Many international students have chosen to study abroad in Japan. However, the education system in Japan is also unique and might be new to prospective students from abroad. So, if you are a privately-financed student or if you are looking for a scholarship, one way to strategize your studies abroad in Japan is to understand the different types of universities in the country. Understanding the differences in cost, ranking, and international support of public and private institutions is useful in choosing which type of university fits you best. Here’s what I’ve learned as an international student in Japan.

Universities in Japan: National, Local Public, and Private

Japan has three types of universities: national, local public, and private universities.

National universities and local public universities are both public institutions. The National University Corporation System manages national universities while board members govern local public schools, which are established by local prefectures and municipalities. The government also provides subsidies to private universities, but the government does not manage them.

In total, there are 782 universities in Japan, with 93 National Universities, 86 Local Public Universities, and 603 Private Universities.

Cost to Study Abroad in Japan: Tuition and Other Fees

One of the main differences between these universities is the cost of education. This might be the most important factor to consider.

Local public universities are usually the cheapest option. In local public universities, tuition fees and other costs for the first year of an undergraduate program in Japan can cost around ¥820,000 (US$7,200). Meanwhile, the tuition and fees are a little bit higher in national universities, which can cost around ¥930,000 (US$8,200).

Finally, private universities are significantly more expensive, with the cost going up to around ¥1,100,000 (US$9,700) to ¥1,640,000 (US$14,400). These numbers exclude medical, dental, and pharmaceutical schools, which are typically more expensive because of laboratory fees.

However, the fees to study abroad in Japan are still considerably lower than the cost of studying in the US or the UK. Both public and private universities in the US and the UK can cost around two to three times more (Data based on JASSO’s Student Guide to Japan 2019-2020).

Best Universities to Study Abroad in Japan

In Japan, they hold National Universities in high regard. For instance, some of the most prestigious universities in the country are called the “National Seven Universities” (国立七大学). Also known as “Imperial Universities,” these institutions were founded by the Empire of Japan between 1886 and 1939, and are thus some of the oldest higher education institutions in the country and in Asia. These universities were under the imperial government until the end of the Second World War.

Admissions to the “National Seven,” is notoriously competitive. This includes institutions like The University of Tokyo, Kyoto University, and Osaka University.

Although national universities are generally seen as more prestigious, there are local public and private universities that also score high in university rankings.

In the Times Higher Education (THE) Japan University Rankings 2020, while national universities dominated the list, four private universities and one local public university also made it to the Top 20. The International Christian University, Waseda University, Keio University, and Sophia University were private universities that ranked between 11th to 20th place.

Akita International University, the only public university that made it to the Top 20, is in 10th place. In various global ranking indexes, including the THE, the University of Tokyo, Kyoto University, and Tohoku University, all three national universities, are consistently the highest-ranking Japanese universities.

Internationalization in Japanese Universities

As an international student, it is also important to have a grasp of which universities are suited for foreign students wishing to study abroad in Japan.

In recent years, the Japanese government has been taking strides to prioritize the internationalization of higher education in Japan. In 2008, the government committed to double the number of international students in Japan to 300,000 by the year 2020. This was also when they began to promote the hiring of international students in the Japanese labor market after graduation. As of 2019, the government was able to achieve its initial goal, recording a total of 312,214 international students studying abroad in Japan as of May 1, 2019.

More recently, in 2014, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, and Technology (MEXT) launched the Top Global University Project to provide prioritized support to universities that are leading the internationalization of Japan. The Top Global University Project includes two categories: 13 universities that are conducting world-leading education and research are under Type A (Top Type) and 24 universities that are leading the globalization of Japanese society are under Type B (Global Traction Type).

As seen in the table above, national universities dominate the list of “Top Type” universities, also described as “Universities that have the potential to be ranked in the top 100 of the world’s universities.” The only private universities categorized as “Top Type” are Keio University and Waseda University.

In terms of the international student population, as of 2018, a majority of undergraduate students are in private universities, while most graduate students are in national universities. Of the 84,857 international students in undergraduate programs, 70,448 in private universities. Meanwhile, of the 50,184 international students in graduate school, 31,715 students are in national universities.

In countries like the United States, private institutions often take the top spots in university rankings. For instance, “Ivy League Schools” such as Harvard University, University of Pennsylvania, and Cornell University are all private institutions. However, in Japan, both national and local public universities compete with private institutions. The biggest advantage of public institutions is lower tuition and fees. However, getting into these universities might be harder because of limited slots. Private universities are also good options and you may look into university-based scholarships and financial aids to help with the cost.

If you want to learn more about the universities in Japan that are at the frontier of Japan’s internationalization, check out Global Top University Project Japan where the respective universities also outline their current projects, initiatives, and targets.

We hope this article has helped you understand the Japanese education system a little bit better so you can make better a better choice when choosing a university. Let’s study abroad in Japan! Ganbatte kudasai!


“Best Universities in Japan.” Times Higher Education (THE), 18 Jun. 2020,!/page/0/length/25/sort_by/rank/sort_order/asc/cols/stats

“Result of an Annual Survey of International Students in Japan 2018.” JASSO, Jan. 2019,

Journal of International and Advanced Japanese Studies, vol. 7, Mar. 2015, pp. 241–251., of Education, Culture, Sports, and Technology.

“Higher Education.” MEXT,“The Japan Association of National Universities.” 

The Japan Association of National Universities <Current Situation of National Universities in Japan>, Global University Project|Top Global University Project,

“Student Guide to Japan 2019 – 2020.” JASSO. n.d.

“Number of foreign students in Japan reaches record high” The Japan Times. Apr. 2019.