For the past year, Tokyo sixth-grader Manami has had dinner at home an average of four times a week. The rest of the time she has had to make do with a juku-ben, a boxed dinner prepared by her mother and consumed between classes at juku, or cram school.

With a view to entering a private junior high school, Manami has been attending juku since the end of third grade, building up to three weekday evenings and most of Saturday from sixth grade. Three years of late nights, limited free time and piles of homework culminated in a round of entrance exams last month. Manami passed the test to attend her school of choice and can now finally relax and enjoy the remaining few weeks of elementary school with her friends.

The very mention of juku or its English equivalent, cram school, conjures up images of young heads being literally stuffed with facts and tired bodies hunched over desks, leaving many foreign parents shaking their heads and wondering why school isn't enough.