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Key facts for international students in Tokyo

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Tokyo is a city of contrasts; giant, modern skyscrapers stand next to age-old, handcrafted temples; beautiful green parks intercept concrete streets; kind, polite people fill the bustling stations at rush-hour. It’s the cutting-edge of everything from technology, architecture and fashion, to food and pop-culture, where anime lovers and history buffs alike will find something to love. If you decide to study in Tokyo, there is a lot to learn and enjoy in the capital of Japan.

Tokyo is also home to 13 world-ranked universities, offering endless opportunities for those looking to study abroad. If you are interested in gaining a modern perspective while exploring the unique culture of Japan, Tokyo is the place to be. The city’s 100,000 international students can’t be wrong.

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 categorized 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 a proficiency in Japanese through one of the following:

A score of at least 200 points on the EJU exam

Level N1 or N2 of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT)

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. Most universities in Tokyo offer these for free to international students.

Main Universities in Tokyo

There are three types of universities in Japan: national, public and private. National universities are official universities of Japan created and run 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.

The University of Tokyo (National)

Todai”, as it is more commonly known, is Japan’s most prestigious university located in Bunkyo, Tokyo. Todai is ranked 34th worldwide on QS Top Universities list and offers a highly sought-after program in modern languages. Todai has courses in English with no knowledge of Japanese required for admission. The university has produced 8 Nobel laureates and 15 prime ministers of Japan. Todai currently enrolls 3,328 international students.

Tokyo Institute of Technology (National)

Often abbreviated to “Tokyo Tech”, this Greater Tokyo Area-based university is widely known for its excellent programs in science and engineering and ranks 56th worldwide on QS Top Universities list. It’s Global Scientists and Engineers Program is offered in English. There are 1,200 international students at Tokyo Tech.

Waseda University (Private)

Sodai”, as it is more commonly known, is a private research university in Shinjuku, Tokyo. Its alumni consists of many notable figures, including the author Haruki Murakami, and the CEO of fashion brand UNIQLO. Sodai is considered the number one university in Japan for international students and ranks 201st worldwide on QS Top Universities list. It is home to 5,084 international students and offers a wide range of undergraduate and post-graduate programs in English. Its other sought-after programs include law and architecture.

Keio University (Private)

Keidai” is a private university and world-class research center in Minato, Tokyo. It offers over 300 courses and 14 degree programs in English, and currently enrolls 1,666 international students. It’s also considered to have one of the best law faculties in the country. Keidai ranks 216th worldwide and 42nd in Asia on QS Top Universities list.

Tokyo Medical and Dental University (National)

Located in Bunkyo, Tokyo, TMDU is Japan’s only university with a graduate school of medical and dental sciences. It is ranked 329th worldwide on QS Top Universities list and is especially sought-after for its dentistry program, which is taught in English. There are over 200 international students at TMDU.

Tokyo Metropolitan University (Public)

TMU is a public research university located in Hachioji, Tokyo. Although the university is small, it is one of the most reputable in Japan and ranks 471st worldwide on QS Top Universities list. The university serves as a think tank for the Tokyo Metropolitan Government and has a competitive chemical engineering program. Since classes are conducted in Japanese, a high proficiency in the language is required from international students of which there are about 335.

Hitotsubashi University (National)

Located in Kunitachi, Tokyo, Hitotsubashi is a national university specializing in the social sciences. It has a highly sought-after economics and commerce programs and ranks 481st worldwide on QS Top Universities list. The university has strong relationships with universities abroad and currently enrolls 746 international students and hosts 450 international researchers. It offers both undergraduate and post graduate courses in English.

Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology (National)

UAT is a renowned national university in Fuchu, Tokyo that focuses on agriculture and engineering. As of 2016, the university has 328 international students from more than 35 countries. Its ranked 551st worldwide on QS Top Universities list and courses for international students are taught in English.

Tokyo University of Science (Private)

TUS is located in Shinjuku, Tokyo has graduated more Masters of Science students than any other in Japan. It boasts 273 international students from 18 countries and offers a number of graduate programs in English. TUS is ranked 651st worldwide on QS Top Universities list and boasts a Nobel laureate in medicine.

Ochanomizu University (National)

Ochanomizu is a national women’s university in Bunkyo, Tokyo that offers highly specialized education and small class sizes. The international student body is primarily made up of graduate students with most courses conducted in Japanese. In total, there are 220 students from 29 countries. Ochinomizu is ranked 701st worldwide on QS Top Universities List with competitive programs in hotel administration, industrial and labor relations, and veterinary medicine.

Aoyama Gakuin University (Private)

AGU is a private Christian university located in Shibuya, Tokyo with excellent programs in humanities and business education. Over 100 courses are offered in English and, as of 2016, there are 544 international students from 35 countries enrolled. The university ranks 701st worldwide on QS Top Universities list and has produced an impressive number of notable graduates in politics, writing, film & television, music, sports and business.

Yokohama City University (Public)

YCU is a small public university in Yokohama, Japan with a competitive life sciences program and two university hospitals. It ranks 491st worldwide on QS Top Universities list and is considered one of the world’s best small universities. Applicants who wish to attend YCU must be fluent in Japanese. There are about 88 international students currently at YCU.

Yokohama National University (Public)

Yokokoku” is a leading public university located in Yokohama, Japan. There are 942 international students from 74 countries enrolled at Yokokoku, which offers certain programs in English. The university is ranked 701st worldwide on QS Top Universities list and has a highly sought-after economics programs.

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 authorized 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 at a part-time job.

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 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.

Most universities in Tokyo offer their own support programs to students. At Aoyama Gakuin University, for example, there are “Chat Rooms” where international students can practice their Japanese and learn about other cultures.

Cost of Living

Tokyo is considered one of the top five most expensive cities in the world, but it can still be affordable if you’re willing to make some lifestyle changes, like forging those expensive restaurant meals for cooking at home instead. Japan’s plethora of “¥100 shops”, like Daiso and Seria, are a great place to shop for cheap but good quality kitchenware and household appliances (everything costs ¥100/€0.80 plus tax).

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 Kanto region, which includes Tokyo and Yokohama, is ¥87,000 (€695). 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.

The following websites have listings for share houses, apartments and other student accommodations in and around Tokyo:

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 and around Tokyo:

Getting around

Subways and trains are the best way to get around Tokyo, especially with a prepaid IC card. These credit card-sized passes can be charged beforehand and used on all lines in Tokyo and across Japan. They are the most efficient way to get through train stations as you don’t have to worry about which ticket to buy. You can even use them to buy items from vending machines and some shops.

Prepaid IC cards are available for purchase from any JR office at a station, or from Narita and Haneda airports. Once your credit is used up, you can recharge your card at any of the machines at train stations, which have English support. Depending on which line you take and how many transfers you make, ticket prices vary. Expect to spend about ¥800-1,000 (€6.40-8.00) a day on transport.

One, three and six-month student railway passes are also available from Tokyo Metro which allow you to take unlimited rides between stations on a specified route. Depending on where your university is located, this might be a good option for you.

Taxis are incredibly expensive in Tokyo – they all have a fixed start rate of ¥710 (€5.70) and then charge about the same after that per kilometer– but they may be the only option if you’re stranded after last train. Most train lines end their services around midnight.

Things to do

Tokyo has a wide array of famous sights and attractions for students on a budget, including Sensoji Temple and Meiji Shrine. At the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, you can visit the public observation deck on the 45th floor for free. The city’s Sumo Museum, Parasite Museum, Beer Museum Yebisu, Eyeglass Museum, Fire Museum and Japan Stationary Museum are all free of charge too.

You can take a city tour with the Systematized Goodwill Guide Group for no charge or visit the famed Tsukiji Fish Market. People watching in Harajuku, attending a local festival, or a jog around the Imperial Palace are other fun, free ways to enjoy the city.

Tokyo also has an exciting nightlife, with most big clubs in the city staying open until between 5-9 AM. These are concentrated around the Roppongi, Shibuya and Shinjuku areas. In Shibuya, the best music clubs are Asia, T2, Vision and Womb. Camelot is more mainstream and also quite cheap. If you’re headed to Roppongi, check out Greenland, Jumanji, New Planet and HUB. Shinjuku is very welcoming to the LGBTQ community and is also home to the famous Robot Restaurant.

Although Tokyo is considered one of the safest cities in the world, students should be wary of touts, people who promote goods and services on the streets. Although many touts simply hand out flyers or offer discounts for restaurants, there are those that are notoriously persistent and aggressive, especially outside bars and clubs in Roppongi and Kabukicho, the city’s red light district. Interactions with touts have been linked to incidences of drink spiking and robbery.

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

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See also

You have to apply for a study visa at the Japanese Embassy or Consulate in your home country if you wish to study in Japan.
Expatriates wishing to open a bank account in Japan have to produce their Residence Card which mentions their current address in the country.

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