The Monbukagakusho scholarship in Japan is a fully-funded government scholarship that covers tuition and school fees and includes a monthly stipend to cover basic housing and living expenses. The scholarship is awarded to foreign students (non-Japanese citizens) by the government’s Ministry of Education, Culture, and Technology or “Monbukagakusho” (文部科学省) in Japanese. The scholarship is also often shortened as “MEXT Japan” or the “MEXT scholarship.”

The MEXT scholarship has different categories, including scholarships for undergraduate degrees, graduate degrees, specialized training, and research. There are also two possible ways to apply for the scholarship: the “University Recommended MEXT Scholarship” and the “Embassy Recommended MEXT Scholarship.” This article will focus on the Embassy Recommended MEXT Scholarship for Research Students.

I am an Embassy Recommended MEXT Scholar and I am currently a Research Student. I moved from Manila to Tokyo in September 2019. One of my frustrations when I was preparing for my studies in Japan was that I didn’t have a clear understanding of what a Research Student is. I initially wanted to apply for and earn a Master’s Degree in the shortest period of time possible. However, during the application process, I realized that I had to first start my studies in Japan as a Research Student. I was worried that this would delay my timeline: Do I have to spend one whole year as a non-degree research student, and only then can I pursue a master’s degree for another two years? What was I supposed to do with one whole year before graduate school? Do I need to add 6 months of preparatory Japanese Language Education on top of all this? Was there a way to cut all of this time shorter? What were the plans and strategies of other scholars and research students?

I scoured the internet for information about Monbukagakusho Scholarship for Research Students to answer these questions but I couldn’t find any that gave comprehensive information that would have helped me understand the whole process.

Now that I am finally in Japan, I hope to share with you my experiences and what I learned so you can proceed with your application with more confidence and ease.

Overview: What is a “Kenkyusei” (Research Student)?

In Japan, generally, a Research Student is a student who:

  • is enrolled in a university
  • is associated with a specific graduate school and department
  • reports to an academic adviser who supervises their research
  • pursues research in Japan
  • enrolls in classes that they would need for their research, through the advisement of their adviser
  • will not earn a degree after the kenkyusei / research student period
  • may continue to become a graduate student (master’s level or doctorate level) provided that they pass the entrance examination and screening of their graduate school and university
    • 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. Depending on their degree program, their research, and the discretion of their research adviser, they may also be required to take 6 months of Preparatory Japanese Language Classes. That is, in addition to the duration of their research proper.

MEXT: University Recommended Scholarship vs. Embassy Recommended Scholarship

To give you an even clearer idea of what a Research Student is, let’s look into the Monbukagakusho application process.

The application varies from university to university for the University Recommended MEXT Scholarship. However, basically, applicants need to have already gotten into the university and the graduate program of their choice. These students have already passed the entrance examination and screening process of their graduate schools. They are already (incoming) master’s or doctorate degree students of their respective universities. Thus, their universities are recommending them to MEXT and endorsing them to the ministry as students who deserve a scholarship to pursue their education for free.

Meanwhile, the Embassy Recommended MEXT Scholarship first goes through a local Embassy of Japan. In a way, this is the opposite of the university recommended process. With the Embassy Recommended MEXT Scholarship, the Japanese government, through local Embassy of Japan, is endorsing these applicants’ research (that went through the Embassy’s screening process) to be accepted by graduate schools.

If you are an applicant, the basic idea is that you will submit a research proposal to the Embassy of Japan in your country, and they will do an initial screening. After the initial screening processes, you will then start contacting your prospective advisers to let them know that you have passed the screening of the Embassy and you will ask them if their graduate school or department can “take you in” to supervise the research that you want to do in Japan. Here’s an overview of the application process, which I hope can also help you understand what a Research student is.

(Note that all information here are based on my experience and my own research. Application guidelines and deadlines vary from year to year and from country to country. This summary is only meant to complement the official announcements of MEXT and the Embassy of Japan in your country. Moreover, you need to contact your prospective universities and your graduate schools to ask about the timeline of their entrance exams. Also, be sure to openly communicate with your your potential research adviser and don’t be afraid to ask for their advise about your studies early on.)

Overview of MEXT Embassy Recommended Scholarship Application for Research Students

  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
  3. The Embassy of Japan releases the results of the First Screening by through
  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 a 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.

My Application Story

For me, the whole application process took almost a year. In January 2018, I started to work on my Monbukagakusho scholarship application. I submitted my application documents to the Embassy of Japan in the Philippines around May 2018 and finally received the final announcement of the scholarship by January 2019. Then, I moved to Japan in September 2019. (Scholars can choose between April [first semester] or October [second semester] entry.)

However, experiences of Research Students are really different because different universities will have different timelines. If research students are keen to shift to a degree program, requirements of their graduate schools would also be different. In the second part of this article, I will interview research students and share our different experiences and the different tracks that we are taking. Stay tuned!

Sources:

The Embassy of Japan in the Philippines: https://www.ph.emb-japan.go.jp/itpr_en/00_000193.html

The University of Tokyo MOOC “Studying in Japanese Universities” Video: https://www.coursera.org/lecture/study-in-japan/other-topics-research-student-kenkyusei-SwXmN

Study in Japan: https://www.studyinjapan.go.jp/en/planning/about-scholarship/

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