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While it’s not a cheap study destination, Japan’s global reputation for innovation along with a line-up of top-quality universities means graduates will be well-prepared for employment

The Japanese government has pledged to increase the number of foreign students enrolled in its universities to 300,000 by 2020 – in 2017, an annual survey by the Japan Student Services Organisation (JASSO) put the figure at 267,042.

Despite the fact only a small proportion of Japan’s 127 million inhabitants can communicate in English, more than 60 undergraduate courses were taught in English during the 2016/17 academic year. With growing international communities thriving in major cities such as Tokyo, you certainly won’t feel alone.

As a friendly, safe and welcoming Asian country that’s easy (and affordable) to travel around, students will enjoy the remarkable Japanese culture that seamlessly combines its ancient traditions with the technological advancements of a modern society.

Japanese higher education places a high importance on personal development, so you’ll get many opportunities to pick up new skills, including learning to speak Japanese while you’re studying.

The cost of studying and living in Japan may be higher than in the UK, but it’s an investment that’s likely to pay off – a qualification from a leading Japanese institution provides you with excellent job prospects.

Japanese universities

The vast majority (approximately 80%) of the 780 higher education institutions in Japan are private, accounting for around 70% of English-taught undergraduate programmes.

However, there are also specialist schools and technology colleges that typically deliver vocational qualifications. Public universities are typically held in the highest esteem by the Japanese people.

This is especially true of the prestigious National Seven Universities – former imperial colleges that continue to lead the way in terms of research excellence. As Japan’s equivalent to the British Russell Group or the American Ivy League, it includes:

  • The University of Tokyo
  • Kyoto University
  • Osaka University
  • Nagoya University
  • Tohoku University
  • Hokkaido University
  • Kyushu University.

The academic year in Japan typically runs from April to March (with breaks for the summer, winter and spring holidays) – although to become more attractive to students from overseas, more courses are now beginning in September.

Degree courses in Japan

Bachelors (or Gakushi) degrees typically last for four years, with dentistry, medicine and veterinary courses usually requiring at least six years of study. Most of these longer programmes are not fully taught in English at this time, so some grasp of Japanese would be expected.

Courses are primarily taught in Japanese, so if you’d like to study in English, you’ll need to check which institutions cater to international students and prove your language ability. If you’re planning on studying your preferred degree in Japanese, you’ll need to pass a proficiency test before being admitted onto a programme.

Masters degrees

Only a small proportion of students in Japan are engaged in postgraduate study, but with the country’s dedication to research and development, courses are being offered by graduate schools and universities.

Masters degrees in Japan typically take two years to complete, with students gaining a specific amount of credits from core units through a combination of lectures, group work and tutorials. The final semester revolves around a dissertation, with the research project taken into account along with your final exam results.

The main language of instruction is Japanese, but an increasing number of universities are offering Masters courses in English to encourage international students to apply. Japanese language courses are available free of charge to postgraduate students, but they don’t count towards your course credits.

To be admitted onto a Masters course, you’ll need to hold a Bachelors degree or international equivalent and provide two letters of recommendation. Some universities will ask you to sit an entrance exam. You’ll also be expected to prove your proficiency in English or Japanese, according to the method of course delivery.


Doctoral programmes are also available in Japan and usually take a minimum of three years to complete. However, if your research area is one of dentistry, pharmacy, veterinary science or medicine, it can take four years.

Most PhDs will start in April, in keeping with the Japanese academic calendar.

You’ll need a Masters qualification or international equivalent, and at least two letters of recommendation from senior university staff for entry onto a course.

It’s advisable to learn at least some Japanese to converse with your peers, if not your supervisor who may have been selected due to their English language ability.

Course fees

Studying in Japan isn’t cheap, but costs aren’t as high as in the UK or USA. Annual tuition fees at public universities range from £3,000-£6,000, while at private institutions this could rise to as high as £9,000 per year.

You can also expect to pay an admission fee, which varies according to each university. Contact the admissions department to find out the exact amount you’ll pay for your course.

More than half of undergraduate courses taught in English are based in Tokyo, one of the world’s most expensive cities. However, as the second ranked city in the QS Best Student Cities 2018, international students usually find it a great place to live. Through some research, you can find affordable accommodation (possibly through your university), while public transport costs are reasonable.

Students at universities in regions such as Tohoku and Kyushu will find the cost of living lower than the estimated £650 per month you’ll need to fund your stay in Tokyo.

Student visas

International students who intend to study in Japan for more than three months will need to obtain a visa. Once you’ve been accepted by a university, the institution will apply for a Certificate of Eligibility from the Japanese Ministry of Justice on your behalf.

The document is only valid for three months from the date of issue, so you’ll need to visit your country’s Japanese embassy in person after obtaining it.

Upon arrival at a Japanese airport, you’ll have your fingerprints and a photograph taken in order to receive a Zairyū Card. This residence card is designed for those staying in the country for the mid to long term. You’ll also need to pay for national health insurance, which works out at around £130 per year.

Language requirements

With most university courses taught in Japanese, you’ll need to prove you level of proficiency. The majority of universities ask students to pass the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT). This can be taken from the UK in London, Edinburgh and Cardiff.

However, with a growing number of courses now available in English, you may not need to have a strong grasp of Japanese to study in the country. Free Japanese language courses are typically offered to international students in advance of their degree programme or even alongside the other course units.

For English-taught degree courses, if you’re not a native English speaker, you may be asked to submit your English proficiency results (such as IELTS) as part of the application process.

Types of universities in Japan

You will find three types of university depending on how they were founded.

  • National universities (established by the Japanese government)
  • Public universities (established by local public entities)
  • Private universities (established by educational corporations)

Private universities account for about 80% of all universities and have about 80% of all university students on their registers.

Types of degree in Japan

  • University Bachelor’s degree = 4 years
  • Graduate School Master’s degree = 2 years
  • Doctor’s degree = 5 years
  • Professional degree = 2 years
  • Junior College Associate’s degree = 2 or 3 years
  • College of Technology Associate’s degree = 5 years
  • Specialized School Specialist’s degree = 2 or 3 years
  • High-level Specialist’s degree = 4 years
  • Medicine, Dental Surgery, Pharmacy degree = 6 years

Quick overview of the admissions procedure for a Japanese university

The academic year begins in April and ends in March. Classes are usually divided into two semesters from April to September, and then October to March. Students normally enroll in April, but some universities allow entry at a different time such as October.

Most Japanese universities offer a special entrance examination for privately financed foreign students which is different from the one taken by students in Japan. This may be separate or in addition to the EJU and the university’s official entrance exam.

General eligibility for an undergraduate degree program for international students:

  • Have completed or will have completed 12 years of school education in your home country. You will need to submit a transcript
  • You should not have any immigration issues, which may interfere with your entry into Japan or with your study in a Japanese university
  • You will take the examination for Japanese University Admission for International Students (EJU) 

What is the EJU?

The EJU is an examination introduced in 2002 by the Japan Student Services Organization (JASSO) and is considered as a part of the entrance examination for international students who wish to study at universities or other higher educational institutions in Japan.

This examination is conducted in Japan twice annually in June and November and is scheduled to be held in about 17 cities outside Japan, mainly in the Asian region. The examination subjects are Japanese as a Foreign Language, Science, Japan and the World, and Mathematics.

Questions are available in Japanese and English. Applicants will take the examination on the subjects and in the language designated by the respective colleges or universities.

Some of the universities consider the result along with grades at a senior high school without requiring students to sit the university’s own entrance examination.

If you apply to such a university, you could receive permission to enter that university without even leaving your home country.

How much does it cost to study at a Japanese university

The cost for each university program obviously varies among each university, but for national universities (国立, kokuritsu), the tuition fee itself is fixed at ¥585,800. Private universities usually cost twice as much ranging from ¥1 to 2 million.

Each university has scholarships, some of which cover all of a student’s tuition fee based on their financial situation and academic performance. More than 100 kinds of scholarships programs offered by public or private institutions are available, and of these, about 60 are reserved for foreign students with a college student visa.

JASSO (Japan Student Services Organization) also offers scholarships which can be applied to through the university, giving out a stipend of ¥48,000 per month for one academic year.

Student housing in Japan

Most universities provide student dormitories, but oftentimes they are not located on campus and are a couple of stations away by train. In some cases, the commute time takes up to an hour, but the dorm fee may be cheaper. The monthly rent for student accommodation is ¥20,000 – ¥30,000 for a single room with water and electricity bills included.

This can go up to ¥60,000 – ¥90,000 depending on the extra amenities, such as a kitchen attached to each room or access to community space with table tennis and movies. Cafeteria meals in Japan are cheap and filling, with a lunch set of rice, miso soup, and a main dish like karaage chicken costing ¥500.

Do I need to be able to speak Japanese to be a student in Japan?

In order to increase your chances of studying at a university in Japan, the most important thing is to have all the proper immigration documents and get the visa situation straightened. The application process may seem tedious but the better prepared you are the faster it will go.

The next thing is to start studying the Japanese language.

For English-based programs, as mentioned above having fluent Japanese language skills is not always a requirement though you can strengthen your application by being able to show efforts in learning the language before you get here.

For Japanese-based programs, you will need at least N2 of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) in order to keep up with lectures that are taught entirely in Japanese. For prestigious universities (Waseda, Keio, Tokyo), you may be required to have the top-level of N1.

Finding a job in Japan after studying at a Japanese university

After completing a four-year university program, students can consider job hunting in Japan as companies are increasingly hiring those with an international background.

Career centers in universities often hold special sessions for international students, giving out information such as a general guideline on when companies start accepting applications, the types of exams that are commonly used, advice for interviews, and unspoken social rules and etiquette in Japanese business settings.












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