A national survey of education expenses shows that the average total cost of enrolment and tuition for a four-year course at a Japanese university is more than Pounds 15,000.
Accommodation, travel and other living expenses over a four-year period amounts to an additional Pounds 30,000 for students living and studying away from home. Parents also have to pay for the after-school tuition that most high school students need to prepare for their university entrance exams.
More than half of Japan's high-school students attend crammers for an average of five years at a typical cost of about Pounds 800 per year.
"The cost of getting a student through a four-year university course is over Pounds 45,000," says Minoru Takahashi, father of two undergraduates at university in Tokyo. "Higher education expenses consume more than a quarter of our family income."
Despite the costs, the number of students taking up higher education remains high with 2.6 million students enrolled in universities and junior colleges. Hundreds of thousands of other students are studying at technical colleges and a variety of specialised training schools.
Some 75 per cent of university and college students attend private institutions where annual tuition fees are more than double the fees charged by the state-run universities.
At top private universities fees can rise to Pounds 20,000 a year for specialised courses such as medicine and dentistry. Although a variety of grants, bursaries and loans provide financial help for students from low-income families, parents as a whole bear more than 80 per cent of the cost of their children's higher education.
The loan system offers students up to Pounds 250 a month to help them pay for their higher education. No interest is charged on loans during the period of higher education and then a 3 per cent annual interest charge is levied after graduation. About 300,000 university and college students took advantage of the system last year.
Many parents make early preparations to pay for their children's higher education. Banks and other financial institutions offer a variety of long-term savings schemes to help families save for what is considered an essential family expense. Many students have part-time jobs to supplement the funds they receive from their parents.
One of the criticisms made of Japanese higher education is that too many undergraduates are having to devote more time to their part-time jobs than to their studies. The recent recession, meanwhile, has made students more conscious of the financial aspects of their higher education and the excessive student spending of the boomu years of the late 1980s and early 1990s has largely disappeared.
A university degree is still viewed as a crucial prerequisite for a well-paid career with a leading employer. Annual salaries paid to graduates taking up new posts in April last year averaged Pounds 14,000.