Considering studying in Japan? Read our guide to find out everything you need to know about Japanese universities and student life, and what steps to take next.
Known for making things smaller, faster and first, Japan was until recently the second-largest economy in the world (it’s now third, behind the US and China). Its economic strength is at least partly due to the strong research and development industry that underlies successful international brands such as Nissan, Toyota, Panasonic, Canon and Sony – as well as producing robots for every need imaginable. Unsurprisingly, an excellent higher education system lies behind all this innovation.
Click on the tabs below for information about top universities in Japan, student cities, applications, costs and more.
If you fancy studying in Japan, the homeland of the bullet train, Nintendo Wii, instant noodles in a pot and of course karaoke, you’ll be pleased to know Japan wants you too.
The government is keen to attract more international students, and has set a target of having 300,000 foreign students in the country by 2020 (it reached the 100,000 mark in 2003). As a result, universities are focusing on making life easier for foreign students, from the application process all the way through to finding a job after graduation.
One thing that will certainly help to attract international students is the introduction of more courses taught partly or entirely in English. Other schemes to attract more overseas students include:
Aware that living and studying in Japan is expensive compared to many countries, the government has also introduced additional financial support for foreign students. Various university scholarships and grants are available through the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) and the Japan Student Services Organization (JASSO).
There are approximately 780 universities in Japan, of which about 80% are private. There are also specialized schools and colleges that provide more vocational types of degree.
The nation’s strongest global ranking is currently claimed by the University of Tokyo, which ranks 34th in the QS World University Rankings® 2016/17, up five places from the previous year. Close behind are Kyoto University (joint 37th) and Tokyo Institute of Technology (56th), with a further 36 Japanese universities ranked among the world’s best.
The University of Tokyo, or ‘Todai’, overtakes Kyoto University in 2016 as Japan’s highest entrant in the overall world rankings, and has a very strong global reputation across a wide range of disciplines. Featured in 38 out of 42 subjects in the QS World University Rankings by Subject 2016, the University of Tokyo performs very well, ranked among the global top 100 for every one of these subjects. Most impressively, it appears in the world's top 10 for modern languages, physics and astronomy, chemistry, civil and structural engineering, and the new mining engineering ranking.
Based in Japan’s old capital city of Kyoto, Kyoto University is the second highest ranked university in the country, up one place to rank joint 37th. It also has a strong presence in the QS World University Rankings by Subject, featuring among the world’s best in 33 of the 42 subjects covered in 2016. Of these, it ranks within the world's top 50 for 18 subjects, including biological sciences, several branches of engineering, materials sciences, modern languages and physics & astronomy.
Located in the second most populous city in Japan, Osaka University, also known as 'Handai', is ranked joint 63rd in the latest QS World University Rankings. It holds a strong reputation across a number of research fields, featuring among the world’s best for 23 subjects in the QS World University Rankings by Subject 2016, featuring in the global top 50 for chemistry, biological sciences, chemical engineering, physics and astronomy, dentistry and materials sciences.
Mention Tokyo and most people probably picture neon signs, congested traffic and, well, more neon signs.
But there’s more to Japan’s capital than bright lights – though it certainly has lots of those. Away from the main highways and the non-stop turnover of new gadgets in Akihabara (‘electric town’), there are more tranquil pleasures to be enjoyed: shrines and temples, traditional gardens and teahouses, noodle bars and fresh sushi.
There are also hundreds of colleges and universities in Tokyo, including Japan’s highest ranked institution, the University of Tokyo, currently 34th in the QS World University Rankings. The city is also home to Tokyo Institute of Technology, Japan’s third highest-ranked university at 56th.
Despite being ranked among the world's most expensive cities in the annual Mercer Cost of Living Survey, Tokyo does not have to be ridiculously bank-breaking. That is, as long as you avoid using taxis, eating out at Aragawa (one of the world’s priciest restaurants) or spending too much time in the famous game arcades.
Now known as Japan’s cultural capital, Kyoto was in fact the political capital for more than 1,000 years, up to 1868. Home to 17 UNESCO World Heritage sites, Kyoto is top of the list for many students looking to explore Japan’s rich history – but that’s not to stay it’s stuck in the past. Today, the city’s historical sites are surrounded by thriving industry and business, as well as a year-round program of festivals and cultural events.
Kyoto University is Japan’s second-oldest university, and its second-highest ranked, at joint 37th in the current QS World University Rankings. Kyoto Institute of Technology is also highly esteemed, and there are more than 30 colleges and universities in Kyoto to choose from in all. But even if you don’t pick a university in Kyoto, it’s still definitely a must-see place during your time in Japan.
As far back as historical records go, Osaka has been a place of meetings and exchanges – an international gateway for trade, politics and knowledge. Today, Osaka remains a key economic and cultural hub, with a large and diverse population and an economy bigger than some entire countries. ‘Cultural capital’ Kyoto is only about 40km away, but Osaka itself is not short on art exhibitions, live music or drama, as well as being known for its excellent and varied cuisine. Universities in Osaka also hold their own, with Osaka University ranked joint 63rd in the QS World University Rankings.
Rather than submitting a GPA (grade point average) or other assessment grades, students applying to universities in Japan are required to take entrance examinations. The ‘Examination for Japanese University Admission for International Students (EJU)’ is the standardized test for foreign students, designed to test basic academic skill in areas of science, mathematics and ‘Japan and the world’. Some 95% of national universities, 65% of public universities and 44% of private institutions require the EJU for entrance.
Many universities also require incoming students to take an additional examination. Although the EJU can be completed at test centers across Asia, prospective students must often travel to Japan to take these institution-specific tests. Fees for the tests range between ¥6,960 and ¥12,920 (US$57-$107) and test-takers have just one chance to pass each academic year.
In addition to the entrance examinations, applicants are likely to be asked to provide a completed application form, academic transcripts, proof of sufficient finances to cover tuition fees, academic references, a valid passport and a couple of passport-sized photographs.
International students intending to study for more than three months in Japan will need to apply for a student visa. To do this, you should first obtain a Certificate of Eligibility, which will be applied for on your behalf by the Japanese institution you have been accepted by. Once this has been issued, you will need to apply for your visa through your local Japanese embassy or consulate. As well as the original certificate of eligibility (and an additional photocopy), you will also need to provide a valid passport, a completed application form and a recent passport-sized photograph.
If you want to work in Japan while studying, you’ll need to obtain ‘Permission to Engage in Activity Other than that Permitted by the Status of Residence Previously Granted’, which you can apply for at an immigration bureau once you arrive in Japan. As a general rule, this permission will entitle you to work up to 28 hours a week during term-time and eight hours a day during official holiday periods.
Tuition fees in Japan, although some of the most expensive in Asia, still look very appealing in comparison to Western countries such as the UK or the US. Typically, you can expect to pay between ¥500,000 and ¥1,000,000 (US$4,140-8,280) annually – but don’t make the mistake of assuming the highest rates are charged by the highest-ranked institutions. For instance, Japan’s top two universities in the QS World University Rankings – the University of Tokyo and Osaka University – charge annual tuition fees of ¥535,800 per year (US$4,440) for most programs at undergraduate and master’s level, plus an additional ¥282,000 (US$2,330) for the ‘admission fee’. There is also an additional yearly charge of ¥17,000-¥30,000 (US$140-$250) for examination fees.
Average costs of living in Japan are ¥88,000 (US$740) per month. Tokyo, unsurprisingly, is the most expensive place to live in Japan. Here, the Japan Student Services Organization (JASSO) recommends a budget of approximately ¥103,000 (US$860) per month to cover rent, food, insurance, entertainment and other living costs.
Thanks to Japan’s ambitious reforms, international students now have more opportunities to gain funding than ever before. With the percentage of international students remaining well below the targets laid out by the CIEE, there are a range of government scholarships, grants and loan schemes open to outstanding international applicants. The Japanese Government (Monbukagakusho) Scholarship is one such scheme, for which students will need a recommendation from their university or local Japanese embassy. Another government initiative is the Global 30 Project, which not only provides students with more options to study in English, but also offers financial support and visa advice.
For more information on gaining funding, check out the information provided on JASSO’s Gateway to Study in Japan website or search the online scholarship database provided by Japan Study Support (JPSS). Alternatively, contact the admissions department of your chosen university, or your local Japanese embassy or consulate.