese schools have strict rules about fingernail length and hair styles. Cosmetics are banned and students with long or died hair sometimes have it shorn on the spot by a teacher or principal.As might be expected students, especially girls, flaunt the rules by wearing their uniforms in ways they were not meant worn. Girls wear their short tails out, their collars turned up and pull their skirts way up so the become ultra short miniskirts.

Standing out or displaying signs of individualism are often frowned upon at Japanese secondary schools. At a middle school in Kitakyushu filmed by “News Zero” a principal greeted students at the gate and directed those with tinted hair to a designated area where a teacher spray painted their hair black. Video showed students covering their face and eyes while they were being spray painted.

The sturdy backpacks favored by Japanese kids are made of thick, durable leather. They sell for between $200 and $500 and come in a variety of colors and models although but have the same basic design. Grandparents of often buy new students backpacks when they enter the first grade and the students are expected to keep the same pack throughout their elementary school career. It is possible to get negative ion school backpacks with “specially prepared natural minerals” and aromatherapy models.

School Class Size and Student Organization in Japan


Teachers organize student into groups with student leaders and other members of the group using peer pressure to keep the group members in line. There is an emphasis on functioning harmoniously as a group. If one students acts up or doesn’t do chores, it is up to the other students to pressure him to act right,

The students in Japanese schools are generally better behaved and there are far fewer discipline problems than in the United States. Studies have also shown that Japanese students on average spend about one-third more time learning each class period than American students do.

Students identify very closely with the kids in their grade, arguably more so than in the United States. Teachers change classrooms rather than students, leaving students with the same group all day. Substitute teachers often are not necessary because the students can direct their own activities.

Japanese kids have a lot of summer homework. Traditionally it has been regarded as shameful for students to ask too many questions in the classroom. Senior (“sempai”)-junior (“kohai”) relations are important in defining how students behave with kids in their class and with older and younger kids, teachers and administrators. See Children.

To improve the quality of education some schools have started stressing “Finnish-style” classes on which small groups discuss of a variety of topics, such as competition and personal worries, the result is that students are more willing to express their opinions.

Education Technology in Japan

As of March 2010, about 56,000 public schools in Japan were using electronic blackboards, three times the number a year before. A number of schools got them as part of an economic stimulus package. One survey found that between 30 percent and 50 percent of the teachers in schools that had the device didn’t know how to use them.

In Japan can you find classes of forth graders where every student has a laptop or a tablet computer. One of the biggest obstacles to overcome in these classes is the fact that some students are far more familiar and adept with computers than others. The Japanese government is considering providing every student with a tablet-style computer by 2020.

Primary school science, teachers say, is declining due to a lack of funds and teachers with adequate skills. Some teachers use their days off and their own money to do things like building insect cages for their classrooms.

Swimming Lessons in Japan

Nearly every elementary school in Japan has an outdoor swimming pool. In elementary school swimming lessons are part of the school year curriculum and are offered free during the summer. The goals is teach swimming to kids so they can enjoy the sport and feel safe around water.

In June when the swimming lesson start parents are given detailed handouts of what is expected of them and their children. Students must wear regulations swim suits and caps with their name, grade and class written on them. Parents are supposed to check their child's temperature every day and mark it on a card that says their child is healthy enough to swim that day. Parents put their hanko (chop) on the card. If a child does not have the card he or she can not swim that day.

Students change into their swim suits at school, with girls in one classroom and boys in another. They carefully stretch and shower, and sometimes walk through a hip-deep pool of disinfectant and finally enter the pool about 60 at a time. The kids regular classroom teacher dons a bathing suit and teaches the classes. The students are taught different skills and proceed up a ladder of 15 ranks.

Students in many places are required to swim a certain distance such as 100 meters, 200 meters or 400 meters. If they can’t they have to attend a special summer training program.

Parents and Schools in Japan


Japan has PTAs which usually operate under the school’s supervision rather than the other way around. Parents are often very involved in PTAs. Sometimes organization of a PTA is a little inefficient, with more people putting in more time than is really necessary but the work load is shared fairly equally by all parents of children in the school.

Japanese PTAs are different than American PTAs in that they demand parents pay about $50 up front and generally do not have to engage in fund-raising or sponsor bake sales. Japanese PTAs generally do not buy things for the school. Instead of money parents are expected to give their time in terms of participating in school festivals and serving as a class manager, and sponsoring welcoming parties for new students and new parents.

See Monster Parents Below

Education Crazy Mothers in Japan


According to a U.S. Department of Education report: "Much of a mother's sense of personal accomplishment is tied to the educational achievements of her children, and she expends great effort helping them. In addition there is considerable peer pressure on the mother. The community's perception of a woman's success as a mother depends in large part on how well her children do in school."

Mothers in Japan are obsessed with their children's education are called Education Crazy Mothers. Describing one, Carol Simons wrote in Smithsonian magazine, "she studies, she packs lunch, she waits in lines to register her child for exams and waits again in the hallways for hours while he takes them. She denies herself TV so her child can study in quiet and she stirs noddles at 11:00pm for the scholars snack...She knows all the teachers, has researched their backgrounds and how successful their previous students have been in passing exams. She carefully chooses her children's schools and juku and has spent hours accompanying them to classes."

Mothers of elementary-school-age children also attend gymnastic, violin and sumo wrestling classes with their children so they can help their kids practice at home. Extreme "education crazy mothers" accompany their sons to their first day of classes at university and even their first day of work after graduation.

Mothers are often judged by how well they prepare their child's “o'bento”, an "honorable lunchbox" which usually contains fresh peas, boiled eggs, lotus roots, mint leaves, tomatoes, carrots, fruit salad, minced chicken, seaweed is cut into teddy bear shapes and fluffy white rice with a plumb in the middle (symbolizing the rising sun on the Japanese flag).

A sloppy lunch box is regarded as a sign of an uncaring mother. Making bentos has been described as means for mothers “to demonstrate their devotion to motherhood, dedication to heir children’s nutrition and creative skills. One mother told AP, “This is about my pride.”

Little Free Time for Children in Japan


Elementary school kids are usually very busy with activities two or three days a week after school Girl usually take ballet, dance or piano. Boys play baseball or do karate. Both boys and girls take English, calligraphy, arithmetic or swimming lessons.

One of the biggest tragedies of the Japanese education system is the fact that children and teenagers study all the time and they have little time left over for fun. Students at one Japanese high school were beside themselves with envy when a visiting American high school student talked about how he spent his after school hours driving a car to the mall, dating, making money with a part-time job and talking on the phone for hours in the evening.

A typical Japanese student takes a break after school and then runs off to juku classes. Later he or she often does homework. One Japanese student told U.S. News and World report, "I can play an hour with my friends before cram school."

Secondary School Life

Japanese secondary students have a shorter summer vacation but a longer winter one than their American counterparts. On an average day, Japanese high school students attend school from 8:30am to 4:00pm and have 2 to 6 hours of homework a night, depending on the school, individual and how immersed in exam hell they are. Many attend cram school in the afternoon and on weekends and are heavily involved in sports or club activities.

High schools are ranked and students who attended them are identifiable by their school uniforms. Those that attend low-ranked schools stand out. Once a students has been condemned to low school it is hard for them to make advancements in life. Describing the students in an a vocational high school, Karl Taro Greenfield wrote, "The kids were friendly, jovial and not at all interested in learning English. Most of them slept during class, others kept up a steady stream of jabber, and when I tried to quiet them, they simply walked out...The girls dyed their hair reddish brown. Tattoos abound. Take, a guitar player....asked about drug prices in Los Angeles."

Surveys indicated to show that secondary students are goofing off more. One poll that half of final year high school students do less than two hours of studying a day outside of school and one in five did hardly any studying at home.

A government survey found that a third of middle and high school students slept during the day.

In a piece on a high school in Kitakyushu by the Japanese television station “News Zero” first year students came across as being eager and hopeful; third years students seemed burnt out from preparing for university exams; and second year students appeared aggressive and rebellious, anxious to take out their frustration in first year students for not showing proper respect.

Japanese Children, Teenagers and Cell Phones


As of early 2008, 60 percent of middle school students had cell phones, and nearly half of them used them to send 20 or more e-males a day but rarely used them to talk, and 96 percent of high school students used them, with high school boys using their phones an average of 92 minutes a day and high school girls using theirs 124 minutes.

A survey in he Osaka area in 2008 found that 18.2 percent of middle school students and 29.5 percent of high school students use their cell phones mor than three hours a day and found that eight percent of first year female high school students send 100 or more e-mails a day.

Cell Phones in Schools in Japan

Students routinely check and send e-mails under their desks and even take pictures during class. Even in schools where cell phones are banned it is not uncommon to have lessons interrupted by ringing or vibrating phones. In a 2004 survey, 70 percent of students said they had talked or sent a text message on the cell phone while in class. One high school teacher told the Yomiuri Daily, “Even if I warned a student, the student will send a reply within five minutes. There are students who, despite repeated warnings, continue to send e-mail.”

In January 2009, the Ministry of Education issued a notice calling on primary and middle schools to prohibit students from bringing cell phones to school. By that time more than 90 percent of primary and middle schools already has such bans in place. Objections to the ban has come from parents who like their children to carry cell phones for security reasons. According to the ministry guidelines parents that insist their kids have cell phones for emergencies would have to submit a formal request.

Wakayama Prefecture was one of the first to ban students from bringing cell phones to schools. It did it in 2002. But even today about one of third of Wakayama students bring their phones to school.

In December 2008, the Osaka prefectural government introduced a new regulations aimed at preventing students from using cell phones in public primary, middle and high schools in the Osaka area. The ban doesn’t prevent students from having their cell phones on them, only using them. Many thought the plan was unworkable.

A study in March, 2004 found that 70 percent of high schools allow students to bring cell phones to school. Of these about 90 percent required that the phones be turned off while the students are in school.

Stressed Students in Japan

A 1996 survey of Osaka high school students found that 80 percent felt stressed, 86 percent weren't getting enough sleep and 40 percent were getting less than six hours of sleep a night.

See Exam Hell Above.

A 12-year-old who spent New Year's day (Japan's biggest holiday) studying at a boarding cram school for his middle-school entrance exam said, "Studying this hard make me feel miserable sometimes. These are times when I encourage myself by thinking: wait and see — my great New Year's and years of fun will follow these exams.”

Students with special needs and learning disabilities such as attention deficient hyperactive disorder (ADHD) and even mental retardation attend normal classes with other students but also take special classes that address their particular needs. There also classes for absentee students to help them develop social skills.

Smart Japanese Kids

In 1995, Sho Yano, a 9-year-old third generation Japanese-American won admission to Loyala University after scoring 1,500 on his SATs. A year later he graduated from university at the age of 10, a record.

At eight months Yano could read the television lists. At one he could order food from a menu at a restaurant. His mother told him not to speak in public because she was tired of people staring. Some referred to him as "natto brain" because of his habit of eating natto at an early age. At the age 4 he was told he had photographic memory and an IQ of 200. He was raised in a Chicago suburb. He likes mathematics and music.

Toshiki Kataoka, a 12-year-old six th grader from Matsuzaka in Mie Prefecture, made the shortlist to represent Japan in a prestigious international math competition. While in elementary school he studied middle school and high school math with his father, a doctor.

Sho Yano entered the University o Chicago when he was nine. He graduated with top honors at 12 and entered the University of Chicago’s School of Medicine, becoming the youngest person to obtain a PhD from the university which he achieved in 2009. He said he plans to stay in the university and get a degrees in medicine.

According to the Guinness Book of Records, Hioryuki Goto of Tokyo recited pi to 42,195 places in Tokyo in February 1995.

Image Sources: 1) 2) 7) 11) 13) June of Goods from Japan 3) 5), 6) 8), 9) 10) 12) Guven Peter Witteveen 4)exorsyst blog 14) Andrew Gray Photosensibility, 15) Ray Kinnane

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Excessive homework may be exhausting students in Japan during their summer vacation

Hitting the books: School children in Japan are typically given a mountain of homework to complete over their summer vacation. | GETTY IMAGES

The school summer holidays are now in full swing but an increasing number of parents and their children are spending the break hunched over a desk with a stack of workbooks instead of enjoying ice cream in the park. 

For generations of children, summer homework has cast a long, dark shadow over what would otherwise be a time to relax and have fun as the mercury hits annual highs. 

By extension, this time of recreation should apply to parents as well, since children rely on adults to take them to whatever venues they need to go to enjoy their time in the sun. 

The deadline for completing summer homework is Sept. 1, the day children return to the classroom. Aug. 31, therefore, is traditionally a day fraught with anxiety, as entire families struggle to complete the exercises that have been assigned by teachers.

Indeed, it’s not unusual for parents to conclude this last day of August by delivering a stern admonishment to their children, who, in turn, usually offer a tearful promise to do better the following year.   

In spite of the hardship, most parents with children under 12 years old continue to support the assignment of summer homework, according to a report on . 

A survey of 768 parents conducted by information website Ikoyo found that 53 percent of respondents believe summer homework is necessary . By comparison, 15 percent of respondents believe it’s unnecessary, while just 2 percent were totally opposed to it. Thirty-two percent of respondents thought summer homework is “absolutely necessary.”  

Over the years, a number of schools have tried to introduce an element of fun into the homework they issue during summer each year. Methods have varied from institution to institution, but the Asahi Shimbun reports that some schools have gone overboard by mandating book reports and “daily exercise diaries” on top of everything else. 

Kojimachi Junior High School created a stir earlier this year by announcing plans to abolish homework over the summer vacation , with the principal also calling for the end of “meaningless” examinations. 

Many people supported the move, although some pointed out on blogs such as Wanran Nikki that such a radical approach could really only work at an elite school such as Kojimachi. 

Elite or not, the majority of schools in Japan value uniformity over individuality, and evaluate students by exam scores and how well they adhere to the rules.

Naturally, this can add to the level of stress a student may be feeling as they start their summer break. An anonymous student shared their homework concerns on , saying " I can't stand it anymore. I have eczema on my body ." 

A few enterprising students and parents have resorted to outsourcing the homework online. The popular marketplace app Mercari, for example, featured users that offered such services. Recently, however, Mercari has signed an agreement with the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology to restrict such services . 

When you think about it, the average Japanese person spends 12 summers out of their young lives worrying about homework. Thankfully, there's no homework at college level but, once those precious years are over and graduates enter the workforce, the whole concept of taking several weeks over summer has long become a distant memory. 

The next thing you know, ordinary folk in the workforce can only remember summer homework with a certain nostalgia , longing for kids of their own so that they might be able to pass on such memories to their own children. 

And, thus, the cycle of life continues.

Hitting the books: School children in Japan are typically given a mountain of homework to complete over their summer vacation. | GETTY IMAGES

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