Japanese universities do not follow trends — they set them. It is here where the world's most advanced laboratories are located, revolutionary discoveries are being made at local universities, and the quality of Japanese products, equipment and training is renowned around the world. For many years, the Land of the Rising Sun was closed to foreigners, but at the end of the XX century the doors of the majority of Japanese universities were opened for young people who plan to connect their lives with advanced technologies, innovative developments and science.

List of the best universities in Japan

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Advantages of Japanese universities

  • International ratings. The QS ranking placed five Japanese universities on the top 100 university list: University of Tokyo (22), Kyoto University (33), Tokyo Institute of Technology (58), Osaka University (71) and Tohoku University (82)[1]. Japanese universities also stand out among Asian universities: University of Tokyo ranked 8th in THE ranking in 2019.
  • Government attracting international students. In May 2012, the Japanese government initiative Global 30 launched, which aims to increase the number of international students in the country from 140,000 to 300,000. Thanks to this, universities offer simplified entry procedures, training programs conducted in English and assistance in finding work for foreigners. Some universities even allow students from other countries to start their studies in September, instead of April, which felt off to Europeans.
  • Financial assistance. In Japan, there are a large number of scholarship programs created specifically for international students. The government, universities, municipalities of prefectures, commercial and non-profit organizations are ready to provide students with financial support. A complete list of available scholarships can be found here.

Disadvantages of Japanese universities

  • Huge workloads. Strong education requires hard work and often results in psychological pressure and nervous breakdowns for students. The problem is so severe and widespread that the Ministry of Health got involved.
  • The culture of learning. In Japan, students spend 240 days a year studying, that is almost 60 days more than in Europe. Children are under constant pressure not only from their parents but the education system itself: from the very beginning, they are expected to show diligence and require almost a non-stop cramming. It is no coincidence that Juku (which literally translates as cram school) where students can spend up to 12 hours a week are very popular here.
  • High competition. According to the latest report of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology of Japan (MEXT), only 53% of all applicants in 2019 were accepted to universities[2].
  • Dormitories. International students may encounter several problems in finding a place to live. Firstly, not all Japanese universities have their own hostels, secondly, the number of vacant rooms is limited, and thirdly, students can stay there for no more than a year. Most dorms in Japan do not belong to any particular university: not only students of any university might live under one roof, but also university graduates who do not have accommodations of their own.
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Requirements for admission to universities in Japan

ProgramMin. ageDurationMin. cost/yearAvg. cost/yearMin. language levelExams
Foundation18+1-2 years3,788 USD4,094 USDN5-N1 / A1-C1JLPT
College15+2-3 years5,117 USD5,715 USDN2-N1 / B2JLPT / IELTS
Bachelor's18+4-6 years5,429 USD5,914 USDN2-N1 / B2JLPT / IELTS
MBA22+2 years3,561 USD11,297 USDN1 / C1JLPT / IELTS
Master’s22+2 years5,429 USD6,180 USDN1 / C1JLPT / IELTS
Doctoral24+3 years5,848 USD6,313 USDN1 / C1JLPT / IELTS

In order to get accepted into a Japanese university, an applicant must complete a twelve-year high school program. Students from countries where secondary education takes 11 years can:

  • Complete one (or several) courses at a university in their home country;
  • Complete the annual foundation program for foreigners in Japan;
  • Complete an International Baccalaureate (IB) program or A-Levels.

Foundation courses at Japanese Language Institutes last approximately 1 or 2 years. The beginning of training traditionally coincides with the sakura blossom period in April. Programs that last 1.5 years begin in October.

Please note that the language of instruction of such courses is Japanese, so all students must know the language at a minimum level of N5 (A1).

The training program consists not only of Japanese classes, but also subjects in the direction chosen by the student. Usually there are two of them: natural science and humanities.

Application documents for foundation courses
  • Application;
  • Motivation letter;
  • Medical certificate;
  • Notarized translation into Japanese of a certificate of completed secondary education and transcript with grades for each year of study;
  • Proof of Japanese proficiency (if any);
  • Passport;
  • Passport photos;
  • Sponsorship letter (from the person who pays the tuition);
  • Sponsor’s annual income certificate;
  • Sponsor’s bank statement;
  • Eligibility certificate application (the form is filled out by the contact person or sponsor at the Japanese Immigration Bureau);
  • Copy of the ID card or residence permit of the contact person (if any).
The contact person is a Japanese citizen or a foreigner temporarily residing in Japan who delivers documents to the university. In the absence of such an intermediary, applicants need to write to the university’s admissions committee, which organizes the acceptance of documents directly.

At the end of the foundation courses and before entering the university, students pass entrance tests. Different universities may choose different ways of conducting them, but the most popular are the EJU and JLPT exams. EJU is an exam designed specifically for international students who wish to study at a Japanese university. It checks the the knowledge of applicants in desired disciplines. JLPT is a test for determining the level of the Japanese language. Usually, students must have a level of N2 or higher to enter a university.

Application documents for admission
  • Application;
  • Copy of the passport;
  • Passport photos;
  • Motivation letter;
  • Academic essay;
  • A notarized translation into English or Japanese of the certificate of secondary education and appendixes with grades;
  • Language certificate;
  • Letter of recommendation;
  • The results of an EJU or other entrance exam.
Upon admission to the master's and doctoral programs, you may additionally require:
  • Average diploma score (GPA);
  • GRE results in core disciplines;
  • Letter from academic supervisor;
  • Resume/CV;
  • Research proposal;
  • Scientific publications (if any);
  • Abstracts of a scientific work performed during master’s (or equivalent).

Types of educational institutions in Japan

In Japan, there are several types of institutions in charge of Higher Education:

  • Universities,
  • Graduate schools,
  • Japanese language institutes.

Graduate schoolss can be either autonomous organizations or part of the university. They are designed specifically for the teaching of graduate and doctoral programs. Japanese language institutes offer students Japanese culture and language programs and organize annual preparatory courses.

Colleges in Japan

The following types of educational institutions are responsible for vocational education in Japan:

  • Junior colleges (tanki daigaku) are the legacy of the occupation period of Japan at the end of World War II: many were built earlier, but they received college status at that time. Such institutions usually train specialists in the following fields: pedagogy, home economics, nursing, arts, humanities and social sciences. Recently, polytechnic junior colleges have opened in Japan training specialists in the fields of electrical technology and mechanics. Graduates of institutions find work very quickly, as the developing industry always requires technical specialists.
  • Colleges of technology (kosen) accept students after grade 9. Studying here lasts five years, but students who have completed 11 or 12 grades of high school have the opportunity to immediately enter the third year of the program. Technology colleges train qualified technicians and trade specialists by offering associate’s degrees as well as various internships, certificates, diplomas and licenses.
  • Professional colleges (senmon gakkō) are specialized educational institutions for graduates of the twelve-year high school program. After two years of study a diploma is awarded, after which students can start looking for a job or continue the studies on bachelor’s level. In addition, students have the opportunity to complete an additional year of study and receive an advanced diploma (professional degree) allowing them to immediately enter the master's program.
Application documents for college
  • Copy of passport;
  • Resume/CV;
  • A notarized translation of the certificate of secondary education and transcript with grades (if the student enters after graduating from high school) or a statement of grades for the previous year of study (if the student arrives after grade 9);
  • Letter of recommendation;
  • Japanese or English certificate.
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Public and private universities

All universities in Japan can be divided into three groups:

  • National universities are fully funded by the state. Usually, these are large universities with a large budget. In total, there are about 90 national universities in Japan: the University of Tokyo and the University of Kyoto are the most popular of them. Due to government funding, tuition is the lowest here — on average, students pay 33,227 USD for 4 years of study.
  • Public universities are governed by prefectures. Such universities are smaller than national ones, but their main feature is tuition payment structure: residents of the prefecture pay less for tuition than other students. There are 100 such universities in Japan; the average tuition fee is roughly comparable to national universities.
  • Private universities do not receive financial support from the state. In this regard, studying here is expensive: on average, students pay from 7000000 to 53,163 USD. However, most often private universities are much better equipped than public and national ones. Nearly 600 private universities in Japan educate 75% of all country’s students. Most popular are Keio University, Waseda University and Sophia University.

Groups and associations of educational institutions

Imperial Universities (teikoku daigaku) were founded between 1886 and 1939 during the heyday of the Japanese Empire. Seven of the nine universities are located in Japan, one is located in South Korea, and another is located in China. Today, imperial universities are considered the most prestigious universities in Japan, equivalent to the Ivy League in the United States and the Golden Triangle in Britain.

Free universities in the country

There are no free universities in Japan, but there are many ways for foreign students to receive financial support and, therefore, not pay for their studies.

All scholarship programs are divided into four types:

  • State scholarship (Monbukagakusho: MEXT) includes full tuition fees, as well as two plane tickets to Japan. To receive financial assistance, you must go through an interview and pass written exams at a university or Japanese embassy.
  • Scholarships from JASSO, a non-profit Japanese student aid organization. To receive this scholarship, students must have a GPA of at least 2.30 for the previous year. Scholarships range from 199 USD to 319 USD per month.
  • Local scholarships are awarded by international companies and the prefecture municipalities. The main requirement for their receipt is residence in the territory of a certain Japanese city or district. Additionally, you may need a university recommendation or participation in special events for foreigners in Japan.
  • Private grants. Many commercial and non-profit organizations are also ready to provide material assistance to foreign students.

A complete list of all possible scholarships and the exact conditions for receiving them can be found here.

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Interesting facts about Japanese universities

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