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!
KimomoJune 7, 2020 at 2:41 pm
I appreciate this a lot. Kindly contact me firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d like to know more about this scholarship
bluevagabondJune 10, 2020 at 9:20 pm
Feel free to contact me via any of my social media accounts 🙂
Prince LikezoJune 9, 2020 at 1:59 am
Is there any MEXT undergraduate programme that is available..?
bluevagabondJune 10, 2020 at 9:19 pm
I actually think there is one!
Best thing is to send an email to the Japanese Embassy in your country or search on their website.
Good luck 🙂
Olugbenga SamuelJune 18, 2020 at 6:37 am
I am a Nigerian. I am at the verge of completely my MSC before the coronavirus lockdown. I want to Ask if I can apply for PhD pending the time I will get my MSC certificate.
bluevagabondJune 18, 2020 at 9:09 am
Yes, you can 🙂
You just need to provide a document from the institute you’re studying in, approving you will graduate before you go to Japan.
Good luck !
Dawit (David)June 10, 2020 at 7:26 pm
thank you for such interesting article (info)! I have read it eagerly & got VIP,and I started to rethink about the application. my worry is that my age is just 37 now it will be 38 in 2021,shall I apply or stop about it please. I am a university professor in Ethiopia?
bluevagabondJune 10, 2020 at 9:17 pm
thank you so much for your comment!
There might be special conditions which I’m not aware of – but best thing to do is to contact with the Japanese Embassy in your country.
Three information will be WAY more accurate than my speculations 🙂
Boitumelo PitsoJuly 19, 2020 at 7:40 pm
Hi, I hope you’re safe and well. I was wondering if you know anyone who took the Maths test and why they took it , like who is it compulsory for?
bluevagabondJuly 19, 2020 at 8:38 pm
There must be a mistake since I didn’t mention any math test in this post.
I’m not so sure what you mean.
Anyway, there’s no compulsory math test for this scholarship (not one that I know of).
The only thing I can think of, is of you’re applying to a graduate school that one of its demands is a math test.
Still, I don’t know anyone who did such test.
Hope it was helpful 🙂
StellaJuly 23, 2020 at 2:51 am
I’m a Nigerian and a BSC holer can i apply for scholarship
bluevagabondJuly 23, 2020 at 9:00 am
Seems like you can:
Good luck 🙂
AnishilAugust 3, 2020 at 3:57 pm
Hi…during study breaks..can we come back to our home county for certain days..
bluevagabondAugust 3, 2020 at 4:22 pm
Sure you can – but on your own expanses (;
GodspowerSeptember 7, 2020 at 9:43 pm
Hi… Thanks for this article
After application does it take long for the embassy to get back to the applicants
bluevagabondSeptember 7, 2020 at 10:17 pm
I guess in each country the Japanese embassy is slightly different.
In Israel they got back to me after a few days.
ReemaSeptember 22, 2020 at 8:27 pm
Hi there! I’m just wondering did you find the allowance they give while you’re studying livable? and did you need another source of income while studying?
bluevagabondSeptember 22, 2020 at 9:59 pm
Hi! I think that the allowance is pretty much enough for a simple lifestyle.
Let’s say, if I really wanted to, I could do just fine without working and living only of the scholarship.
But it really depends where you rent your house and what kind of lifestyle you want to have 😉
lloydOctober 15, 2020 at 8:14 pm
Hi Thank you for wonderful blog post.
I have question about mext embassy recommendation.
Can I enroll for research student in japan while waiting for next year mext embassy recommendation ? Am I still eligible for this if I am a research student ?
bluevagabondOctober 16, 2020 at 2:03 pm
I think you are, but I don’t know anyone who did it.
Best thing would be emailing to the embassy of your country to make sure!
Good Luck 🙂
MosesJanuary 6, 2021 at 2:20 pm
Can you also work part time while receiving the scholarship? oh and do you also have to pay health insurance on your own expenses?
bluevagabondJanuary 6, 2021 at 3:45 pm
Yes, you can work up to 28 hs/week when you get your student visa.
And you should also pay for the national health insurance, which is about 1,600 yen for a single person if I remember correctly.
SaraJanuary 29, 2021 at 11:09 am
May I ask you some questions? Well, I’m currently in a weird course, it’s a 5 years bachelor/master degree all in one, how could I right this on the form? And most importantly, have I any hope since I doubled the time to get my degree?
bluevagabondJanuary 29, 2021 at 12:06 pm
Your first question is very specific, so you might want to consult to someone in the Japanese Embassy in your country.
They should know the proper way to fill the form. I don’t want to deliver any misleading information.
And regarding the time to get your degree – even if they will ask you about it in the interview, tell your reasons confidently. If the examiners will think it’s legit you’re good to go. It’s all about your attitude and how seriously you take yourself and your research. That’s what they’re looking for.
Good luck! (:
SaraJanuary 29, 2021 at 7:42 pm
Thank you for your answers! There’s hope after all 🤣
bluevagabondJanuary 29, 2021 at 9:36 pm
HarsitaApril 27, 2021 at 1:57 am
Hello! I am so glad that I got to read your article, it was heaven sent! But I had a query or two. While applying for the master’s programme, is it compulsory to have published research papers in your name? Did you have one or two (sorry if I am being too personal)? And do we habe to take a separate English grading test like asked in the forms?
bluevagabondMay 2, 2021 at 11:18 pm
Actually it depends on the graduate school you wish to attend.
In my case I had 0 articles published when I was accepted, and so does EVERYONE else I know.
But that’s just my case.
And regarding the English exams – I had to present a TOEFEL/TOIC exam when applying, but other than that, no English exams were required.
Hope is helps you 🙂