Writing a scholarship application essay can sometimes seem like a daunting task. For the JASSO scholarship essay, this can be particularly tricky since the application procedure and essay requirements vary depending on the university. This means that you will not be able to find a comprehensive guide to writing a JASSO scholarship application essay. JASSO stands for Japan Association for Student Services, and the scholarship application in this article focuses on short-term study abroad students.

While we cannot give you a comprehensive guide to the JASSO scholarship essay, as an international student in Japan and a scholar myself, what I can do is give some tips on how to get started on writing your essay and share best practices when writing essays to study abroad in Japan.

Have a clear reason why you want to study abroad in Japan

Shinjuku. Photo by Ralph Lumbres. Use only with the permission of the owner.

Every year many students dream of studying abroad in Japan because they have a particular interest in Japanese culture, perhaps Japanese popular culture in particular such as manga and anime. Hence, writing about your love for Japanese popular culture or even writing about what you understand about Japanese culture will not be enough to make your essay stand out. 

Stir away from writing about Japan based on generic information about Japan that you can find on the internet. Statements that say how beautiful it is to experience the four seasons of Japan, or how Tokyo is a city where the old meets new, are very generic and they will not stand out. In your essay, you must show how you have a deeper understanding of what Japan is, or at the very least, you have the capacity to understand Japanese culture more deeply by going beyond these stereotypes and generic statements about Japan. 

You don’t necessarily have to go macro, you don’t have to go back in history and explore the relationship between your country and Japan. However, take more time to reflect on what Japan means to you and why you are interested in studying here. 

Do your research to demonstrate your knowledge of your field of interest and how it relates to Japan

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Perhaps you are more interested in the university or this particular field of study in Japan. This is already a great starting point. However, you must again demonstrate in your essay that you know more than just generic information. Saying that you want to study robots in Japan because “Japan is known for robotics” is too simple. What is your particular interest in this field and are there specific instances in history or specific innovations recently that you know of that makes you excited to study in Japan now? These kinds of details will show the scholarship committee that you are a cut above the rest because you do know your stuff.

Ask a senpai to grasp the application process

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A psychologist in Harvard University named Dan Gilbert has spent years doing research on how people predict future events. In an episode of NPR podcast called Hidden Brain, he explains why people are generally awful at predicting whether a decision is going to make them happy or not. The main reason for this is that we generally cannot predict what happens in an event that we haven’t experienced yet. Thus, the best way to understand a future event or something that we haven’t gone through ourselves is to ask someone who has gone through that experience ahead of you.

Since you are looking to study in Japan and you are applying for the JASSO scholarship, asking upper-level students about their own experiences in Japan is a great strategy to prepare for your JASSO scholarship essay. In Japan, people respect students and even co-workers who are ahead of them, even if they are ahead by just a year. Upper-level students are called “senpai.”

Asking your senpais is particularly helpful for your JASSO scholarship essay because, as we mentioned, the scholarship application process is different depending on your home university in your home country and the university in Japan where you plan to enter as an exchange student. Go to the student exchange division or whatever office in your home university is handling the JASSO applications and ask them to link you to senpais who have received the JASSO scholarship, or students who went to the university where you want to study in Japan.

Asking your senpais is a good strategy because you will learn about how they proceeded with the scholarship essay themselves. Ask them about how they wrote their essay. If they are willing, you may also ask them to read your own essay to ask for their feedback. 

Seek to better understand the study in Japan experience from your senpais

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This is probably even more important. By asking your senpais, you will gain a better understanding of what the study abroad experience is like. This is particularly insightful if your senpai is majoring in the same field of study or is working within the same field of interest as you. They will be able to paint you a better picture of how studies in your home university correlate with their studies in Japan. Your senpai may even give you names of professors or notable institutions in Japan that might be of interest to you and your research. These types of information are difficult to come across just by browsing the internet. When you have these types of information, you will be able to write your essay about studying in Japan with more clarity because you are not just writing about what you think studying in Japan would be like. You will not just be writing about generic statistics about this and that industry in Japan or mentioning university rankings. Those are things that any student can look for on the internet. When you dig deeper and when you have a better picture of what this study abroad experience was actually like for someone like you, then you will be able to better express why you want to do it yourself.  

An essay that has specific information and specific goals will make you stand out. The selection committee will probably read many essays that contain blanket statements like “this previous experience made me stronger so I want to challenge myself even more by studying abroad” and such. Though these statements may be true, they are not unique. That is everyone’s reason for studying abroad. Everyone wants to challenge themselves when they want to go out of their comfort zone and explore living in a new country and studying in a different university abroad. By asking your senpais about their experiences, you will have a better chance of avoiding having to write these kinds of statements in your essay. 

Final Notes

I hope that you keep all of these in mind when writing your JASSO scholarship application essay. Here in Japan, they use the phrase “ganbatte kudasai,” to cheer someone who is about to take on a challenging task. Though it is really popular, many native speakers struggle to fully explain the nuance. The phrase is loosely translated as “good luck” or “please do your best.” However, “ganbatte” is rooted in the idea of perseverance or stubbornness, in not giving up when facing a challenge. “Kudasai” means please or expresses a request. Though this is a bit hard to explain, anyone who gets to study or live in Japan will hear this often and undoubtedly understand up what it fully means.

Until then, as you proceed with your JASSO scholarship application essay, ganbatte kudasai!