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Masters Study in Japan - A Guide for 2020

A Masters in Japan can be an excellent choice for postgraduates seeking a high-quality study abroad experience with unique opportunities. An emerging study abroad destination, Japan has a lot to offer when it comes to postgraduate studies.

Whether you’re interested in exploring Japan’s ultra-modern cities or its stunning heritage sites, you’ll find yourself well-positioned to take advantage of its expertise in a number of high-tech fields of study.

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Postgraduate opportunities in Japan – what’s on offer for 2020?

With seven of its universities in the top 50 in Asia (two of them in the top 100 in the world), quality in teaching and research in Japan is not lacking. Education is at the heart of modern Japanese society, with academic freedom protected by the Constitution of Japan.

The Japanese government is also pushing an internationalisation agenda in higher education with its “Top Global University Project”. This project gives extra state funding to 37 Japanese universities that have been singled out for their work in globalization, aiming to help them build relationships with foreign universities and attract international academic talent.

As such, there’s never been a better time to study a Masters in Japan! Here are a few reasons why you should consider postgraduate study in Japan this year:

  • Academic excellence – Japanese universities enjoy a world-class reputation for their research and are keen to attract more international postgraduates.
  • Quality of life – Japan is one of the world’s safest countries, offering a welcoming environment for foreign students.
  • Scholarship opportunities – There are plenty of funding programmes available for international students in Japan – find out more.
  • Learn a new language – Although there are increasing numbers of Masters programmes in Japan taught entirely in English, studying there represents a fantastic chance to immerse yourself in the local culture and learn some Japanese.

Masters Study in Japan - Key Details
Universities 782
Oldest University Keio University (1858)
International Students 164,338
Course Length 2 years
Average Fees ¥535,800 (USD $4,900)
Academic Year April to March

Japanese universities

There are currently over 700 universities in Japan, around 75% of which are private universities.

As a rule, Japanese universities can be divided into three different types: private universities, national universities and public local universities. They all can offer postgraduate degrees.

  • National universities – These have been established in all local “prefectures” (the equivalent of local councils in the UK) to ensure that there’s no regional imbalance in terms of the provision of higher education.
  • Public local universities – Local public entities and public university corporations establish and manage these institutions. They play important roles in providing higher education opportunities to local people and in acting as intellectual and cultural centres.
  • Private universities – These are established by independent organisations, rather than by local or national government. Each promotes its own unique education and research strengths. Over the years, they have greatly contributed to the development of Japanese higher education.

Graduate schools

Since their creation in the mid-70s, graduate schools have been one of the pillars of Japan’s internationalisation strategy. With a relatively small proportion of the student population currently engaging in postgraduate study, the professional and personal development of students has become central to graduate schools.

These institutions not only train researchers, but also offer skills training as part of a well-rounded education for the future generation of teaching and research staff.

University rankings

Japanese universities perform well in global rankings, with several institutions featuring in the top 300 of the main league tables.

For more information, take a look at our guide to Japanese postgraduate rankings.

Top 5 Japanese Universities in 2020
University THE 2020 QS 2020 ARWU 2019
The University of Tokyo =36 =22 25
Kyoto University 65 =33 32
Tohoku University 251-300 82 101-150
Tokyo Institute of Technology 251-300 =58 101-150
Nagoya University 301-350 115 90
Information in this table is based on the latest Times Higher Education World University Rankings, QS World University Rankings and Academic Ranking of World Universities. Visit their websites for more information.

Course types

Masters degrees in Japan are two years long. Students gain a set number of credits from core courses (which are delivered through lectures, tutorials, group work and practicals, if applicable), research courses and elective courses. Normally, the minimum number of credits to achieve is 30 (with two credits per course usually available) from a total of 31, leaving little room for error.

The first three semesters are dedicated to courses and the final semester to your Masters dissertation (as well as taking a smaller number of compulsory courses).

In addition to passing final exams, you will submit a Masters thesis or present your research results if you decided to conduct a Masters research project. You will be allocated a supervisor for your final semester but there is no harm in starting to discuss your dissertation plans early.

Graduate schools will also offer Japanese language classes, which don’t count towards your course credits but are often free of charge.

Academic calendar

This is an area that hasn’t been addressed by the Japanese higher education sector’s internationalisation agenda, and there is no consistency with the semester system of countries such as Germany in the EU or the USA and Singapore further afield. Japan’s academic year starts in April with the second semester starting in October. Some, but not all, universities may offer Masters programmes with a start date in the second semester.

Fees and funding for Masters degrees in Japan

In national universities, tuition fees for pursuing a Masters programme in Japan are fixed by the Ministry or by local authorities for public universities. They are currently:

  • National universities: ¥535,800 (USD $4,900) per year + ¥282,000 (USD $2,565) for admission fees
  • Local public universities: ¥538,167 (USD $4,900) per year + ¥230,717 (USD $2,100) for admission fees

In private universities, annual tuition fees range from ¥660,750 (USD $6,015) to ¥1,249,304 (USD $11,370) per year. Admission fees are around ¥220,000 (USD $2,000).

Additional expenses

All international students are required to enrol in the National Health Insurance system. This is done through the office that processes your residence registration. The annual premium varies depending on where in Japan you live but is around ¥23,200 (USD $211) per year.

Optional expenses include:

  • University student health insurance
  • Personal accident insurance
  • Personal liability insurance


There are several scholarships available to international Masters students. The most prestigious scholarships are those awarded by MEXT.

  • Japanese Government (MEXT) Postgraduate Scholarships

    Applied through the Japanese embassy in your home country, these highly selective scholarships provide return air fare, university fees, a monthly grant of ¥143,000 (USD $1,300), an optional six-month course in Japanese and help finding accommodation. The scholarships are tenable at selected institutions but in all subject areas.

  • Monbukagakusho Honors Scholarship for Privately-Financed International Students

    These scholarships provide a monthly allowance of ¥48,000 (USD $440) for graduate students who do not hold a scholarship (from any source).

  • Japanese Grant Aid for Human Resource Development Scholarship

    A Masters scholarship available to students from Bangladesh, Cambodia, the Kyrgyz Republic, Laos, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nepal, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Vietnam.

    The scholarships are tenable at selected universities and provide tuition fees, admission fees, traveling and seminar allowance, book allowance, arrival allowance, accommodation allowance, stipend and shipping allowance.

  • Asian Development Bank-Japan Scholarship Programme

    These scholarships are available to people from borrowing member countries of the ADB who want to study Economics, Management, Science or Technology. Full tuition fees, a monthly subsistence and housing allowance, an allowance for books and instructional materials, medical insurance, and travel expenses are provided for one year, renewable for a second year.

  • Scholarships provided by JASSO

    JASSO is the Japan Student Services Organization is an independent administrative institution established under MEXT and which also runs the undergraduate university entrance examination EJU. It maintains a useful list of scholarships for international students offered by local authorities and private foundations.

Applying for a Masters in Japan

Entry requirements

Applicants for a Masters in Japan should have a Bachelors degree or an international equivalent. You may have to sit an entrance examination in your subject area or provide a graduate entry test score such as GRE, so check the exact requirements at your chosen university.

If English is not your first language, you’ll need to provide an English language certificate, such as TOEFL or IELTS (unless you studied your undergraduate degree in a country where English is the official language).

If you want to join a course delivered in Japanese, then you will have to demonstrate proficiency, most likely through the Japanese-Language Proficiency Test (JLPT).

Documents to supply

The application process at most Japanese universities involves a similar set of documents and forms that you’ll need to submit. They include:

  • The application form, normally available online or as a downloadable document
  • Personal statement, sometimes called the “academic essay”
  • Bachelor diploma (if you have already graduated) and transcripts
  • References/letters of recommendation (most often two)
  • English-proficiency test scores and certificates (and Japanese equivalent if required)
  • Application fee certificate or receipt

Selection process

In Japan, the selection process for a Masters programme shares similarities with that of a PhD. It’s a good idea to look for a potential supervisor for your dissertation project in advanced of submitting your application.

Having an academic who is willing to supervise you in the later stages of your Masters carries a lot of weight and will show that you’re serious about your long-term goals and aspirations.

Another thing to consider when looking for a suitable programme and supervisor is the teaching staff and whether they have a good level of English (for example, will their language skills be sufficient to read your dissertation should they become your thesis advisor?). Your e-mail conversations will tell you a lot but research publications in English are a definitive way to find out. You should look into their research expertise anyway and, if you’re not really proficient in Japanese, then articles in English-language journals will be your best chance of exploring their topic of interest.

Public universities in Japan commonly operate a two-step selection process. Candidates who are successful at the document screening stage will be interviewed. Applicants who live in Japan will be invited to the university for an interview while applicants outside Japan will have the option of being interviewed via video conferencing.

Visas and immigration for Masters students in Japan

Once you have accepted an offer of admission, your university (as your proxy) can apply on your behalf for a Certificate of Eligibility for a Status of Residence, issued by a Regional Immigration Bureau in Japan. The university will send you this document, which you can present to the Japanese embassy or consulate in your country of residence when you apply for your visa.

When you arrive in Japan, you will be granted “College Student” status by the immigration authorities (and this process is easier at the large Japanese airports). There are two periods of stay for Masters students (depending on what information your university provides in the Certificate of Eligibility for a Status of Residence), either two years or two years + three months.

There is also the option to apply for your visa personally (without a Certificate of Eligibility for a Status of Residence) at the Japanese Embassy or Consulate in your home country. However, there is a longer processing time because documents have to be sent back and forth between your home country and Japan.

You’ll be given a Resident Card by your Regional Immigration Bureau, which you must carry at all times. If your circumstances change, such as a switch in course, institution or withdrawal from studies, you must inform a Regional Immigration Bureau.

If you leave Japan temporarily (for example, to go on holiday or attend a conference), you don’t have to apply for a re-entry permit, as long as you indicate that you intend to come back when you are at the airport.

Next steps

With the third largest economy in the world, there are ample employment opportunities for international postgraduates in Japan.

Before finding work, however, you’ll need to change your visa status from “College Student” to one that reflects your desired career path, for example “Specialist in the Humanities/International Services” or “Engineer”. Visit the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan’s website for more information on this process.

Of course, a Masters is also perfect preparation for further study, so you might want to investigate PhD programmes in Japan.

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Last updated - 21/01/2020

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