Take our user survey here!

Differences between the U.S. and Japanese Education Systems

Deciding to attend university in America was a much bigger challenge than I anticipated.

By 4 min read 85

I was born and raised in Japan but moved to California to attend college. Even though I was able to read and write English, I was nowhere near the level necessary for me to succeed in college level classes. So I signed up for a five-week intensive English program at the California State University.

It wasn’t a degree program so the overall atmosphere of the program was much more relaxed but even in this program, I noticed the differences between American and Japanese educational styles.

My American ESL (English as Second Language) teachers really encouraged the students (the majority was Japanese!) to actively participate in the class. They wanted us to ask questions during the class, discuss our opinions with our classmates and give oral presentations in front of the class. All of which was new to the Japanese students in the program.

There were many differences between the U.S. and Japanese education system. Here are three differences that I found challenging.

#1 Raise Your Hand To Ask A Question!

I was surprised to find out that it is ok to raise your hand and interrupt your teacher to ask a question. They actually like that because it shows that you are interested in learning the subject. But it’s the complete opposite in Japan. Japanese teachers expect students to stay quiet while they teach and write on the blackboard. I was used to copying whatever my teacher wrote on the board and then anxiously waiting for my teacher to ask me a question.

I went to a very competitive high school in Japan and the teachers would randomly ask questions to make sure that we were paying attention. If we had any questions, we would just see our teacher after class and we had to make sure the question was important enough for the teacher to answer.

I was very surprised that American students would just raise hands and ask questions during the class.

#2 Discussion and Presentations

The American curriculum emphasizes the importance of group discussion and presentation. Again, I was so used to just sitting in class quietly that it was really hard for me to speak up and join in on group discussions. I wanted to remain silent but had to force myself to speak up because actively participating in the discussion section and doing a group presentations or a solo presentations were part of the grading. Sometimes the presentations took up nearly 25% of the total grade. So I couldn’t afford to remain silent just because I was shy.

#3 You Actually Have To Attend Class

Japanese students study very hard in high school, so they can pass the entrance exams to get into a reputable national or private university. Once they get into their dream college, things become more relaxed as they are almost guaranteed to graduate. This is the opposite of many American universities where the entrance is easy but graduation is difficult.

Some Japanese students whom I met didn’t graduate because they didn’t understand what it took for them to graduate from a college in America. University students in Japan often skip their classes to party and have their classmates sign the attendance sheet but instructors in America would not tolerate their students faking their attendance.

Japanese college perpetuates the lecture-style text-bound curriculum that doesn’t encourage students to actively participate in their own learning. So it is understandable why many Japanese students want to focus on having fun rather than actually studying. I secretly envied my sisters in Japan talk about their college life. It sounded like they were having a blast meeting new people, finding baito (part-time jobs) and going to go-kon (group dating) when I was having a mini nervous breakdown preparing for my next presentation!


I don’t want you to think that American students don’t party in college because they do! In general, one of the biggest differences I found between the American and Japanese education systems is that students in America are expected to actively participate in their own learning. Thus, American universities are generally much more rigorous than Japanese universities.

I went to an academic high school that focused on preparing students for Japanese university entrance examinations, so I knew that I would be working my butt off if I decide to go to American college. It was never easy but I am glad that I chose this route.

If I give some advice to any Japanese students interested in attending college in America, I would say “You will be studying…a lot!”

Some professors were really hard because the university that I graduated from had many world-renowned scientists, medical doctors and professors. But I took so many interesting classes and learned a lot. Would I do this again? Sure. Absolutely. I love studying!

If you are a foreigner and have experience attending Japanese college, I would love to hear your story!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA - Privacy Policy - Terms of Service

  • Tom Cobb says:

    i am doing research on ESL Japanese schools. Can you tell me anything about the approach to vocabulary in these schools ? is it emphasized? is there a word list students use ? thanks
    Univ Quebec à Montréal

  • Dani says:

    It seems like you are repeating a rationale behind the Japanese school system, but I would be interested in seeing your sources.
    I’ve been a teacher in both America and Japan for over ten years, so I see kernels of truth in your post, but there are several holes in your argument.

    In American schools, students also participate in a variety of after-school activities to express themselves. The difference is, Japanese schools seem to place tremendous pressure on success and performance during these activities, and also require students to focus on only one club. Some Japanese schools require students to join at least one activity, and these activities often have long hours and punishing schedules.

    Combine this with long, lecture style classes and you have students who cannot stay awake during class. It results in long days full of tedium, social pressure, and stress, often resulting in depression or suicide- enemies to learning, all. Students have no choice but to desperately cram to memorize information, spit it out under tremendous pressure during entrance exams, and forget it forever.

    TLDR: Everything that you are saying seems to disagree with what modern researchers believe about learning.

  • Azbul says:

    Do you have any source for that learning / euphoria interaction ? It interest me as I would think one would learn better when in a positive state rather than before that positive state.

  • Emily B says:

    Really interesting article! I just finished my bachelor’s at a state school in the US (I’ve lived here all my life) and was interested in how university might be different elsewhere.

    My degree was in fine art and was more project based (as opposed to test based), so I can’t speak too much to lecture courses. I do agree that courses are highly based on the professor.

    A lot of the larger lecture courses I took (100+ students) used “clickers” – the professor would have multiple choice comprehension questions within the lecture and everyone would press the answer – they were connected to each student’s account so most professors used these questions as both attendance and participation points, based on if you got them right. Usually they didn’t make up a huge part of the grade, maybe 20% – the rest being weekly quizzes, the midterm, and final test.

    Not sure how grades are built but maybe that’s why tests are so harsh? In most of my classes, it was pretty bad to mess up a test, but not the end of the world for your grade. It depended on how the professor split things up. Are there usually other assignments in addition to tests?

    Attendance for my acedemic lecture courses was pretty lax as long as you could take the test at the end and turned in your work. Though in most of the classes for my major, if you missed any more than 3 classes or were late 6 times, you automatically failed.

    My classes were usually split evenly between lecture/practical demonstration and independant studio/work time. During work time the professor came around and gave individual feedback on each student’s work, so you had to be very confidant in your work or very very sick to miss a class.

    The expectation was also that for every hour in class, you spent an hour working out of class.

    It was usually easy to tell who was not working hard enough and everyone would judge them very harshly – projects are graded by a class discussion (“critique”) of each piece so this impacts your grade. But you could get away with anything as long as your work was good.

    I think that is an extreme, but many of my acedemic classes had final research presentations in front of the class or a group as well.

    I am pretty curious about student life though, you mentioned part time jobs and group dates but I was wondering about the structure of the university beyond social activities (If there is one at all?)

    I don’t really mean clubs and stuff, but more everyday services or activities.

    I ask because at my university (and most universities in the US I’m pretty sure) there are a variety of “support programs” available to help students.

    For example we were often encouraged by professors to use the Writing Center – a place you can schedule an appointment and an older student or faculty paid by the school will sit down with you for an hour to help you write essays or cover letters etc. There was also a tutoring program for different subjects. Those are just two examples from my school but arre there similar types of programs in Japanese universities?

    I had just been thinking because there are a lot of programs that I have to think must be pretty US only. For example, most universities I know have free clinics and counseling services. Its a pretty big thing because they’re free to students.

    Im thinking its probably something more necessary in the US because most college students are not able to pay for medical attention otherwise. (Reason being that insurance is connected to full-time jobs which many students can’t keep while being a full time student) but is that something that would be as big a part of university life in Japan?

    Thanks! Sorry for the long post, this is something I’ve been thinking about and have had trouble finding information on.

    tl:dr – American University classes are tough but depend on the professor. Is the structure of Japanese universities the same/different? (in the sense of services provided by the school, beyond classes, clubs or informal social life)

  • Raihansyah Ramadhan says:

    The points you mentioned above were exactly the things I face currently in Australia, and by the way I am from Indonesia where educational atmospheres are almost the same in general with Japan, although the campus I used to go to adheres to Australian standard. In the end I always hope to just pass every unit I took because the expectations are high and there quite a lot of things require my attention. I do not even have time to work a part-time job because the study alone has already taken so much time.

  • Luspear Soram says:

    was a great article. It is interesting to learn about your experience. I am the
    opposite, kind of. I am an American college student. For an assignment I have
    to describe the educational system of a foreign country. I chose Japan. For one
    thing I wondered what made the people so good at science and math. For another
    it is one of my favorite foreign countries. I especially like Japanese cartoons.
    My favorite is Pokémon, and I also like Fruits Basket. I learned a lot of things
    in schools that are different in Japanese schools.

    One big
    difference is that Japanese school year starts in the spring and has more days.
    Fruits Basket does depict the students starting the school year in the spring.
    It seemed strange to me at first. Once I learn the reality, it makes sense in
    the cultural context. Spring does seem like the beginning of a year and so
    would be an intuitive time to start a school year. It doesn’t work like that in
    America. In the past America has a tradition of farming. Students couldn’t
    study in the summer, because they had to work on the farm. So schools would
    shut down all summer. That gives a long summer break. The beginning of the
    school year is in the fall, after most of the harvest was done. These days the
    workforce has changed dramatically. Therefore most kids do not live on farms. The
    school year stays the same, even though it is a relic of an agricultural past.

    have noticed that there is more participation. It is normal in American
    schools. People believe that this active learning is more effective. They can
    liberally ask questions to the teacher, and discuss with fellow students. It is
    less effective to learn passively, by quietly listening and transcribing off
    the board. I figure that there should be a balance of active participation and
    passive lecturing. American schools still have plenty of lecturing. Mandatory attendance
    is something I take for granted. I have a habit of showing up for all my
    classes. There are plenty of students that do ditch, but I don’t think it is
    right. People would miss out on a valuable education. I don’t miss a class very
    often. When I do, it is usually because I was sick. When I ditch, it is extremely

    and other Asian students have a reputation for being really good at math and
    science. I admire that, but I am not jealous. I did learn that Japanese schools
    are more rigorous than American schools, at least before the college level.
    That would definitely help. I did learn in class how to be as good as the Asian
    students. They are taught that to be good at something one must work hard at
    it. So they are encouraged to work hard, and thus they succeed better. In
    America, kids are taught that to be good at something one must have a special
    talent. So if they start out being poor at something, they have no incentive to
    gain more experience. I suspect that the so-called “talented” people have lots
    of practice and motivation to make them stronger. I am very good at science and
    math myself. I am good at science, because I am fascinated with it and I study
    it for fun. I am also good at math because of applying the hard work
    philosophy. When I was in middle school, Algebra was so hard for me it was
    undoable. When I was in high school, I took Algebra classes. It was rough and I
    had to work with it a lot. When I was in college, Algebra is a piece of cake
    for me, and I even moved on the Calculus. My success in math can’t be explained
    with inborn talent.

    So I
    think there are things Americans can do to help their students. I think they
    should follow the example of Asian countries and teach them to work hard. It
    shouldn’t be used in excess. There shouldn’t be too much school work. Students
    still need plenty of free time to have a life outside of school. There also
    shouldn’t be overinflated expectations for grades. If a student has a 70% or
    higher grade, they should be praised for it. If it is lower than that, they
    should get special help to make them improve. Scorning a student should be
    acceptable only if their grades are too low and they deliberately underachieve.

    The social structures of students
    need to change too. Among school kids, some are much better at academics than
    others. They are labeled nerds and geeks. The most stereotypical are those good
    at math, science and computers. Such kids are treated harshly by their peers as
    deviants. They are prone to be bullied and rejected. It may come across as strange to you, but that’s
    how American kids are. Social popularity is very important for many kids. That
    may be a powerful motive to underachieve in school. So the adults should teach
    kids to give the nerds some respect. The nerds spend so much time with intellectual
    things they don’t have as much time for other things. The stereotypical popular
    kids are good at athletics and/or social interaction. The nerds are weaker in
    those areas. It is a fair tradeoff. Kids need to learn to respect others
    regardless of where their strengths lie. The respect can help students excel at
    school. The increased use of technology helps a lot. It is more socially
    acceptable to use a computer a lot now than it used to be. Yuki is one of the
    characters on Fruits Basket. He is one of the most popular students at his
    school. Yet he also stands out from the other characters as being really good
    at school. In fact one of the reasons Yuki is popular is because of his academic
    strengths. It is a really refreshing difference from American schools. I do appreciate
    that the Japanese respect intellectual achievement and those who are good at

  • Education Advocate says:

    Can you believe it?… International School in Japan bans iPads and encourages kids to play video games.

    The American School in Japan (ASIJ), supposedly a prestigious international school with an average yearly tuition of more than 30,000 dollars, banned iPads for elementary school encouraging kids to play video games. Dan Bender, the school’s principal, told a parent “iPads create an unsafe environment for our children; video consoles such as Nintendo DS are much better”. The school sent an official memorandum to all parents on December 18th stating that “it has become evident that these devices [iPads] contribute to safety and behavioral issues”. One parent that opposes this ban commented: “I don’t understand this unilateral ban; iPads are validated and well recognized educational tools for children when used appropriately”. He added “my children love the educational apps in their iPads and use them to do homework and now the school is suggesting to replace them with video games”. Despite parent’s complaints on this ban, the school has remained firm on their decision.

  • Yumi says:

    Love your article ☺️

  • Yumi says:

    Love this article. I now understand why my classmates are just sitting down and copying the lectures all day. And why we seldomly have group discussions.

    I’m a junior highschool student. Third grade. Can you give me tips about studying here? I mean about test or lectures because i really don’t have any idea about it. I moved here last year. And i don’t speak japanese that fluent and i’m having problems about my kanji skills. I’m also having problems about socializing with my classmates since i am a half ( read your article about it, so awesome). I wish you could help me, it will be a great help! BTW, my name is also Yumi. 🙂 Yoroshiku!

  • David Castillo says:

    As a former academic working for two of the top five Japanese Universities I do have a lot more critical points to unveil regarding the differences between the Japanese university education and the education offered in America and almost anywhere else in the West. In general Japan’s teaching methods are great… for the elementary school education of the 1960’s-1970’s decades… But nowadays it fails terribly. I bet is a combination of 3 factors: 1) Japanese culture is extremely rigid when it comes to authoritative relationships: Parents/sons, Employer/employee, Teacher/students; This comes from a confucianism heritage that values age and status over meritocratic achievements, limiting engagement and discouraging curiosity for autodidacts and critical thinking. 2) The Japanese system is not truly global, while there has been some efforts to incorporate students, teachers and researchers from around the world, their numbers are limited in comparison to other countries in the region (China, Singapore, Vietnam, Malaysia, etc) and their participation as decision or policy makers is extremely rare, usually foreign teachers or researches are excluded from boards, directive roles and leading positions. While outside Japan is not rare to find foreigners leading key positions in the academia and even at the corporate world and governments, in Japan that would be considered a violation to sovereignty. The lack of different ideologies and updated working trends beheads the valuable human capital Japan imports that can contribute enormously; No wonder the prevailing universities that dominate scientific and research contributions are still based in America and the UK, for centuries, immigration melting points, not Japan. 3) Many Japanese professors or students has never been abroad longer than a few months for a summer exchange program, so there is not a real ” adapt or die” culture so to speak and the learning curve is slower when they need to know how to survive in a different environment away from home, facing different ideologies, historical inertia, cultural challenges, etc. After WWII the Japanese economy has been one of the most prosperous and stable far beyond 40 years. Since the 90s bubble the reality check came in a very rude way and with an awful price. Suddenly economic expansion halted, japanese goods no longer had the monopoly of their highly specialised acumen, new and fast paced competitors appeared, disruptive technologies outpaced innovation rate within Japan’s corporate world, a sluggish hyper bureaucratic system than granted employment for life disappeared. A generation of younger, much more ambitious entrepreneurs defied and reshaped America’s business status quo. Almost 30 years after Japan economic crash… there are no real sings of recovery… and the situation at their university is worrying to paralysis… Shall we pronounce “Brain dead”?

  • Fuemmeler Brittany says:

    I attend an American Uni, however, I would love to experience a Japanese Uni. However, I know my Japanese skill is not good enough to take science courses in all Japanese.

  • Misato Gakumura Yamauchi says:

    Wow! Those were the actual reasons why I chose to go to college back in the States! I had attended elementary education in the States but had gone back to Japan (my native country) for middle & high school education. Like you pointed out, the class was not an environment to raise your hand regarding a question you had. The authoritarian atmosphere was almost terrifying and I never fully enjoyed my learning experience in Japan. But I definitely loved my college experience!

  • minami says:

    I can agree with this article……. I attended a top uni in Japan last year and remember being disappointed with the classes (teacher just lectures from the textbook for the whole time) and the students (half don’t turn up or just sleep during classes. barely anyone even making notes). Well, university for Japanese students is 人生の春休み like they say lol.

  • Shady Shita says:

    Wow this is a great article Yumi-san , I studied in school in Kuwait and college in Egypt , both countries are very similar to the U.S education system which heavily emphasis on participation , teachers love students who ask questions and I like it that way becuase specially in college graduating takes ALOT of effort and attending classes is very important , I don’t think I could hold my questions till the end of a class if I were in japan :/

  • bartonim says:

    I have read this and at least one or two other articles you have written with interest. Furthermore, I have taken some time to jump into the discussions and added my comments. One of the common threads I’ve noted in your articles might be summed up by this anecdote I wish to offer. Please be patient; I will return to the main topic at hand momentarily.

    Several years ago I purchased some CDs issued by a small but growing indie record company from the United States. In the packages, the company placed a catalogue order card, which with clever humour, stated something to the following effect: ‘Like most things American, this card thinks the USA is the centre of the universe. If you have purchased this CD outside the United States, please accept our apologies. We value your purchases!’

    Do you get where I’m going here? By comparing Japan’s education system solely to that of the US, or as you mention in your article about the soーcalled poor state of English ability in Japan, that your American friends are somewhat surprised, you’ve inadvertently exposed a weakness in your premiseーthe one about failing to acknowledge that there is a world outside of America where English is part of the cultural fabric. You might consider looking at Australia, the UK, New Zealand, or my native Canada, to find additional inspiration. The default Japanese habit of measuring your subjects with only the American model is a product of a kind of intellectual laziness, but please don’t be offended. That’s why I refer to this habit as a default. But is it any better than the atーtimes crippling shyness of Japanese, or the English education system’s failures? You have no idea how often I’ve flinched at phrases like ‘American joke’ used for any kind of foreign humour, which varies greatly even between cultures that use English as the main language.

    I guess my longーwinded point is that you’ve settled on a rather limited form of comparison while addressing Japan’s education woes, and that, with all due respect, might be part of the very problems you are addressing. This means the solution really requires a broadening of cultural awarenessーan inclusive one that takes into account a world that does include a few more participants than America on the Englishーlanguage stage.

  • Salbazier says:

    About the asking question part, it kinda differ from school to school I think. Generally teachers that I had were happy to have students interrupt their explanation to ask questions.

  • Jay Pee Tayo Saranza says:

    Hi Yumi.^^ glad to take time reading this article of yours. I have just proved two things about this article. First, indeed, the educational system we have in the Philippines is truly Americanized. Second, as an ESL teacher here in Bangkok, this article sounds like Philippines vs Thailand education.^^ lmao. Thank you so much for this very informative article.^^ 🙂 GOD bless!!

  • Sarah says:

    Hi Yumi, I am an American university student doing an English teaching internship at a university in Japan.

    I definitely have had this discussion with my boss and colleagues! When my students stare at me in class after I ask for the answer to a question 3 or 4 times I always have to explain that my class is different from all of their other classes. Sometimes I explain the difference in American and Japanese universities, or just my expectations for them to do well in class.

    Communicating with Japanese students is very difficult and different than the way to communicate with American students. Such as clapping hands for the correct answer, raising hands for “yes, no, and I don’t know” and checking their understanding by checking their body language. These techniques allow them to not be required to speak individually. Of course, some students really get on the English boat and break through their Japanese mold for classroom style!

    #4 on your list could be about the test taking! Japanese have 2 or 3 chances to pass the final exam! I was so surprised when I learned this because of my American education background. When I told my students that students in America must pass the test or take the class again they were so shocked. Haha!

  • Yuuno says:

    I think these days Japanese education system is becoming like English one. Now I’m a Japanese university student. My majour is international communication, and My taking most of classes are like your classes. However, it is certain that ddnd students is long. We can’t ask teacher any questions during the class. students don’t have to have my opinon, so they aren’t eager for learning.

  • Saki says:

    Hello, Yumi. I have been to America when I was 14 years old. Though I have not experienced any lectures in an American university, I know how Americans are always ready to express their own opinions. They said clearly “Yes” or “No”.
    You know, most Japanese are so shy. I think that this Japanese character is often good in some situations. Japanese can be also regarded as modest. However, the shyness prevents students from acquiring their skills effectively. Now I am planning to study abroad, so I will keep your essay in mind. Thanks for sharing!

  • Dave says:

    As a high school student, in America, we often do a learning of read it, memorize it, test it, next section. Some teachers are strict and show favoritism while as others will just pass you to pass you. It in no way helps in college because college is to expensive to screw around in. if you don’t pay attention and fail the class it was money well wasted no refunds

  • Seiro says:

    Hi, Yumi. As a chinese student, I always think about the same things with you. Although I haven’t experienced the American education styles, I can agree with you what I am feeling in Japanese university. Japanese teachers expect students to stay quiet while they teach and
    write on the blackboard. You said that you was used to just copying whatever my teacher
    wrote on the board and then anxiously waiting for my teacher to ask me a
    question.Actuallt, chinese education also likes this style. But the character of chinese students are more active than Japanese, eapecially, when they discuss and have a groupwork. Now, in my class, I find that Japanese students are so shy that they don’t like to talk about their thinking too much. Eventhough in the English class with a foreign teacher. It makes me feel strange If I say some my opinion. Maybe they aren’t accustomed to this edcation style. So I think if the schools change the education system, students will happy to express themselves gradually.

  • Laras Rahayu says:

    Hi, Yumi! It is very interesting to hear such a story from you 🙂
    I experienced myself as exchange student in Japan for 1 year and now doing my PhD here in Tokyo. I went to some classes and practices with Japanese student and found that they are quite “careless” about the topics being discussed in class. Though the diligent ones were around, I thought that the classes I attended was “quiet” and somehow “serious”.

    As Indonesian, I think that in my home country the system is somehow as quiet as Japan and as tough as US as we ask question only after the teacher finish the explanation, on the other hand the teacher would not let us skipped class and “fed” us with a lot of paper works.

    Anyway, thanks for sharing 😉

    • Siapa Aja Boleh says:

      As Indonesian, I think that in my home country the system is somehow as quiet as Japan and as tough as US as we ask question only after the teacher finish the explanation, on the other hand the teacher would not let us skipped class and “fed” us with a lot of paper works. <<< This is accurate. Indonesian education system is like a mix of American and East Asia countries. Plus the presentations and lab practices.

  • Fran Almonte says:

    I live in Japan right now as an exchange student, and all I can say is that Japanese students are always sleeping everywhere, even inside the library, and they dont even care to do homework sometimes. Its really easy to get credits.

    • Kyoko says:

      Yes, you’re right! I’m attending Japanese university as an exchange student now. I’m studying here Japanese, and my classes are the same as in countriens other than Japan. We are interacting with teacher all the time. But when it comes to classes which I’m taking with Japanese it’s totally different. Even if we are studying new language they stay rather quiet. Sometimes I get annoyed when they are looking at teacher with stupid look in they eyes when she asks “did you done your homework” or when they have to write something on blackboard. I’m not saying that all students are like that, but it looks like they are attending classes thinking that they will know another language without any effort. I hope it will change in few years, because even if I could notice students that are not careless it’s still too far from what we know in our countries. In my country I had classes the same as Yumi wrote she had in America, and I’m glad that my university in here has a lot of teachers from abroad, because I can see that Japanese can change thanks to them.

    • Thanh Nguyen says:

      Admittedly, I slept a lot in libraries and lounges between classes in the United States, when I attended a small private university. I haven’t done that recently, since I’m at a significantly larger university where I have to keep watch over my stuff all the time.

      My experience with Japanese university was a little different (also a small private university). I didn’t see much sleeping, not even in the building where the circle rooms were. Everyone was either socializing, playing games, or engaging in circles.

  • Samantha Chavana says:

    I do not have any experience studying in Japan, but I lived there for 3 years and enjoyed the culture, the people, the food, the discipline style of life and my sensei’s teachings. I just wish there were more people like that here in America that I could talk to and share stories with. Great article, thank you for sharing.

  • Gaijinn says:

    I am currently studying in Yokohama National University. The presentation is worst of all. I was shocked the way they did their presentation. Even professor didnt comment about the way they were presenting. The content was good but delivery was poorest i have ever seen. And whats up with the English language. I have met PhD students too..they can write a kickass article and i have even seen most of them get published. But when i speak english with them, they cant seem to speak properly. And as you said poor on discussion. I can speak japanese too. But the rest is good. I think most of them in my laboratory is sound in their topic.

    • シャミル says:

      Hello. I’m enginnering student in twinning programme(malaysia -japan).
      We are educated to fulfill our attendance as it is part of the carry marks to graduate. Second,we are more likely enjoy our japanese language learning because of the actively participating from the students. We also learned science in japanese in enjoyful class.
      Japanese teacher is so kind. That’s why prefer to study in japan. 日本語は大好きです!

    • Thanh Nguyen says:

      I was at Meiji Gakuin University, and noticed very differently. You had a lot of students more proficient in English, probably 1/6th of the student body.

  • Rodrigo De Reyes Lanfranco says:

    Hi! Your article is very interesting! I live in Colombia and in October I’m going to Japan to do my Masters. I was a bit discouraged by your position, so I would like to know, in your opinion (and other readers’), what are the positive aspects of Japanese university education. Thank you!

  • marcan says:

    Attendance requirements are quite variable in the US. I went to college in the US for 3 years (I’m Spanish, although the Spanish university system isn’t vastly different from the US one). The first semester I attended every class, but after that I realized that many people skipped some lectures. Some professors care, others don’t. For one particular course, I skipped most of the lectures because I was already very comfortable with the material presented, and still made a good grade. Of course, I had to attend the classes where we had tests/quizzes/exams/presentations, and this was also easier because the lecture slides were always posted online, so I could go back and review what was covered even if I hadn’t attended.

    I was able to do that because I already knew most of the material, but I still had to pass the exams and turn in homework/projects. However, I enjoyed the freedom of being able to skip lectures that were boring to me because they covered things I already knew.

  • Yumitolesson says:

    it is true..Japanese teachers don’t want to be embarrassed and they can get resentful if we ask them questions in the middle of the class and they think it is disrespectful. I understand it is important to let the instructor finish the material but students should be given an opportunity to ask questions without feeling embarrassed. 🙂

  • hattori hanzo says:

    Very interesting and informative. I’d say my home country’s Education system or culture works pretty much like that of the US. We are encouraged to heavily participate, we study hard, and party hard too!!!

    Going back, this is a very good write up. Cheers to it! I’m an online ESL Tutor and I have not really heard much about how the schools are like in Japan. This is very useful for me, I would be able to connect better with my students.

    • Yumitolesson says:

      Thank you so much for your feedback! it was a cultural shock and I knew about this but it took me a while..to get used to speak up in front of people. It was a very good experience and something that I am working on everyday ^_^ Thanks for checking it out!

  • Angie Gotopo says:

    I’m a foreigner (Venezuela) getting my master degree in Japan. I was
    used to do presentations and raising my hand to ask questions since elementary
    school. I am still surprised that almost all the classes in a very good Japanese
    university are so quite, even at graduate level. Here in Japan in my first
    semester I used to raise my hand in the middle of professor’s speech, I learned
    from some classmates that questions should be asked at the end. I have only one
    class where we can discuss our opinion about different topics, but nobody seems
    to disagree or to debate supporting an opposite opinion. Getting into a Japanese
    university was very hard for me, I failed many entrance exams before I got in
    my current graduate school, and I was so scared thinking about if it is
    this difficult to get in, getting credits is going to be even harder. But once
    I got in I realized the readings and papers load was not so much. I didn’t know
    deeply about Japanese education system, I thought it was only my university and
    my current graduate program that was this way, I’m always thinking that surely other
    programs in Japan have more group discussions and demand more presentations.

    • Yumitolesson says:

      wow! That is very impressive that you are getting your master’s degree. It must be very challenging given the language barrier. But yes it is very different and Japanese students are discouraged from asking questions in the middle of the class. Even if it is a discussion class, students are concerned about asking unusual questions and they rather stay quiet and they don’t do a lot of group project especially in universities. Although I did not go to college in Japan, all my sisters and friends went there and they agreed with me. But good luck with your study and I look forward to hearing about your progress! ^_^

  • Horiuchi says:

    It’s been a year and 10 days since we emigrated here in Olney IL, my daughter is a freshman in high school, my son is in 5th grade (classes ending this May 2014). In Japan where they got their primary schooling, all subjects are studied in the Nihonggo, using kanji/hiragana/katakana characters, no Roman Alphabet at all. I love watching Hollywood movies and I made them watch with me, so they speak some.They were both quiet in their US class the first 1 & 1/2 months maybe, but are quite conversant now. Thing is, even with their limited English, they are excelling in their classes because of the study habits instilled in Japan schools. They attended after school tutoring for English that ended February, we have extra study time for vocabulary but in school? they easily outdo American kids

    • Yumitolesson says:

      Yes I agree with you that Japanese curriculum in K-12 is excellent and especially they do so much better in math and science courses..than American kids. 🙂 It is great that your daughter is getting the benefits of two different cultures. ^-^

  • HA says:

    Yumi’s interpretations and analyses of what she has experience are interesting and understandable. As a Japanese who was born, raised, educated (up to college), worked in Japan until in my late 20s and migrated to the U.S. to attend a graduate business school, I experienced the differences between Japanese education and that of the U.S. when I was almost 30. I knew the graduate school education was going to be tough, but it turned out to be a huge cultural shock — it was much more than I expected. Now, the Japanese government and educational institutions are talking about the need for “globalization” of Japanese colleges, but they really need to understand that changing the beginning of school year from April to September or offering more classes taught by English are not really what they should be focusing on. The real change — that is, making colleges and universities as real educational institutions, is what they need. College kids have to study, period. No wonder no top-tier Japanese college appear in top 20 of any major world college/university rankings.

  • LoneJoker says:

    Things are exactly the same in India. In fact you could simply replace the ‘Japan’ with ‘India’ in the article. Great comparison by the way.

    • Yumitolesson says:

      really? wow..I did not know that. Actually I work with many colleagues from India..you guys are so intelligent and very successful. ^_^ I would love to learn more about Indian culture.

  • Jerry Gentemann says:

    Enjoyed your point of view….

  • Cherry Hannah says:

    I am thinking about studying medicine in Japan or America but I am still poor in both language.. espically Japanese.I cannot afford much money so I also take interests in scholarships programs. I need to study hard. I don’t have much time for outside activities. My medical university takes a lot of time from us. The exams keep coming and coming again. Japanese education is a bit similar to our country’s . In state school and universities .. we also are not allowed to ask questions while the teacher is speaking. But now we are trying to change into active learning little by little; we have more group activites like presentations and discussion in school time but many students including me are not that active.. we are used to listen to the end of the lesson. However; in classes on American center ( open by U.S Embassy for those who wants to study english as second lanuage) ; the edu system is just like in US. We need to participate in class and do group discussion and presentation and they really are the keys in grading.. the exams only take 25%.

    • Yumitolesson says:

      May I ask where you are from? I am from Japan but live in California..I highly recommend American medical school.,but they are extremely competitive and you will need to have a high GPA from your undergraduate institution plus need to take the GRE or MCAT..but getting into a Japanese medical school is nearly impossible as a foreigner unless you join some type of exchange program through your institution in your home country. But I have to say that medical schools in America are ranked much more highly. ^_^

  • Andrea Hall says:

    And, it meant that your classmates who might have had the same question in mind could not benefit from your asking during the class.

  • Andrea Hall says:

    It’s not just American universities, it’s most universities outside of Asia (I can’t speak for Japan’s Asian neighbours). I know in the Caribbean, North America, Europe and Latin America (if I am wrong, please correct me) you have to work hard to stay in, and it’s hard to get in to the really good universities in the first place.

    • Yumitolesson says:

      Wow that is very interesting. I think educational systems and the curriculum are reflections of cultures and In East Asia, they tend to focus on exams, doing well on the paper..

    • Angie Gotopo says:

      Yes Latin America is the same as US education system, graduating is hardwork, and we too give presentations, group discussions and raise hands to ask questions from elementary school. I’m studying in Japan and I had to learn not to interrupt the professor in the middle of the class.

  • Jiro Morishita says:

    Fortunately, I’ve had experience of attending both Australian (Western) and Japanese universities. In my opinion (bearing in mind that over-generalization is dangerous), western universities are great at making students prepared for the real work. They focus on more practical skills through class participation and presentation. Both require students to run a search and read some relevant materials outside a classroom. Hence, students can learn how to gather information from right sources, which is a critical skill for those who make money off of their thought. (And I know almost all of the university students will do.) A downside of this system is that preparation for one class or one presentation takes a lot of time. So it seems that students have no extra time for self-development unless one ignores their social life.

    On the other hand, universities in Japan are loosened up. Professors do not care about what they are teaching to students. They just follow textbooks and curricula. They do not ask students to take part. (Even,some professors said “It’s ok for you to sleep in this class as long as you are not distracting.) Back then, I used to wonder where it took me by attending classes of this kind. A good thing of studying at Japan is that students have a lot of time at their disposal. If one wants to get CPA, they can at 19, or 20. (Of course, they must be diligent and talented if one actually got CPA at that young age.) Or one can write a novel and get famous while studying their major which has nothing to do with writing a novel. In Japan, it seems that taking a degree is what studying at a university is all about. The rest is up to students.

    I cannot decide which is the better. It seems that western universities provide students with a great environment for ‘study’. They give students a chance to study for themselves, to express themselves, to fail, and to correct themselves. Students in Japan would get nothing but a degree over four years of university life. However, students can develop a skill of their interest to the extent that it could make you a fortune if they are gifted and determined.

    • Yumitolesson says:

      I attended American university and they did not prepare me for job search. 🙁 Unfortunately I had a very difficult time landing the right job, and even then it was difficult and I really cannot say that American universities prepare their students to find jobs..and there are a lot of professors who don’t care about students. 🙁 but yes you are right that American universities in general provide excellent environment that fosters students to think critically, analytically and independently. 🙂 thanks for reading my article!

    • urashimajoe says:

      Hi Jiro. I wonder what university you attended in WA. I’m from Murdoch originally, although I just finished a period of graduate studies in Japan.

      Regarding the school system, I think it is also hard for professors to ask too much of their students when they know that they may be very busy in a few years time at work. The university system is tied to the employment system, and the examination system, so I believe simply asking people to study harder isn’t going to work very well in many cases.

      • Yumitolesson says:

        it is true. In American universities, many students pursue a higher education since many professional careers require postgraduate degrees.

  • Sarah Vernier says:

    I really enjoyed reading your article!

    I am from the United States (I have lived here my whole life) I never knew that there was a difference in American and Japanese curriculums such as this. I knew there were some differences, but I guess I never thought about being open and asking questions during class. It is extremely important to participate, (as in raising hands, opening discussion, discussing opinions with peers, etc.) because the instructors usually have a “Participation Grade” which may range from 10-25% of your overall grade. (At least at my college it’s like that).

    Thank you for writing this!

    • Yumitolesson says:

      Yes it was really hard for me because I am naturally a very shy person and it caused a lot of anxiety for me having to give a presentation, participate in discussions.. but in the end, it was such a valuable experience. thanks for checking our my article. 🙂

  • Hanten says:

    I also studied Japanese both here and in Japan. It was very frustrating to have a question to ask but not allowed to ask it until the end of the the class. This meant that often the rest of the class was misunderstood.

  • Taro-nechan says:

    I’m disappointed I’m still hearing about these same problems. No movement for 15 years. Hopefully, with the movement to reconcile French and Japanese university units we might be getting some movement, at last! Next I would like to see more acceptance of gap years and more flexible entry and graduation schedules.

    • Yumitolesson says:

      I am sure that it is changing gradually and I did not go to Japanese university but all my sisters and friends did..it was unbelievable how much I had to study to pass a class. There was a language problem but other American students were studying many hours writing research papers..so it was very intensive. All my friends who went to Japanese college were having so much fun. T-T

  • Hanten says:

    I taught ESL (English as a Second Language) in Australia for 13 years. The Japanese students were the hardest to inspire into action but once they got how necessary it was, their participation increased quickly. In the meantime, the South American and European students have all moved up to the next level.

    • Yumitolesson says:

      Yes I do remember these foreign students from Europe and other countries..they were eager to participate and I was one of those quiet Japanese students who had lots of questions but I stayed quiet because of my upbringing. once I realized that participation was critical to get an A grade in the class, I had to force myself to participate in discussions and I still struggle at work. ^_^;

  • dieLegende says:

    I am currently studying at a Japanese University and i am whether Japanese nor an US-American citizen, so my opinion on this subject is from an european point of view.

    First of all i want to say you have to differentiate between a japanese state run University and a private one. While the students of the private run Universities don’t have to study at all, and drink and party a lot (im speaking about the private”1st class” Universities in Tokyo), the students of the “top class” state run Universities have to study around the clock. It is just an unfair system, where the children of wealthy parents are able to relax until the end of their studies, while the ones without an fortunate background have to study and work until they collapse because of exhaustion…

    Being able to compare all three educational systems (US, Japan, Northern-Europe), the devastating result for the American (overall price) and Japanese (price and separation in state run and private) University Level Education System is undeniable.

    If it wasn’t for my goal to participate in the Japanese Jobhunting, i wouldn’t even consider to set a foot on the ground of a Japanese University…

    • Yumitolesson says:

      that is very interesting. you are right that Japanese national universities (each prefecture has one public university) and they are the top universities in general. It’s much cheaper and much more challenging to get into. And it is true that these universities are different from other private universities in which students focus on partying and drinking. This was just my personal view as I did attend a reputable university in Los Angeles and transferred from a community college..and even in that community college, participation was critical and we couldn’t just go out and have fun every weekend and expect the instructors to let us pass the course. 🙁 I had some friends who went to the national universities in Japan, and I am sure that they study harder than those who went to a junior college or private universities (not waseda or keiou)..but I imagine that the educational focus between American and Japanese institutions is still very different.

    • Anthony Joh says:

      Check out this article and video we did for Works Japan. It may help with your job hunting once you graduate. http://blog.gaijinpot.com/works-japan/

      • dieLegende says:

        I intend to to Jobhunting as a Shinsotsu, so do it while still attending University. There is not much left since you graduate…

  • Heather says:

    Another difference would be that you don’t get to take tests over and over again until you pass. In Japan this always happens, even in medical and nursing schools, which is scary. In America and Canada if you fail a test, most times you’ll also fail the whole class. Which is as it should be, because if you can’t pass the test, you’ve obviously not learned enough your first time through, so you have to do it again. This happens in grade school too. Unlike Japan, where kids just move up a grade with their age mates. Children in North America who fail have to repeat a whole year (although that’s happening less now than it should because of funding cuts).

    • Pacia says:

      I’m in high school in the US, and we can still take most tests and fail and then repeat them. Usually to repeat them we have to do something to show we have learned the material first, such as do a math worksheet or converse with a teacher. There are some tests we can’t repeat though, like finals and ACT/SAT’s.

    • Yumitolesson says:

      American universities have a time limit and students in undergraduate have time limit and it is even more strict in phD and MD program..I don’t know how these students manage but they can probably take up to three qualifying exams but if they can’t make it, they have no problem dropping the students..so it is very harsh in a way..

  • James Roi Verde Cagang says:

    I really love reading this article 🙂 I’m from Philippines I like to study Japanese language and I also like to Study in America but unfortunately financially disable.

    • Yumitolesson says:

      I completely understand..it is very expensive to study abroad but Japanese universities do offer funding opportunities.

    • Yumitolesson says:

      Thank you for checking James. I really appreciate your feedback. ^_^

  • Max Wichaidit says:

    great article. I graduated from university in Thailand but i went to study in USA for a year when i was in high school.

    Now, I really interest in Japanese culture and really want to continue my master degree in Japan. But Japanese language is my problem now. so i might have to attend Japanese language school in Japan first.

    • Yumitolesson says:

      Oh wow. that is great. Yes unless you are going to Japan as a scholar and take classes in English, it would be hard to take college level classes in Nihongo. But good luck and please do not give up!

    • Anthony Joh says:

      A student visa is one of the easiest visas to get to come to Japan. You can study for up to two years and then after look for a job and change to a working visa. Check out the language schools on GaijinPot Study http://study.gaijinpot.com/school/

      • Yumitolesson says:

        That is an excellent idea. 🙂

      • Max Wichaidit says:

        Thank you so much. Is it hard to get a job in Japan? If i got Japanese language level N2

        • Anthony Joh says:

          If you have N2 it will make it easier to find a job. Also there is a lot of interest in Japan in doing business in Thailand. If you can speak English, Japanese and Thai you won’t have any trouble finding a job.

  • Vivek Anand A says:

    Hey, an interesting read. I am studying in the University of Tokyo. I totally concur with your views on Japan and its education system. As an individual, I am interested discussions. However, I am unfortunate that I live in an atmosphere where active discussions is not encouraged. Even if its encouraged, the students don’t seem to be interested. Hopefully you will come back to Japan and change the situation. 🙂

    • Yumitolesson says:

      I understand..I am not sure if it is a matter of interest but it may be due to the shame culture..Japanese people are very conscious of saving faces especially in public. ^_^

  • niv says:

    I would like to know more about japanese education. I’m actually choosing between the two, American or japanese cause I love both these countries to bits and I want them to be my learning environment. But hey u can’t be in two places at once! Do japanese colleges have a complete English curriculum or should one learn japanese? I actually don’t mind given that I love Japan!

    • Yumitolesson says:

      I think Japanese college should have English instructions, however if you are planning to get a full degree, you are most likely have to take courses in Japanese. It would be good to do some research since American and Japanese colleges are VERY different. I attended American University and it is the most valuable experience.

  • don says:

    Great article; i noticed a lot of these differences as well, having studied at both institutions and looking at my friends both from Japan and America. I envied my Japanese friends throughout most of my university life because they didn’t do any studying their last year; just partying and traveling abroad, and then come back for job hunting! While I was studying so hard until graduation in America and still doing job hunting!

    • Yumitolesson says:

      Yes I know..I studied like crazy in high school…and then went to American college so I continued to study. But we go to college to learn. For Japanese people, we have to remember that college is their last change to slack off before getting a job and they will have no time..



Uchi Soto and Japanese Group Culture

Uchi Soto is the Japanese custom of a clear distinction between in-groups (uchi, 内) and out-groups (soto, 外).

By 3 min read 62


4 Tips For Going To A Modern Japanese Wedding

What to expect at a modern Japanese wedding.

By 5 min read 7


Is Japan Foreigner Friendly?

Cultural traditions or racial tendencies? Is Japan a country that is open to foreigners?

By 6 min read 149