"You got to go through hell before you get to heaven," Steve Miller sang in 1977. While few young people going through the system in Japan are likely to call high school "paradise," parents of a certain age with children trying to get into a public high school here might find this lyric running through their heads right about now.

Foreign parents especially could be in for a surprise if they decide to send their child to a public high school in Japan. Getting into a good school is no simple matter, and folks who almost seamlessly transitioned from the local junior high back home to the high school down the road can expect a much different experience for their child here.

While some foreign parents choose international schools (see "International education a triple-A investment in your child's — and Japan's — future") or decide to send their kids to their home countries ("Parents of mixed kids look abroad for high schools"), for many others, Japanese public high schools are the best or only option.