The MEXT (Monbukagakusho) scholarship grants full scholarships, including tuition fees and stipends, for international students who want to study in higher education institutions in Japan. There are six categories of MEXT scholarships, and funding is available for both Undergraduate Level and Graduate Level students. The Graduate Level students receive ¥143,000 – ¥147,000. This includes an additional monthly allowance of ¥2,000 to ¥3,000 if the student is studying in a major city like Tokyo where prices are higher than the rest of Japan. Meanwhile, undergraduate level students receive ¥117,000. This article focuses more on the budget of graduate-level students since this is the category where I fall under.
In this article, I will give you a sample breakdown of how I budget the stipend that I get from MEXT and give you an overview of the costs of living in Tokyo, which is the most expensive city to live in Japan. I will also discuss other things that factor in how different scenarios affect the difference in costs of living.
Before coming to Japan
If you get the MEXT scholarship, you will have to prepare at least ¥200,000 from your own pocket before coming to Japan to start your studies. This is because MEXT will give you your first stipend at the end of your first month so you have to shoulder your own costs for about a month upon your arrival. Also, aside from this, you will have to find and arrange your lodging for yourself either in the university dorm or if you have to find an apartment on your own. All of these will also be discussed during your MEXT orientation so be sure to take notes and ask everything you need to know during this time.
Is the stipend enough for a single person? Yes!
“Single” here means that you plan to move to Japan alone or you don’t have to financially support a spouse or a family member with your stipend. So the quick answer to this question is yes, it should be enough. Unless you plan to live in an extravagant apartment or eat in an expensive restaurant for every meal, what MEXT gives it’s scholars is more than sufficient. Here’s a simple break down of the costs of living in Tokyo.
- Rent: ¥60,000 (Single room or studio-type apartment / dormitory / sharehouse)
- Electricity: ¥6,000
- Water: ¥3,000
- Gas: ¥3,000
- Postpaid plan/data: ¥3,000
- Budget for Food (grocery and eating out): ¥40,000
- Budget for Transportation: ¥10,000
- Household budget (toiletries, cleaning implements, etc.): ¥5,000
- Health Insurance: ¥3,000
- Miscellaneous (recreation, books, and other school fees/materials): ¥5,000
Total Expenses: ¥138,000
As you can see, you still have a little bit of money left. This can be allotted for your savings and emergency/contingency fund. You will need this because sometimes there are unexpected fees either in your apartment, medical bill, or other unforeseen school costs, etc. This estimate is also on the expensive side. JASSO estimates that on average, a single person can live in Japan on an ¥89,000 budget, including rent. This estimate is not for students hence it does not factor in other school fees and materials. Some Graduate Level students can live in Tokyo with a budget of ¥100,000 per month so the estimate above is already more than that. You can actually find cheaper rent in Tokyo, especially if you don’t plan to live near the central areas, or if you opt to live in “sharehouses” or sharing rent with a roommate.
If you can live in the university dorm, those are significantly cheaper than commercial apartments. For example, the dorm of Tokyo University of the Arts that houses foreign students cost only ¥23,000 (¥15,000 rent + ¥8,000 common area service fee) for single students. Yes, some dorms have units for couples and families. Take note though that university dorms have limits of how many years or even months you can stay. Some dorms only allow you to stay for six months, some for one year, and some allow for you to apply for extensions, depending on your priority status and the availability of the units. As a graduate school student, the standard length of programs is 2-3 years, excluding the term for studying the language and being a research student in some cases.
Is it enough for you and your spouse or family? It depends.
If you plan to bring your spouse and/or children here in Japan, you can do it through a dependent visa. Read my other article if you want to know the process of bringing your loved ones to Japan.
When bringing only one other family member (for example, your spouse), the stipend can be enough if you manage your money well. If one or both of you can cook, do all of your chores and your other family member doesn’t need to commute most of the days (which means, less eating out and fewer train rides) then yes, the stipend can be enough. However, this means that you are stretching your budget. For example, you will have to find a really cheap apartment if you cannot live in a dormitory for the whole duration of your studies. Gas and electric bills also typically increase during winter because for heating appliances. Also, you might find it more challenging to save up money for emergency situations.
When bringing a spouse and a child (or more than one child) in Japan, I would say that it is very hard to budget the MEXT stipend for more than two persons. I watched this Youtube video (it is bilingual in English and Filipino) of a MEXT scholar who brought her husband and baby with her here in Japan. They barely managed to make do of her stipend as their only financial source. In the end, she said that there other costs which she can’t fit into her stipend alone and thus they needed to earn extra income.
Student discounts and extra income
As a student, you have some perks like a 50% discount on trains for university students (this discount does not apply to preparatory Japanese language education period and to non-degree research students). Some museums and other public institutions like parks also give discounts to students.
If the stipend is not enough for you, or if you just want to earn more, your student visa allows you to work part-time for 28 hours per week. This also goes with your spouse through his/her dependent visa. The usual rate for part-time work is around ¥1,000 per hour. So if you work five-hour shifts three times a week then you can already earn ¥15,000 in one week.
You will need to apply for this part-time work permit in the Immigration, either in the airport or an Immigration office near you. You may also want to read this article that talks more about how to get other funding and source of income and manage your budget while studying in Japan.
What exactly does MEXT pay for?
Finally, here’s a list of what the MEXT stipend covers outside of the stipend, and the fees you are expected to consider from your stipend:
Aside from the monthly stipend, MEXT will pay for:
- One round trip flight to Japan (your first flight to Japan and your last flight back home after your scholarship)
- Tuition fee
- Entrance examination fee
- Admission fee
From the MEXT stipend (or any other additional financial sources), you will need to pay for these:
- Living fees such as rent, dormitory fees, utilities, food, and transportation.
- University association dues, facility fees, etc.
- Health insurance (university and/or government)
As you can see, the MEXT scholarship covers a lot of the fees that non-MEXT scholars need to pay. However, different universities have other kinds of fees upon enrollment that the scholarship does not cover. It’s best to ask your university about all the fees that you will still have to pay for even if you are a MEXT scholar.
The cost of living in Japan is relatively high, especially when you come from a developing country such as myself but the stipend that MEXT gives is sufficient for one or two persons. You have to prepare for your first month in Japan as they will give you your allowance after the end of that month. Just as any scholarship that pays for the full tuition and living costs, MEXT is a great opportunity to pursue further studies in Japan.
All the amounts stated in this article may be subject to change. There are a lot of factors that may vary these numbers, including the difference in location, specific providers, Japan’s economic situation, and even different seasons, among others. The living costs stated here are based on personal experience and research. They are estimates and should not be taken as exact and actual amounts.