The education ministry has asked all 81 private and public medical schools to check their admission procedures for possible discrimination against female applicants.
Authorities said they would also check the gender ratio of successful applicants for the past six months, and confirmed it was the first ever such nationwide investigation.
“If their answers are judged as not reasonable, we will ask additional questions or visit them directly,” a ministry official said, adding that the results of the probe would be published as early as next month.
The investigation came after a Tokyo medical school admitted it routinely altered entrance test scores for female applicants to keep women out, in a scandal that has sparked outrage in Japan.
The alterations reportedly stretched back as far as 2006 and apparently aimed to keep the ratio of women in the school at 30 percent or lower.
“The case was extremely regrettable,” Education Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi told reporters, urging medical schools to co-operate with the probe.
The scandal was uncovered by investigators looking into claims the university padded the scores of an education ministry bureaucrat’s son to help him gain admission.
According to local media, other instances had been discovered where individual entrance test scores were revised upwards, suggesting potential favouritism.
The scores for female applicants, however, were lowered across the board.
Sources told local media the discrimination was the result of a view that women would not be reliable doctors after graduation.
“Women often quit after graduating and becoming a doctor, when they get married and have a child,” one source at the university told the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper when it broke the story last week.
In 2018, the ratio of women accepted to the medical school after the first round of tests was 14.5 percent, compared with 18.9 percent for men.
In the second and final test stage, just 2.9 percent of female applicants were admitted, compared with 8.8 percent of male applicants.
“No matter what the situation is, women should never be discriminated against unfairly,” Jiji Press cited Justice Minister Yoko Kamikawa as saying.
A group of female lawmakers and lawyers have demanded the university reveal test scores and compensate female students who did not get in because of the practice.
“People say female doctors tend to quit. That’s total nonsense,” said Mizuho Fukushima, a senior lawmaker of the opposition Social Democratic Party, who joined the group’s meeting on Friday.
“We have to get angry and change this no matter what.”
Japan’s notoriously long work hours and a male-dominated business culture force many women out of the workplace when they start families.
Only 20% of doctors in Japan are women, the lowest percentage among OECD countries, where an average 46% of doctors are women. On August 2, the French Embassy in Tokyo tweeted to invite Japanese students to study in France, where “women represented 64.1% of students in medical fields” up from 57.7% in 2000.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has made “womenomics” — or boosting women’s participation in the workplace and promoting women to senior positions — a priority, but the pace of progress has been slow.