Known as the land of the rising sun, Japan has a line-up of top-quality universities and a high standard of living meaning it's not the cheapest place to study. However, it has a global reputation for innovation and degrees gained in the country are highly regarded

Made up of thousands of islands, of which more than 400 are inhabited, Japan is 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.

The Japanese government is committed to increasing the number of foreign students enrolled at its universities and its higher education system places importance on personal development, so you'll get many opportunities to pick up new skills, including learning to speak Japanese, which will prove useful as only a small proportion of Japan's inhabitants can communicate in English.

Popular student destinations include Tokyo (the capital city and also the largest), Osaka and Kyto.

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

There are a huge number of higher education institutions in Japan spanning five different types and these include:

  • Colleges of technology
  • Professional training colleges
  • Junior colleges
  • Universities
  • Graduate schools.

Junior colleges and universities constitute the core of Japanese higher education and the vast majority of institutions are private, although national and local public institutions do exist. 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.

Japan has 48 institutions in the QS World University Rankings 2022. Five feature in the top 100:

  • The University of Tokyo (23rd)
  • Kyoto University (33rd)
  • Tokyo Institute of Technology (56th)
  • Osaka University (75th)
  • Tohoku University (82nd).

Japan and the UK have a long history of research collaboration and 12 institutions, including the University of Liverpool, University of Nottingham, Osaka University and Kyoto University, 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) - 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.

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.

The Examination for Japanese University Admission for International Students (EJU) is used by universities to evaluate your basic academic ability and Japanese language skills. It's available to take in the June and November of each year and incorporates the following four subjects:

  • Japanese as a foreign language
  • science (physics, chemistry and biology)
  • Japan and the world
  • Mathematics.

In addition to taking this undergraduate test, you'll need to be 18 years old or above and have completed 12 years of school education in your home country to apply.

For a list of universities offering Bachelors programmes taught in English, see the Japan Student Services Organisation (JASSO) and Japan Study Support (JPSS).

Search for institutions and degrees through Study in Japan - Search schools.

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.

To search for a Masters course taught in English, explore JASSO and JPSS.


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 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.

To search for available Doctoral programmes in English, see JASSO and JPSS.

Student exchanges

Most Japanese institutions have an exchange agreement with overseas universities, so if you're enrolled at a UK university, you may be able to study in Japan for part of your programme. Speak to your international office about any partnerships that may exist.

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 its School of East Asian Studies. During your programme, you can take advantage of upper-intermediate level Japanese language courses to fully immerse yourself in the country.

Course fees

Studying in Japan isn't cheap, but costs aren't as high as in the UK or USA.

Annual tuition fees at undergraduate level range from £5,456 to £21,293 depending on what type of institution you study at (private, public or national). Postgraduate fees range from £5,323 to £6,654. The higher end of these ranges covers medicine, dentistry and pharmaceutical courses, which take longer to study and are more expensive.

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. 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 that of Tokyo.

Funding to study in Japan

There are a number of 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 £800 per month for five to seven years, including a one-year Japanese language preparation course. The scholarship is available in specific fields of study within the categories of social sciences and 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 in the year before you propose 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 own 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.

Student visas

International students who intend to study in Japan for more than three months will need to obtain a 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.

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.

The Embassy of Japan in the UK is based in London, but those living in Scotland and the North East of England can contact the Consulate General of Japan in Edinburgh.

For UK visa applicants, you should be aware it takes around four working days for the application to be processed by the embassy.

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'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.

Read more about the procedures for entering and residing in the country at Study In Japan - Immigration Procedures.

How to apply

International undergraduate and postgraduate students can search and apply for a place at a Japanese university by visiting its website. Each university sets its own requirements for entry and application deadlines vary, so you'll need to adhere to these individual terms before being accepted onto a course.

See Study In Japan - Planning. You'll also find advice on selecting a university.

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.

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.

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