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Japan, officially the State of Japan, is a large island country located in East Asia, with a total land area of nearly 146,000 square miles.  Situated in the Pacific Ocean, the country is located to the east of China, North Korea, South Korea, the Sea of Japan and Russia, and stretches from the Okhotsk in the north to Taiwan and the East China Sea in the south.  Japan is made up of 6,582 islands, the largest of which are Honshu, Hokkaido, Kyushu, and Shikoku.  Together these islands account for ninety-seven percent of Japans total land area. Japans distinctive flag contains characters meaning "sun origin,” which is why the country is often referred to as the Land of the Rising Sun.  The capital and largest city in Japan is Tokyo.

Japan has a permanent population of 127.3 million and a society that is very ethnically, culturally and linguistically diverse.  Ethnic Japanese account for ninety-eight percent of the population, with the remainder having mostly Korean, Chinese and Filipino heritage.  There are also nearly 134,000 non-Latin American westerners in the country, and over 340,000 Latin Americans, mostly Brazilians who are Japanese descendants.

Linguistically, more than 99 percent of the population speaks Japanese as their first language.  English, which is taught in the majority of Japanese schools, is also a popular language, spoken fluently by many Japanese residents as a second language.  Between eighty and ninety five percent of the population practices either Buddhism or Shinto, both of which are of great importance to the Japanese people and the values they hold dear.  Other faiths, including Christianity, Taoism and Confucianism are practiced by much smaller minority groups in the country.

Education in Japan

Education in Japan is overseen by the national government and administered at the state level.  Considered one of the best systems in the world, education in Japan is free and compulsory for nine years, serving children between the ages of six and fifteen. The system itself is divided between five levels: preschool/kindergarten, primary or elementary education, middle school, high school and higher education.

Preschool, or kindergarten, is offered in Japan for students between the ages of 4 and 5.  At this stage, students learn important pre-reading and pre-writing skills, but perhaps even more important are the socialization skills they gain, as they learn how to work and play cooperatively with their peers.

Primary and middle school are the only compulsory levels of education in Japan, spanning six and three years respectively, for students ages 6-15.  These schools are very comprehensive and teach a broad academic curriculum which includes subjects such as mathematics, science, Japanese language arts, history, geography, movement, art and music.

Upper secondary education in Japan is not compulsory, but the overwhelming majority of students (92%) do attend. Education is provided by Japanese high schools and is divided between general or academic education and vocational education, giving Japanese students a choice in terms of their educational future. General high schools provide instruction in advanced academic subjects, a university preparatory track that helps prepare students for university admission.  The vocational programs, on the other hand, train students in careers important to the Japanese economy.

Higher education in Japan is provided by universities and colleges and the system is considered among the best in the world, with several universities placing very high in global rankings.  Students can earn undergraduate, graduate and post-graduate degrees in almost every major and minor academic field, and many Japanese graduates have gone on to become world leaders in fields such as medicine, technology, engineering and business.
The literacy rate in Japan is just a shade under 100 percent, one of the best in the world.

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