If you’re applying for the Embassy-recommended MEXT scholarship, have passed the document screening and (maybe) the tests, your next step will be passing the embassy MEXT scholarship interview.
In this guide, I will cover the kinds of questions you should expect, what the interviewers are looking for, and other preparation recommendations.
MEXT Interview Process
Depending on how your country does it, you may have the written exams and the interview on separate days, or they may be different events altogether. Check with the embassy where you are applying for details.
MEXT Scholarship Tests
If you are applying for the MEXT scholarship for research students (i.e. as a graduate student), you will take up to two tests:
- Japanese language proficiency
- English language proficiency
Taking the Japanese language proficiency test is mandatory, even if you have no Japanese language ability. As long as you’re applying for a program taught in English, it won’t hurt your application chances if you get a zero on it.
If you do have Japanese language proficiency, then this test could help you get out of the six-month Japanese language program that most Embassy-recommended MEXT scholars have to go through before they start their degrees.
Note for Undergraduate MEXT Scholarship Applicants
In addition to the Japanese and English tests, you will have to take several subject area tests, depending on the major you selected in your application. You can find a specific list in the official application guidelines on MEXT’s website.
You can find past tests for language proficiency and undergraduate subject tests on JASSO’s website.
Preparing for the MEXT Scholarship Interview
First (because it’s simpler), you should understand the structure and conduct of the interview. Next, and most importantly, you need to know how you will approach it to maximize your chances.
I have never participated in one of these interviews directly, and there could be some variety in how the interview is set up, but if you were to face a typical, Japanese-style interview, it would be something like this:
Typically, there will be a panel of three interviewers seated behind desks facing you as you enter the room. There will also be a chair (but usually no desk) for you in the center of the room, around 2-3 m (6-10 feet) away from the interviewers.
The set-up and distance can be rather intimidating, but don’t let it get to you.
Stay confident and focused on your goals (more on that below). If you approach the interview with the confidence (but not cockiness) that you are the best candidate for the scholarship and answer the questions clearly and confidently, there is a very good chance that you will perform better.
As of 2022, some countries are still holding interviews online. The format varies from country to country so please be sure to check the details for your specific country.
Interview Panel Members
Based on comments from past applicants, both on this blog and on other sites, embassy MEXT scholarship interview panels typically seem to consist of three interviewers. Two are embassy officials and one is often a professor from an area university. According to past reports, the professor is typically someone from your general field of research (e.g. social science, engineering, etc.) but may not be well-versed in your particular area.
In past examples, I have heard of a Buddhist studies professor being on a panel for an applicant in policy studies and a mechanical engineering professor being on the panel for a software engineering applicant.
This means that you should plan to avoid deep, technical discussions of your research. Instead, you want to be able to communicate the purpose, desired outcomes, and importance of your research to someone outside of your field. Keep that in mind as you practice your interview questions.
Wear a simple, professional suit to the interview, or the equivalent of a suit in your national dress.
Since your interview will be at the embassy or consulate, you’ll have to leave all of your electronics behind at the entrance, but if you do have anything, including a digital watch, make sure that it is on silent mode or off.
Expect about a 20-minute interview.
Conduct in the Interview Room
When you first enter the room, you should bow to the interview panel. If you are confident in your Japanese, you can also say よろしくお願いします (yoroshiku onegaishimasu). They will direct you to sit.
Address your answers to the panel member who asked the question, but make eye contact with the others, as well, while you speak. If you get a multi-part question and forget the second part halfway through your answer, go ahead and ask the questioner to repeat the second half.
Answer in the language the question is asked in. If you have indicated some Japanese ability, or taken the Japanese language proficiency test, then you may get some questions in Japanese. These are more designed to evaluate your ability than for the quality of the answer, so don’t worry too much about them.
Once the interview is over, you also want to stop at the door, bow again and thank them for the interview. (ありがとうございます arigato gozaimasu).
If you cannot give the greetings in Japanese, then it is fine to thank them for their time in English (both on entry and departure), instead.
Conduct in an Online Interview
If you are participating in an online interview, some of the above will still apply. You will already be sitting when you start the interview, of course, but you should still bow to the camera at the start.
Make sure, of course, that the background to your interview video is clean and free of distractions. A white wall, etc., is best, or a bookshelf. You do not want a cluttered living space and also make sure that nobody else passes through the video area or makes noise around you during the video. Dress as you would for an in-person interview (at least from the waist, up!).
In an online interview, to make “eye contact” you want to look at the camera lens, not at the screen showing the speakers. It helps to keep your camera as close as possible to the screen. If it is in a different location, like far above or below, or off to the side, then every time you look at your screen, it’s going to look weird to the interview panel.
MEXT Interview Strategy
The most important thing you can do to prepare is to have a clear focus on the academic and practical goals of your research.
I covered this in the article on writing your Field of Study and Research Program Plan, so check out that article if you haven’t already. One way to think of the MEXT embassy interview is as a chance to expand on that research plan, though there will be some other elements, as well.
When I have sat as a member of an entrance exam interview panel, we could immediately tell when an applicant was prepared, confident, and competent. The difference in impression that it makes is enormous!
Your Basic Selling Points
Come up with your three top selling points that you want to communicate during the interview. One approach would be to have one sales point for each of the following categories:
- Your academic/research goal (what you want to contribute to the field)
- The practical outcomes of your research (how it can be used, and/or your own post-scholarship career)
- Why you will make a good ambassador to Japan (your intercultural experience and adaptability
You want to use every question you receive strategically.
That means you want to answer each question to the interview panel’s satisfaction and tie it to one of your sales points.
MEXT Scholarship Interview Questions
Here are some questions past applicants have faced, along with my interpretation of what the interviewers are looking for. At the very least, you should practice and be prepared to address these!
- What do you want to study?
The purpose of this line of questioning is to make sure you have a clear research focus and know your field. The interview panel has read (or at least scanned) your Field of Study and Research Program Plan, so expand on the contents there and particularly on connecting your studies to your academic and practical outcomes.
- What are the limitations of your research?
This question will usually follow your explanation of your research and is designed to see if you have really thought through your research topic and know your methodology. The tricky think about this question is that an interviewer can ask it even if they don’t really understand your research topic.
Be prepared to explain one or two limitations and how you will overcome them or why your research is still valuable despite the limitations. (I recommend that you prepare this as part of your Field of Study and Research Program Plan.)
- Why do you want to study that topic?
This line of questioning is also focused on your intended outcomes. It is OK to mention personal inspiration that started you on this path, but your focus should be on what you want to accomplish in the future.
Remember the panel is looking at you as an investment in positive relations between your country and Japan, so discussing outcomes that benefit both countries or bring them closer together is going to be helpful here. Also, remember here that your panel is not experts in your field, so you need to explain yourself clearly.
- What university do you want to study at in Japan?
They may also ask about your contact status with the universities you selected.
The purpose of this question is to assess how prepared and proactive you are. If you have been in touch with any professors, and have their informal approval to supervise you, mention that. If you have tried to contact universities but received no response, explain that and tell them that you understand many universities do not write back until after applicants can prove that they’ve passed the Primary Screening, so you plan to follow up.
At the very least, you should be able to explain your reasoning for selecting the universities and professors on your list based on their relevance your research and practical goals. It’s a good idea to have one or two other universities that you have researched but rejected to mention in this conversation. (e.g. I examined the programs at University X and University Y, but the professor at University Y was more aligned with my research)
- Why do you want to study in Japan?
Note:As of the 2020 Application cycle, this question was added to the application form as an essay, so it is less likely to come up in the interview.
The purpose of this line of questioning is to determine how serious you are as a scholar and how prepared you are for your studies.
Maybe you have always been interested in Japan since you saw your first anime as a child. It’s OK to use that as a brief introduction, but hopefully that is just an introduction and Sailor Moon is not the only reason you want to study microbiology or economics in Japan.
If your first encounter with, or passion for Japanese culture got you to look at the country in more detail and that helped you find a field of study or field of work where you could contribute to relations between Japan and your home country, that is an excellent thing to bring up.
If Japanese research or technical expertise in your field is more advanced than in your country and you want to leverage Japanese experience to benefit your homeland, that’s a great thing to mention, too!
- How do you think you will be able to handle living in Japan?
This line of questioning is intended to determine if you’ll be able to settle into life in Japan without any disruption to your studies.
If you have experience living in Japan for any length of time, you can bring that up as part of your example of how you will succeed.
If you don’t have any experience living in Japan, then you should give examples of how you are adjustable to other cultures or uncomfortable situations, such as friendships with people from other cultures, experience living abroad in other countries, or any experience interacting with foreigners, especially Japanese.
On the other hand, if there are any obvious challenges to you living in Japan, you should mention those and how you will adapt. For example, if you have a spouse and/or children, talk about what they will do while you are in Japan (hint: If you’re bringing them to Japan, MEXT recommends that you come alone first then invite them to Japan on a Dependent Visa after you have settled in.) If you have religious or dietary needs (e.g. halal food), mention how you plan to take on those challenges in Japan. No matter what your needs, there should be groups of international students from the past who had the same needs. Find these groups online and see how they handled the challenges you will face!
- What do you know about Japan/the Japanese Language?
Similar to the previous question, this aims to see how prepared you are to adapt to life in Japan. Take this opportunity to show the panel that you have done some basic research on the status of your research field in Japan as well as what day-to-day life is like in Japan. If you have any Japanese language ability, even if it’s at the level of basic interaction skills, you can bring that up, as well.
- What are some famous places you want to visit in Japan?/>This question is just a test to see what you know about the country to make sure that you are really interested in Japan, and not just the scholarship.
To prepare, look up some locations in advance that are related to your research, if possible, related to the reason you described for your initial interest in Japan, or are at least near your intended universities.
- Tell us about your academic background.
Seemingly open-ended questions like this can be the most tricky. The key here is that you want to focus and use this to your advantage. If you tell any anecdotes about your past, make sure they relate to one of your sales points.
For example, if you moved around a lot as a child, you don’t need to talk about that, unless it specifically relates to your research topic. If you grew up in a single-parent household, that isn’t necessarily relevant. But, if growing up in a single-family household taught you independence and self determination, or inspired you to take action to help others in similar situations, then that is definitely something you want to mention.
If you get this kind of question before you have talked about your research interest or intended outcomes, then this is also a great opportunity to introduce those. What inspired you to this research topic? How did your background make you want to create a positive change in the world?
- What do you plan to do after your studies?
I have a lot of people ask me whether it’s “better” to say that you want to work in Japan or go back to your home country. But that’s the wrong question.
The best answer is to have a clear plan that involves contributing to relations between your country and Japan. Whether that involves working in Japan, or your home country is not so important. Having a realistic, well thought-out goal is.
- What is your plan if you do not get this scholarship?
Do not let this question discourage you. The interviewer is not foreshadowing failure. Instead, they want you to prove that you are dedicated to the goals you described and not just seeking a free degree. When you think about your goals before the interview, make sure that you have a Plan B – another way that you can make progress toward the same goals even if you do not receive the MEXT scholarship. (Ideally, that Plan B should not be more effective than your Plan A of winning the scholarship, of course.)
- Why do you deserve this scholarship?
For this question, I recommend that you mention your past academic accomplishments and practical contributions (such as work experience or community service, etc.), to show that you have a track record of success and contribution, then pivot to explain how you will continue that pattern as a MEXT scholar and after graduation. You are trying to persuade them that awarding you the scholarship will better achieve the government’s goals of strengthening the link between the countries and contributing to society in both Japan and your home country than awarding it to another applicant.
I have put this list together based on feedback from readers like you and from other blogs and forums, but you could always come up against something I haven’t seen before.
If you get a type of question I didn’t include above, let me know in the comments and I’ll add it to the list!
Good luck with your interviews!
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