Last month the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development released statistics from 2009 related to the cost of education in 31 developed countries. For the third year in a row, Japan was the lowest in terms of portion of GDP spent on education and schools: 3.6 percent, which, while being 0.3 percentage points higher than in 2008, is still much less than the average, 5.4 percent. (Denmark, for the record, spends the most: 7.5 percent.) Not surprisingly, Japanese families spend more for college than anyone else in the world, and in terms of how much of the money spent on education was from private individuals, Japan ranked third at 31.9 percent (after Chile and South Korea). The world average is 16 percent.
In addition, the Ministry of Internal Affairs reports that in 2010, the year the ruling Democratic Party of Japan did away with tuition for public high schools, the average family with a full-time salaried head of household still spent 5.7 percent more for education than it did the year before. In the same class of households that had high school or college students, the increase was 9 percent.
On average, a household spent ¥1.91 million a year on education, down ¥700,000 from the previous year probably owing to the tuition break. That’s about 37.7 percent of the average family’s yearly income, and the poorer the family, the greater the burden: for families that earn ¥2 to ¥4 million a year, the portion spent on school is 57.5 percent. And if you wonder where all this money goes, don’t blame teachers, whose average salary over the past ten years has decreased by 9 percent.
It also doesn’t seem to be going to school infrastructure. The education ministry says that 60 percent of all public elementary and junior high schools in Japan are at least 30 years old and have never been renovated. In major cities such as Tokyo and Osaka, the portion is 70 percent. The part of the physical plant that tends to show its age the most are the restrooms. In fact, Japanese public school lavatories are infamous, as evidenced by all the J-horror movies that take place in them. Invariably they are described with “the 3 Ks” — kusai (smelly), kitanai (dirty), kurai (dark).