If you are reading this post, you must have a certain interest in living in Japan. Indeed, living here has many great benefits: the culture, the aesthetics, Japanese people, nature, the public transportation, the post system – they’re all awesome!
You will never get bored in Japan since every day you can discover something new.
Living here has been a great adventure, and I truly mean it when I say: if you get the opportunity – go for it! If you really want to know Japan, living here is the best way to go.
In this post, I will introduce the MEXT Scholarship – an incredible opportunity that will allow you to live here for a couple of years.
So many people ask me: how can a non-Japanese person live in Japan?
So first, I guess I should introduce my status: I’m a Ph.D. student living in Japan for four years now, as you’ve probably read here. The fact that I study in a Japanese institution allowed me to apply for a student visa. As for my studies, it’s a part of the MEXT (The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology) Scholarship I was granted by The Embassy of Japan in Israel.
What is the process for receiving the MEXT Scholarship?
**Before I continue, let me just mention that this post is not a professional consultation of any kind. Everything I write in this post is based on my personal experience.**
So just like anything else, let’s start at the beginning: what is the MEXT Scholarship?
Basically, it’s a scholarship for a research grant in a Japanese institution. Scholars from various countries that have diplomatic relations with Japan can be granted with tuition fee and a certain amount of living expenses. Every country is offered a different quota for this scholarship.
Once receiving the scholarship as a research student, you will be granted it for two years. Later, if you wish to extend it, you will need to be accepted onto a Master or Doctoral degree. Then, the scholarship can continue for up to seven years (2 years research student, 2 years master, and 3 years of Ph.D. with some exceptions).
I’m aware of another path you can take to get the scholarship – via the institution in Japan you’re trying to apply for. Since I don’t know much about this path I will not discuss it in this post.
Hmm… okay, so can I just pack my suitcase and go to Japan?
Right before you start filling application forms, let me mention one small, significant detail: receiving this scholarship is something you need to work for.
Actually, the process wasn’t easy at all and took a few months. That’s the reason I promised myself that if I ever got accepted I would write a guide to help all future applicants. Although it’s not easy, I do recommend anyone who has an affinity with Japan to apply to this scholarship.
Applying to the MEXT Research Student Scholarship – Where to start?
First of all, there are three preliminary conditions to being a nominee for the MEXT: you have to be younger than 35 years old, be a college/university graduate (by the time of your departure to Japan) and usually, to be a citizen of the country you’re applying from (this might vary from one country to another – there are some special cases). If you have all three conditions – congrats! You’re eligible to apply. You can probably find more detailed information about your country’s specific requirements for MEXT Scholarship applicants on the Japanese Embassy’s website.
Once you apply, what should you expect?
Before I tell you about the process I went through (this whole post is based only on my experience), let me refute a few rumors:
"You must know the Japanese language to be accepted."
Not true. Although I did know some Japanese before applying, it’s not a firm condition for acceptance. Actually, I know several scholars from various countries that were accepted despite the fact they didn’t know a word of Japanese. They did fail every Japanese-language level test – but that’s okay (we’ll get to the tests later). These examinations are there only to determine your level of Japanese for technical reasons. Don’t waste your time learning Japanese if you’ve never learned it before. In reality, you should be investing all your time and effort into other parts of the application if you want to be accepted.
"You need to have connections in the Japanese Embassy of your country."
In Israel, this is definitely not the case. I’m living proof for that. My college was the most isolated in the country. I was also the first from my college to ever even apply for the scholarship. I had no seniors to ask for advice. I’d never studied in any class of the professors that sat in the admission committee. I also didn’t know anybody in the Japanese Embassy until I handed in my application forms. Here, as in so many other realms of life, the good old cliché is true: I worked hard and it paid off.
"You have to be a graduate of East Asian Studies."
There are no such criteria. I even know of a few students from other disciplines like arts and chemistry who were accepted, while students of East Asian Studies were rejected.
"You can only apply once."
False. I know a few people who failed their first application but were successful the second time around. As long as you’re still in the age limit – you can apply again.
And now we’re ready for what we call ‘tacheles’: the acceptance procedure
In Israel and the USA, as well as other countries, there are two main dates in the timeline: submitting the application documents is the first, and interviews and examinations are the second. It might be slightly different in other countries, so make sure to check with your country’s Japanese Embassy.
First step – submitting the scholarship papers
So you have carefully filled in all the official documents you received from the Japanese Embassy of your country. Now you’ll need to do two things: write your research proposal and find someone who will write you a reference letter. Let’s dive into it:
Letters of recommendation. To be honest, what I write here is true for every credential you’ll ever need. There are two important things to pay attention to: it’s better if the person referring you is familiar with your good qualities and/or appreciates your work. In addition, it’s better to be someone who has an official role (a boss or a professor, not your relatives, etc.). Think about these kinds of people when searching for someone to write you a credential. You should also consider that in most countries, you’re not supposed to read the letter. It should be handed to the Embassy in a sealed envelope.
Research proposal. This is THE MOST IMPORTANT THING! It will be the main reason you succeed or fail. If you have a bombarding applicable research proposal, about a “hot” interesting topic – you’re on the right track. Before I handed in my research proposal I asked four people to read it and give me feedback. I highly recommend you ask experts in your field to go through your proposal as well. Be as serious about it as you can. Put your highest efforts into the research proposal – for me, it paid off.
One more thing about application documents: after a reference and research proposal, the next thing I think you should pay attention to is your grade sheet. I was quite a nerd in my bachelor’s – and it’s well reflected in my grade sheet. It’s a clear indication for the admission committee that you’ll be a good student and won’t embarrass your country in a Japanese institution. Try to stand out with your good grades.
Second step – examinations and interview
If the admission committee reads your application documents and decides to give you a chance – you’ll be summoned to the examinations and interview session. It might be on the same day – it depends on the Japanese Embassy’s decision.
Examinations. I had two: English and Japanese language skills. As I said earlier, you don’t necessarily need to pass the Japanese language examination. However, if you did take East Asian Studies and know some Japanese, it can’t hurt to revise your current knowledge.
One point to mention about Japanese skills: if you’re aiming to be accepted to a specific university or institution that only teaches in Japanese, knowing good Japanese could be mandatory to being accepted.
In the English language exam, you need to achieve a good grade. Although you’ll never know what your grade was, you have to perform well. You can practice by reading articles, and taking timed English tests. They need to know you’re eligible to study in a foreign country.
If you’re a native English speaker – lucky you!
Interviews. You need to arrive in a focused mindset. Nobody, and I mean NOBODY knows what they’ll ask you, but one thing is certain: they’ll ask you about your research. Therefore, think about your research proposal as the product you want to ‘sell’. Be the expert of your research field, and know how to elaborate on every detail. Remember the importance of your research, and pass on this importance to the acceptance committee.
If you know your research field perfectly – no one will question you! Knowledge Is Power, and a successful interview is essential in receiving the MEXT scholarship.
I can’t tell you how fast my heart was beating before I entered the interview room, and how sweaty I was in my fancy suit. All along I was memorizing everything I knew about my proposal, and why it was the most important thing in the world. So despite being nervous as hell – I was very sharp-minded. I had full confidence in my knowledge, and that’s why I was ready to answer any question.
A funny (or strange) thing is – I remember nothing from my interview! The only thing I remember is that when I stepped out of the room I had no idea if it was a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’. If it happens to you too – no worries. Anyway, you cannot know if you’re in or out until you get an official email from the Japanese Embassy. Therefore, you have no reason to be happy or disappointed after the interview. There’s nothing you can do now but wait patiently!
Did you get accepted? Congratulations!
Although it might be different in each country, usually you’ll need to choose an institution you want to study at. That’s what Dr. Google is for.
Now is the point where you can start practicing greetings in Japanese. Still, be mindful about emails from the Japanese Embassy so you won’t miss any news.
The MEXT Scholarship has changed my life and I’m incredibly grateful I received it. I worked super hard to get it, over many days and sleepless nights. I was so determined, since my first year I had planned to get it at the end of my Bachelors’. Not to mention the acceptance procedure took 8 months.
But it’s worth it! I’ve been living and studying in Japan for 4 years now, and I have at least two more years to go. All this time I receive tuition and a basic expenses fee – so the hard work does pay off.
If you have any questions – leave it here in the comments!
I’d love to reply to any questions you have about the MEXT Scholarship (if I’m able to answer them, of course).
And… that’s it – Good Luck!