Anyone who has studied abroad during their college years will likely be able to tell you multiple ways their experience has benefitted them in later life. Immersing yourself in a bustling community of international students while experiencing a brand new language and culture is a wonderful opportunity to have at such a formative time in your life
In recent years, there has been a huge drive by the Japanese government to bring in increased numbers of international students. This is partly due to the country’s aging population – recruiting international students is an opportunity to bring young and vibrant students into Japan, who may then consider staying on longer. The government set a goal of attracting 300,000 international students by 2020 – this target was exceeded in 2019 when 320,000 international students made the exciting journey to the Land of the Rising Sun.
Why Study in Japan?
If you’ve found yourself on this site, you probably already have your own personal reasons for why you want to study in Japan – but just in case you weren’t sold, here are a few more.
The quality of education in Japan is world class – 5% of the top 200 universities in the world are in Japan. In addition, Japan has produced the second-highest number of Nobel Prize winners of any country in the world. These statistics are staggering – and allocated places for international students mean that you stand a decent chance of securing a place in one of the prestigious National Seven universities in Japan that are so competitive to get into.
Japan’s reputation for academic excellence is no secret, and having a degree from a Japanese university can stand you in excellent stead worldwide when applying for jobs or further study.
Considering the quality of education, the cost of going to Japan as an international student is extremely low when compared to other countries (more on the details of this later). It may actually cost less to study in Japan than it would to study in your home country, and that’s not even touching on the scholarship opportunities available to international students (again, more on this later). Only you can do the math, but depending on your situation it may actually make financial sense to complete your studies in Japan.
When it comes to life outside of college, there really isn’t a more magnificent place in the world to spend your college years than in Japan (okay, I may be a little bit biased). The college years are all about exposing yourself to new ways of thinking and mixing with people from different backgrounds.
Japanese culture is absolutely unique and deeply fascinating – you won’t leave Japan the same person as when you arrived. Plus, you can spend your vacations doing everything from bathing in hot springs to skiing to chilling in robot cafes – is there a better college experience than this?
If you’re thinking about studying in Japan, my advice would be to just do it – it’s an experience that you will never regret and will be infinitely richer for.
Application Process for Studying in Japan
There is no universal application process for applying to study in Japan. You must apply to each institution that you are interested in individually. Openings for applications generally occur bi-annually – consult the individual institutions for details on how to apply.
In terms of timeframe, you will generally need to have started the application for your student visa about five months before your course is due to start – so make sure to take this into account when you’re beginning the application process.
Please note, the Japanese college year begins in April, rather than September – something to be aware of when planning your timeframes.
Japanese Student Visas
If you are studying a course that lasts 90 days or less, you will not need to apply for a student visa. You can complete your studies on a short-stay visa, provided you are one of the listed countries eligible for a 90-day visa.
If your course is between 90 days and 20 weeks, you have two options. You can apply for your 90-day visa to be extended for another 90 days if you are a citizen of the UK, Ireland, Germany, or Switzerland. Please note that you must do this before your initial 90 days in Japan is up. If you are not eligible to do this, you must leave Japan and return to begin another 90-day visa.
If your course is over 20 weeks long, you are eligible to apply for a Japanese student visa. You will do this through your chosen educational institution. You will need to fill in an application form, which the school will provide you with, and provide copies of previous academic transcripts, passport, and photos. You will also need to provide proof of financial means to pay for the course, and in some cases medical records. The requirements of each educational institution for visa completion are slightly different, but they will guide you through this.
Student Expenses For Studying in Japan
1. Cost of College Tuition in Japan
The good news is that, by law, domestic and international students must be charged the same fees to attend school in Japan. This is a pretty wonderful deal when you consider the cost for international students in many other countries – where fees can be exponentially larger than their domestic counterparts.
Costs of college tuition in Japan are relatively low when compared to elsewhere in the world – particularly the United States. In your first year of studying in Japan, you can expect to pay an admissions fee to your chosen institution on top of standard tuition rates.
There are three main types of universities in Japan – public, private, and national. Each of these has a different structure for tuition fees.
Public universities in Japan all charge a standard base fee – though the minor expenses (eg. Locker rental) will vary by university. You can expect to pay approximately $8,000 per year in admission, tuition, and other fees for an undergraduate course at a Japanese public university.
Most universities in Japan are private (88.7% to be exact), and these institutions can charge fees at their discretion. The tuition fees for private universities are higher – expect to pay between $10,000 to $15,000 dollars for your first year (this includes admission fee). If you are studying a science subject with laboratory-based classes, expect your fees to be towards the higher end of the spectrum.
National universities are the most prestigious and competitive in Japan. If you are lucky enough to secure a place in one of the “National Seven” (which is sort of the Japanese equivalent of the Ivy League) you’re looking at about $9,000 for your first year, including the admission fee.
If you’re aiming for a shorter term studying in Japan plan, there are numerous additional options.
For those simply hoping to spend time in Japan to learn more about the culture and language, you could apply for a one-year Japanese language course in a private language school. This will amount to approximately $7,000 in tuition and admission fees.
Another option is to enroll in a Senmon Gakko – a type of vocational school. In these colleges, you can do a two-year practical diploma in a skill such as animation, dance, or game design. You can expect to pay about $11,000 for your first year in Senmon Gakko, but this depends on the institution. Perfecting a profitable skill while experiencing life in Japan? Yes please!
2. Cost of Student Accommodation in Japan
Most universities have associated dormitories where students can apply for reasonably priced accommodation. These are generally single rooms with shared kitchen and living facilities. They may be onsite at the university, or easily accessible through public transport. Costs of these will vary depending on the institution, but in general, you can expect to pay approximately $300 per month for your basic room and bills. Campus accommodation is generally highly sought after, but many institutions will reserve rooms specifically for international students – so you could be in with a good chance of securing one.
If you do not secure campus accommodation, or would prefer to live elsewhere, you have a couple of options.
You might wish to cut out the hassle of securing a lease and opt for guesthouse accommodation. These are essentially furnished self-contained apartments designed for short-term living solutions. You can take these out on weekly or monthly leases and can expect to pay around $1,000 per month including bills. They are not the most glamorous of accommodations and have sort of a youth hostel vibe. This might be ideal for you if you’re hoping to make tons of international friends to go on Japanese adventures with – maybe not so ideal if you’re intent on putting your head down and getting excellent grades.
Organizing a private rental is also an option, and might be your best bet if you’re hoping to study in Japan for longer than a year. However, getting established in a private rental in Japan is difficult for foreigners. Firstly, the costs can be prohibitive – most landlords demand the equivalent of 6 months’ rent upfront. Landlords in Japan are allowed to discriminate against potential tenants on the basis of nationality, and many don’t want to lease to foreign students.
The culture of apartment sharing, which is so prevalent for students in other countries, hasn’t quite caught on in Japan yet. You will likely be renting a studio apartment by yourself, so all the costs of furnishing and supplying the apartment will fall to you. If you can overcome these issues, you can source a studio apartment in Tokyo for between $550 and $1,200, depending on the area. If you’re studying somewhere more rural, you can secure a bigger apartment for far cheaper – the national average for apartment rent in Japan in 2019 was between 50,000 to 70,000 yen ($420-590 approximately).
3. Cost of Transport for Students in Japan
If you are in Japan on a student visa, you unfortunately won't be eligible for the famous Japan Rail Pass, which offers a heavy discount on rail travel in and around Japan. You can purchase monthly commuter passes to bring you in and out of college – these are only valid for this route, and the cost will depend on how far your college is from your accommodation.
If you’re living in a city, buying a bike can be a one-off expense worth taking the hit for. This will provide you with free and easy transport for college and socializing, and bike locking facilities in Japan are generally plentiful.
4. Cost of Food for Students in Japan
If you’re smart about how you shop, Japan can be a foodie haven for students. After all, this is the home of ramen – the holy grail of college food. Provided your accommodation offers kitchen facilities, you’ll be able to feed yourself nutritiously and deliciously for relatively small money.
To keep your food budget low, shop around your local grocery stores for good value. Many will have particular discount days, and most will begin selling off food for bargain prices shortly before closing time. Don’t fall into the trap of trying to buy ingredients you’re used to cooking back home – imported foods come with a hefty price tag. Be adventurous and stick to local ingredients and Japanese cuisine – these options will be cheaper, but also much fresher.
One of the best things about Japanese food is that there are many “fast food” options available that are healthy choices. Opt for a pre-packed bento box from your local convenience store if you’re studying through meals – this is a filling and nutritious combination of meat/fish, pickled vegetables, and carbs. This offers infinitely more sustenance than your average fast food for the bargain price of around 1000 yen ($10 approx). If you’re on an even tighter budget, you can secure a steaming bowl of ramen for in and around 600 yen ($5.50 approx).
Scholarships to Study in Japan
There are a number of options available for international students hoping to study in Japan on scholarship.
1. Monbukagakusho Scholarship
If you’re hoping to study in Japan for free, you can do so under the government granted Monbukagakusho scholarship. These will provide you with a round-trip ticket, free tuition, and a stipend. There are currently six different varieties of Monbukagakusho scholarship (sometimes referred to as a MEXT scholarship) -- research students, teacher training students, undergraduate students, Japanese language students, college of technology students, and specialized training college students.
Each of these categories has an individual set of requirements, but all of them require some basic level of Japanese language skill. Students are selected for these prestigious awards via recommendation. This recommendation can be made by a Japanese embassy or consulate, following the completion of a written test and interview. It can also be made by an individual university or educational institution in Japan. You can apply to be considered for recommendation through either your local Japanese embassy or the Japanese university you are enrolling in.
2. JASSO Scholarship
The Japanese Student Services Organization (JASSO) offer two different varieties of scholarship.
The first is the Monbukagakusho Honors Scholarship for Privately-Financed International Students. This is a monthly stipend awarded to an international student. The eligibility criteria takes into account family means – allowance and salary of the main provider will be taken into account. Recommendations for this award are made by individual Japanese educational institutions.
JASSO also offers a Student Exchange Support Scholarship (also known as Scholarship for Short-Term Study in Japan). This scholarship is offered to students studying in Japan for one year or less under an exchange program. Recommendations are made based on both financial means and academic rigor – the overall purpose of this scholarship is to provide students without the financial means to complete a semester in Japan to do so. Awardees will receive a generous monthly stipend of 80,000 yen ($750 approx).
A number of local authorities and exchange programs offer scholarships for international students. These usually take the form of monthly stipends, and each one will have different eligibility criteria. In the vast majority of cases, if you are in receipt of one scholarship you cannot apply for any others.
Privately funded scholarships are available from individuals and businesses across Japan and internationally. These each have an individual selection criteria and award.
For details of all scholarships in Japan as of 2018, see this pamphlet.
Working While Studying in Japan
Under the terms of the Japanese student visa, you can work for up to 28 hours per week – many countries do not afford international students the option to earn money while abroad, so this is an excellent opportunity. Please note, however, this is not an automatic entitlement once your visa has been granted – you must apply separately for a work permit to be added to your student visa.
This is a relatively straightforward process – you should fill in an application for a work permit before you leave for Japan, enabling you to begin your job search as soon as you arrive.
As a student in Japan, you are somewhat restricted in the jobs that you can work in. You must not work in any venue providing “adult entertainment” – this includes a bar or a video game arcade. It doesn’t matter what your position is within that venue – you could be a cleaner or a receptionist, but if you’re employed by an adult entertainment venue you’re breaking the terms of your student visa.
Study in Japan in English
It is possible to study in Japan without speaking any Japanese. Many universities offer entire courses taught in English, and others offer exchange programs tailored to international students without Japanese language skills. The University of Tokyo, for example, has both undergraduate and postgraduate courses available taught purely through English.
If you’re already enrolled in university, enquire with your study abroad officer about any links they might have with Japanese universities. They will be able to guide you towards a course that fits your requirements and language abilities.
Japanese people, in general, are extremely welcoming and helpful towards foreigners – while English is not widely spoken in Japan, they will not expect foreigners to know Japanese and will make huge efforts to communicate with you through whatever means necessary. Expect plenty of gestures and liberal use of Google Translate!
While navigating your way through studying abroad in Japan purely through English is completely possible, learning at least some of the language will make your stay easier and more enjoyable – particularly if you intend to travel around Japan.
There are a number of ways that you can learn basic Japanese language skills to enhance your studying experience. You could download a language acquisition app, such as Duolingo, before your trip. This will familiarize you with the basics of conversational Japanese, and provide you with functional language skills to help with purchasing items.
You could also enroll in an evening Japanese language course while in Japan. If the university you’re studying in has a thriving international student scene, chances are there will even be a language course offered through your university.
You can also opt to learn Japanese informally through your college peers. Many young Japanese people are eager to improve their English – why not buddy up with a Japanese student and start a little language exchange? Their friendship will prove invaluable to you if you need urgent translation skills – a call to the doctor or your landlord for example will be infinitely easier if you have a person with fluent Japanese by your side.
Ready To Enroll?
I hope that what you’ve gleaned from this article is that studying in Japan really is a realistic option for many college students. The combination of scholarships, work permits for students and subsidized accommodation takes a huge financial sting out of the experience.
Had I known this information ten years ago, I would have been on the first plane to Japan to live out my college years in my favorite place – if you’re a college student reading this now, you have no excuse!