In Japan, six years of elementary school are compulsory for children aged between 6 and 12. Public elementary schools accept children coming from the neighborhood area specified by the local government. Education in elementary schools is conducted in accordance with the Course of Study for elementary schools. In elementary schools, homeroom teachers are supposed to teach all the subjects, but some subjects, including science, music, arts and crafts, and homemaking, are sometimes taught by teachers specialized in the fields (MEXT, 2005).
Although English had been taught in some public elementary schools as a part of club activities or extracurricular study since the 1970s or 1980s, a full-fledged discussion of introducing English into the regular curriculum in elementary schools began only in the 1990s (Matsukawa, 2004:18). According to Matsukawa, many public elementary schools started to teach English when the Course of Study for Elementary Schools revised in 1998 came into effect in 2002. At that time, those public elementary schools taught English to children only as a part of a general study course (総合的な学習時間)—a course in which each school could provide a unique, cross-sectional and general program based on students’ needs (MEXT, 2003). English education at that time was conducted in the framework of an “international understanding” program within a general study course.
A major change in English education in elementary schools occurred when the revised Course of Study for Elementary Schools: Foreign Language Activities (小学校学習指導要領: 外国語活動) was announced in 2008 and came into effect in 2011. This Course of Study stipulates that foreign language activities are compulsory for children in the fifth and sixth grades. Since then, many public elementary schools have taught English as foreign language activities.
The current Course of Study for Elementary Schools: Foreign Language Activities (小学校学習指導要領: 外国語活動) specifies that the objectives of foreign language activities in elementary schools are “[t]o form the foundation of pupils’ communication abilities through foreign languages while developing the understanding of languages and cultures through various experiences, fostering a positive attitude toward communication, and familiarizing pupils with the sounds and basic expressions of foreign languages.” For more details, see the Course of Study for Elementary Schools: Foreign Language Activities (小学校学習指導要領: 外国語活動).
Matsukawa, Reiko (2004). Shōgakkō eigo kyōiku no genzai kara kangaeru (Standing in the present status of English education in elementary schools). In Yukio Ōtsu (Ed.) Shōgakkō deno eigo kyōiku wa hitsuyō ka (Is English education in elementary schools necessary?). Keiō Gijuku Daigaku Shuppankai. △ 松川禮子「小学校英語教育の現在から考える」大津由紀雄（編）『小学校での英語敎育は必要か』、慶応義塾大学出版会、2004年。(WorldCat)
Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology [MEXT] (2003) The Regulations of the Course of Study for a general course. (J) △ 文部科学省『「総合的な学習の時間」に関する学習指導要領の規定』(MEXT Website)
Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology [MEXT] (2005) SY 2005 investigation results on education curricula and implementation status in elementary schools and junior-high schools. (J) △ 文部科学省 『平成17年度公立小・中学校における教育課程の 編成・実施状況調査の結果について』 (MEXT Website)