Japan excels in many fields, making it an ideal place to pursue further studies. For instance, the University of Tokyo, one of Japan’s top universities, globally ranks high in fields like modern languages, physics and astronomy, chemistry, mechanical engineering, and chemical engineering.

However, perhaps more importantly, most international students who study in Japan cite their interest in Japanese culture and daily life as some of the top reasons why they chose Japan as their study abroad destination. This is particularly true for students and professionals who want to pursue further studies. Individuals who pursue graduate studies are more likely to be in a stage in their life where they want to explore not just academics but also to experience life abroad in a more holistic sense, including the life and culture of a place. 

I am one of those students who chose to study abroad in Japan not just because of academics but also because of my interest in Japanese art, culture, and Japan’s natural environment. While I was considering studying in the US, UK, Australia and New Zealand, what ultimately helped with my decision to study in Japan was getting the MEXT Scholarship to pursue further studies. 

MEXT Scholarship

Offered by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports and Technology, MEXT is a fully-funded scholarship by the Japanese government. Also called the Monbukagakusho Scholarship, the scholarship has many categories and is open to over 160 nationalities. There are two ways to apply for a MEXT Scholarship. One is applying through the Embassy of Japan in your country and another way is through the recommendation of a Japanese university. Here are the categories of the MEXT Scholarship:

  • Undergraduate Level
    • Undergraduate Student
    • Japanese Studies Student
    • College of Technology Student
    • Specialized Training College Student
  • Graduate School Level
    • Research Student (Non-Degree, Master’s, Doctorate)
    • Teacher Training Student

As you can see above, the MEXT Scholarship for Graduate School Level Students has two major types: scholarships for Research Students and Teacher Training Students. This article focuses on the scholarship for Research Students (Master’s).

MEXT Scholarships: Research Students (Non-Degree, Master’s, Doctoral) 

The MEXT Research Student Scholarship covers “Non-Degree Research Students,” “Master’s Students,” and “Doctoral Students.” For the Embassy-Recommended MEXT Research Student Scholarship, the applicants are actually applying first as Non-Degree Research Students. Scholars can then “move up” as Master’s and/or Doctoral Students after passing the entrance examination of their intended graduate school. 

In Japan, a Non-Degree Research Student is generally a student who is enrolled in a university and is associated with a specific graduate school and department but will not earn a degree after the kenkyusei period.  Research Students usually pursue their master’s or doctorate degree after finishing their kenkyusei period, but some students opt to become graduate students depending on the timeline of the entrance examination and screening of their graduate school. The kenkyusei period can be from 6 months to 2 years.

MEXT Scholarship (Master’s): Details of Application Process

A good way to think about applying for graduate schools in Japan is that you are not just applying to a university. You are actually applying to a department or graduate school in a university, and you are looking for an academic advisor in that department who can supervise your research. Hence, one of the central parts of the application process is submitting a Research Plan. 

Overview of Application Process: MEXT Scholarship for Research Students (Non-Degree to Master’s)

  1. MEXT releases the Scholarship Application Guidelines through the Embassy of Japan (in your country) [usually during the first quarter of the year]
  2. Applicant submits the application documents to the Embassy of Japan for the First Screening. 
    • Documents include standard documents such as an Application Form, Transcript of Record, and Diploma. Other important documents include a Research Plan and Recommendation Letters. 
  3. The Embassy of Japan releases the results of the First Screening through email
  4. Applicant takes the Qualifying Examination administered by MEXT through the Embassy of Japan as the Second Screening
  5. Applicant goes to an interview conducted by the Embassy of Japan as the Third Screening
  6. The Embassy of Japan releases the result of the Second Screening through email.
    • The Embassy of Japan returns the scholarship application documents to the applicant. These documents would now have the official seal of the embassy.
    • The Embassy of Japan gives a certificate to the applicant to certify that the applicant passed the second screening
    • Note: The idea here is that the Embassy of Japan in your country now considers you as a viable candidate for the scholarship and is considering to fund your research in Japan.
  7. Applicant contacts potential research advisers and applies for a “Letter of Provisional Acceptance” from the graduate school or department of their chosen university or universities
    • Applicant submits to the potential adviser all of the previously submitted scholarship application documents (that now has the seal of the Embassy of Japan)
    • Depending on the applicant’s research, or on the research adviser, or on the graduate school, the applicant may have to submit additional documents
    • Applicant only needs one “Letter of Provisional Acceptance” but may request for up to three certificates from three different universities
    • Note: The idea here is that you now have a research that could be funded by MEXT. In essence, you are now being endorsed by the Embassy of Japan as a scholarship candidate. Now you have to find a “research adviser,” also called a “sensei,” who is an expert in your field of study to supervise your research in Japan. In a way, this means that the Embassy of Japan in your country thinks that your research is important, but now you need to find someone who can help you do your research and do your research well. This is usually the longest part of the process.
  8. Potential advisers send out the “Letter of Provisional Acceptance” from their graduate school to applicants that they accept
  9. Applicant submits the “Letter of Provisional Acceptance” that they received from their potential advisers to the Embassy of Japan following a deadline
  10. The Embassy of Japan submits all of the applicant’s application documents, including the applicant’s “Letter of Provisional Acceptance,” to MEXT in Tokyo for the Final Screening
  11. MEXT releases the final result of the scholarship through the Embassies of Japan
    • If the applicant submitted more than one “Letter of Provisional Acceptance” (which means they were accepted by more than one adviser/graduate school/university), MEXT is the final authority that will determine where the student will be placed
  12. Applicant signs the scholarship agreement and prepares to leave for Japan.

As you can see, the basic idea of applying for the research scholarship is that you want to do research in Japan and you need funding to do it. Once the Embassy of Japan in your country understands and agrees that your research is indeed important and they consider you and your research worthy of funding, you then find a research adviser who can help you actualize your research. Through this whole process, the focus is on the research itself, and not on earning units for classes or getting a degree. The whole application process does not include an entrance examination administered by the university. Once you get accepted into the scholarship as a Research Student (Non-Degree/kenkyusei), you may already start applying for admissions into your Graduate School as a Master’s Student. Check out the article, (Monbukagakusho Scholarship for Research in Japan Part 2: Stories from Research Students), where I wrote about MEXT scholars’ experiences on how to “move up” from a kenkyusei to a Master’s student. 

MEXT Scholarship (Master’s): Timeline of Studying in Japan

Most students who receive a MEXT Scholarship are required to take six months of Preparatory Japanese Language Education. The academic adviser determines if the student is required to take the language course. Students are placed into classes depending on their current Japanese language ability. Some research advisers require students to take the language course even if their degree program will be in English because learning Japanese will also help students to adjust to their daily life in Japan. 

Afterwards, scholars take 6 months to 1 year of studying as a kenyusei. The duration of this depends on the timing of how early the student can “move up” from being a kenkyusei to being a Master’s student because of the admissions deadline of their universities. Then, earning a Master’s Degree in Japan takes 2 years. Finally, MEXT scholars may request for an extension of their scholarship for another 3 years so they can finish their Doctorate.

In summary, MEXT Scholarship (Master’s) students often go through the following timeline:

  • 6 Months for Preparatory Japanese Language Education
  • Typically, 1 year as Kenkyusei (Non-Degree Research Student)
    • Actual Kenkyusei period can range from a minimum of 6 months to a maximum of 2 years. Consult your academic adviser regarding your plans.
  • 2 years as Master’s Student (Degree-seeking Research Student/Daigakuinsei)
  • Option to extend the MEXT scholarship for another 3 years as Doctoral Student (Degree-seeking Research Student/Daigakuinsei)

There you have it! We hope that this article has been useful for you as you pursue your dreams of studying in Japan. For a lot of people, pursuing a master’s is only optional so it takes a lot of will for us to go back to school. I personally also had a lot in my way: I was already working as a professional but I couldn’t afford to go back to school because of my work schedule and my financial situation. The MEXT Master’s Scholarship helped me overcome these obstacles to be able to pursue further studies abroad. If you would like to ask more about my experience as a MEXT Scholar (Master’s) feel free to email me at janessa.roque@doorkel.com. Mata ne!

Visiting Kyoto, Japan during the winter break

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