When Mio Honzawa starts fifth grade next April, her textbooks will be thicker.

Alarmed that children here are falling behind the kids in rivals such as South Korea and Hong Kong, the education ministry is adding about 1,200 pages to elementary school textbooks, bringing the total across all subjects for six years from 4,900 pages today to nearly 6,100.

In a move that has divided educators and experts, the ministry is going back to basics after a 10-year experiment in "pressure-free education," which encouraged more application of knowledge and less rote memorization.