Studying

Studying in Japan

Want to study in Japan? From degree programs to visa requirements, learn how to enroll in the country’s world-class educational institutions.

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Updated 15-5-2024

Japan (日本, Nihon/Nippon) is a unique country offering fast-paced city life, beautiful natural scenery, cutting-edge technology, and a distinct culture (文化, bunka) and language (言語, gengo). No surprise, then, that many international students want to relocate for their academic careers.

The country also has some excellent universities (大学, daigaku). However, getting accepted into a higher education institution in Japan isn’t easy. Here’s what you need to know if you would like to study in Japan:

Higher education in Japan

Japan boasts one of the best education systems in East Asia. Six of its universities are ranked among the top 500 in the 2023 Times Higher Education World University Rankings. The highest of these are the University of Tokyo (東京大学, Tokyo Daigaku) in 39th position and Kyoto University (京都大学, Kyoto Daigaku) in 68th place.

Large group of students listen to a seminar in lecture room
Photo: Christian Ender/Getty Images

Around 220,000 students from over 170 countries come to study in Japan, with internationals making up roughly 5.7% of total higher education students.

The Japanese academic year typically starts in April and ends in March. The spring semester runs from April to September, and the fall semester from late September to March. The government body responsible for higher education in Japan is the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology (MEXT – 文部科学省, Monbu Kagaku Sho).

Students (生徒, seito) begin higher education (高等教育, koto kyoiku) in Japan from age 18 following 12 years of school education. There are five types of higher education institutions:

  • Universities (大学, daigaku): study for a bachelor’s degree (807 institutions)
  • Graduate schools (大学院, daigaku in): study postgraduate qualifications (657 institutions)
  • Junior colleges (短期大学/短大, tanki daigaku/tandai): study for associate degrees (309 institutions)
  • Colleges of Technology (高等専門学校/高専, koto senmon gakko/kosen): study technical associate degrees (57 institutions)
  • Professional and vocational training schools and colleges (専門学校, senmon gakko): study for professional qualifications and diplomas (2,721 institutions)

Most of these institutions are privately run, although there are also national and local public universities, schools, and colleges in Japan. Courses are typically taught in Japanese (日本語, Nihongo), but many places offer foreign language programs including, English (英語, Eigo).

Japanese degree programs

University bachelor’s degrees (学士, gakushi) in Japan generally take four years to complete through full-time study. Programs for medicine, dentistry, veterinary, and pharmacy take six years. You need a minimum of 124 credits from the National Institution for Quality Improvement and Academic Degrees of Higher Education (NIAD-QE – 大学改革支援・学位授与機構, Daigaku Kaikaku Shien Gakui Juyo Kiko) to pass a four-year degree and 182–186 credits for a six-year degree.

In addition to university degrees, you can also obtain the following qualifications in Japan:

  • Professional bachelor’s degree (専門職学士, senmon shoku gakushi): essentially the same as a standard bachelor’s but from a Professional and Vocational University (PVU) (専門職大学, senmon shoku daigaku)
  • Associate degree (短期大学士, tankidai gakushi): obtained from a Junior College, this is a 2–3 year program worth 62–93 credits, enabling you to transfer to the third or fourth year of a bachelor’s degree
  • Professional associate degree (専門職短期大学士, senmon shoku tankidai gakushi): a standard associate degree that qualifies you to transfer to a PVU

To obtain a place on a Japanese degree course as an international student (留学生, ryugaku sei), you will need the following:

These tests include:

  • Examination for Japanese University Admission for International Students (EJU) (日本留学試験, Nihon Ryugaku Shiken)
  • Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) (日本語能力試験, Nihongo Noryoku Shiken)

Fees for undergraduate programs in Japan vary from around ¥820,000 per year at national universities to about ¥3.2 million per year at private universities. There are scholarships (奨学金, shogaku kin) available to cover all or part of the study costs.

According to the 2022 International Student Survey (PDF) carried out by the Japan Student Services Organization (JASSO – 日本学生支援機構, Nihon Gakusei Shien Kiko), the most popular degree fields for international students are humanities, social science, science, engineering, and agriculture.

You can search for degree courses on:

Postgraduate programs

Postgraduate programs in Japan consist of master’s and doctoral degrees. You can enroll for these at graduate schools (大学院, daigaku in) across the country.

Master’s degrees

Master’s degrees (修士, shushi) are the next step for those who finish a bachelor’s degree and want to continue with their studies. The program typically last two years of full-time study and involves a mix of lectures, seminars, exams, and independent research work, culminating in an original dissertation.

The Graduate School of Medicine at Nagoya University next to blooming trees
Graduate School of Medicine at Nagoya University (名古屋大学大学院医学系研究科・医学部医学科, Nagoya Daigaku Daigakuin Igakukei-kenkyuka Igakubu-igakuka) (Photo: Elisete Shiraishi/Getty Images)

To pass a standard master’s program, you will need at least 30 NIAD-QE credits. In addition, you can also study the following types of professional degrees in Japan:

  • Professional Master’s degree (専門職修士, senmon shoku shushi): a master’s degree specialized in a particular professional field, (e.g., Master of Engineering)
  • Master of Education (教職修士, kyoshoku shushi): qualification to become a teacher in Japan and worth at least 45 credits
  • Juris Doctor (法務博士, homu hakushi): a three-year law program to practice as a legal professional, worth at least 93 credits

To study at master’s level in Japan, you must have a bachelor’s qualification from a Japanese or accredited international university. You will also typically need to meet language proficiency requirements, have two letters of recommendation, and submit a personal statement. Some schools may require an outline of a research proposal for your final dissertation.

Fees for master’s programs in Japan generally range from around ¥820,000 to 1 million per year. Fortunately, you can apply for a scholarship to help cover the costs.

Search for these programs on:

Doctoral degrees

The doctoral degree (博士, hakushi/hakase), or PhD, is the highest level of qualification in Japan. It involves at least three years of study and typically takes around five years to complete. To obtain a PhD in Japan, you will need to research and write an extensive thesis that builds on existing academic knowledge in your chosen field.

Typically, you also need a master’s qualification to get accepted into a PhD program. Some graduate schools offer combined master’s and doctoral degrees where you study for a master’s qualification for the first two years and then immediately continue with a PhD. Annual fees are broadly the same as for master’s.

Other study programs in Japan

In addition to undergraduate and postgraduate degrees, there are also various diplomas that you can study at Japanese vocational schools and technical colleges. These give you specialist vocational qualifications and enable you to further your studies at universities or PVUs. Programs include:

  • Diploma (専門士, senmon shi): offered at Professional Training Colleges (専門学校, senmon gakko) over 2–3 years and worth 62–93 credits
  • Advanced Diploma (高度専門士, kodo senmon shi): four-year program worth 124 credits

At Japanese Colleges of Technology (高等専門学校/高専, koto senmon gakko/kosen), you can also study certain technological associate degrees (準学士, jun gakushi). These can last up to five years and are worth at least 147 credits.

To get a place on one of these programs, you must have completed at least secondary school education in Japan or abroad. Fees are usually cheaper than university courses, ¥320,000–960,000 a year. There is funding available for those who are struggling to afford the costs.

You can search the Study in Japan website for Professional Training Colleges and Colleges of Technology.

General requirements for studying

Visa requirements

All international students need a visa to study in Japan for longer than three months. Residents of certain nations are exempt from visa requirements for short-stay trips lasting up to 90 days, but they will need a Japanese visa and residence permit for any stay longer than this.

You will need to apply for a student visa (学生ビザ, gakusei biza) once you have been accepted into a program at a Japanese higher education institution. The first step is for your place of study to apply for a Certificate of Eligibility for Status of Residence (COE) (在留資格認定証明書, zairyu shikaku nintei shomei sho) from the regional immigration services bureau (PDF).

Mature student reads book in library
Photo: JGalione/Getty Images

Once this has been completed, you can apply for a visa at the Japanese embassy (日本大使館, Nihon Taishikan) or consulate in your home country or through the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) (外務省, Gaimu Sho) website.

Student visas in Japan last for the duration of the study course, up to a maximum of four years and three months.

Language requirements

For Japanese study courses, you must prove your Japanese language knowledge as part of your application. Most programs require either N1 or N2 level on the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT). If you need to brush up on your Japanese language skills, numerous language schools (語学学校, gogaku gakko) offer free or affordable courses as well as the JLPT.

Bear in mind that if you are enrolling in an English-language program and do not have qualifications from an English-speaking country, you will usually need to provide a certificate to show your English proficiency, for example, International English Language Testing System (IELTS) or Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL).

Getting overseas qualifications recognized

Japan signed the UNESCO Global Convention on the Recognition of Qualifications concerning Higher Education in 2022, aiming to better standardize academic qualifications between different countries.

Notably, there is no official procedure for transferring overseas qualifications in Japan as you might find between European countries. Still, Japanese universities will recognize foreign qualifications and credits, taking into account grades and years studied, but there is no process of equalization.

Because of this, most Japanese universities require international students to sit the Examination for University (EJU) entrance exam to assess academic aptitude.

You can learn more about foreign qualifications on the National Information Center for Academic Recognition in Japan (NIC-Japan) (高等教育資格承認情報センター, Koto-kyoiku Shikaku Shonin Joho Senta) website.

Costs of studying in Japan

You will need to pay tuition fees if you study in Japan. However, costs are cheaper than in other countries such as the United States (US) and the United Kingdom (UK). Prices will depend on the institution and type of programs, for example, private universities (私立大学, shiritsu daigaku) charge significantly more.

Current average annual tuition prices in Japan are:

  • Universities: from ¥820,000 at a national university to ¥3.2 million at a private university for a six-year medical degree
  • Graduate Schools: from ¥820,000 at a state school to ¥1.1 million at a private school
  • Junior Colleges: from ¥600,000 at a local college to ¥960,000 at a private institution
  • Colleges of Technology: around ¥320,000
  • Professional Training Colleges: around ¥900,000

You will usually have to pay at least part of the annual tuition fees upfront when you enroll. In addition to this, you will need to consider other costs, such as:

  • University administration or registration fees: most universities charge a one-off fee when you enroll. This amount varies between institutions.
  • Exam fees: the EJU costs between ¥10,000–18,000, and Japanese language schools charge different prices for exams, depending on the duration of the course
  • Student visa fees: usually around ¥6,000
  • Living expenses: accommodation, utility bills, food, transport, and more
  • Study expenses: textbooks and other materials

Making a budget for your living costs before you move to Japan is a good idea. Of course, this will depend on which city you live in.

What Japanese funding is available for studying?

You can apply for bursaries to cover the costs of studying in Japan. While there are only a few full Japanese scholarships available, most will cover enough of your expenses to keep your studies affordable.

Both Japanese and international students can access funding. For those coming from abroad, your university or place of study can help you search for suitable scholarships or grants.

Two female students experiment with a robot prototype
Photo: Taiyou Nomachi/Getty Images

Typically, you can only apply for scholarships once accepted into a study program. There are various types of funding, each varying in amount, duration, eligibility criteria, and application process. Types of bursaries include:

  • Government scholarships from MEXT, available for both undergraduate and postgraduate students
  • Local government scholarships (usually more limited in availability)
  • JASSO scholarships
  • Scholarships from international bodies and international exchange organizations
  • Private scholarships, available through many individual schools and universities

You can search for scholarships on the Japan Study Support (JSS) website.

Many schools and universities in Japan also have tuition fee reduction schemes for those struggling to meet costs or who fulfill certain conditions. Some banks in Japan even offer low-interest student loans (学生ローン, gakusei ron), although these are normally reserved for Japanese students and permanent residents.

Study exchange programs in Japan

Many Japanese universities and schools have student exchange (交換留学, kokan ryugaku) agreements with universities and institutions worldwide. This means that learners have the opportunity to spend a term or a year living and studying in another country, such as the JASSO Student Exchange Support Program. JASSO is also part of a global network of student organizations that work towards developing new and exciting exchange opportunities.

If you are a student at an overseas university interested in spending part of your studies in Japan, enquire with your university to see what is on offer. Likewise, if you are a foreign student already enrolled in higher education in Japan, you may be able to complete part of your studies in another country.

Japanese qualifications awarded

Higher education institutions in Japan award degrees and diplomas corresponding to the UNESCO International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED) 2011 scale. Most Japanese higher education qualifications are categorized from levels 5–8. These ISCED levels include:

  • Level 5 – Associate degrees, diplomas, and advanced diplomas
  • Level 6 – Bachelor’s degrees
  • Level 7 – Master’s degrees, Professional Master’s, Master of Education, and Juris Doctor
  • Level 8 – Doctorate degrees (PhD)

You can see a detailed breakdown on the NIC-Japan website, including information on credits awarded.

The Yasuda Auditorium at University of Tokyo on a bright day
Yasuda Auditorium at the University of Tokyo (Photo: mizoula/Getty Images)

The grading system varies across different universities in Japan. Some use a lettering system (e.g., ‘A,’ ‘B,’ or ‘C’ for a pass, and ‘F’ for a fail), while others have moved to a numerical system (1 equivalent to ‘A,’ and so on).

How to apply to study in Japan

There is no centralized application system for applying to Japanese higher education institutions. Instead, you must apply directly to the university or school, as each institution has its own application procedures. Many Japanese universities accept online applications.

Generally, you need to provide the following:

  • Completed application form
  • Personal statement
  • Photo ID, for example, passport
  • Evidence of existing qualifications (translated into Japanese)
  • Letter of recommendation (from a previous place of academic study or employer)
  • Proof of language proficiency
  • EJU exam score (if required)
  • Information on how you plan to finance your studies
  • Research proposal outline (for postgraduate studies)

Each Japanese university or school publishes the deadline for accepting applications on its website. It’s advisable to apply around six months before the start of the academic year. Many universities in Japan accept two rounds of applications per year: one for the spring term and the other for the fall term. Therefore, you should apply around September/October for spring term enrolment, and March/April for fall term enrolment.

Once accepted into a program, you can start your student visa application and source funding.

Japanese student accommodation

Individual universities and local governments manage student dormitories in Japan. These are inexpensive and usually furnished. However, availability is limited, and you’ll have to share facilities such as kitchens and bathrooms with other students.

Therefore, around 79% of students choose private rental accommodation, which could include:

  • Shared rental accommodation (シェアハウス, shiea hausu), where a few students live together
  • A private rented apartment (living alone)
  • Guest or Gaijin houses (外国人の住宅, gaikoku-jin no jutaku), which are a special kind of affordable accommodation for foreigners not living permanently in Japan
  • Living with a host family

Private rented apartments are typically unfurnished and the rent is more expensive but they offer more freedom and personal space.

You can ask your place of study or local real estate agents for details of student dorms or private rentals. Alternatively, you can also search the following websites for student accommodation in Japan:

Rental prices vary across Japanese cities, with metropolitan areas like Tokyo (東京) being more expensive. The national monthly average for private rentals is ¥38,000, while the average monthly cost for a dorm is ¥28,000.

Working while studying in Japan

Approximately 67% of privately financed international students in Japan work part-time (アルバイト, arubaito) to finance their studies.

Barista chats to customers sitting at the bar of a cafe
Photo: Masafumi Nakanishi/Getty Images

International students can work up to 28 hours per week during term time and up to eight hours per day during holiday. They don’t need a separate work visa for this. However, they need to apply for permission to engage in activities other than their visa purpose (資格外活動許可, shikakugai katsudo kyoka) from their regional immigration services bureau (入国管理局, Nyukoku Kanri Kyoku) (PDF).

The most popular job sectors for international students in Japan include hospitality, sales, factory work, and teaching/research assistant roles, but they are not allowed to work in the adult entertainment industry. This includes any related work in bars, nightclubs, or casinos.

You can also work as an intern (インターン, intan) while studying in Japan. Internships are usually unpaid or low-paid; however, you can earn valuable work experience in your chosen field.

Volunteering while studying

You could find volunteering opportunities at your university or school in Japan that would teach you new skills while you contribute to society. For example, many organizations nationwide work directly with disadvantaged communities on various worthwhile projects. You can also contact charities and NGOs directly to learn more about available roles.

Student healthcare in Japan

All residents living in Japan for over three months – including students – must sign up for the National Health Insurance (NHI – 国民健康保険, kokumin kenko hoken), which gives them access to public healthcare services.

You can register for NHI at your local municipal office within two weeks of arriving in Japan. Once you have done this, you will receive a health insurance card (保険証, hoken sho) to take to medical appointments.

Remember that only one person per family (living together) needs to register for NHI, as it covers everyone. It also applies to private student accommodation as you are considered a household when sharing utility bills and general living costs.

Japanese student life

Most university cities in Japan have a vibrant student life where young people can find plenty to do, from enjoying the local nightlife to engaging in sports and outdoor activities. The QS Best Student Cities 2023 placed two cities (Tokyo 7th, Kyoto-Osaka-Kobe 17th) in the top 20 worldwide.

International students in Japan can also emerge themselves into the local culture, and savor Japanese cuisine without going broke. Of course, Japan isn’t a cheap country, but the general cost of living (生活費, seikatsu hi) is less than in some European nations.

Group of six young adults holding sparklers and smiling
Photo: Mint Images RF/Getty Images

Typically, students plan their own timetable but they tend to spend around 30 hours per week on their studies, including lectures, seminars, practical learning, and exams. Most universities and schools also have clubs and societies where students can network and enjoy extra-curricular activities.

Remember that shortly after your arrival, you will also spend a fair amount of time on general administration to set your life in Japan. This includes registering with your local municipality (自治体, jichitai) and getting your Japanese ID number (個人番号/マイナンバー, kojin bango/mai namba) for social security (社会保障, shakai hosho) purposes.

What are your options after completing your studies?

After graduating, you can stay in the country for up to one year to look for a job or start your own business. To do this, you must change your status of residence through your regional immigration services bureau.

If you find employment or change your status again during this period, inform the bureau so that they can amend your residence permit, for example, to a work visa (就労ビザ, shuro biza).

You can also remain in Japan to continue your studies if accepted into another academic program. You won’t need to change your residence status for this, but you will need to inform the immigration services bureau so that they can extend your student visa.

There are many resources to help you find jobs in Japan, such as your university’s careers service. You can also join an alum association to develop a strong network of valuable contacts.

If you want to work in the non-profit sector in Japan, you can try websites such as ImpactPool or Michael Page or check out the Japan NPO Center (日本NPOセンター, Nihon NPO Senta).

While many international students choose to remain in Japan after graduation, others prefer to return to their home country. JASSO can still offer support with your next steps, whichever you decide to do.

Useful resources