Created for expats living in Japan

Primary - Elementary School System in Japan

You may be wondering what children in Japan are learning in elementary school and how they spend their day along with what unique subjects are taught in Japan that are not found in foreign countries. In this article, you will learn about the subjects taught at Japanese elementary schools and a typical daily schedule for students.

If you would like to know more about Japanese public elementary schools, please read "

Number of school hours spent on each subject in a Japanese Elementary School

Below is the number of class hours that must be dedicated to each subject throughout the year according to the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology. Did you notice any classes that you are unfamiliar with? Please read further for more information about what they are.

*swipe or scroll to see the complete table

Subjects / Grades Grade 1 Grade 2 Grade 3 Grade 4 Grade 5 Grade 6
Japanese Language 306 315 245 245 175 175
Social Studies     70 90 100 105
Elementary Mathematics 136 175 175 175 175 175
Science     90 105 105 105
Living Environment Studies 102 105        
Music 68 70 60 60 50 50
Art and Handcraft 68 70 60 60 50 50
Home Economics         60 55
Health and Physical Education 102 105 105 105 90 90
Ethics (Moral Education) 34 35 35 35 35 35
Foreign Language Activities         35 35
Integrated Studies     70 70 70 70
Special Activities 34 35 35 35 35 35
Total Numbers of Classes 850 910 945 980 980 980

Data from Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology

The Subjects taught at a Japanese Elementary Schools

The following subjects described were choosen as they may not be common in other countries.

Social Studies (Shakai - 社会)

In elementary school, social studies classes begin in from the 3rd grade. In most cases, classes are conducted using textbooks and worksheets and cover both geography and history, which are the major pillars of social studies. The main objective of the class is to acquire a basic knowledge of geography and history. In addition, students deepen their understanding of Japan's regional characteristics, traditions, culture, and religion, including the origins and regional composition of Japan and the world.

Recently, the number of schools that use computers to teach lessons has increased. Starting from the 5th grade, students actively use maps, globes, statistics, etc., and focus on developing the ability to collect and read necessary information from various materials.

3rd and 4th grade:
Students are mainly taught content relating to familiar local communities. Students learn about the local industry, living environment, and the work of their ancestors who have contributed to the development of the region they live in, which will foster pride and affection for the local community.

5th grade:
The entirety of Japan is within the scope of study. Students deepen their interest in the relationship between the national environment and people's lives, the importance of environmental conservation and prevention of natural disasters, and foster love for the national land.

6th grade:
Students learn about Japanese history and the role of Japan in the international community. They learn about the achievements, cultural heritage, history, and traditions of their predecessors. Understanding the inner workings and ways of thinking of politics in daily life, the lives of countries closely related to Japan, and the role of Japan in the international community.

Living Environment Studies (Seikatsu - 生活)

Through specific activities and experiences, students will become interested in the relationship between themselves and people close to them, society and nature, will think about themselves and their lives, and acquire the habits and skills necessary for living their lives in the process. Let them cultivate the foundation for independence.

Music (Ongaku - 音楽)

Students learn about singing, playing musical instruments such as a recorder, a keyboard harmonica, reading music notes etc.

You may also be interested in reading  Enrolling in a Japanese public school and materials you need to prepare.

Home Economics (Katei - 家庭)

This subject is only taught in the 5th and 6th grades. Through the acquisition of basic knowledge and skills necessary for daily life, the goal is to cultivate their abilities and to develop a practical attitude.

In home economics students learn the basics, basic acquaintance papers and skills necessary for independent life. This is mainly done through practical and experiential learning activities related to clothing, food, and housing. The goal being for students to deepen their understanding of the functions of the home and giving them the skills to enjoy their future lives.

In addition to classes being taught by utilizing textbooks, there are practical lessons in which students actually move their hands to experience cooking and sewing.

Regarding foods used for cooking, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology has established a rule that raw meat and fish are not handled, and in general, the menu decided by the teacher is divided into groups and cooked in groups. The menu focuses on basic dishes such as miso soup. Ingredients are prepared by the school, procured at home, and it seems that there are differences depending on the region and school.

In addition, regarding sewing, they will learn basic sewing skills such as how to handle needles and scissors, practice ball knotting and ball fixing. After that, there are many schools that make practical products by making use of their basic knowledge of sewing, such as making an apron from a kit with cloth and paper pattern.

Health and Physical Education (Taiku / Hoken-Taiku - 体育 / 保健体育)

Nowadays, the lack physical strength in children is becoming a social problem. Physical education in elementary school is also based on this. Throughout each grade, swimming in the pool, games using balls, and dances that refer to expressive movements will be introduced according to the grade.

1st and 2nd grade
Focusing on exercises to build the body, the following two are included in the instruction.
Exercise to loosen the body and Exercise to for various movements

3rd and 4th grade
Exercises that cultivate basic body movements are the main axis in order to improve physical strength in the future. Incorporating the following exercises into their lessons.
Exercise equipment, exercise and land exercises to operate exercise equipment for force test.

5th and 6th grade
In addition to the exercises up until now, exercises that require rules will be added to the class. Horizontal bars and vaulting boxes will be added to the contents of the instrumental exercises learned in the middle grades, and sprinting, relays, hurdling, long jumps, etc. will be carried out for land exercises.

Health Education

Classes corvering topics in the health field begin in the 3rd grade. Even in the lower grades, classes on health and eating habits are held by taking up subjects that are suitable for daily life, such as brushing teeth and the importance of eating.

From the 3rd grade, students will learn more about health and life based on textbooks and prints, as well as about their own physical development.

From the 5th grade onwards, they will learn about mental development and prevention, and prevention of injuries and illnesses, as well as healthy life and physical growth and development.

Sexuality Education

Starting from the 4th grade, both boys and girls will learn about growth and development. They will learn about individual differences in height and weight gain, changes in physical constitution, menstruation and the function of hormones. From the 5th grade onwards, they will learn to develop their mind and body in the same way as their body and approach adults. In the sixth grade, they will also learn the correct knowledge about diseases such as HIV.

Ethics / Moral Education (Doutoku - 道徳)

Mainly related to relationships with other people, to nature, relationships with sublime things, to relationships with groups and society.

Throughout the school's educational activities, they will cultivate morality such as moral sentiment, judgment, motivation, and attitude.

Foreign Language Activities(Gaikokugo katsudo - 外国語活動)

Deepening experiential understanding of language and culture, fostering an attitude of actively trying to communicate, and cultivating the foundation of communication skills while familiarizing yourself with foreign language voices and basic expressions.

This class is for the 5th ​​and 6th grades and aimed at teaching students to be able to communicate actively in a foreign language (English).

The goal is: to experience the joy of communicating in a foreign language, to listen actively in foreign languages, to know the importance of communicating using language.

Some schools have foreign language lessons (English) for grades 1 - 4 as integrated studies.

What they study:

(1) Familiarize themselves with the sounds and rhythms of foreign languages, learn the differences from Japanese, and realize the fun and richness of the words.

(2) Know the differences in life, customs, events, etc. between Japan and foreign countries, and realize that there are various perspectives and ways of thinking.

(3) To experience interaction with people from different cultures and deepen their understanding of cultures.

Integrated Studies

Themes are set for each grade, and the content varies from school to school, such as finding and researching your own tasks within that theme, or setting a theme in the form of a course for each teacher and recruiting applicants. The common point is that students voluntarily find and work on assignments.

Through cross-sectional and comprehensive learning and inquiry learning, they will develop the qualities and abilities to find problems, learn by themselves, think, make independent judgments, and solve problems better, as well as how to learn and think about things. To be able to think about one's own way of life by fostering an attitude of proactively, creatively, and collaboratively engaging in problem-solving and inquiry activities.

Special Activities

These include school events, arts and sciences faires, exhibitions, concerts, athletic meet, excursions, volunteer work, group accommodation activities etc.

Timetable of a Day at Japanese Elementary Schools

This is how elementary school students spend their time at school, the flow of the day. Depending on the school, the content may differ from what is described. However, this is what most public elementary schools follow.

Timetable of a Day at Primary Schools in Japan

*swipe or scroll to see the complete table

Arriving 8:00 ~ 8:25
Morning assembly for the whole school, homeroom, etc. 8:25 ~ 8:35
1st class 8:35 ~ 9:20
2nd class 9:25 ~ 10:10
Break 10:10 ~ 10:30
3rd class 10:30 ~ 11:15
 4th class 11:20 ~ 12:15
Lunch 12:15 ~ 13:00
Break 13:00 ~ 13:20
Cleaning 13:20 ~ 13:40
 5th class 13:40 ~ 14:25
 6th class 14:30 ~ 15:15
End-of-the-day homeroom (for 5 classes)* 14:25 ~ 14:35
End-of-the-day homeroom (for 6 classes)* 15:15 ~ 15:25

* After the lunch break or the end-of-the-day homeroom (depends on the school), students clean their classroom and/or common parts of school building. In most cases the lower grade students (first and second grade) are supported by elder students.

Arriving

School hours start at around 8:00 - 8:20. Depending on the area, students walk to school in a group, or are led by guardian (one of the student's parents).

Morning Meeting

The morning meeting is from 8:25 to 8:35. At the morning meeting, the teacher provides information necessary, and does things such as checking the physical condition of all their students, check the schedule for today, and hand out submissions.

Class Hours

The first class starts around 8:45. Each class' duration is 45 minutes.

Breaks

Between classes there are breaks which last about 5-10 minutes. During this time, students prepare for the next lesson, move to the classroom etc. In addition, there is a 20-minute break between the 2nd and 3rd hours.

Lunch

After 4 classes in the morning, the lunch is scheduled from 12:15 to 13:00. The time allocation is considered to be about 15 minutes for preparation, 20 minutes for meals, and 10 minutes for tidying up. Students take turns to serving lunch and cleaning up.

Lunch Break

13:00 to 13:20 is the lunch break time. When the weather is good, students play on the playground, and when it rains, they spend time in the library or classrooms.

Cleaning

From 13:20 to 13:40 after the lunch break, everyone cleans up the school. The place to clean is shared. Some schools schedule the cleaning time after lunch and some schools do it after lunch break.

End-of-the-day Meeting

The closing meeting is held for about 10 minutes after all the lessons are over. The teacher gives out prints for students to give to their parents, talks about the day, and provide information.

Going Back Home

Some schools organize groups and students to go back home together in a group.

What about Saturdays?

Due to the increase in the number of classes, the number of elementary schools that hold classes once or twice a month on Saturdays is increasing. In addition to regular classes, Saturday classes may include various school events such as extra classes, athletic events, and parents' visits.


You may also be interested in:

List of International Schools in Japan

Japanese education system and which school is the best for your child

* Enrolling in a Japanese public school and materials you need to prepare

* What You Should Know about Japanese Public School Customs

* Yearly Activities and Events in Japanese Public Schools