Part of the reason why it’s difficult to find concrete information about Research Students under the Monbukagakusho Scholarship is that flexibility is inherent in the program for Research Students. With the guidance of their research adviser, a Research Student can design their research period more freely because they are not required to take all the classes that degree students need to take. This allows the Research Students to focus on their research instead of taking classes in the university. Some students also use this period to significantly improve their Japanese language abilities, or to prepare for entrance examinations for admission to a graduate degree program.

In this article, I’ll share with you stories from students currently in Japan as Research Students. I hope these stories will give you a better idea about the different things you can do as a Research Student.

As I mentioned in Part 1 of this article, some scholars need to take six months of Japanese (Language) Preparatory Education and others don’t. The Research Student period can be as short as one month or as long as two years. When a Research Student wants to extend their stay in Japan to enter a a graduate degree program (master’s level or doctorate level), scholars need to apply for a MEXT Extension of Scholarship.

In Japan, a Research Student is often referred to as a “kenyuu sei” (研究生). “Kenkyuu” (研究) means research and “sei” (生) in this context means scholar. This character “生” is the same kanji in the word that refers to a teacher or “sen sei” (先生), wherein “sen” means ahead. For reference, a university student is a “daigaku sei” (大学生) and a graduate student is a “daigakuin sei” (大学院生).

Janessa Louise Roque, Philippines

Janessa Louise Roque. Photo by Ralph Lumbres.

I am Janessa Louise Roque and I received the results of my Mombukagakusho Scholarship application as a Research Student in January 2019. Scholars need to choose between flying to Japan for the April 2019 or October 2019 entry. I chose the latter. The scholarship I received was for one year and six months: six months of Japanese Preparatory Education (October 2019 to March 2020) at the Tokyo University of Foreign Studies and one year of research as a kenkyusei or Research Student of the Tokyo University of the Arts (April 2020 to March 2021). My field of research is in transnational collaboration in performing arts.

However, I was hoping to cut my Research Student period short because I wanted to start as a graduate student (master’s level) right away. Upon consulting my adviser and checking the timeline of my university, I used the time before coming to Japan to go through the entrance examination and screening process of my prospective university. In April 2019, I was preparing all the documents that I would submit to my desired graduate school. I submitted my documents by July 2019, and went through the final interview screening process by September 2019. The final results of the admissions were released a few weeks after the interview. Again, I worked on my graduate school application after receiving the Monbukagakusho Scholarship for Research in January 2019, but before coming to Japan.

By the end of September 2019, I flew to Japan to begin my six-month Japanese Preparatory Education at the Tokyo University of Foreign Studies. Note that by this time, even though I now have officially passed the master’s level entrance examination of my desired graduate school so I can be a master’s student by April 2020, my scholarship remains to be for a Research Student only. The scholarship period that they awarded me is still the same: it covers the six months of Preparatory Japanese Language Education and the one year Research Student proper, not the two years of graduate school for master’s level.

By December 2019, MEXT opened the application for the “Extension of the Scholarship Payment Period.” Here I had to report to MEXT that I have already passed the admissions procedure of my prospective graduate school and I am already eligible to enter my university as a Master’s student in April 2020, rather than a kenkyusei, and that I expect to finish my degree by March 2022 instead of finishing my kenkyusei by March 2021. Thus, I need to extend my scholarship. The results of the application for the Extension of Scholarship are usually released by the end of February.

Ekaterina Kuzmina, Russia

Ekaterina Kuzmina. Photo by Anastasiya Polishchuk.

Ekaterina Kuzmina is a Research Student at the Tokyo University of the Arts. She came to Japan in October 2019 and began with the Japanese Preparatory Education at the Tokyo University of Foreign Studies. She became a Research Student of the Tokyo University of the Arts in April 2019 and is due to finish her one year Research Student/kenkyusei period by March 2020. Her field of research is Japanese performance art in the 1960s.

Unlike me, Kuzmina went through her six months of Japanese Preparatory Education and one whole year of kenkyusei. She passed the entrance examinations to become a graduate degree student (master’s level) at the same university where she has been a kenkyusei. For Kuzmina, she worked on her application and entrance examinations for graduate school while she was already in Japan. A huge benefit to the path that Kuzmina took is that her graduate school application fees are waived because she was already a MEXT Research Scholar enrolled in Japan, making her eligible for the application fee exemption. I was still in my country when I applied for graduate school so I had to pay all of the fees. Applying to graduate schools in Japan directly from overseas also took a lot more paperwork and sending documents abroad.

Since her arrival in Japan as a Research Student, Kuzmina had the chance to focus on learning Japanese and preparing herself to pursue further studies. “Although everything and everybody within my University was quite open and ready to help, I had noticeable limitations because of my low Japanese language abilities,” Kuzmina shares. “And that made me even more eager to practice my Japanese. That is why during the second part of my research period I’ve decided to focus on the latter.”

Moreover, because Kuzmina was already enrolled as a Research Student in the university where she wanted to take her master’s, she was also able to familiarize herself with her intended graduate school. “I had an opportunity to meet and to know all the teachers, but also to let them know me,” Kuzmina says. “[And] to test my abilities during the seminars and to gain confidence; to speak and to make friends with other students, to understand the level of requirements, and to prepare myself not just for the exam, but also for the upcoming studying on the Master course.”

Anastasiya Polishchuk, Ukraine

Anastasiya Polishchuk is from Ukraine and came to Japan after finishing her master’s degree in Peace and Conflict Studies. She is a Research Student at the Tokyo University of Foreign Studies (TUFS). She took the Japanese Preparatory Education course for six months, from October 2018 to March 2019. Afterwards, she began to do her research and attended classes, including Japanese Language courses, for one year, from April 2019 to January 2020. Like Kuzmina, Anastasiya applied for admission to graduate schools while she was already in Japan as a kenkyusei. In April 2020, she plans to begin her three-year doctorate level course at a different university. Her field of research focuses on strategy and security studies in Japan.

Polishchuk adds that applying for a graduate degree program straight from Ukraine could be quite difficult, with all the paperwork and limitations. “Thus, [previous students from my university] wanted to start from this research program. Basically it’s time for you to prepare for your master’s thesis [or dissertation], to get acquainted with the life in the country, to get acquainted with the area of research, contact professors and so on.”

Polishchuk, having already finished her master’s degree in Ukraine, initially thought of just doing her research in Japan and then leaving afterwards. Now she wants to extend her scholarship to pursue further studies as a degree student at the doctorate level. She now looks back and appreciates the one whole year that she spent as a non-degree Research Student.

“It [the research period] flies very fast. It’s very beneficial even if you don’t plan to move towards a master’s or PhD,” Polishchuk says. Upon arriving in Japan, she already started doing her research and got in touch with her adviser while she was undergoing the six-month Preparatory Japanese Education. After the first six months, Polishchuk then had the opportunity to decide what she needed to do to finish her research. She took some master’s level and some doctorate level classes. With the guidance of her adviser, she choose only the classes that were relevant to her research and also continued to take Japanese Language courses.

Monbukagakusho Scholarship: Taking advantage of the Kenkyusei period

Kuzmina and Polischuk agree that the Research Student period was a productive time and has helped them not just develop their academic skills but also in establishing themselves in a new country. Monbukagakusho Scholarship Research Students can take advantage of the flexibility that the kenkyusei period offers, whether it is just for a six-month to two-year research or to prepare for pursuing further studies.

I have to agree. Before coming to Japan, I thought spending six months studying Japanese language and one year as a non-degree Research Student was too long. I was eager to take and finish my master’s as quickly as possible. However, like what my fellow kenkyusei also noted, time did fly fast. I now wish I could have more time to study Japanese, even though I only need it for everyday life and not my research. Having been in Japan for a few months, I can also see how I have to revise my original research proposal for my master’s thesis because I understand the context of my research better now that I am here. If I spend the year as a kenkyusei, I will have ample time to better prepare for my master’s thesis without worrying about attending classes and focus on doing field research instead.

“It seems to me that many people who apply, however much interest they have regarding Japan and in Japan, they still don’t quite understand the particularities of educational system here,” Polishchuk adds. “I mean, it’s just time for you to know what’s going on, to research, maybe to learn a language, maybe to learn culture, to learn more about your topic.”

However, if, because of your situation, you are like me and you can only leave your country for a limited period of time, please talk to your adviser and ask for their guidance regarding the timeline of your studies.

These are just three examples of what Research Students in Japan are doing. Hundreds of scholars all across Japan who working on various research fields, may have different experiences as kenkyusei. Although this article is nowhere near comprehensive, I hope our experiences has given you more insight into what a kenkyusei is, helping you prepare for your studies in Japan.

If you have further questions, you may reach me at janessa.roque@doorkel.com.

Ganbatte kudasai!