A world leader in education and research, studying in Japan is an opportunity to learn from some of the brightest minds in the world while immersing yourself in a culture of traditional arts and ancient temples
With over 400 inhabited islands, Japan is a friendly, safe, and affordable country for students to study and travel in. Students will enjoy its unique culture, which seamlessly blends ancient traditions with modern technological advancements.
The Japanese government is committed to attracting more international students, and the higher education system places a strong emphasis on personal development. Students have many opportunities to gain new skills, including learning Japanese, which is essential for living and working in Japan, as only a small percentage of Japanese people speak English.
Popular student destinations include Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto. The cost of studying and living in Japan may be higher than in the UK, but a qualification from a leading Japanese institution is a valuable investment, opening excellent job prospects.
Japan has a range of higher education institutions, spanning five types of institutions:
- Colleges of technology
- Professional training colleges
- Junior colleges
- Graduate schools.
Junior colleges and universities make up the core of Japanese higher education, and most institutions are private, although there are also national and local public institutions. The Japanese population typically hold public universities in the highest esteem.
This is especially true of the prestigious National Seven Universities, former imperial colleges that continue to lead the way in terms of research excellence. Japan's equivalent to the British Russell Group or the American Ivy League, the National Seven Universities are:
- The University of Tokyo
- Kyoto University
- Osaka University
- Nagoya University
- Tohoku University
- Hokkaido University
- Kyushu University.
Japan has a total of 51 institutions in the QS World University Rankings 2024, with four featuring in the top 100:
- The University of Tokyo (28th)
- Kyoto University (46rd)
- Osaka University (80th)
- Tokyo Institute of Technology (91st).
Japan and the UK have a long history of research collaboration, and 11 institutions, including the University of Liverpool, the University of Leeds, Durham University, and The University of Edinburgh, have partnered together through RENKEI to form a knowledge exchange.
The International University of Japan, the first graduate school to open in the country, offers all its courses in English.
The academic year in Japan typically runs from April to March (with breaks for the summer, winter, and spring holidays). However, to become more attractive to students from overseas, more courses are now beginning in September.
Degree courses in Japan
Bachelors degrees in Japan, also known as Gakushi degrees, typically last for four years. However, dentistry, medicine, and veterinary courses usually require at least six years of study.
Courses are primarily taught in Japanese, so international students who wish to study in English should check which institutions cater to international students and prove their English language ability. Students who plan to study in Japanese will need to pass a Japanese proficiency test before being admitted to a program.
The Examination for Japanese University Admission for International Students (EJU) is used by universities to evaluate students' basic academic ability and Japanese language skills. The EJU is offered in June and November each year and includes the following four subjects:
- Japanese as a foreign language
- science (physics, chemistry and biology)
- Japan and the world
In addition to passing the Examination for Japanese University Admission for International Students (EJU), international students who wish to study in English in Japan must be 18 years old or above and have completed 12 years of school education in their home country.
For a list of universities offering Bachelors programs taught in English, visit the Japan Student Services Organisation (JASSO) or Japan Study Support (JPSS) websites. You can also search for institutions and degrees through the Study in Japan - Search schools website.
Although only a small proportion of students in Japan pursue postgraduate study, the country's dedication to research and development has led to an increase in the number of Masters degrees offered by graduate schools and universities.
Masters degrees in Japan typically take two years to complete. Students must earn a specific number of credits from core units through a combination of lectures, group work, and tutorials. The final semester is focused on a dissertation, which is considered along with final exam results in determining the student's overall grade.
The main language of instruction is Japanese, but an increasing number of universities are offering Masters courses in English to attract international students. Japanese language courses are available free of charge to postgraduate students, but they do not count towards course credits.
To be admitted to a Masters program, you must hold a Bachelors degree or international equivalent and provide two letters of recommendation. Some universities may also require you to take an entrance exam. You will also be expected to prove your proficiency in English or Japanese, depending on the language of instruction of the programme.
Doctoral programs are also available in Japan and typically take at least three years to complete but can take up to four years for programs in dentistry, pharmacy, veterinary science, or medicine. Most Doctoral programs start in April, in line with the Japanese academic calendar.
To be accepted on to a Doctoral program, you must hold a Masters degree or international equivalent and provide at least two letters of recommendation from senior university staff. It is also advisable to learn some Japanese, even if your supervisor speaks English so that you can communicate with your peers and other members of the university community.
Most Japanese universities have exchange agreements with overseas universities, so if you're enrolled at a UK university, you may be able to study in Japan for part of your program. Speak to your international office to learn more about any existing partnerships.
For example, undergraduate students at the University of Sheffield can spend a year studying at one of twenty possible destinations, including Kyushu University and the University of Tokyo, through the School of East Asian Studies. During your exchange program, you can take advantage of upper-intermediate level Japanese language courses to fully immerse yourself in the country.
While studying in Japan is not cheap, it is generally more affordable than the UK or the USA.
Annual tuition fees for undergraduate programmes range from £4,500 to £17,500 (815,985 JPY to 3,173,275 JPY), depending on the type of institution (private, public, or national). Postgraduate fees range from £4,500 to £6,020 (815,985 JPY to 1,091,606 JPY).
The higher end of these ranges covers medicine, dentistry, and pharmaceutical programs, which take longer to study and are more expensive.
You can also expect to pay an admission fee, which varies by university. Contact the admissions department for more information.
More than half of undergraduate courses taught in English are based in Tokyo, one of the world's most expensive cities. However, you can often find affordable accommodation through your university, and public transportation costs are reasonable.
Students at universities in regions such as Tohoku and Kyushu will find the cost of living lower than that of Tokyo.
Funding to study in Japan
There are several Japanese scholarships available to international students.
If you're a British national under the age of 24 (in the year you wish to study in Japan) with 12 years of school education, you can apply for Japanese Government MEXT Undergraduate Scholarships.
Applications are made via the Embassy of Japan in the UK between mid-April and mid-June. Successful candidates receive around £640 (116,570 JPY) per month for five to seven years, including a one-year Japanese language preparation course and travel expenses. The scholarship is available in specific fields of study within the categories of social sciences, humanities, and natural sciences.
For UK students looking to study for a Masters in Japan, the Japanese government also runs the MEXT Postgraduate Scholarship Programme. Applications are accepted from mid-April until early June of the year before you wish to study. Those aged under 35 holding a Bachelors degree are eligible to apply for the award, which covers both taught and research courses. You don't need to speak Japanese for most subject areas.
You'll also find many leading Japanese universities have set up their scholarship schemes for foreign students. For example, Kyushu University offers a range of scholarships as well as exemption and deferment programmes for tuition and enrolment fees.
Read more at Kyushu University - Tuition, fees and scholarships.
For more information on the MEXT programme and other scholarships, see Study in Japan - Scholarships.
International students who plan to study in Japan for more than three months need to obtain a student visa. Once a university has accepted you, the institution will apply for a Certificate of Eligibility from the Japanese Ministry of Justice on your behalf. This document is only valid for three months from the date of issue, so you must visit your country's Japanese embassy or consulate in person to apply for a student visa after obtaining it.
For UK visa applicants, the Japanese embassy in London processes applications within four working days. Those living in Scotland and the North East of England can contact the Consulate General of Japan in Edinburgh.
You'll need to bring:
- a valid passport
- a completed and signed Visa Application Form with a recent colour passport photo (taken within the last six months)
- the original and a photocopy of the Certificate of Eligibility issued by your institution.
For more information on Japanese study visas, visit the Embassy of Japan in the UK.
Upon arrival at a Japanese airport, you will have your fingerprints and a photograph taken to receive a Zairyu Card. This residence card is designed for those staying in the country for the mid to long term. You will also need to pay for national health insurance, which costs around £130 per year.
To learn more about the procedures for entering and residing in Japan, read Study in Japan - Immigration Procedures.
How to apply
International undergraduate and postgraduate students can search for and apply to Japanese universities by visiting their websites. Each university sets its own entry requirements and application deadlines, so be sure to check the specific requirements for each program you are interested in.
For more information on planning your studies in Japan and selecting a university, visit Study in Japan - Planning.
Most university courses in Japan are taught in Japanese, so you will need to prove your level of proficiency. Many universities require students to pass the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT), which is available in London, Edinburgh, and Cardiff in the UK.
However, with an increasing number of courses now available in English, you may not need to have a strong grasp of Japanese to study in Japan. Free Japanese language courses are typically offered to international students in advance of their degree program or even alongside their other course units.
For English-taught degree courses, if you are not a native English speaker, you may be asked to submit your English proficiency results (such as IELTS) as part of the application process.
Comparison to UK qualifications
A Bachelors degree from the UK is comparable to a degree awarded in Japan, with a B-grade or GPA of 3.0 considered equivalent to a 2:1.
Find out more
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