Study in Japan

Five Quick Points About Japan

  • Fascinating blend of very old and very modern cultures and art forms
  • One of world’s best-educated and most literate populations
  • Cutting-edge research and technology facilities in many schools
  • Welcoming environment currently for foreign students given government emphasis on increasing international student numbers
  • Stunning environmental as well as cultural attractions

Location and Geography

Japan is situated in northeastern Asia between the North Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Japan. In terms of size (377,835 square kilometres), Japan is nearly equivalent to Germany and Switzerland combined, or slightly smaller than the U.S. state of California. Japan consists of four major islands, surrounded by more than 4,000 smaller islands. The country’s topographical features include coastlines with varied scenery, towering, often volcanic mountains, forests, and valleys. The capital city is Tokyo.


The combination of Japan’s mountainous territory and the length of the archipelago results in a complex climate. Most of the country is located in the northern temperate zone, which yields four distinct seasons. In addition, there are significant climatic differences between Hokkaido in the north, which has short summers and lengthy winters with heavy snowfalls, and the southern islands, such as Okinawa in the south, which enjoy a subtropical climate. Japan’s topographical features include coastlines with varied scenery, towering often volcanic mountains, and twisted valleys that invite visitors into the mysterious world of nature.

History and Population

Japan has been populated for at least 30,000 years. During the last ice age, Japan was connected to mainland Asia by a land bridge, which hunters were able to walk across. When the ice age ended about 10,000 BC, Japan became a group of islands.

In 1603, after decades of civil warfare, the Tokugawa shogunate (a military-led, dynastic government) ushered in a long period of relative political stability and isolation from foreign influence.

Japan opened its ports with the U.S. in 1854 and began to intensively modernise and industrialise. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Japan became a regional power that was able to defeat the forces of both China and Russia. It later occupied Korea and Formosa (Taiwan). In 1931–32 Japan occupied Manchuria, and in 1937 it launched a full-scale invasion of China. Japan attacked U.S. forces in 1941, triggering America’s entry into World War II, and soon occupied much of East and Southeast Asia. After its defeat in World War II, Japan recovered to become an economic power and an ally of the U.S.

Japan’s population is roughly 127 million. Japan is one of the most densely populated regions in the world, and most Japanese reside in urban areas. Japanese is the official language.

Society and Culture

Shinto and Buddhism are Japan’s two major religions. They have been co-existing for several centuries and have even complemented each other to a certain degree. Most Japanese consider themselves Buddhist, Shintoist, or both. Harmony, order, and self-development are three of the most important values that underlie Japanese social interaction. Japan has made major contributions to the art world (including performance arts, literature, and film).

As much as Japanese are proud of their traditional culture, they are also embrace modernity. Japanese fashion, pop music, video games, cartoons and comic books (e.g., manga) are very avant-garde and often lead the world in new trends.

Japanese cuisine is renowned around the world for its freshness (e.g., sushi) and health benefits. The most popular sports are sumo, baseball, and football (soccer).


In the years following World War II, government-industry cooperation, a strong work ethic, mastery of high technology, and a comparatively small defense allocation helped Japan develop a technologically advanced economy.

Today, measured on a purchasing power parity basis, Japan is the third-largest economy in the world after the U.S. and China. It is an Asian leader in banking, retailing, telecommunications, stock exchange, and transportation. Japan’s main exports are cars, electronic devices, and computers, and main trading partners include China and the U.S., followed by South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand, and Germany. The currency is the Yen.


Japan has a parliamentary government with a constitutional monarchy. While the emperor retains his throne as a symbol of national unity, elected politicians hold actual decision-making power.

Living Conditions and Cost of Living

The OECD notes that on its Better Life Index, “Japan ranks at the top in personal security. It ranks above the OECD average in income and wealth, education and skills, jobs and earnings, personal security, and social connections. “

Japan is a relatively expensive place to study for international students. Living costs (especially in Tokyo) are notorious for being among the world’s highest. However, students living outside of central Tokyo who adjust to a Japanese lifestyle and do not depend too heavily on food and products from their home countries (and who don’t eat out too much) will find Japan much more affordable. The general cost of living and accommodation varies depending on where students choose to stay.

QS notes,

“Aware that living and studying in Japan is expensive compared to many countries, the government has also introduced additional financial support for foreign students. Various university scholarships and grants are available through the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) and the Japan Student Services Organization (JASSO).”

They provide an average range of annual tuition for international students at Japanese universities: US$4,140-8,280.

Education System

There are about 780 universities in Japan, the majority of which are private. The best/popular national institutions are famously tough to get into. Applying for them entails two exams: a standard exam given by the National Center for University Entrance examinations and the university-specific exam administered by each school. Many students who do not get into the university of their choice wait till the following year to try again with the exams.

Recent years have also seen the ascendance of private educational institutes, many of which now rival national universities in prestige and popularity.

Information Specific to International Students

Japan hosted nearly 210,000 students in 2015 and if that growth continues at roughly the same rate through 2020, the country’s 300,000-student target will be within reach.

MastersPortal notes: “Students interested in short time studies at Japanese language schools are allowed to register with a tourist visa. Applicants willing to study full time for more than three months need to apply for a student visa, which can be provided by the Japanese consulate available in any country.” For more information on visas please see this link.

Students who want to work in Japan must receive a “Permission to Engage in Activity Other than that Permitted by the Status of Residence Previously Granted” approval, which allows them to work for 28 hours a week during studies and full-time in official holiday periods.

The Japanese government is also encouraging international student graduates – particularly in certain disciplines – to stay on and work in Japan after their studies.

More Information – A comprehensive guide to studying in Japan – A helpful portal for studying in Japanese language schools, vocational colleges, and universities – Guide to living costs in Japan – Japan National Tourism Organization – QS information on applying to Japanese institutions and application procedures – MastersPortal guide to studying in Japan