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Back to The Education of Non-Native Language Speaking Children

Executive Summary

The right of the children of illegal immigrants to education is recognized, and they can receive nine-years of public primary education for free. Children who do not understand Japanese are immersed into regular classes. To support such children, schools may have additional teachers who teach Japanese as a second language and tutors who explain subjects in foreign language.

Right to Education and Compulsory Education

The Constitution of Japan provides Japanese nationals with the equal right to receive education, and obligates Japanese people to ensure that all children under their protection receive primary education, which in Japan is defined as “ordinary education.”  Such compulsory education is free.[1]  The Basic Law on Education also obligates Japanese people to have all children under their protection receive primary education.[2]  The Constitution and the Basic Law on Education do not provide foreigners with the right to receive an education.  However, Japan ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in 1979.[3] The Covenant provides that “Primary education shall be compulsory and available free to ‘all’ (emphasis added by the author).”[4]  Also, the Convention on The Rights of The Child, which Japan ratified, provides that “States Parties recognize the right of the child to education, and … they shall, in particular: (a) Make primary education compulsory and available free to ‘all’…. (Emphasis added by the author).”[5] The Constitution of Japan provides, “The treaties concluded by Japan and established laws of nations shall be faithfully observed.”[6]  Therefore, foreign nationals, as well as Japanese nationals, have a right to education, and children of foreign nationalities who live in Japan can attend public schools in Japan for free.  The School Education Law provides that children’s guardians must have the children receive nine-years of primary education.[7]There is no distinction whether or not guardians or children are Japanese nationals or not. 

There may, however, in fact be difficulties preventing illegal immigrant children from attending public schools.  An education committee of a municipal government prepares a list of school-age children in its jurisdiction.[8]  The list is made based on the resident registration record.[9] The resident registration that is maintained at the municipal government is for Japanese nationals.  Foreigners who stay in Japan more than ninety days must apply for alien registration at the municipal government office.[10]  Children who have alien registration records are accepted by public schools.  Many municipal governments accept alien children even where the children are not registered, but are able to prove their identities and residences.  Some municipal governments do not accept alien children without registration for public schools.[11]  Illegal immigrants usually avoid alien registration because of fear that the authority would try to deport them when the authority recognizes the existence of them, although municipalities do not tend to report existence of illegal aliens voluntarily.[12]  Japanese children who do not have resident registration (while such a situation is very rare, it can happen) would have the same problem.[13]

Language Issues

Children who do not understand Japanese are immersed into regular classes.  To support such children, schools may have additional teachers who can teach Japanese as a second language[14] and tutors who are able to explain subjects in foreign languages.[15]  In the 2008 fiscal year, 985 teachers were placed to teach children Japanese as a second language.[16]  Recently, the national government developed JSL (Japanese as a Second Language) curriculums for students who do not understand Japanese.  The National Center for Teachers’ Development provides trainings for teachers who teach Japanese to foreign students.[17


Prepared by Sayuri Umeda, Senior Foreign Law Specialist

April 2009

  1. Nihonkoku Kenpō [Constitution of Japan], 1946, art. 26.  The English translation of the Constitution that is posted at Prime Minister and his Cabinet’s website uses the word “people,” instead of “nationals” at http://www (external link) (last visited Apr. 8, 2009).  The direct translation of the word in the original language is “nationals.”  [Back to Text]
  2. Kyōiku kihon hō [Basic Law on Education], Law No. 120 of 2006, art. 5, para. 1. [Back to Text]
  3. International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, opened for signature Dec. 16, 1966, 993 U.N.T.S. 3 (entered into force Jan. 3, 1976), Treaty No. 6 of 1979 (Japan), available at (external link). [Back to Text]
  4. Id. art. 13, para. 2 (a). [Back to Text]
  5. Convention on The Rights of The Child, Nov. 20, 1989, 1577 U.N.T.S 3, Treaty No. 2 of 1994 (Japan), art. 28, para. 1, available at (external link). [Back to Text]
  6. Kenpō, 1946, art.  98, para, 2. [Back to Text]
  7. Gakkō kyōiku hō [School Education Law], Law No. 26 of 1947, last amended by Law No. 96 of 2007, art. 16. [Back to Text]
  8. Gakkō kyōiku hō sekō rei [School Education Law Enforcement Order], Order No. 340 of 1953, last amended by Order No. 363 of 2007, art. 1, para. 1.  [Back to Text]
  9. Id. art. 1, para. 2. [Back to Text]
  10. Gaikokujin tōroku hō [Alien Registration Law], Law No. 126 of 1952, last amended by Law No. 134 of 1999, art. 3, para. 1. [Back to Text]
  11. Mitsunobu Kan-no and Setsu Imamura, Oya wa huhō taizai, gaikokujin tōroku naku [Parents illegally stay, no foreigner registration…], Tokyo Newspaper, Jan. 28, 2006 (on file with author). [Back to Text]
  12. Id. [Back to Text]
  13. In the case that a child’s resident registration was refused by a municipal government because the parents refused to follow the birth registration procedure for their child, and the child’s birth had not been registered, the demerits of not having resident registration were examined.  Such child may be admitted to public schools and receive welfare ultimately, but the residence and identity need to be proved every time a child or the child’s parent/guardians are addressing the public authority, and it may not be easy sometimes.  Heisei 18 (Gyo u) 309, Tokyo Dist. Ct., available at (external link). [Back to Text]
  14. Kōritsu gimu kyōiku sho gakkō no gakkyū hensei oyobi kyōshokuin teisuu no hyōjun ni kansuru hōritsu [Law Concerning Forming Classes and Standard Numbers of Teachers and Stuffs at Public Schools], Law No. 116 of 1958, last amended by Law No. 73 of 2008, art. 7, para. 2.  This provision allows a school to have extra number of teachers for special instruction for a small group of children.  The national government pays a part of the costs. [Back to Text]
  15. Tutors are place in pilot programs that municipal government planned and the national government financially supported.  For example, Ohta City Education Committee, Heisei 19 nendo kikoku·gaikokujin jidō seito ukeire sokushin jigyō ni kakaru hōkokusho no gaiyō [Summary of the report on programs to facilitate settlement of Japanese students returned from foreign countries and foreign students in 2007 fiscal year], Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology [MEXT], available at (external link). [Back to Text]
  16. Shotō chūtō kyōiku ni okeru gaikokujin jidō seito kyōiku no jūjitsu no tame no kentō kai [Discussion group for fulfillment of foreign pupil and student education at elementary and middle schools], gaikokujin jidō seito kyōiku no jūjitsu hōsaku ni tsuite [Regarding measures to fulfill foreign pupil and student education], IV (June 2008), available at (external link). [Back to Text]
  17. Id.  The National Center for Teachers’ Development has a website at (external link). [Back to Text]

Last Updated: 06/06/2015