Whenever I see Japanese school years translated to English, either in vocab lists or in manga/anime translations, it's always with reference to the US school system (i.e. n'th grade). As I'm not American, that makes no more sense to me than the original Japanese. How old are the children in a 小学校, a 中学校, a 高校 (and any other kinds of school I've missed), and how are the years named/numbered in each?

In short, if a schoolchild tells me they're in such-and-such a year of such-and-such school, what does that mean? (Or conversely, if I want to describe my school year in Japanese, which type of school do I say?)

Any other information that would help to describe the differences, such as which years have big exams, would be a useful part of the answer.

  • 1
    I feel like this is barely on-topic. You might want to reword it somehow to focus on the language more than the cultural aspect. Particularly, the last sentence about important exams is not about the language.
    – istrasci
    May 2, 2014 at 14:32
  • @itrasci I know the last bit is closer to being cultural, and I considered leaving it out completely, but I think it can be a crucial part of the subtext: if an English schoolchild tells me they're very busy because they're "in year 11", I understand that it's because they have national exams that year. I'd like to have that same understanding for a Japanese schoolchild.
    – Dan Hulme
    May 2, 2014 at 14:49
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    This question appears to be off-topic because it is about the Japanese school system
    – ssb
    May 2, 2014 at 15:19

1 Answer 1


小学校{しょうがっこう} is from about ages 6-12, 中学校{ちゅうがっこう} 13-15, and 高校{こうこう} is about 16-18 years of age. As far as examinations the important ones are usually in the last years of their respective schools for entry into a school of their choosing (受験{じゅけん}). The school year is usually trimestered with examinations at the end of each (期末試験{きまつしけん}).

Edit: Additionally, the school year begins in the spring, not the fall like a lot of western countries.

  • This makes me doubt something, so could you clarify? Is there a nursery-school-like that comes before 小学校, which I've missed from my list? I've updated my question.
    – Dan Hulme
    May 2, 2014 at 14:29
  • What you're thinking of is youchien (幼稚園) which does come before 小学校, but I don't think it's necessarily mandatory.
    – Gary
    May 2, 2014 at 14:52
  • OK, that would be a very close equivalent to "nursery school" or "pre-school", and literally similar to "kindergarten", at least in the original German sense. Cool!
    – Dan Hulme
    May 2, 2014 at 14:55
  • [幼稚園]{よう・ち・えん} is "kindergarten". "Nursery school" is [保育園]{ほ・いく・えん}. Not sure how they're really different other than the latter might just be "giant baby-sitting business" whereas the former might actually focus on early childhood education.
    – istrasci
    May 2, 2014 at 21:37

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