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Studying in Japan

Why study in Japan?

Japan is the world’s third largest economy and has a highly developed industrially-based economy with a reputation for an ordered and mature democracy.

Unlike its near neighbour, South Korea, it has not been immune from the economic cycles of the past two decades – the 'Lost Decade' of 1991–2000 has been extended to the 'Lost Two Decades' by some analysts and it is generally accepted that the nation's economy has yet to recover from the 1991 crash despite signs of an upturn in 2005, on the eve of the global crisis.

Nevertheless unemployment is low and public services remain strong. The population is 98.5% Japanese but there are expat pockets in the bigger cities. While more than 99% of the population speaks Japanese as their first language, English is widely taught and spoken, especially among younger people.

  • Japan has more than 770 universities, enrolling more than 2.8 million students.
  • The two top-ranking universities in Japan are the University of Tokyo and Kyoto University.
  • Japan’s equivalent of the US Ivy League (which comprises private universities) are the state-maintained National Seven Universities, often described as the "Former Imperial Universities".
  • Bachelors degrees are taught over four years, while some universities offer six-year programmes leading to a professional degree.
  • In May 2012 there were 71,361 international students on undergraduate courses (up 0.2% up on the previous year) and 39,641 at graduate schools (0.3% down).

Compared with the US, Canada, and UK, Japan has lower tuition and living costs. International student fees are modest and there are many scholarship programmes to assist international students financially.

Entry and visa regulations

A visa giving the status of College Student is required. Normally a university will apply for a Certificate of Eligibility once you are accepted.

  • Once the certificate is granted, take it to an overseas Japanese embassy or consulate and file the visa application.
  • A resident card is also required.

Language Requirements

A number of leading universities, especially private ones, offer a few courses in English but most are in Japanese and knowledge of the language is more of a requirement than an asset.

  • Overseas students who want to study in English or Japanese must to prove their language proficiency, if the language is not their native tongue.

The university system

  • Japan has 86 national universities (including The Open University) and 95 local public universities, founded by prefectures and municipalities. The remaining four-year colleges are private. Most undergraduate degrees courses are four year and the proportion taught in English is increasing.
  • The academic year starts in April and runs to the following March with three breaks, but many universities will admit new international students in September.

The government wants to recruit more international students. It has set a target of 300,000 international students by 2020 (Japan’s universities passed the 100,000 mark in 2003 but progress has been slow in the past decade).

Most universities in Japan require international applicants to take the Examination for Japanese University Admission for International Students (EJU). The EJU can be taken at locations in 14 countries worldwide.

EJU includes the following subject tests:

  • Japanese as a Foreign Language
  • Science (Physics, Chemistry, and Biology)
  • Japan and the World
  • Mathematics.

Applicants select which subject tests to take based on the requirements of the Japanese university they wish to enter. The examination is available in Japanese or English, and applicants may specify, at the time of application, the examination language they wish to take (the Japanese as a Foreign Language test is administered in Japanese only).

  • Find out which Japanese universities consider EJU scores in their admission process for international students – see the list of schools using EJU.

This list also gives the subject test and examination language requirements of each university. Applicants may also be asked to submit scores from an English proficiency test such as TOEFL, or to travel to Japan to sit university entrance examinations.

Tuition fees and funding your study

Japan’s tuition fees are not as high as in the UK or the US.

  • Fees at the elite University of Tokyo (Todai) range from £3,520 a year for undergraduates and postgraduates to £5,300 for school of law students, with a £1,800 admission fee.
  • A number of generous scholarships are available. Check the listings as a starting point.

Student accommodation

Dormitory accommodation is the most convenient and economic place to live in.

  • Applications are considered twice a year.
  • Not all international students can be accommodated and there are alternatives.

Costs of living

Japan – and especially its major cities – is an expensive place to live.

  • If studying in Tokyo, university accommodation with meals provided is a good plan.

Typical costs in Japan (GBP, March 2015) are:

  • Apartment rent, 1 bedroom: £283 - £472 per month
  • Meal, inexpensive restaurant: £4.47
  • Meal at McDonalds: £3.63
  • Domestic beer (0.5 litre draught): £2.12
  • Imported beer (0.33 litre bottle): £2.79
  • Cappuccino: £2.05
  • Coke/Pepsi (0.33 litre bottle): £0.74
  • Water (0.33 litre bottle): £0.59
  • Loaf of bread: £0.98
  • Cigarettes: £2.46
  • One-way ticket local transport: £1.12
  • Cinema ticket: £10.05

Working while studying

Foreign students who wish to work part-time must apply for permission and receive approval in advance.

  • Employment up to 28 hours a week (up to 8 hours a day during summer break and other long vacation periods) is allowed but there are restrictions on the type of work – for example, employment in the adult entertainment business (e.g. in gaming machine arcades or in bars and cabarets) is prohibited.

Health and safety

Japan’s health service is high quality but under pressure from use that is higher than in comparable countries despite the highest life expectancy rate in the world.

  • Students staying in Japan for more than one year must register for national health insurance on arrival and begin payment of monthly premiums (about £130 a year). The insurance covers all but the first 30% of the total medical bill.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office advises against all travel to the exclusion zones around the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear facility identified by the Japanese authorities after the 2011 meltdown and tsunami.

Japan is considerably safer than many other developed countries, with low murder and robbery rates. The incidence of drug abuse is also tiny in comparison and the authorities actively seek to keep it that way through stringent punishment of Japanese and foreign offenders.

  • Persons arrested in Japan, even for a minor offence, may be held in detention without bail for two to three months during the investigation and legal proceedings.
  • Further, penalties for drug offences include lengthy imprisonment. Use or possession of small amounts of drugs may result in a prison sentence of between one and ten years and Japanese law allows for a fine of up to £33,000.
  • Deportation is possible and people deported under these circumstances are not permitted to return to Japan for five to ten years.
  • British nationals have been arrested and detained for receiving small quantities of cannabis through the mail, and for returning positive results in police tests on customers in bars.

Otherwise normal precautions should be taken, especially in nightlife areas.

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