After School
Parents' Role

The family plays a crucial role in forming Japanese students’ attitudes toward schooling and academics.  Specifically, in the Japanese culture, mothers are expected to play a central role in supporting their children’s education.  They are often referred to as kyoiku mamas, or “education mothers”, because of their superhuman efforts to insure that their children will come out winners in the cut-throat competition that characterizes the country’s exam-based educational system. 

Before the child ever enters his or her first year of school, the mother is charged with making sure her child thrives in the school system.  Her commitment to furthering the education of the child can include everything from pouring tea for the studying child to consulting with teachers.  With regards to the junior high school student, the mother may investigate the range of schools, tutors and jukus available, and bone up on subjects in which her child is deficient.  Evidently, in Japan, if a child fails or does poorly, the mother carries the burden of blame.  It is not unusual for the mother to curtail or cancel social involvements in the two years leading up to the high school entrance exams.  If the mother happens to work, she will even quit her job to stay at home making lunches, fixing school uniforms, and preparing material for the next day at school.  

It has been, and continues to be, a cultural expectation that a Japanese mother commit to her children as home educator and mentor.  Needless to say, behind every successful Japanese student is a goal-oriented mother who has coached, prodded, tutored, supported and guided her youngster through the many hurdles of the educational system.

Have you ever heard of “examination hell” (juken jigoku) that young Japanese students go through just to get into high school?  By far, the primary goal in junior high is preparation to take a difficult test to get into high school.  Japanese students can go to any high school they wish in the prefecture (county), but they must be able to pass the test to get into the high school.  Since there are high schools that have high cut-off points and are more prestigious than others, students have to weigh their chances of getting into the high school of their choice. If the student does not meet that cut off on the test, he or she could be left without a school to attend since it is not a requirement in Japan.  Because passing such tests significantly influences how students may spend the rest of their lives, they often decide to attend a juku school (Japanese “cram school”) in addition to their regular school. 

A juku school provides extra tutoring to public school children to help them get into a good high school.  These private schools range from major franchises throughout the country to small “mom and pop” operations conducted in private homes.  There are different kinds of jukus because there are not enough students for each juku school, so each juku school tries to identify its specialty.  But basically, 60% of junior high school students enroll in courses specifically designed to improve their scores on practice tests and the entrance exams. 

For many of these students, attending juku takes precedence over other activities.  If a junior high school student has a conflict of time between juku and an afterschool club, he or she will leave the club early.  The student may go two to three times a week, about two hours each night.  Since regular school finishes between 3:30-4:00 p.m. and the juku lessons begin after 5:00 p.m, students have a snack after school and their dinner after juku, or sometimes they take bento (a box meal) with them to the juku. As soon as junior high school is over for the summer holidays, around July 20th, the third year students (9th graders) begin to go to juku full-time. 

Besides attending the jukus, students in junior high also have another alternative to do their benkyo (studying).  Schools organize extra classes (hoshu) after school or over the holidays that are directed at preparing for the exams.  Students may also take on juku benkyo (exam preparation) by buying whatever practice books and pamphlets are available in bookstores.


Examination Hell

Education Mother


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