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Key facts for international students in Kyoto-Osaka-Kobe

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The combined metropolitan area of Kyoto-Osaka-Kobe (also known as Keihanshin) in Japan boasts 7 internationally-ranked universities is considered the 17th best student city in the world, according to QS Top Universities. From gorgeous ancient temples to electric nightclubs and jazz bars, Kyoto-Osaka-Kobe is the perfect place for a student wanting to explore Japan away from the hustle and bustle of Tokyo.

In addition to its cutting-edge science and technology programs, Japan offers international students a wide range of unique study opportunities, including disaster prevention, pastry making, and anime and manga, with more and more courses offered in English each year.

The country’s financial support system for international students is one of the most extensive in the world, with plenty of scholarships available and job opportunities after graduation are plentiful.

Why not join more than 200,000 international students from 170 countries studying in one of the most beautiful, culturally-rich places in the world?

Teaching culture

There are five types of higher education available in Japan: colleges of technology, professional training colleges, junior colleges, universities and graduate schools. The length of study for most undergraduate degrees is four years. Degrees in medicine, veterinary science, dentistry and pharmacy require six years each. Higher education institutions are categorised as either national, local public, or private.

The academic year is divided into two semesters. The spring semester runs from April – September, and the fall (autumn) semester runs from September – March. Japanese students are usually enrolled in April, but many schools have a September or October admission system as well. Students have three long vacations, from late July to early September (summer), from late December to early January (winter) and from February to March (spring).

Professors in Japan are seen as superior to students and have a very high standing in Japanese society as a whole. They are addressed by the honorific “sensei”.

Teaching language

Some universities in Japan offer courses in Japanese only, while other universities offer courses in both Japanese and English.

Students who wish to enroll at a university where lectures are primarily conducted in Japanese, will be required to demonstrate proficiency in Japanese through one of the following:

Students who do not yet meet the above requirements or have not completed 12 years of education can enroll at a Japanese Language Institute before they pursue their studies at a university. There are two types of Japanese Language Institutes available to international students seeking higher education in Japan:

  • Private Japanese language institutes: Here, students can acquire proficiency for academic purposes and/or receive preparatory education for admission to university. To be eligible for student residence status, students must enroll at a government-approved institute.
  • Preparatory Japanese language programs offered at private universities and junior colleges: These are set up in private universities for international students wishing to enter university. Once the program is complete, students can then apply for admission into the same university or apply for admission at a different university in Japan.

International students from non-English speaking countries who wish to enroll in an English degree program are required to demonstrate a proficiency in English through one of the following:

  • A TOEFL score of 71-80 for university, and 75-80 for graduate school
  • A IELTS score of 5.6-6 for university, and 6 for graduate school

Since English is not as widely spoken in Japan as some other countries, all international students are encouraged to take Japanese lessons. Some universities, like Osaka Prefecture University, offer these for free to international students.

Main Universities in Kyoto-Osaka-Kobe

There are three types of universities in Japan: national, public and private. National universities are official universities of Japan created and ran by the government. These tend to be held in higher esteem than other universities and the entrance examinations are considered more challenging.

Public universities are founded by each of the prefectures in Japan and also have challenging entrance examinations. Private universities are not run by the government although they are sometimes subject to government regulation.

As of 2010, there are 86 national, 95 public and 597 private universities in Japan.

Kyoto

Kyoto University (National)

Kyodai”, as it is more commonly known, is the second-oldest university in Japan and is considered the top research institute in the country. It’s most sought-after programs are chemical engineering and law. On QS's Top Universities list, Kyodai is ranked 37th worldwide and 16th in Asia. It has produced 10 Nobel Prize laureates, two Fields medalists and one Gauss Prize winner. In 2016, Kyodai enrolled 1,882 international students from more than 100 countries. It offers 1 undergraduate and 9 graduate programs in English.

Ritsumeikan University (Private)

Often abbreviated to “Rits”, this Kyoto City-based university is ranked first place in the country for its International Relations program which is offered in English. On QS Top Universities list, it takes 701st place worldwide and 173rd in Asia. Rits has a liberal arts-oriented campus, a technology-oriented campus and a campus for management, public policy and law. In 2015, Rits welcomed a total of 1,341 international students.

Doshisha University (Private)

Dodai”, as it is more commonly known, is a private liberal arts university overlooking the Kyoto Imperial Palace. It is one of Japan’s “Global 30” institutes and ranks 701st on QS Top Universities List. Dodai has two campuses; one for liberal arts, theology and law, and one for science and engineering. Law and Business & Management are its most-sought-after programs. It also offers a wide range of English programs to its 913 international students.

Osaka

Osaka University (National)

Handai is Japan’s sixth-oldest university and one of the country’s National Seven Universities located in Osaka. It ties for 63rd place on QS Top Universities worldwide list and ranks 17th in Asia, and has produced 10 international prize winners, including the Nobel laureate Yukawa Hideki. Its basic sciences, technology and medicine programs are highly sought after. Out of 15,479 students, 2,184 are international, with a large number of classes taught in English.

Osaka Prefecture University (Public)

A merger of Osaka Prefecture University, Osaka Women’s University and Osaka Prefecture College of Nursing, OPU is one of the largest public universities in Japan. Its ranked 651st on QS Top Universities list and has highly sought-after engineering and nursing programs. Although the number of international students is only 240, this has been increasing every year for the past five and the university is committed to continuing this trend. There are no English programs offered at OPU.

Osaka City University (Public)

Located in Sumiyoshiku, Osaka, OCU is the largest public university in Japan. It has a highly rated medicine program and also excels in climate change, clean energy supply, urban health, and natural disaster research. OCU has produced two Nobel laureates and is ranked 651st on QS Top Universities list. In 2016, the university enrolled 323 international students from 22 different countries. Lectures are primarily conducted in Japanese.

Kobe

Kobe University (National)

Shindai”, as it is more commonly known, is a leading national university in the humanities and social sciences located in Kobe City, Hyogo. The main campus is situated at the foothills of Mount Rokko, overlooking Osaka Bay. It ranks 369th worldwide and 65th in Asia on QS Top Universities list. In 2016, the university welcomed 1,152 international students from 13 countries and regions. Shindai offers 6 graduate programs in English.

Entry conditions

The qualifications for admission differ from institution to institution, but an international student wishing to study in Japan must have completed 12 years of education (elementary and secondary school). Students educated in a country where primary and secondary education lasts less than 12 years (including high school) but are over 18 years of age must complete a college preparatory course to qualify for admission.

An international student wishing to study in Japan must apply for a visa in person. You will need a proxy (ex. an employee of the school accepting the student) who will first apply for an authorised Certificate of Eligibility (COE) at a regional immigration bureau in Japan. This requires proof that you will be able to pay for your expenses while abroad, such as a savings balance certificate. Once the COE is issued, you can apply for a visa from the Japanese Embassy in your home country.

Upon entering Japan, you will be issued a Residence Card with the status “Student” which you are required to carry with you at all times for the remainder of your stay. Your “Student” status of residence is valid until you complete your studies. If you are dismissed or withdraw from a university, your status of residence will expire immediately.

Students wishing to return home during their studies in Japan must fill out a “Disembarkation Card for Reentrant” and show their residence card at immigration in the airport. Students must return within 1 year, or before their period of stay expires.

“Student” residence status is granted in several different lengths, from 3 months to 4 years and 3 months. If your initial period of stay is not long enough to complete your studies, you have to extend your period of stay during your enrollment at a university.

Students must obtain a work permit in order to work part-time.

Scholarships

Fees for an undergraduate program at a national or public local university average ¥535,800 (€4,288) a year. At a private university, this can cost as much as ¥3,500,000 (€28,000).

The tuition exemption and fee waiver programs offered in Japan are more extensive than most other countries but can only be applied for once you have been admitted to a school. For a comprehensive list of scholarships available to international students, click here.

Student Support

In addition to the international student offices that assist international students at most universities, the Japan Student Services Organization (JASSO) offers a range of support programs to international students, including providing scholarships, implementing exchange programs, and providing information on studying in Japan. Study Japan also offers a comprehensive guide for prospective students.

Cost of Living

Although most stores accept credit cards, Japan is a cash-based society. Checks are rarely used and there is little in the way of internet banking services other than PayPal.

The average monthly expenses of an international student living in the Kansai region, which includes Kyoto, Osaka and Hyogo, is ¥86,000 (€689). This includes food, rent, utilities, insurance and medical aid, internet and cellphone services, and spending money.

Accommodation

Specific student housing options vary from university to university, but most will have a limited number of rooms reserved in their dormitories for international students. Living in a dormitory is certainly cheaper than other accommodation options, but students have to share a kitchen, bathroom and toilets, and strict rules, such as curfew, are often enforced.

About 75% of international students live in private houses or apartments. When renting an apartment or house, you will have to pay an amount equal to a month’s rent upfront (“shikikin”). When renting an apartment, a joint guarantor is required. For international students with limited Japanese connections, university-related persons such as office or teaching staff members, may be accepted as joint guarantors.

It is not uncommon for foreigners studying at the same university to live together in “gaijin” houses, inexpensive accommodations geared specifically toward those wanting to avoid the hassle and expensive of finding a conventional apartment. For a list of shared houses available in Kyoto-Osaka-Kobe, click here.

There is a special insurance program available to international students renting an apartment or house which covers unexpected emergencies, such as fire.

Working part-time in Japan

About 75% of international students in Japan work part-time and earn ¥50,000 (€400) on average a month. Students who wish to get a part-time job must first obtain a permit from the nearest regional immigration bureau, known as “Permission to Engage in Activity other than that Permitted under the Status of Residence Previously Granted.”

Once you obtain permission, you may work part-time under the following conditions:

  • The part-time work does not affect your studies.
  • The part-time work is less than 28 hours a week (Up to 8 hours a day during long-term school breaks).
  • The part-time work is not in the adult entertainment industry.
  • The part-time work is completed while you retain student residence status at an educational institution.
  • The income earned from the part-time work supplements your academic fees and monthly expenses, and is not for saving or remittance overseas.

A basic level of Japanese is needed to find part-time work in Japan. About 49% of international students working part-time work in the food and beverage industry and about 25% in sales and marketing.

The following online resources are available for foreign students looking for part-time work in Kyoto-Osaka-Kobe:

Getting around

Kyoto has two subway lines, one that goes from east to west, and from north to south. It’s a convenient system that’s easy to navigate, but it’s limited to the area around the city center. Use the train for places outside the city. Rides on the subway cost about ¥350 (€315) each and run from 5:30 to 23:30. Most buses run from Kyoto Station with signs and announcements in English.

The most convenient way to get around Osaka is by subway. There are seven lines that service the area around the city center and an eighth that runs to the outskirts of the city. The Midosuji Line runs from north to south through all of the city’s major areas, including Shin-Osaka, Umeda, Shinsaibashi, Namba and Tennoji. Most subway rides cost about ¥300 (€2.50)

The subway and trains in Kobe are both convenient for getting around the city. The cheapest subway ticket costs about ¥210 (€1.70). There is also a tourist-friendly bus service called the Kobe City Loop which passes many of the city’s main attractions. A one day pass costs ¥660 (€5.35) and gets you discount at over 30 attractions along the route.

Most subway and rail companies in Kyoto-Osaka-Kobe offer discounted commuter passes which can be purchased at any one of their stations. Some universities, like Kyoto University, offer their own student transport pass to students commuting to and from campus.

Things to do

Osaka is a warm, friendly outgoing city with a vibrant nightlife that is concentrated in the districts of Umeda and Namba. Here, you’ll find everything from bars and free live music to clubs, most of which only get going after midnight. Language exchange evenings are a common event in town and a great way to meet new people.

Due to its large student population, Kyoto is considered to have the 4th best nightlife in Japan. Bars and clubs are open every night of the week in Gion and Miyagawacho, the city’s largest entertainment areas. The ancient alleyway of Pontocho is also a must-see full of hostess clubs, karaoke bars and Geisha tea houses.

Kobe’s nightlife is often overlooked when compared to Osaka and Kyoto, but it has a thriving music scene and is considered to have some of the oldest and best jazz venues in the country. Most of the bars and clubs are located in the Sannomiya district in the center of town. is extremely important in Japan

Local culture

In Japanese society, it is important to consider the group over the individual, and to avoid conflict and trouble. While this sometimes leads to nervousness when having to deal with people who are not Japanese, most attitudes toward foreigners are positive. Japanese people are extremely kind, polite and diplomatic, and will go out of their way to help others.

Content written by Simone Armer

We do our best to provide accurate and up to date information. However, if you have noticed any inaccuracies in this article, please let us know in the comments section below.
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