Study in Tokyo

Updated 2019-04-01 13:02

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.

An overview of the educational system

In Japan, school is mandatory from age six to fifteen years old. It is called 'gimu gakkou' (compulsory schooling). The school year starts in April. Primary school lasts for six years (six to eleven years). Secondary school lasts three years (twelve to fourteen years) and High school, three years also (from fifteen to seventeen years). While young Japanese people have the opportunity to drop out of school at the end of the college years, the majority, on the other hand, continue their studies in high school.

Students have three vacation periods: End of July to early September (summer with the longest holidays), late December to early January (winter) and February to March (spring).

In high school, they have a choice between several options :

  • Koutou gakkou: general school
  • Koutou senmon gakkou: technical school
  • Senshuu gakkou: vocational school
  • Tsuushin seikatei: correspondence studies
  • Teijiseikatei: evening classes

As mentioned above, the Japanese opt mostly for the general school. Next comes the technical school: senmon gakkou. These are the same senmon gakkou found in the university system.

As in high school, the Japanese have a choice between numerous university courses:

  • Daigaku: University during four years minimum
  • Tsuushin kyouikubu : Correspondence studies, four years
  • Tanki daigaku : Short-cycle university (two years)
  • Koutou senmon gakkou : as said above, the course in senmon gakkou extends from high school to university. It lasts, on average, four years

Useful link:


University admission

An international student wishing to study in Japan must have completed 12 years of study (elementary and secondary school). Students educated in a country where primary and secondary education (including high school) last less than 12 years but is older than 18 years must go through a preparatory course to be eligible.

Any international student wishing to study in Japan must submit their visa application in person. You will need an agent (for example, an employee of your school), who will request an official Certificate of Eligibility (CoE) from a regional immigration office in Japan. This requires proof that you will be able to support yourself while you are abroad, such as a savings account statement. Once the CoE is issued you can apply for a visa at the Embassy of Japan in France.

Here you are now, in Japan. You will receive your zairyu ka-do or resident card at the airport. Yours will be marked 'Gakusei', 'student'. Keep it with you at all times. It serves as an identity card.

If you wish to return home during the school holidays, you must first inform your school of your intent. You will also need to complete a « Disembarkation Card for Reentrant » and present your resident card to the immigration services at the airport.

Student resident status is granted for different durations, ranging from 3 months to 4 years and three months. If the initial length of stay is not long enough to complete your studies, you must extend it during your enrolment at the university.

As a student, you will be able to work on a part-time basis (baito) within the limit of 28 hours/week. However, you must obtain an authorisation, from immigration services. The procedure is quickly done at the airport, at the same counter as the one who issues your resident card.
Your school issues the document authorising you to work during as your CoE and this document should be produced at the airport. Immigration services will indicate on your resident card and passport that you are eligible for work.

Before university: Qualifying Test

In Japan, a qualifying examination is required for university. As an international student, you will attend EJU, the Examination for Japanese University Admission for International Students. The EJU assesses your level of Japanese and your academic knowledge. Depending upon the chosen field, you will need to answer to scientific, mathematical, general culture, general knowledge of Japan and its relations with the world, without forgetting the Japanese language.

The Japanese universities will, therefore, request for EJU and not the JLPT. This "Japanese Language Proficiency Test" is well-known to expats as it is highly recommended in order to work in Japan. Companies will recommend that you have the L2 (level two), which corresponds to the bilingual level.

Holding the JLPT N2 is also an asset to gain access to a university, as it certifies your knowledge of the Japanese language. Similarly, do not hesitate to take the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL): the higher your score, the more it will value your application.

However, before you even think about EJU, make sure you have done at least 12 years of study. Therefore, you will require the following:

  • Validated 12 years of study (Baccalaureate degree)
  • A valid passport
  • Written proof of your ability to pay your expenses during your stay in Japan
  • Good knowledge of Japanese

Before targeting the university, you can join a Japanese Language Institute to strengthen your knowledge of Japanese.

There are two types of language institutions:

  • Private Japanese-language institutes: students can learn Japanese as part of their studies and/or receive preparatory training for admission to university. To be eligible for student resident status, the latter must register with an institute recognised by the government.
  • Japanese preparatory programmes offered by universities and private pre-university institutions: these programmes are established by private universities, such as the University of Waseda, for international students wishing to enter a Japanese university. Once the program is validated, students can apply at the same university or another Japanese institution.

As mentioned above, in Japan, the school year starts in April. It is advisable to register for the exam at the earliest. The EJU is held twice a year, in June and November; do not miss the registration period.

For the EJU in June, you can register from February to March. For the one in November, the enrolment opens in July. You can register by post, or directly on the Internet, with the Japan Student Services Organization (JASSO).

Find all details about registration, cost, and procedures on the JASSO website.

Good to know:

When going on a university exchange, you will not necessarily have to pass the EJU, since some universities have established partnerships with Japanese universities. Find out whether your institution has an agreement with Japan. If so, your university will take care of the steps to allow you to study in Japan. However, your host university reserves the right to evaluate your level. Even in the context of an exchange, therefore, make sure to have an exceptional profile so that your application is accepted.

The academic system in Japan

The university system is generally similar to the French LMD (degree- master-doctorate) system. In Japan, the curriculum is divided into gakushi (license), shuushi (master) and hakushi (doctorate). Unlike France, in Japan, the licence is done in four years, instead of three for France.

Universities are divided into three groups:

  • Kokuritsu daigaku : Kokuritsu" means "National; State". The Kokuritsu Daigaku are national universities, directly administered by the government. They operate like corporations, and they are financed essentially provided by taxes. These institutions are also distinguished by their close ties with the business world (research in partnership with private companies).
  • Kouristu Daigaku: 'kouritsu' is the 'public institution'. The kouritsu Daigaku are therefore public universities, managed by the local administrative authority or by the city. Here, the taxes received are those of the local administrative authority and the city. The operative functioning is corporatist, and the influence of the kouristu Daigaku is appreciated at the regional level: it has privileged relations with regional enterprises and researches are focused on the development of the economy.
  • Shiritsu Daigaku: «shiritsu», for «private». Shiritsu Daigaku are private universities. Their programme tends to focus more on social sciences and humanities. To qualify for a private university, you must first pass your qualifying test which is proposed by the university, itself. This test is common to all applicants and is a national one.

These qualifying tests coincide on one point, their difficulty level. In a selective school system where there are many exams, the entry to the university is a new test. There is a lot of competition, a lot of failures. That is the other reality of the Japanese university system. Paradox: these qualification examinations are generally much more difficult than the actual courses that will take place in the institutions.

Parallel to this university system, there are shorter courses and technical institutions.

Tanki Daigaku: these are short-cycle universities. It provides the same types of teachings as those observed in traditional universities, with, however, a more practical approach. The aim is to broaden the students' vision, to make them able to sell themselves on the labour market, in particular, through work placements (jishuu).

Senmon gakkou: these are technical schools, whose teaching extends from high school to higher education. 'Senmon' means 'specialty'. Senmon gakkou targets a particular professional sector: arts, fashion, industry, agriculture, trade, health, culture and education, social, household management etc.

This will require students to be punctual and serious. Schools will not hesitate to note any lateness; the absence must be explicitly notified; and to be avoided as much as possible, except in cases preventing any mobility (contagious disease, for example).

Since it is a strict system, it is advisable to students who have a clear vision of their career aspirations. The senmon gakkou having privileged links with the world of business, the best students will have greater chances of finding work as soon as they finish their syllabus or even before.

The teaching medium

Some Japanese universities offer only courses in Japanese, while others offer courses in Japanese and English.

International students from non-English-speaking countries who wish to enrol in an English-language program must attest their English proficiency: pass the TOEFL or the International English Language Testing System (IELTS). Minimum scores may vary from one institution to another, so make sure to contact the university you want to join directly.

However, since English is not as widely spoken in Japan as in other countries, all international students are advised to take Japanese courses. Some universities, such as Tokyo University, offer free Japanese courses to their students.

The main universities in Tokyo

Studying in Tokyo means enjoying a unique living environment: a dynamic and attractive megacity, whose universities, starting with the famous University of Tokyo, are among the most famous in the world.

National universities

University of Tokyo

Founded in 1877, the « Todai », (Tokyo Daigaku contraction), as it is more commonly known, is Japan's most prestigious university. Todai is ranked 23rd in the world on the list of the best universities in the world (QS 2019 ranking) and offers a curriculum of modern languages very sought after. The university has also developed programs in English, for which no specific knowledge of Japanese is required.

The prestige of Todai is also appreciated through the exceptional paths of its former students. The university has produced 9 Nobel Laureates, five astronauts, and 15 Japanese prime ministers. Todai currently counts 3,696 international students.

More information: Todai website

Tokyo Institute of Technology

Often abbreviated to 'Tokyo Tech', this university is recognised for its excellent science and engineering courses. Its 'Global Scientists and Engineers' curriculum is available in English. In 2018, some 1,700 international students benefited from the teaching of Tokyo Tech.

More information: Tokyo Tech website

Tokyo Medical and Dental University

Tokyo Medical and Dental University (TMDU) is the only university in Japan to have a graduate school of medical and dental sciences. Its dental program, delivered in English, is particularly popular. Besides, 331 international students are currently attending this university.

More information: TMDU website

Hitotsubashi University

Hitotsubashi is specialised in social sciences. Its economic and trade courses are highly sought- after. It has strong relationships with universities abroad. It offers courses, both undergraduate and graduate, in English.

More information: Hitotsubashi University website.

Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology

Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology (TUAT) has developed its know-how in agriculture and engineering. Its courses are available in English to international students.

More information: TUAT website

The University of Ochanomizu

The University of Ochanomizu is reserved for women and offers highly specialised education in an optimal setting: courses are offered in small classes. Ochanomizu offers courses in the fields of hotel administration, industrial and professional relations, and veterinary medicine. Some 211 international students attend school in Ochanomizu. Most courses are given in Japanese.

More information: Ochanomizu University website

Public universities

Tokyo Metropolitan University

Although small (only 9,621 students, including 545 international students), TMU (Tokyo Metropolitan University) is one of Japan's leading public research universities. The university serves as a think tank for the Tokyo Metropolitan Government and has an outstanding chemical engineering curriculum. As the courses are taught in Japanese, a high level of language proficiency is essential to follow the curriculum.

More information: TMU website

Private universities

Waseda University

Japan's first private university, the name 'Waseda' feels to foreigners as much as 'Todai'. The prestigious Waseda University included outstanding personalities, like author Haruki Murakami, and Tadashi Yanai, founder of the UNIQLO clothing brand. Waseda is divided into several faculties, including law school, political and economic sciences, humanities, social sciences, etc. It hosts the most significant number of international students in Japan and offers a wide range of undergraduate and graduate courses in English.

More information: Waseda website

Keio University

The Keio Daigaku (Keidai) is both a private university and a world-class research centre. Eight winners of the 'Keio medical science' award were also Nobel laureates. Three prime ministers and two astronauts attended the university. With its know-how, it promotes its philosophy, which is open to the world, and promotes parity: according to the newspaper Asahi Shimbun, Keio is the institution with the most students (excluding women's universities). Keio maintains strong international links and offers a wide range of English courses:

More information: Keio University website

Tokyo University of Science

The TUS (Tokyo University of Science) holds the national record in terms of the number of masters in science awarded. Some 346 international students are attending TUS, with the near assurance of finding a job upon graduation: in 2018, more than 96.6% of students have obtained a job. Its assets: more than 380 research laboratories. Researches based on innovation, technical progress, high technology.

More information: TUS website

Aoyama Gakuin University

AGU (Aoyama Gakuin University) is a century-old and is a Christian university. It offers excellent programs in law, literature, economics, engineering, etc. Its Faculty of Literature is internationally oriented and has, among other things, a department of English and French department. Many celebrities have attended the AGU: writer Atsuko Asano, volleyball player Naoko Yokote, baseball player Tadahito Iguchi, screenwriter Nobuyuki Isshiki, and actress Megumi Yokohama. Through its high reputation, the AGU is Japan's third most famous university.

More information: AGU website

Not far from Tokyo, Yokohama also hosts renowned establishments. The city has many assets: close to Tokyo (just 40 minutes by metro or train from Ikebukuro train station), the costs of housing are lower than in Tokyo etc.

Yokohama Municipal University

The YCU is a small public university in Yokohama, Japan, with a good course in life sciences and it has two hospitals. Enjoying a good reputation, the University promotes exchanges and invites international students to discover its teachings.

More information: YCU website

National University of Yokohama

The Yokohama National University (YNU) has three poles of skills and knowledge: the humanities and social sciences, the sciences and engineering. As part of a policy to welcome international students, the university offers specific programs in English.

More information: YNU website

Senmon gakkou

The senmon gakkou, technical schools preparing students to exercise a job, have much consideration as the Japanese universities and they too, do identify their best institutions. The senmon gakkou can be compared, with the services they provide, (to train for a job) to the professional establishments.

There are senmon gakkou in all sectors, including construction, hotel and catering, medicine, personal assistance, art, etc. Today, for example, joining the business of manga and animation is a dream for many enthusiasts.

Becoming a mangaka (manga author), dubber, animator, illustrator. In a very competitive market, many young Japanese people choose to join a senmon gakkou. Some, such as Tokyo Animation College or Tokyo Design Gakuin (Gakuin stands for 'institute, academy') are among the best schools. These schools are thought of as a great family, of which each member needs the other: the writing department trains in the scriptwriter's trade. Scenarios that can be used by designers, of the drawing section, on its way to become mangaka (mangaka can only do drawing, or do both: script and drawing). The created manga will be animated by the students of the animation pole. The seiyuu aspirants (dubbers) will then put their voices on the animated characters.

This kind of large-scale project can only be imagined in these senmon gakkou, which have all the necessary equipment and know-how. So you learn to be an author of manga, screenwriter, illustrator, character designer, dubber'¦ Video game trades are also present: visual image, 3D animation, special effects, programming etc. The Tokyo Design Gakuin embraces more fields than the Tokyo Animation College, more broadly regrouping everything related to design. We will thus find, an architecture department, a pole devoted to makeup, or even, to fashion.

Tokyo Design Gakuin shows its willingness to welcome international students, in particular with the creation of help and support service (administrative procedures, housing, etc.). However, it is highly recommended to speak Japanese. In the English version of the Tokyo Design Gakuin website (Tokyo Animation College also has an English version; these versions contain much less information than the Japanese sites), it is specified that you must have at least the JLPT 2: you must speak fluent Japanese to be able to take courses in these schools. This can be seen as curb, or rather, an additional motivation to learn Japanese, and get closer towards one's dream.


According to the JASSO website, the annual fee for an undergraduate or graduate program at a national university is $7,940 (â¬6,929), compared to $7,465 (â¬6,515) for a public university. They will rarely exceed $10,000 (â¬8,727) in private universities, except for medical studies, where the cost for one year can rise to nearly $50,000 (â¬43,636).

Waiver programs offered in Japan are more comprehensive than in most other countries, but can only be applied once you have been admitted to a school. For an exhaustive list of scholarships open to international students, click here.

Support for students

In addition to the international student support offices that you will find in most universities, the Japan Student Services Organization (JASSO) offers a range of international student support programs, including scholarships, exchange programs, and study information in Japan. Study Japan also offers future students a comprehensive guide.

Most of Tokyo universities are developing their own support programs. For example, Aoyama Gakuin University provides its international students with chat room allowing them to practice their Japanese and discover other cultures. Todai gathers a lot of associations for international students.

Studying in Japan is possible. The country offers a unique setting for an enriching experience. If the language is an obstacle, it is surmountable: some will opt for English courses. Others will start practising Japanese, from their home country or on the spot in Japan. The advantage of learning on the spot is that you are constantly bathed in the Japanese language. Speaking Japanese will be an additional asset for you to promote to companies.

If you have any questions, feel free to post them on's Tokyo Forum.

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