People eating ramen in a ramen restaurant

How to Study Abroad in Japan – The Complete Guide

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Why study abroad in Japan?

What makes a great study abroad destination? Is it a unique and interesting culture? Amazing food? A chance to get a better education? Job opportunities? Friendly people and a good environment? Doesn’t matter which one is your priority, Japan has all of the above. 

Lots of people choose to study abroad in Japan because of its “thick” culture. Japan has its foot in East Asian cultures but also lots of influences from the West and America. However, on top of all that, Japan is unique in its own way as it resembles no other place in the world. Studying there could give you such amazing culture exchange experiences you probably couldn’t get anywhere else.

A bowl of ramen
Image by Hari Panicker

Apart from that, Japanese food is amazing. If you already like sushi made in your country, you will definitely fall in love with sushi in Japan. I mean, do I really need to elaborate in this? 

What about education? Japanese educational system is notoriously good. In fact, Japan often ranks within the top 10 countries for its education. It is also home to many world’s leading tech companies. It’s not surprising that there are lots of awesome study abroad programs in technology, economics and business available in Japan. 

Bonus point is that Japan is extremely safe, friendly and convenient (also a bit weird but in a fascinating way).

Which kind of school can you apply to?

So when it comes to school choices, it might be overwhelming because Japan has a lot to offer. Here is the list of schools you can apply to study abroad in Japan:

  • International education: Several Japanese universities are offering education in English because of its fast-aging society and shrinking population. Japan wants to attract more foreigners, so international universities and programs are countless. They also offer to teach Japanese as well because knowing Japanese language is essential for living there. 

  • Japanese language school: This is like a gateway to Japan, whether you want to work there or to proceed into Japanese universities. Therefore, many people choose this option because it is safer than just going straight to work or study there without knowing any Japanese. 

    This kind of school offers short term language courses (2-12 weeks) and long term programs. These are all taught by Japanese people though most of them don’t speak English very well so it might be frustrating at first but it will help your learning progress a lot. After this, you can apply to higher universities or apply for full-time jobs.

  • Vocational college: This kind of school offers practical training in specialised professions. Foreign students attending this school often want to only focus on a specific profession like anime, manga, design, nursery,… Some even offer programs in business, education or homemaking. Note that these are all taught in Japanese, so you might want to know pretty advanced Japanese before you apply.

  • Japanese universities: This is just like universities in most places. 4 years of bachelor, 2 years of master, 3-4 years of doctor degree. They have 2 semesters spring and fall starting in March/April and September. Here is the list of ranking Japanese universities that you might want to see. Most of their programs are in Japanese but sometimes they do offer courses in English. 

A quick overview of the admission procedure

Even though each school or university has their own application procedure and timeline, they are not that far away from one another. 

The academic year begins in April and ends in March (sometimes it ends sooner depending on the length of winter break), so the application process often starts around January – February for Fall semester and October – November for Spring. That is when you should start preparing for the required documents.

General eligibility for an undergraduate program for international students include:

  • A standard 12-year education
  • Have no immigration issues
  • English proficiency (generally 5.5 or 6.0 IELTS)

For the application, you will have to submit your school transcript, personal statement, the results of your Japanese Proficiency test (JLPT), English proficiency test (IELTS or any), and a letter of recommendation. Depending on the university you are applying, some may require you to take the Japanese University Admission for International Students test (EJU).

Learning Japanese (JLPT and EJU exam)

In order to study abroad in Japan or even just live there in general, knowing Japanese is essential. Learning Japanese can be fun at first when you start learning the hiragana and katakana alphabets. I mean they are cute as hell. Also, Japanese pronunciation is often simple, there are only 46 syllables that can be pronounced in only one way and most of them are the same as English, so it shouldn’t be too hard for you to pronounce Japanese. 

Japanese also has lots of borrowed words from English which are adapted into the Japanese pronunciation (like milk = ミルク pronounced as miruku). Master this and you have already had access to a huge amount of vocabulary. 

However, the hard part when learning this language is its grammar which can be indirect and confusing. The Japanese writing system consists of 3 writing languages: hiragana, katakana and kanji. The hardest and most used is kanji which consists of a few thousands Chinese characters, which I think is the most challenging thing about learning Japanese.

At least, in language school, they will teach you from the beginning till advanced. I have been learning Japanese (on and off) for 7 years and I can assure you that learning Japanese in Japan from a native helps a ton. 

JLPT - Japanese Language Proficiency Test

JLPT Tes certificate

JLPT is the standardized test that evaluates your Japanese proficiency. This test is held twice a year, one in July, one in December, but in some countries, it is only held once in July, so you gotta check with your own country. If you pass the test, you will receive a certification which expires in 2 years.

So what about the format? It divided into 5 levels, N5 – the lowest to N1 – advanced (like knowledge-and-kanji-even-regular-Japanese-don’t-know kind of advanced)

The test covers vocabulary, kanji, reading and listening. At N5 and N4, you should be able to know hiragana, katakana and some simple kanji well, and be able to hold a daily life conversation when spoken slowly. If you have just started learning Japanese, go ahead and aim for N4 level, don’t bother to take the N5 test because each test costs about 60$. 

Most universities or workplaces in Japan require at least N2 for foreign students. However, international universities only require N3. 

EJU - the Japanese University Exam

EJU is the exam for international students applying to Japanese Universities. This test is, in fact, required for admission to many universities in Japan.

Eju is held twice a year, in June and November. Read more about EJU on their website.

It covers 4 subjects: Japanese as a foreign language, Japan and the world, science, and mathematics. The school you apply to would tell you which subject to take. The Japanese as a foreign language is in Japanese and others can be in English.

How much does it cost to study abroad in Japan?

Rolls of Japanese yen and coins

Tuition Fees

Schools in Japan charge admission fees for first year students, often about 282,000 yen which is about 2575$, tuition fee and some other small fees each semester. 

Under Japanese law, all national universities have the same tuition fee for Japanese and international students, which is 585,800 yen (5348$) per year. So, for the first year, you will have to pay admission fee + tuition fee + some minor fees which sum up about 820,000 yen (7200$). 

A one-year course at a Japanese language school is about 600,000 – 997,400 yen (5263$ – 8749$)

Private universities often charge almost twice as much as national universities (about 15000$ per year), but this fee differs from school to school. 

Vocational college on average charges 1,287,000 yen (about 11,289$) for the first year, including admission fee. However, this depends on the field of study, hygiene and medical care cost the most while education and social welfare cost only 9,464$ the first year.

Living cost

Girl holding an ice cream cone in front of an ice cream shop in Japan

Living in Japan could be expensive, but how expensive depends on the region. I chose to live in Yamanashi, quite a countryside part but very little entertainment, but what I got is mind blowingly cheap accommodation. 

Actually, if we compare it to other European countries, food in Japan is cheaper. Restaurants and supermarkets are reasonable. However,  transportation in Japan is ridiculously expensive. That’s why I only traveled when there were discounts for train tickets and I used my bike mostly. 

If you want the exact number, it costs about 120,000 – 150,000 per month on average. That includes rent, bills, food and transportation. 

If you are smart in your spending and actively try to save money, you can get away with only 100,000 per month. And if you live in the countryside prefecture like Yamanashi, it could even cost less. Don’t worry, there are many ways to save money when living in Japan

My rent in Yamanashi was 18,000 yen. I paid 4000 – 5000yen for water, electricity and gas bills (I tried to use as little as possible). I travelled around the city by bike and my food expenses were about 50,000 yen (sometimes 60,000 yen when I’m lazy and don’t want to cook). Other expenses like phone bills, internet and random trips to kombini with friends cost about 20,000 yen.

Scholarships

The good news is Japan offers plenty of scholarships for international students. It is possible to apply for one before you come to Japan, but it is way easier to apply when you are there because many scholarships are offered to students who have already enrolled in a Japanese university. 

There are different types of scholarship like monthly, yearly, scholarships given as loans and one-time scholarships that cover 25% – 100% of your tuition fee. Most of the scholarships require you to have intermediate to advanced Japanese (minimum N2) because there will be an interview in the last stage. 

Here are some kinds of scholarships you can apply to:

  • MEXT Scholarship
  • JASSO scholarship
  • Tuition fee waiver from Japanese universities
  • Scholarships by local governments
  • Scholarships by private foundations
  • Scholarships by international associations 

Once you are enrolled in a Japanese university (international or not), there will be more scholarship opportunities. Make sure you ask the administration office.

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