Tokyoites have been subject to the same national education system as the rest of Japan since the Meiji period, when elementary schooling was made compulsory for children beginning at the age of eight. Further reformed after World War II, the system has produced one of the world's most literate and educated populations. While private elementary and secondary schools exist, virtually all Japanese are educated in public schools.

The central aim of primary and secondary education in Japan is to win entry into the country's most exclusive universities. Entrance examinations are tough, and about two million prospective students sit for the exams each year in Tokyo between January and March.

Tokyo boasts the world's highest concentration of institutions of higher learning with over 100 universities and colleges, about a quarter of Japan's total. One-third of Japan's university students are enrolled in Tokyo schools. Tokyo University, founded in 1877, is the nation's most prestigious, but it is joined by other top-ranking schools such as Keio-Gijuku University (established in 1867), Rikkyo University (1883), Waseda University (1882), and Tokyo Women's College (1900). The high concentration of such schools in Tokyo does present some difficulties, as Tokyo's Metropolitan Board of Education has restricted the schools' expansion to curb overcrowding in the city and encouraged them instead to locate additional facilities in outlying areas.