Home Up Table 6





 What's New





Japanese Ways

Czech Ways

Instr Design

Web Publishing


Japanese Ed





Grades 1-6

Grades 7-9

Grades  10-12

Higher Ed





... in 1982, the average elementary class in Japan had about 34 pupils and the average lower secondary class about 36. For the same year, in the United States, the National Education Association reports an average class size of 25 at the elementary level and 23 at the secondary level. 



...the economic status of Japanese teachers is comparatively high, and the monetary rewards provide a strong incentive to pursue a teaching career. 

The Teaching Profession
Composition and qualifications of teaching force
Reference to table 6
Preservice education
Becoming employed as a teacher
Inservice education
Japan Teachers Union
Social and economic status


The Teaching Profession
Japanese teachers are an essential element in the success story. Japanese society entrusts major responsibilities to teachers and expects much from them. It confers high social status and economic rewards but also subjects teachers to constant public scrutiny.

Because Japanese culture views the school as a moral community and a basic training ground for becoming a good citizen, teachers have broad responsibility for moral education and character development and for instilling fundamental Japanese values, attitudes, and "living habits" in students at all levels. These responsibilities are equal in importance to the academic roles of developing student motivation and helping students meet the high academic standards required for success in secondary school and university entrance examinations.

Teachers are expected to infuse cultural values throughout school activities and to be concerned about students' lives both in and out of school. Their efforts and influence often extend into the home and the community.

Long an attractive profession in status terms, the appeal of teaching as a career has heightened further during the past decade because of a substantial increase in remuneration. The average salary of teachers is now higher than that of other public employees and compares favorably with salaries of other professionals in the private sector.

The salary increase, coupled with the depressing effects of the 1973 oil crisis on industrial employment, led to a dramatic rise in applicants for teaching positions. The total number of applicants taking prefectural appointment examinations nearly doubled between 1974 and 1975 (from 128,000 to 245,000) although the number of positions increased only 13.5 percent. The number competing for teaching positions reached its peak in 1979 and has declined since to the present level of about 200,000.

Competition for entry into the profession continues to be intense. The 200,000 applicants now vie annually for approximately 38,000 vacancies in the public school system.

Composition and qualifications of teaching force

In 1984, Japan's school system was staffed by approximately 1,000,000 full-time teachers at the elementary and secondary levels. In addition, about 99,000 teachers served in preschools under the Ministry of Education, about 38,000 in schools for the blind, deaf and otherwise handicapped, a total of about 50,000 in technical colleges, special training schools and miscellaneous schools, and another 128,000 in universities and junior colleges Table 6.

Teaching is one of the few lifetime professional career opportunities readily available to women in Japan. The percentages of women full-time teachers in each type of institution are:

All institutions
Elementary schools
Lower secondary schools
Upper secondary schools
Schools for the handicapped
Technical colleges
Special training schools
Miscellaneous schools
Junior colleges



Ninety percent of all new teachers now have 4-year college degrees, with most having majored in fields other than education. In 1985, more than 37 percent of the available positions in the nation's public schools were filled by applicants having bachelor's degrees from colleges of education while more than 53 percent were filled by applicants with a baccalaureate from other types of colleges. About 6 percent were filled by junior college graduates and the remaining 3 percent by master's degree holders.

While most new teachers in recent years have had at least 4 years of university work, there are still substantial numbers of older Japanese teachers with less than a baccalaureate degree, as a recent study indicates:

In 1983-84. . . approximately 41 percent of elementary school teachers, 24 percent of lower secondary teachers, and 11 percent of upper secondary teachers had not earned bachelor's degrees. . In contrast, 99.6 percent of all U.S. teachers, as of 1980-81, had at least a bachelor's degree . . . In the same year, 56 percent of U. S. high school teachers, 47 percent of middle school and junior high school teachers, and 45 percent of elementary teachers held at least a master's degree whereas the corresponding percentages in Japan in 1983-84 were only 4.9 percent, 1.1 percent, and 0.3 percent, respectively. [1]

The Japanese elementary and secondary teaching force is more experienced than its American counterpart. In 1983-84, the average number of years of experience of Japanese elementary and lower secondary teachers was 16.8 and that of upper secondary teachers 17.5, compared with an average of 13 years for American elementary and secondary teachers in 1981 (the last year for which such data are available). Moreover, in 1980-81 more than 40 percent of the teachers in Japan had been teaching at least 20 years, compared with 22 percent in the United States.

Preservice education

After World War II, the Japanese Education Reform Committee, following recommendations of the United States Education Mission, incorporated teacher education into the university system. This strengthened its academic component and led to a broader education, including the liberal arts, in a program not directly controlled by the central government.

The Japanese term this approach the "open system," meaning that faculties or departments in universities other than colleges of education, and institutions without colleges of education, even junior colleges, can develop and offer teacher preparation programs. By 1979, about 84 percent of all colleges and universities and 84 percent of the junior colleges were helping prepare teachers. [2] The more than 800 institutions involved in teacher preparation now graduate nearly 175,000 students annually with teaching credentials. This figure represents approximately one-third of the total number of college and university graduates in Japan. [3]

There are currently 65 colleges of education, of which 58 are affiliated with national universities and 7 with private institutions. These colleges are primarily engaged in preparing elementary and lower secondary school teachers. They produce 31,000 graduates annually, almost 18 percent of all who leave higher education having met certification requirements for teaching.

In 1985, more than half the college of education graduates were employed as teachers (46 percent in the public schools and another 9 percent in private schools). However, most teachers received their preparation in other than colleges of education. The proportion of those hired who were not graduates of colleges of education increased with school level: they filled one-third of the openings at the elementary level, two-thirds at the lower secondary level, and nearly nine-tenths at the upper secondary level.

There are different legal requirements for certification to teach in preschool, elementary school, lower secondary school, and upper secondary school. For preschool, elementary, and lower secondary teachers, the basic qualification for a first class certificate is a bachelor's degree. The basic qualification for a second class certificate is 2 years of study (the acquisition of 62 credits) in a university or other postsecondary institution. For upper secondary school teachers, the basic qualification for a first class certificate is a master's degree. The qualification for a second class certificate is a bachelor's degree. The first class certificate is now the preferred credential at all levels.

In addition to the length of study and degree qualifications, prospective teachers must earn a prescribed number of credits in education studies and in the subjects to be taught. At the secondary level, a larger number of credits are required for certain subjects (including social studies and science) than for a second group of subjects (including Japanese, mathematics, and others). Table A shows the basic qualifications and the number of credits in professional education subjects and in teaching subjects required for first class and second class teaching certificates at each of the four school levels.

Table A. Requirements for Teaching Certificates*



Basic Qualification


Education Subjectsa


  First Class
  Second Class


  First Class
  Second Class


Lower secondary
  First Class
  Second Class


Upper secondary
  First Class
  Second Class

Bachelor's degree
2 years postsecondary
study, 62 credits


Bachelor's degree
2 years postsecondary
study, 62 credits


Bachelor's degree
2 years postsecondary
study, 62 credits


Master's degree
Bachelor's degree












40bor 32c
20bor 16c


62bor 52c
40bor 32c

*Actual requirements set by the training institutions themselves can be higher. The requirements of national colleges of education range from 124 credits (the total number normally earned in 4 years) to 159 credits. To obtain more than one teaching certificate, students usually take even more credits, averaging between 160 and 180 and exceeding 200 credits in extreme cases.

aIncluding 2 credits, equivalent to 2 weeks, for student teaching, in both secondary education programs and 4 credits, equivalent to 4 weeks, in the elementary program.

b To teach social studies, science, homemaking, industrial arts, and vocational education subjects.

c To teach Japanese, mathematics, music, art, physical education, health, English and religion, and to provide guidance and counseling.

A typical 4-year course for elementary and lower secondary school education majors in a national college of education includes the following credits:



Lower secondary

General education
  Social sciences
  Natural sciences
  Foreign languages
  Physical education
Teaching subject
Professional education studies
  (including social and
  philosophical foundations
  of education, psychology
  of education, child
  psychology, moral education,
  teaching methods,
  practice teaching)



a Minimum.

b Legally required number of credits.

c Legally required number is 32 for one group of subjects and 40 for the remaining group of subjects.

d Legally required number is 32.

e Legally required number is only 14, including 2 credits in practice teaching. National colleges of education require an average of 4-5 credits in practice teaching in the lower secondary education program.

Minimum requirements for student teaching are 4 weeks (4 credits) for the elementary program and 2 weeks (2 credits) for secondary. However, national colleges of education require students preparing to teach in lower secondary schools to have at least as much student teaching experience as those preparing to teach in elementary schools. Since 1954, certification requirements for work in the areas of academic specialization have increased while requirements in the professional education component have decreased.

Becoming employed as a teacher

While minimum requirements for teacher certification are determined by national law, prefectural boards of education may add requirements. A prospective teacher meets the formal academic requirements through successful completion of prescribed courses of study in a postsecondary institution. However, no matter how good one's academic record may have been, graduation from a university is not sufficient for appointment to a teaching position.

Most public school teachers are prefectural employees, even though three-fourths of them teach in municipal schools. Prefectures, therefore, play a significant role in the selection of teachers for employment. In addition to completing required university coursework, a prospective teacher must receive a license to teach from a prefectural board of education. Such a license is awarded on the basis of the prefectural board's review of the work the applicant has completed in higher education. A license awarded by any prefecture is valid in all prefectures. However, the applicant must also take prefectural appointment examinations which help ensure that all applicants compete on equal terms for any teaching vacancies.

Given the attraction of teaching as a career and the intense competition for positions, passing the prefectural appointment examinations has become a primary goal of aspiring teachers, one for which applicants work hard to prepare. The examinations are given in two stages. The first consists of written tests in general education and specialized fields and skill tests in such areas as physical education, music, and art. All applicants for lower secondary teaching jobs are required to take a test in physical fitness. The second stage consists of interviews.

Age is an important consideration. More than half of the prefectures require applicants to be under the age of 30. Only two prefectures have no age limit. This practice is more liberal than that of Japanese industry where, for white collar jobs and high level technical positions, large corporations typically recruit only new university graduates.

In 1985, graduates fresh from colleges and universities filled 59 percent of the new openings. The remaining 41 percent were filled by a combination of the previous year's graduates who had failed the appointment examination the first time around and applicants with work experience in other fields. The latter had earned appropriate credits in education during their university study but had initially chosen to work in other fields. Now they were switching to education.

With more than five applicants for every position, prefectural boards of education can select able individuals from a large and diversified pool. However, no suitable data base permits comparison of the intellectual and technical competence of teachers with those who enter other occupations.

Once applicants gain entry to the teaching profession, they are assured of lifetime employment. They are promoted essentially on the basis of seniority, as in all public sector and most major private corporation employment. The seniority concept is strongly entrenched in Japan. The idea of performance-based merit pay is not a live issue or feasible option. Partly because of the lifetime employment policy, all prefectural and municipal boards of education are very careful in selecting new teachers. Dismissals are extremely rare and normally occur only for unethical conduct.

Teachers are rotated from one school to another within the prefecture on various schedules. This contributes to equalization of faculty resources among the prefecture's public schools.

Inservice education

Need and types. Continuing education on the job reflects Japan's cultural commitment to self-improvement as well as a response to perceived weaknesses in preservice education. More than two-thirds of Japanese teachers who responded to a 1978 survey expressed the view that preservice teacher training was inadequate. [4] Prefectural and local boards of education are not wholly satisfied with preservice teacher preparation either, and the Ministry of Education has reservations as well. Hence, Monbusho requires first-year teachers to receive a minimum of 20 days of inservice training during that year.

Under the direction of the Ministry of Education and prefectural and municipal boards of education, inservice training is offered for public school teachers at all levels and at various career stages. It takes five forms in Japan:

Inschool training;
Informal inservice training carried out by teachers themselves in district-wide study groups;
Training given at the local (prefectural or municipal-equivalent) education center (see below);
Training given to principals, vice-principals, and curriculum consultants by the Ministry of Education at a national training center;
Two-year training given to a few hundred teachers annually at three nationally funded institutions established since 1978 for the purpose of providing graduate professional education for experienced teachers. These teachers are selected from all over the country.

The three graduate institutions--Hyogo, Joetsu, and Tokushima "education universities"--were created by Monbusho because university graduate schools in Japan traditionally concentrate on preparing researchers and few offer relevant advanced study for practicing teachers. Teachers who complete the special graduate education program receive a master's degree and return to the classroom. However, because of their small number of graduates, these three institutions have had only a limited impact upon the teaching profession to date.

One of the commendable characteristics of the teaching profession in Japan is the extent to which inservice education is teacher initiated and directed. Teacher organizations also sponsor training and research related activities.

Much of the 20 days of inservice training required of new teachers takes place in the schools where they teach and is carried out under the supervision of shido shuji, expert experienced teachers on leave of absence from their schools to serve as the functional equivalent of what American education would call a master teacher, curriculum consultant, or teaching supervisor. Teachers, including novices, also participate in citywide study group meetings organized to discuss a variety of concerns including teaching methods and curriculum. One common training method is for teachers to conduct demonstration classes before their colleagues and a shido shuji, followed by feedback sessions.

Education centers. A major source of inservice training is the local education center, which also provides counseling and guidance services and conducts some research. Each of the 47 prefectures and 10 large municipalities (with status comparable to a prefecture) has an education center.

The Hiroshima Municipal Education Center is typical. It is financed by the municipal board of education and staffed by 28 full-time specialists (including five administrators), most of them shido shuji, to serve teachers and administrators in its area. In 1985, the Hiroshima Center offered 159 separate training programs in 21 different categories. Its programs last 1 to 5 days and cover such categories as subject matter knowledge, pedagogy, school administration, educational technology, student guidance, and class management.

In addition to full-time shido shuji, the center training staff includes selected university professors and some community resource persons such as judges and industrial managers brought in as guest speakers. Japanese teachers and school administrators do not consider most university professors particularly useful in inservice training because of their relative unfamiliarity with classroom instruction and administrative practices. [5] For their part, education professors question the approach of using other teachers and administrators to retrain practitioners at the school level. This difference in perspective helps sustain the controversy--now so familiar to Americans--over the role of higher education, particularly colleges of education, in preservice and inservice teacher education.

Various segments of the teaching force are scheduled for training on a periodic basis. For example, all sixth-year teachers are supposed to spend 3 days at the center for refresher retraining in selected aspects of their work.

There is also a program at the Hiroshima Education Center for school administrators, with emphasis on new principals. Administrators are expected to undertake training for 4 to 8 days a year. A typical training session consists of lectures, discussion, and case studies.

The center also offers a 6-month program for six selected teachers who work full-time on special projects of their own choice, and a 3-month program for 22 teachers who are granted released time from their schools to work on their projects.

Related concerns. Prefectural boards of education urge teachers to use inservice training opportunities to master the holistic role of a teacher. The boards' concern reflects the abiding Japanese cultural view that schooling is not only a cognitive enterprise for the transmission of knowledge and acquisition of skills, but also a vital process for developing morality, character, and basic life attitudes and habits.

Generally, inservice training at education centers and individual schools is believed to be successful. In a recent survey, two-thirds of the teachers who participated in center programs for the first time considered the training useful. [6] It is interesting to note that in Japan, in contrast to the situation in the United States, institutions that provide preservice education have little involvement in the continuing education of teachers. Further, while the level of inservice activity is high, little of it carries college credit or culminates in a graduate degree.

Japan Teachers Union

No account of the teaching profession or postwar educational development in Japan would be complete without attention to the Japan Teachers Union (JTU), Nikkyoso in Japanese. The JTU is the dominant organization of educators (there are a number of smaller ones), the second largest public sector union, and a very influential member of Sohyo, the General Council of Japanese Trade Unions.

The JTU is a national federation of prefectural unions, each of which has considerable autonomy. The membership encompasses teachers and other education personnel at all levels, including college professors and clerical and support staff, in both public and private institutions. However, JTU's members are predominantly teachers in the public elementary and secondary schools. The membership has declined in recent years. In 1985 the number dropped below 50 percent of all public school teachers for the first time since the union was established in immediate postwar period. [7]

The JTU has been an active force in educational and political matters for almost 40 years. It has been at odds with Monbusho on most matters during virtually the entire period. The government has often been characterized as "conservative" and the union as "radical." Neither label is necessarily helpful in cross-cultural translation.

Shortly after the restoration of Japan's sovereignty in 1952, Japanese education underwent a kind of "counter reform." The national government regained much of its former power over the education system that had been curtailed by the Occupation. Nikkyoso, however, remained a strong proponent of many Occupation reform policies and thus was often in sharp conflict with the government. Some of the education issues about which Nikyoso continues to feel strongly include decentralization of control, school autonomy, freedom of teachers to write and chose textbooks, student centered education, greater teacher participation in decision making, and comprehensive high schools for all youths. The Ministry of Education has considerable interest in all these matters, but usually from a different perspective.

Fundamental philosophical differences between the government and the JTU transcend the education sector. The government views teachers as neutral professionals who perform a duty for the government, while the JTU regards teachers as workers and participants in broad political and economic struggles. The JTU interprets its relation to the government in labor- management terms and takes strong stands on many government policies, including sensitive domestic and international matters that have little or no relationship to education. [8]

JTU is well to the left on the Japanese political spectrum. Its leadership has strong links to the Socialist Party. Some leaders are members of the Japanese Communist Party. Thomas Rohlen provides this perspective on the situation:

The majority of teachers do appreciate the union: 1) for obtaining improved wages, benefits, and working conditions, and 2) for serving as a counterweight to right-wing influences and governmental authority. Even among those who find the union's politics offensive, there is general agreement with these points.... Most teachers are relatively liberal in their social opinions but rather conservative in their preference for orderly, smoothly run schools. [9]

In brief, there is a long history of conflict between JTU and the government, with many complex political ramifications not readily apparent or easily understood by those outside Japan. Many teachers have been simultaneously loyal to and skeptical of both JTU and the government. Nikkyoso continues to pursue its manifold interests in the current national debate on education reform.

Social and economic status

No recent survey adequately compares the prestige of the teaching profession to other professions and occupations. However, a 1975 Japanese study of social stratification and social mobility provides evidence on the situation at that time. It included relevant data on the prestige ranking of elementary and lower secondary school principals and elementary teachers [10]

According to the 1975 survey, elementary principals and teachers ranked 9th and 18th in public esteem, out of 82 occupations. Principals' prestige was higher than that of department heads of large corporations, public accountants, and authors. Elementary teachers enjoyed higher prestige than civil and mechanical engineers, white collar employees in large firms, and municipal department heads. University professors were ranked third, below court judges and presidents of large companies, but above physicians.

It would be interesting to see what changes would turn up if a similar study were conducted today. While the criticisms of the past decade might well lower the ranking of educators somewhat, teaching in Japan clearly remains a socially respected occupation and an attractive career. The continuing strong competition in prefectural examinations--more than five candidates, most of them not education majors, competing for every classroom opening--dramatizes the continuing allure of the profession.

To be sure, the economic status of Japanese teachers is comparatively high, and the monetary rewards provide a strong incentive to pursue a teaching career. Yet this is a relatively new situation. As recently as 1970, a teacher with 20 years of experience earned much less than did the average worker in the private sector. [11] But by 1984, the beginning salary of a Japanese high school teacher with a bachelor's degree was 15 percent higher than the starting salary of a white collar employee with an equivalent degree in a private company, and 12 percent higher than the starting salary of an engineer with a bachelor's degree. [12] First-year teacher salaries are generally higher than those of other professions such as businessmen, engineers, pharmacists, etc. At mid-career, their salaries are approximately equal. Beyond age 53, however, teacher salaries are again higher. The incentive to remain in the profession is strong because of the cumulative effect of seniority and generous retirement benefits. [13]

A teacher's total compensation is made up of a base salary specified in a schedule; a broad range of allowances, which are equivalent to almost one-fourth of the base salary; and an annual bonus equivalent to nearly 5 months' pay (about 41 percent of the base salary). The allowances include provision for dependents--as is true in the public service salary schedules of many countries. Other factors being equal, a married teacher with children receives a higher pay than a married teacher without children or an unmarried teacher.

The salary structure for public school teachers is established by the Japanese National Personnel Authority. While legally applicable only to national schools, in practice this structure provides the model on which salary structures of public schools throughout the country are based. Local deviations are minor and variance among prefectures rare. Within this structure, there is one set of salary schedules for teachers in elementary and lower secondary schools and another for teachers in upper secondary schools.

The base salary of a Japanese teacher depends heavily on seniority. While the Japanese salary schedule starts lower than the typical schedule in the United States, it continues to rise after the U.S. schedule levels off. Unlike the salaries of American teachers, which tend to reach their peak between the 10th and 15th years of service, salaries of Japanese teachers continue to increase with seniority for 39 years--throughout the teachers' careers. The salary ratio between a teacher at the top of the seniority scale and a beginning teacher with the same training is approximately 3 to 1.

Salary is initially affected by the teacher's degree and certificate level, but seniority counts more as years of service accumulate. The differential between salaries of teachers with a master's degree and those with a bachelor's degree is initially about 17 percent. The differential between salaries of teachers with a bachelor's degree and those with a 2-year degree is initially about 16 percent. In both cases, however, the differential diminishes to about 3 percent at the end of the professional career.

The following examples of annual salaries, allowances, and bonuses according to the 1985 schedule clearly illustrate the effect of seniority:

A newly employed unmarried 23-year-old teacher with no dependents:

2.5-2.9 million yen ($15,600-$18,100)

A 40-year-old head teacher with a spouse and two children:

5.3-5.8 million yen ($33,100-$36,200)

A 55-year-old principal with a spouse and no dependent children:

7.8-8.7 million yen ($48,800-$54,400)

To finance retirement benefits, teachers contribute 8.87 per cent of their salaries and their employers (national, prefectural, or municipal government) pay an additional 10.92 percent into a teacher retirement fund. Besides medical insurance and survivor annuities, the major retirement benefits consist of a lump sum cash payment and an annual pension:

Lump sum cash payment--All public employees are entitled to a lump sum cash payment upon retirement. A teacher retiring at age 60 would normally receive an amount larger than 2-years' salary.

Annual pension--Teachers and other education personnel are eligible for retirement at age 60. The pension is a percentage of the last year's total compensation based on the number of years of service. The basic formula is as follows:

Length of Service

20 years
25 years
30 years
35 years
40 years


Percent of Last Year's
Total Compensation

62 5

For example, a teacher or principal who retired at age 60 after 35 years of service would receive 62.5 percent of his total compensation as an annual pension in addition to a lump sum payment of approximately $153,000 at the time of retirement.

A study comparing teacher salaries in Japan and the United States, recently completed under contract for the U.S. Department of Education, reports these major findings:

The average salary of Japanese teachers and the average salary of American teachers were nearly equal in purchasing power in 1983-84. The former, converted into "equivalent dollars" on the basis of a purchasing-power-parity (PPP) exchange rate, was $20,775 and the latter $21,476. This near equality between the average Japanese adjusted dollar-equivalent salary and the average U.S. salary at that time is the result of two factors: 1) the steeper Japanese salary schedule, and 2) the heavier concentration of Japanese teachers in the highest seniority brackets where Japanese dollar-equivalent salaries are higher than dollar salaries in the United States.
The dollar equivalent salaries of Japanese teachers in their early years of teaching were below the salaries of their U.S. counterparts, but the salaries of senior Japanese teachers were substantially higher than those of their American counterparts. The shift in relative position occurs at about the 20th year of service.
The salaries of Japanese teachers were substantially higher than those of U. S. teachers when related to national indicators of per capita economic activity. The average teacher's salary in Japan was 2.4 times the per capita income, compared with 1.7 times per capita income in the United States. The average teacher in Japan could buy a significantly larger share of their country's goods and services than could the average teacher in the United States.
The ratios of the average teacher's salary to the average wage in manufacturing, to average salary in all nonagricultural activities, and to salaries in various other occupations, are all higher in Japan than in the United States. [14]

Caution is required in using these comparisons because of the different conditions of employment in the two countries. The Japanese teacher works a longer school year than the American teacher. As a full-year employee, the Japanese teacher works when school is not in session and has shorter vacations than the American teacher. Teachers in Japan also have a wider range of functions than teachers in the United States. They assume many responsibilities that in the United States are borne by counselors and curriculum coordinators, for example. And they apparently spend more time meeting with parents.

Moreover, pupil-teacher ratios and class size are considerably larger in Japan than in the United States. For example, in 1982, the average elementary class in Japan had about 34 pupils and the average lower secondary class about 36. For the same year, in the United States, the National Education Association reports an average class size of 25 at the elementary level and 23 at the secondary level. [15] Home, Family, and Pre-Elementary Education

Back Next

Up to Top

Home Up Table 6

Contact Us

U.S. Dept. of Education Study