Study in JAPAN: A Guide For International Students

How does the idea of studying abroad sound to you? Exploring a new culture, different than yours, opens new paths in life you have never imagined. Studying abroad in Japan is an option you should seriously consider. 

Japan or ‘’Nippon’’ ‘’Nihon’’ or as more widely called ‘’The Land of the Rising Sun’’ is an island country located in East Asia in the northwest of the Pacific Ocean. It consists of five main islands and spans in an around 7,000 island archipelago. Did you know that human habitation of the Japanese archipelago was traced back to prehistoric times, around 30,000 years ago?

Why study abroad in Japan? You will find yourself living in one of the most urbanized and densely populated countries in the world. In fact, the Greater Tokyo area is the most populous area in the world, with more than 37 million residents! In Japan, you will have the option to live in one of the main five islands: Hokkaido, Honshu, Shikoku, Kyushu or Okinawa.

The country is rather mountainous, but the coastal life will also give you the opportunity to explore the numerous islands as you study abroad in Japan. Imagine visiting Mount Fuji, the highest mountain in Japan, located in the island of Honshu. The famous Mount Fuji is actually the second highest volcano located in an island in Asia and has the seventh highest island mountain peak on earth. 

More than 300,000 international students over the years have chosen Japan so far as their study destination, for multiple reasons. No matter which major you are interested in studying, if you study abroad in Japan, you will get experience of living in the world’s third largest economy, since Japan is a great financial power.

The country is a member of numerous international organizations like the United Nations (UN), the Organization for Economic Co-operations and Development (OECD) and the Group of Seven (G7). In addition, the country is ranked fourth in relation to military power, is a pioneer with contributions in science and technology and maintains one of the world’s highest life expectancies! 

First of all, Japanese universities have excellent reputation and facilities. Their global reputation in terms of innovation and research is reflected in the fact that almost 40 of their institutions are ranked among the World’s Top 200 universities. Secondly, Japan is ranked first in the Top 10 Places to Study Abroad in Asia for experiencing a new culture and second overall in Asia.  

Japan has everything an ambitious student needs, in order to experience a life-changing academic experience with promising career prospects. Read through our Study in Japan Guide to find out why Japan is a great place to live and study as an international student.

Japan’s Quick facts

More about studying abroad in Japan

But why study in Japan and not another Asian country? Deciding to apply for university education in Japan will give you the opportunity to choose among 783 universities (daigaku) and  junior colleges (tanki daigaku). Both universities and junior colleges provide a four-year training which leads to a Bachelor’s degree, while some offer six-year programs for a professional degree. Only universities and junior colleges are considered as higher education institutions in Japan. 

The Japanese government has made a big effort to attract international students in the last decades, by offering financial support to students through scholarships, a variety of English-taught programs and also by hiring teaching staff from all over the globe with the aim to make the academic environment more diverse and welcoming to international students. The university of Tokyo, Kyoto university and Tokyo Institute of Technology are considered the top universities in the country, ranked very high in the world university rankings. 

Still wondering why to study in Japan? Studying abroad in Japan will open you the doors to an exciting student life with high quality degrees. In Japan you can choose among numerous Bachelor’sMaster’s or Doctorate programs. You can study either in English or even Japanese if you are able to prove your language proficiency. The most popular majors to study in Japan include economics and business, science and technology, education or humanities. 

Education System in Japan

The Japanese university system offers Bachelor’s, Master’s and PhD degrees in a range of fields and disciplines. Higher education in Japan is provided by either private or public universities and junior colleges. The governmental authority responsible for education, culture and language matters is the Japanese Ministry of Education and Culture (MEXT)

The education culture in Japan is established on the Shinto, Buddhism and Confucianism philosophy and during the 19th and 20th century has adopted various reforms through the adaptation of rules from various education systems, aiming towards the internationalization of education.

The Japanese university system is characterized by equality, quality and performance. In Japan, an average student scores 540 in reading literacy, mathematics and science based on the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), making the country one of the top countries in students’ ability and skills globally! 

The Japanese university system follows a 4-scale grading system: 


How long is a Bachelor’s degree?

The duration of Bachelor’s studies (学士 gakushi) in Japan is four years except medical, dentistry, veterinary and pharmacy programs which last up to six years of studies. In junior colleges, the duration of studies is two to three years, depending on the department and program. Most universities and junior colleges in Japan have their academic year from April to March of the following year. The first semester runs from April to September, while the second from October to March. 

Keep in mind that some universities show flexibility to international students regarding which semester they can choose to start their studies. In order to be awarded a Bachelor’s degree in Japan, you have to gather at least 124 course credits. 

In order to be eligible for Bachelor’s studies in Japan as an international student, it is mandatory to have completed at least 12 years of formal education in your home country. In case you haven’t completed the compulsory 12-year education, you are still eligible to apply, but you will be asked to pass the national entrance examination test which will confirm your qualifications for studies in the country. Furthermore, you need to provide your high school transcript of records, a personal statement letter and possibly letters of recommendation.

Overall, if your Bachelor’s is taught in English language, you need to provide proof of language proficiency through language tests like TOEFL or IELTS. In case your study program is taught in Japanese, then you need, as an international student to demonstrate your Japanese language proficiency through the following tests:


Master Studies in the Japanese University System 

Postgraduate studies (修士 xiūshì) in Japanese universities combine lectures, research, various projects and the writing of the student’s dissertation. In order to be eligible for a Master’s degree in Japan, you need to have completed a four-year Bachelor’s in education. The duration of Master’s in Japan is two years for the majority of programs and a student will be awarded with a Master’s degree after the completion of 30 course credits. 

As stated above, you must be able to prove your English or Japanese language proficiency through language tests, depending on the language of instruction. Don’t forget that Japan offers a lot of English-taught Master’s as well!

For your Master’s admission, you need to provide your Bachelor’s transcripts, two letters of recommendations, a personal statement letter where you can describe why you want to be a part of the particular program and possibly your resume and working experience, along with a research proposal for your dissertation. 

What about Doctorate studies in Japan?

A doctoral degree (博士 hakase) is the highest level of academic achievement and the Japanese university system offers globally highly respected PhD programs to international students, based on quality research and high-tech teaching techniques. The duration of a Doctorate degree in Japan is a minimum three years for the majority of disciplines, except medical PhD degrees. 

Students who want to pursue a Doctorate degree in Japan need to have completed their Bachelor’s and Master’s education first. However, an interesting fact is that some Japanese universities offer the opportunity to international students to apply for a Phd right after their Bachelor’s, even without a Master’s degree! That automatically means that your Doctorate degree duration will expand to five years instead. 

In order to get admitted to a Doctorate degree in Japan, you therefore need to provide the academic transcripts of your previous degrees, provide proof of your foreign language command in English or Japanese, letters of recommendations and resume, a research plan and possibly your Master’s dissertation and summary.

Student Visas in Japan

Japan has a general visa exception arrangement with more than 50 countries around the world. You can see the list in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan. If you are a citizen of one of these countries and you need to visit Japan for a short period of time, you are allowed to stay visa-free for a period of 90 days. 

However, all international students need a Japanese student visa during their study stay in the country. In order to obtain a study visa, your admission university needs to be the sponsor. Keep in mind that you are not allowed to work during your studies unless you get permission from the university or immigration office and you are allowed work for a particular amount of hours per week.  

Japanese Student Visa: What steps you need to follow

The moment you get your admission results from your Japanese university, it is time to start gathering all the necessary documents and translations of the documents you will need for your student visa application.

The Japanese visa procedure is more complex than in some other countries and can take more time than expected, so make sure you are prepared. For more information, visit the nearest Japanese embassy or Consulate in your home country or navigate through the official website of the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs

One prerequisite for obtaining the Japanese student visa is the Certificate of Eligibility (COE). Obtaining the certificate is only the first step of your application, note that it is not the visa itself. The second one is the actual submission of the application for the Japanese visa which includes other documents as well. 

As for the Certificate of Eligibility, it is your school that’s in charge of issuing the certificate’s application on your behalf. You have to send them the required documents before, though. The application process for a Japanese Certificate of Eligibility can take up to three months, but stay positive, it can take less time!

You will need the following documents for your Japanese Student Visa application:


All documents must be printed on A4 paper. Ask your Embassy if more detailed documents are needed for your visa application and consult them in case you need to submit original documents or copies. For your Japanese student visa, you apply directly to the Japanese Embassy of your home country. 

After your arrival in Japan with a student visa, you will receive a Landing Permit and a Residence Card. These are very important documents and the moment you receive them upon entry, you have two weeks to report your stay at the local municipal offices. 

Housing & Living Costs in Japan

One of the main reasons to study in Japan is the safe environment, as Japan is considered one of the safest countries in the world, with significantly low crime rates. The living cost in Japan compared to other study destinations is high, especially if you choose to live in the capital, Tokyo. However, it all depends on the areas you choose to live and the lifestyle you follow.

The most student-friendly cities in Japan include Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, Fukuoka, Sapporo or Yokohama, cities that cover all your budget needs. As an international student in an effort to reduce your living costs in Japan, a great option is to live in a university dormitory. 

Despite the existence of student dormitories provided by the government and universities, the majority of international students live in private accommodation, as there is a limited number of dormitory rooms available. Be aware to seek an accommodation option in either dormitories or private houses the moment you get your letter of acceptance from the university. 

When it comes to private accommodation living costs in Japan, be prepared to spend a lot if choosing Tokyo as your study destination. Consider living in the suburbs and not in the center in order to save some money. In smaller cities, the cost reduces and is quite affordable compared to metropolitan areas. 

The average monthly rent for a one room apartment is around 50-70,000 Japanese yen (around 450-650 USD), always depending on whether you choose to live in the city center or not. Larger apartments cost much more. Keep in mind that utilities like gas, electricity, internet and water are not included in the rent. 

Another popular option are the so-called guesthouses or in Japanese ‘’the foreigner houses’’ (gaijin houses). These kind of houses are an inexpensive type of accommodation and can be rented for a shorter period of time. It can be a great option for you for your first couple of months in Japan, until you find your permanent student home.

Average living costs in Japan: 


Tuition Fees & Scholarships in Japan

In comparison to other popular study destinations like the US or the United Kingdom, tuition in Japan is quite reasonable for international students applying for Bachelor’s, Master’s and Doctorate degrees. For Bachelor’s studies, tuition in Japan fluctuates around 20-23,000 USD, for Master’s around 12,000 USD and for Doctorate studies around 5,000 USD per academic year. 

In addition to that, keep in mind that each university application is accompanied by an application fee which differs based on the program and university. Bachelor’s, Master’s and PhD studies in medicine and pharmacy cost much more, since the study period is significantly longer. 

An additional cost for every international student studying in Japan is the enrollment in the National Health Insurance (NHI). The National Health Insurance is essential as it reduces the medical costs in case of injury. You can register for the insurance in your closest local municipal office in Japan after you obtain your visa/residence permit. 

Japanese Scholarships 

A variety of Japanese scholarships is offered to international students with the aim to attract more and more ambitious students to study and eventually work in Japan. Even so, these scholarships are not fully funding all university tuition fees and living expenses, but rather a part of them. As a result, it is crucial to be prepared with a personal budget and create a financial plan for your studies even before your arrival. 

An important help during your scholarship application process is the Japan Student Services Organization (JASSO), an organization under the jurisdiction of the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology. 

JASSO provides student services and is responsible for the scholarships, study loans and support for international students. Navigate through their platform where you can find answers to all the questions you might have, along with all the necessary information. 

Some of the Japanese scholarships offered are:


Application Process in Japan

Ready to apply for your dream Japanese university? Of course you are! The application process for Japanese universities is quite simple. We have gathered all the necessary steps you need to follow in order to get admitted to the Japanese university of your choice. Before you begin with your application, make your research by visiting the official websites of the universities you are mostly interested in, along with contacting your nearest Japanese embassy or consulate for additional questions and information. 

1. Choose your Study Area 

Begin by deciding what you want to study and also the level of education you are interested in. Are you interested in studying business, IT and computer science or medicine? No matter what it is, Japan offers a wide range of globally recognized degrees. In addition, consider if you want to apply for a public or private university, since changes in the application process may apply. 

2. Check the Admission Requirements 

Depending on the objective and the academic level of your studies, there are particular admission requirements you need to take seriously into consideration when preparing your application process for Japanese universities. After choosing your study major, make a research on the universities that cover your study needs and contact them in order to gain more information. You can also visit their websites and also get in touch with JASSO for additional queries.

3. Prepare the Paperwork

This is probably the most time consuming step, so be careful at this stage to gather all the necessary documents, depending on the university, the academic level and the particular requirements. The common paperwork for a university application include the following:

4. Submit Your Application

In Japan, there is no unified online application platform. As a consequence, you need to submit your application through the university you want to get admitted to. Contact the universities of your choice before for additional information regarding your submission if needed and avoid any unofficial university agencies. Pay the application fee and submit your application through the university platform. Pay special attention to the application deadlines and the application intake periods for each university. 

5. Apply for a Japanese Student Visa 

Congratulations, you made it and you are officially a student in Japan! When you receive your letter of acceptance, it is time to contact your university in order to pay the first installment of your tuition fees. Next, you need to apply for a Japanese student visa as soon as possible. Contact the Japanese embassy in your home country in order to book a meeting and gather the documents for your visa application. Furthermore, it is now time to also gather the paperwork for your National Health Insurance (NHI).

6. Arrive in Japan

After you have obtained your student visa and have prepared all the necessary documents for your insurance, it is time to search for accommodation options. Make a research before online and choose whether you want to stay in a student dormitory, guesthouses or private accommodation. Pack your bags, brace yourself and get on a plane to arrive in Japan. The ultimate study experience for you is about to begin!

Language & Culture in Japan

When referring to facts about Japanese culture, multiple things come across our minds. From the cherry blossom trees opening the Sakura season every spring, the colorful classic kimono dresses, the alternative Harajuku Style and Japanese cosplay, to the famous national sport of Sumo wrestling, Karate, Judo, Jiu-Jitsu or calligraphy and origami, the list in unending ! 

Japan is a country that has been influenced throughout the centuries by the Chinese dynasties, but has maintained its own unique identity and has given a lot to the contemporary world.

Japan’s culture originates from the Yayoi people who settled in Japan between 1000 BCE and 300 CE. Japanese society and civilization is homogenous, since 98,5% of the country’s population is ethnic Japanese. The Japanese culture is described by the values of harmony, social conformity and  consensus decision making. A major characteristic of Japanese people is their polite manners and punctuality.

 Are you eager to learn more interesting facts about Japanese culture? Karaoke was invented by a Japanese drummer in the 1970’s and modern selfies have their origin in the Japanese Kawaii culture! Have you ever wondered about the history of the famous Samurai warriors ? 

During the Heian Period, Japan was facing a civil war where independent kingdoms were fighting each other. Japanese lords requested defense and as a result, highly trained warriors called the Samurai appeared. Samurai warriors are still an element of the Japanese pop culture. 

Another fact about Japanese culture is the automotive industry, since Japan is the home country of Toyota, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Mazda, Honda and Subaru car brands, widely known for their durability and quality. Not only that, but the country is a pioneer in the gaming and comics industries and home country of Pokemon, Manga and Anime and the creation of high quality electronic products. Products and brands we all use in our everyday life such as Sony, Nikon, Canon or even Nintendo are Japanese!

Japanese Food Culture

Last but not least, the Japanese food culture, as one of the most globally-loved food cultures. It is based on rice, dashi and miso soup and is widely known for sushi, sashimi and ramen dishes. Who can say no to tempura or the famous rice wine called sake? The Japanese cuisine is based on fresh fish and vegetables and it is one of the most balanced diets in the world, a fact that is reflected in the high life expectancy of the Japanese citizens.

Japanese food culture is equally influenced by the Chinese and also western food cultures. Japan is also involved in a big competition with France, coming second, when it comes to the global record of Michelin-starred restaurants.

Table manners play a crucial role in the Japanese food culture. Leaving a messy plate or misplacing the chopsticks is a no for Japanese people. Instead, fold your napkins and use the chopstick holder. Dishes in Japan are equally significant as the food they serve! Plates are especially picked by the chefs, are mostly hand-painted and as a customer, you are also expected to ask the chef or the waiter for the history of the plate! 

Japanese Language Facts

The national language of Japan is Japanese. The earliest trace of Japanese was found in a Chinese document from 256 AD. Although many people confuse it or parallelize Japanese with Chinese, the truth is that they do not share any similarities, since the Japanese belongs to the Japonica language family. The grammar of the language is very simple, since nouns are not declinate and gender articles or plural and singular distinctions are absent. 

A unique Japanese language fact is that the writing system consists of three different character sets, the kanji, the hiragana and the katakana. What is more surprising is that Japanese texts can be written in two ways: In Western style, in horizontal rows from the top to the bottom, or in traditional Japanese style, meaning in vertical columns from the right to the left side of the page. Both writing styles are extensively used today, so don’t be surprised when visiting the country ! 

Japanese language has almost 130 million speakers and is a very fascinating language to learn that will boost your resume and make you stand out. So why not learn Japanese even before your study journey begins? It will be a great opportunity to test yourself and explore new linguistic paths! That way you can even apply for a Bachelor’s in Japan, which are mostly taught in Japanese language.


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