Before 1987, Japan’s compulsory school system was a single-track system with no selective examination between primary and secondary stages. There was a nursery/kindergarten stage for children ages 3 to 5/6, then a primary school stage for children up to age 11 or 12, followed by secondary education for those aged up to 17 or 18, and finally tertiary options for those who qualified for them.
A decreasing population and unbalanced population density necessitated changes to career development schemes and childcare services. The government responded to these issues by way of Gou-Kou, the unification of school modules on all school articulation levels. It remains debatable whether the unification of kindergarten and nursery is feasible or desirable for the precompulsory stage of child nurturing. Dual authorities—kindergartens under the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) while nursery under the Ministry of Welfare—make a solution difficult.
Educational policy choices since the 1980s, aimed at altering public education in its substance and form, echoed “de-regulation” as an underlying theme, and promoted reform under the slogans “from modernization to internationalization” and “from thence to globalization.” While setting up state universities as administrative independent corporations (pseudo-privatization), MEXT, through curriculum innovations under a lifelong learning scheme, has kept a firm grip over achieving national educational aims, such as: elevating children’s potential for a creative life, heightening their “Zest for Life,” and building a lifelong learning society. Behind the high score for school attendance there still lies serious issues (exams and assessment, children’s rights, etc.) that are unresolved, if not untouched.
Shin’ichi Suzuki is Professor Emeritus at Waseda University, Tokyo. Professor Suzuki studied and taught at the Graduate School of Literature, Waseda University, working in various roles including Professor of Education and Professor of Comparative Education, before becoming Professor Emeritus in 2003. Professor Suzuki has received the Order of Treasure Golden Ray and Neck Ribbon (Japan, 2014) and is an honorary member of the Comparative Education Society of Europe.
Robert W. Aspinall D.Phil is a Professor in the Center for Global Education at Doshisha University, Kyoto, where he is in charge of social science subjects taught in the medium of English. He received his doctorate from St. Antony’s College, Oxford, and is the author of Teachers Unions and the Politics of Education in Japan (2001) and International Education Policy in Japan in an Age of Globalisation and Risk (2013).
 For further statistical information please
visit the following sites:
Statistic Bureau, Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communication
(2018), “Statistical Handbook of Japan 2018”,
(accessed January 14, 2018);
(accessed January 14, 2018).
 , “Japan,” in Education in East Asia , edited by Pei-tseng Jenny Hsieh (London: Bloomsbury, 2013), 112–113 ; , “State Policy on Innovations for Education,” in Education and Change in the Pacific Rim , edited by K. Sullivan (Wallingford: Triangle Books, 1998), 226–227 .
 Suzuki, Education in East Asia, 118.
 Ibid., 116–118.
 , “Japan: Internationalization in Education and the Problem of Introspective Youth,” in Eduction in East Asia , edited by Pei-tseng Jenny Hsieh (London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2013), 127–151 .
 Suzuki, Education in East Asia, 112–113.
MEXT (n.d.), “Toward Implementing Educational
(accessed September 1, 2018).