Japanese Cram Schools Are Not What You Think — An Interview with Takahiro Goto

Amélie Geeraert
Kokoro Media
Published in
18 min readDec 2, 2023

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Takahiro Goto is the director and a teacher at the cram school “GS Shingaku Kyoshitsu” in Hachioji City in the Greater Tokyo Area. Cram schools (“juku” in Japanese) are schools where young students study hard to prepare for their desired school or university entrance exams.

Before talking to Mr. Goto, I did not quite understand why Japanese kids had to study there for hours after school (sometimes even on weekends and holidays). However, after this interview, I understood why these schools are necessary for Japanese kids and how they can make them grow and be happier. Read on to know from the inside what these schools are.

How the Japanese Educational System Creates the Need for Cram Schools

For our readers who may not be familiar with it, please explain how school education in Japan works?

The first difference with the Western system is that school starts in April and ends in March. Most entrance examinations usually take place in February.

In Japan, compulsory education includes primary school and middle school. Children enter primary school at seven and study there for six years. Then, there is junior high school for three years.

Some kids take entrance exams to enter combined junior high and high schools. Combined junior high and high schools are mostly private, but the number of public ones is increasing. However, the percentage of kids who take exams in big cities is very different from more rural areas. For example, in Tokyo, 25% of the kids take such exams and go to cram schools to get prepared. The exam results select the best scores, so not all kids can enter combined junior high and high schools. In the end, a little more than 10% of them succeed. However, since junior high school and high school are combined, the kids will not have to sit for high school entrance exams.

Since high school exams are very difficult, the majority of kids prepare for them by going to cram schools.

75% of Japanese kids do not take exams and enter public junior high school. Compulsory education lasts for nine years and ends with junior high school. Still, the percentage of Japanese…

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Amélie Geeraert
Kokoro Media

Living in Japan since 2011. I love interviewing inspiring people.