The most important points:
- Entrance to high school is highly dependent on junior high school grades and school records, including attendance, extra-curricular activities, volunteer work, and certificates from external exams, etc.
- Entrance to high school is highly competitive and requires an entry exam and/or interview.
- For most students, there are two chances to get into a public high school: 1) apply for the school of your first choice and take the school’s entrance exam and pass; 2) if you do not qualify to enter the school of your first choice, send your exam score to ONE school that has space available.
- If the “back-up” school also does not accept your exam score, the only option is to wait until next year and try again or apply for a private high school ($$$)
High School Level (高校教育)
High School is not part of compulsory education. Admission to high school is not guaranteed in Japan. Admission is usually secured in one of three ways.
- The most common way to get admitted to high school in Japan is by taking the school’s entrance exam.
- Another way to get admitted is by suisen nyuushi (推薦入試). This path of admission normally does not require entrance exam, but is based on your junior high school’s recommendation combined with your portfolio (GPA, extracurricular leadership roles, volunteer work, etc) over the past three years. In Okinawa, candidates also need to have an interview with the school they want to get into.*
*This path of admission is planned to be revised in 2025.
- The third path of admission is by attending a school with a combined junior and senior high school (6-year) program. By this method, admission to the junior high school requires an exam and is competitive.
High School education can be divided into public, private, and international. (This is also a private school, but classes are taught in English and the curriculum is often different from the Japanese curriculum.)
Public High Schools (公立高校)
Public high schools can be divided into three main types: academic high schools (進学校, including 普通科、理数科 and 国際コース English course), vocational high schools (商業・工業・農業高校), and comprehensive high schools (総合学科のある高校). Some of these also offer part time / evening courses (定時制高校). Aside from these, there are also correspondence schools and schools for students with special needs.
Fees: Public high schools charge fees. The yearly fee is around 9,900JPY/month for full-time schools and 1,620JPY/unit of the course for part-time evening high schools. * ,**(If the household income is less than approx. 9.1million yen, the tuition will be free.)
Catchment Area: Most schools have a catchment area (school district) and are only able to admit a limited percentage of students from outside their catchment area.
Ranking: There is a ranking system of high schools. Schools are ranked according to the number their students who enroll in prestigious universities.*
Curriculum: The curriculum can vary depending on the school. There are some required courses for general education, like Japanese language arts; world history; Japanese history or geography; contemporary society, ethics, or political science and economics; mathematics; basic science, physics, chemistry, biology, or geology; physical education or public health; music, arts, craftwork, or calligraphy; oral communication or English; home economics or daily life technology; and information science and integrated studies.* There is also daily homeroom class.
Some public high schools also offer English course (国際コース), business knowledge course (商業高校), agriculture, engineering, etc.
Upper-tier Academic High Schools
Explanation: These are the most competitive high schools to enter. Students who enter these schools are university-bound and competing for admission to the top universities in Japan.
These schools often have different tracks (e.g. math and science (理数科), “international” (国際), standard course (普通科)) where students can focus their studies depending on their interests and aptitudes.
Nearly 100% of graduates of these high schools attend university.
Examples: In 2022, some of the upper-tier academic high schools in Okinawa were:
- Super Science High Schools https://www.jst.go.jp/cpse/ssh/school/list.html
Explanation: There are a number of government-designated “Super Science High Schools” in Japan, including in Okinawa Prefecture. These schools have a special course for high-achieving students in math and science.
Examples: In 2022, the Super Science High Schools in Okinawa were: Kyuyo Senior High School and Koyo Senior High School.
Kaiho Senior High School (開邦高等学校) used to be a government-designated Super Science High School, and maintains the reputation for having an equivalent math and science course.
Academic High Schools with upper tier courses and standard courses
Explanation: Many academic high schools have both upper-tier courses and standard courses. In general, students who are admitted to the upper-tier courses are university-bound, while students who are admitted to the standard course of a regular high school may or may not go to university after graduation. Studies may be more balanced with club activities in sports or culture.
Examples: One example of this in Okinawa is Nago High School, which has both a standard course and a “Frontier” course. Students enrolled in the “Frontier” course are preparing to enter high-level universities or medical schools, etc.
Other schools include Naha Kokusai (they have an “international” course for foreign languages), Naha, Nishihara, Urasoe, Futenma…
Lower-tier Academic High Schools
Explanation: These are lower-ranked schools (as judged by number of graduates who attend high-level universities). Students who attend these schools can go on to lower-ranked universities and junior colleges, but mainly they advance to specialized training colleges (専修学校) which teach subjects like bookkeeping, language, or computer programming, or seek employment after high school graduation.
“Less selective academic high schools have students who enjoy extracurricular activities, and who look forward to attending four-year colleges, junior colleges, specialized training colleges, or to work.” *
Examples: An example of this kind of school is Ishikawa High School, Misato High School, Koza High School.
Vocational High Schools
Explanation: These schools are often attended by students who do not plan on attending university. There are three main types: technical, commercial, and agricultural. Technical schools offer courses in engineering, machine, IT, computer design, etc. Commercial schools offer courses in business, marketing, accounting, computer programming, etc. Agricultural schools offer courses in agronomy, animal husbandry, biotechnology, etc. The majority of attendees of technical schools are male, while commercial schools have more female students. Vocational high schools provide basic academic courses and specialized vocational courses. The majority of graduates enter full-time employment, but some also proceed with further studies in those areas at universities.
A large percentage of students who attend vocational high schools are less motivated in academic studies of core subjects.
Examples: Mirai Technical High School in Okinawa City, Chubu Agricultural and Forestry High School in Uruma City, Naha Commercial High School *
High Schools with credit-based curriculum (総合学科・コースのある高等学校）
Explanation: These are high schools with credit-based courses similar to US high schools. They offer both academic and vocational subjects. Students in these courses have more freedom to choose their classes, depending on their preferences and future goals. The reputation of the school depends on the number of graduates who get into university.
Examples: Kadena High School (嘉手納高校, Kadena), You-mei High School (陽明高校, Urasoe), Mawashi High School（真和志高校・普通科, Naha), Miyako Comprehensive Vocational High School (Miyakojima)
Other paths not included in this document: correspondence school, night school, special needs school.
*Combined Senior High School and Junior College (5-year course) Okinawa National Institute of Technology (NIT-OC / KouSen) – students graduate with an associate’s degree. This is a very prestigious school.
Private High Schools (私立高校)
Explanation: While most of the top schools in the country are public schools, there are some high-level private schools as well. Many private high schools have recommendation frameworks established with universities. Some private high schools have 6-year university-preparatory programs. Admission is based on entrance exam only in most cases, rather than a complete student portfolio.
Fees: Expect to pay about four times a public high school’s tuition*
* Public high schools = 118K yen/year.
Showa yakka HS = 513k yen/year
Konan HS = 486k yen/year
Okinawa shogaku = 485k yen/year
Curriculum: More flexible than public high schools. Some schools have advanced courses and specialize in studying for university entrance exams, while others have programs for starting a business, etc.
Facilities: Private schools tend to have higher quality and more extensive facilities than public schools.
Ranking: As with public high schools, ranking depends on the number of graduates who attend university, particularly elite universities. Many private high schools are “back-up schools” for students who did not pass the admission exam for the public high school of their choice, so they are not perceived as being as high level as public schools. However, there are some exceptions.
Examples: Some high-level private schools in Okinawa are Okinawa Shogaku (沖縄尚学高等学校), Konan, Showa Pharmaceutical University High School*.
*Showa Pharmaceutical University High School only accepts students from their attached junior high school.
International (インターナショナル) High Schools
Explanation: These are schools where English is the medium of instruction. All of them have programs that begin in early childhood. The curriculums vary depending on the school, its affiliation, and its accreditation. Students at the high school level are expected to be fluent in English, and in some schools a certain level of Japanese ability is also expected.
Ranking: As with other types of school in Japan, the ranking depends on the university admission of graduates. In international schools, graduates tend to go to either local or overseas universities. The level of university also factors into the ranking of the school.
Fees: Depend on the school and tend to be similar to or more expensive than Japanese private schools.
Examples: Hope International Academy (PK-12), Okinawa International School (PK-12), Okinawa Christian School International (PK-12), DaVinci International School (PK-12+)
Difference between high school application in mainland and in Okinawa
Mainland public high school: Kids choose 1 school they want to attend; take a few backup schools’ tests.
But in Okinawa you only get to choose on school at a time. If you don't qualify for the school of your first choice in the first exam, there's a second application (schools who don’t have enough enrollment from the first exam). Students may also retake the entrance exam the following year.
Practice for Entrance Examinations
Most cram schools (塾 juku) in Japan offer opportunities for students to practice the entrance exam or get to know their current level in comparison to other students of their age to prepare themselves for exams. These preparatory examinations are generated by two private companies after analyzing the recent entrance exams. The preparation test is held six times a year. It costs about 3,000 yen each time and can be taken at a cram school. Most cram schools offer this test for external students (without signing up for classes). Some cram schools even offer educational consultations with the analysis of the student’s test results.
Useful Links in English
Most of my info came from here: https://factsanddetails.com/japan/cat23/sub150/entry-2804.html
Some other useful links:
Useful Links in Japanese
English machine-translation: https://office365oist-my.sharepoint.com/:b:/g/personal/anne-hendler_oist_jp/EbMJHv0cCo5GuDr62VKST3IBUz74Y-lggCn2vQydXx662g?e=CTHTEL