MEXT Scholarship Application: Letter of Recommendation and Other Required Documents

MEXT Scholarship Application Documents

Assembling the MEXT Scholarship Application requirements is like a scavenger hunt with secret rules.

The required documents for the Monbukagakusho (MEXT) Scholarship application do not change year-to-year, so you can get started on acquiring these before the guidelines are ever released – and at least in one case, you might have to, because there won’t be enough time later.

The required documents are not simple. In fact, one of the most confusing parts of the MEXT scholarship application is the Letter of Recommendation. Most of the source of the confusion is really bad explanations by Monbukagakusho and the universities. I single-handedly processed over 500 MEXT scholarship applications and I think I’ve seen nearly every question there is. So after reading this article, you should know everything you need to get your application in order.

Required Documents for the University-recommended MEXT Scholarship

Note 1: These are the requirements as listed by Monbukagakusho. The university that you apply to may have additional requirements. If you’re confused about those, please ask in the comments!
Note 2: I am not including the Application Form or Field of Study and Research Program Plan here. Each of those is complicated enough to merit its own article.

  • Letter of Recommendation
  • Photograph(s)
  • Government-issued ID (e.g. passport)
  • Transcript/Grades Record/Record of Marks
  • Certificate of Graduation or Expected Graduation
  • Proof of Outstanding Academic Performance
  • Outline of Graduation Thesis
  • Objective proof of language ability and/or specialized academic ability
  • Certificate of Health

Additional Requirements for All Documents

  • All documents must be in Japanese or English or have an official Japanese translation attached.
  • To the maximum extent possible, all documents should be typed (not handwritten) and should be printed on A4-sized paper.
    *I know that Americans, Mexicans, and others do not typically have access to A4-sized paper. You will not fail the application for submitting on letter-sized.
    *Indonesian transcripts and a few others tend to be printed on very long pieces of paper. Those are OK to submit.
  • Documents will not be returned to you under any circumstances.
  • Late and/or incomplete submissions will not be accepted under any circumstances

One more note: “Your Current University”

“Your current university” or “your most recent university” are going to appear several times in these instructions and in the university’s application guidelines. Only universities that you attended for degree programs- specifically, bachelor’s, master’s, or PhD, count. Certificate programs, associates degrees, short-term study abroad, job-related training or anything else does not count.

If you are currently enrolled in a degree program, then “your current university” is obviously the one you are enrolled in- even if you are in your first semester. Even if you plan to quit that university to take the MEXT scholarship.

If you are not enrolled in a degree program, then “your current/most recent university” is the last one that you earned a degree from.

If you are in a dual, triple, etc., degree program, then it’s a little fuzzier, but for convenience, the university that you are attending as of the time of application makes the most sense. (Typically, that would also be the last university in the program).

Got all that? Good. Let’s get in to the documents.

The Monbukagakusho Letter of Recommendation

First, forget everything you know about letters of recommendation or letters of reference. MEXT does not care if the person writing it actually knows you or supervised you. All that matters is that it meet three basic requirements:

  1. Addressed “To The President of [Name of University]” – You MUST have the president’s title in there. I saw a few applicants try to get cute and write the president’s name. Good job on the research, but since they didn’t write the title, it was no good.
  2. Recommend you for the the scholarship – Somewhere in the letter, it must say that the person is recommending you for the Monbukagakusho Scholarship. This should be obvious, but I still see people leave it out.
  3. Signed by the Dean or Higher – Vice Deans, Department Heads, Advisors, etc. are all no good.

The Address

Really, as long as the greeting says “To the President of [University Name],” that’s all you need. No fancy templates or formal structures.

Do not write “To Whom it May Concern.” That will not be accepted.


Include the following sentence somewhere in the letter: “I wholeheartedly recommend [your name] for the Monbukagakusho Scholarship at [the university].” Since some people out there are going to take me too literally, replace the words in brackets with your information. The rest of the contents don’t really matter (but having concrete proof of your merit doesn’t hurt).

Yes, I have seen applicants leave the brackets in before. Don’t be that guy.

How to Get a Letter of Recommendation from the Dean

Point 1: The Dean doesn’t need to write the Letter, he/she just needs to sign it. Here’s how you get that done:

  1. You write a draft of the letter. Include all the required points (don’t leave room for the Dean to screw it up), and include a few highlights of your academic achievements. Make sure to include the Dean’s signature block (or ask your advisor to put that in).
  2. Take the letter to your academic advisor. Tell him/her that you need a Letter of Recommendation signed by the Dean of the faculty and show them the draft that you’ve written to make it easier on the Dean.
  3. Invite your advisor to edit it as he/she sees fit. Then ask her to take it to the Department Head for approval and submission to the Dean for signature

With the possible exception of writing the draft yourself (that’s something I added based on my personal experience), this is how Letters of Recommendation work in Japan. Deans don’t write them (they don’t know most students personally, after all), they just sign it based on their trust of the professor and department head that ask them to do so.

One word of warning: Get started early. I’ve found that Deans and Department Heads tend to be gone a lot to attend conferences or visit partners. MEXT is not going to accept a Vice-Dean’s signature because the Dean was out of the office. In that case, you’re going to need a university president, provost, etc.


I’ve seen a shocking number of mistakes on this one in the past, for something that seems to simple. Just make sure you carefully read the instructions. Here’s your checklist:

  • 3.5 cm wide by 4.5 cm high. (Portrait style, not landscape!) If you can’t get photos printed in that size, then use a ruler and scissors to trim them to the appropriate size yourself.
  • Professionally printed on photo paper. Printing them on printer paper or blurry photos that you printed out yourself will not work
  • Formal ID-style photo: It should show you from the armpits up, facing straight forward, with no glasses or hats (religious headwear is acceptable where culturally required).
  • Photo must be no more than 6 months old. If it matches your old passport photo, you’re going to get caught!
  • Plain, white background. No patterns, designs, crowds of people or anything else.
  • Write your name and nationality on the back in ballpoint pen. Make sure it doesn’t show through to the front.
  • Send three photos (even if the school only asks for one). You don’t want to have to express mail a replacement if something happens to your only photo.
  • Attach one photo to the application form with glue or double-sided tape. Do not staple your photos.

Yes, it really should be straightforward, but I have seen applicants screw up every single one of those requirements in the past.

Government-Issued ID

Basically, this has to show your full legal name (in English letters) and birthdate.

If you have a passport (even if it’s expired and you’re renewing it), send a copy of that. If you don’t, then send a birth certificate, national ID, driver’s license, family register, or any other document that shows your full name and birthdate. Then go apply for a passport.

Certificate of Grades/Marks (Transcript)

All you need here is an original transcript in English. If you can get that issued by your school, then you’re set.

If your school does not issue transcripts in English, then you need both the original document issued by your school and a certified translation.

Certified TranslationsThe best way to get the translation is to have it certified as accurate by an official (e.g. registrar) or professor at your school. If you can’t get that, you’ll need it translated and certified accurate by a professional translator.

Make sure that the translator’s certification is in English! This was a particular problem with Vietnamese applicants in my experience. The accuracy certifications were only written in Vietnamese, so that does no good.

If your school does not issue extra original transcript or if your school only issues “pdf originals”: Take a copy to the registrar and have them sign to certify that it is identical to the original. You should do this even in the case of “pdf originals”, rather than sending them directly to the university that you’re applying to. Japan still doesn’t trust electronic signatures in most cases.

Additional Requirement for Transfer Students

If you transferred schools or participated in a Dual Degree program, you’ll need the transcript from all schools you attended for your last degree.

Less that 2 years of Grades on Transcript? Additional Requirement

The MEXT scholarship requires two years of grades, so you’re going to need the transcript from your previous degree program, too. You will also need the “explanation of the grading system” from your previous degree, which I will cover below.

This is usually a problem for Master’s students who only have 1 year of grades on their transcript at the time of application.

Certificate of Graduation or Expected Graduation

Do not send your only diploma to apply for the scholarship!

In Japan, it’s easy to get extra certificates of graduation (which are not diplomas) saying that you’ve graduated, so they think it will be easy for you too. (And they really don’t care if it isn’t).

If You’ve Graduated Already

Check your transcript. If your transcript shows your degree awarded and awarded date, then it can double as a certificate of graduation (it’s a formal certificate and it shows your graduation).

If your transcript doesn’t show it, then a copy of your diploma that is signed by the registrar as being an accurate copy will work. You could also get a letter from your registrar confirming your graduation date and degree earned.

If You Have Not Graduated

You need a “Certificate of Expected Graduation” that states your expected graduation date, to show that you will graduate before you start your MEXT scholarship.

The problem is that a lot of universities don’t want to certify that you will graduate, because it’s up to your performance, so it isn’t guaranteed. Here’s how to get around this problem:

Your university needs to certify that you will graduate by [date] provided that you complete all of your remaining requirements as expected. Essentially, the university is saying that they know of no reason why you would be unable to graduate by the expected date.

This certificate can (and should) be conditional on your performance.

Proof of Outstanding Academic Performance

In almost all cases, this takes the form of a “explanation of grading system.” Search wikipedia for “Academic grading in [your country name]” to see an example of what this is.

Without it, the Japanese university is not going to have any idea whether the grades on your transcript are any good or not. For example, if you earn a 70% in the US, that’s below average and would correspond to a “1” on the
Monbukagakusho grade conversion
But if you earn a 70% in some universities in India, that is “Outstanding” and would correspond to a “3” on the MEXT scale.

Huge difference.

The thing is, even if the staff at the university know that system, from past applicants, etc., they still need you to submit proof because they need the formal documentation to be able to submit your recommendation to Monbukagakusho.

In many cases, this explanation is printed on the front or back of transcript itself- especially if your country uses a letter grade system, the ECTS system, or a point scale. If that’s your situation, great, you can skip down to the next section.

If your grading system isn’t on your transcript, talk to your registrar and ask them if they have a table or other document that explains in. If they do, get a copy of it and have the registrar sign it.

Another place you can check is your study abroad office. If your university does any student exchange or study abroad, they need to be able to convert grades between your institution and universities overseas, so that office might know how to help you.

In the worst case scenario, I know of applicants who wrote up a chart themselves, based on the model on wikipedia, and got the university registrar or their academic department head to sign it.

Applicants from Marks System Countries

Japan is always going to refer to “grades” but when you hear this, think “marks.”

I know that in marks systems, you add up the total number of marks earned across all classes and then divide that by the total number possible to get your final graduation grade. But Japan is going to convert your grades class-by-class. Monbukagakusho requires that it be done that way.

So if you have a system that looks like:

Class % of Marks
First 70+
Upper Second 60-69
Lower Second 50-59
Third 40-49
Pass 30-39

Then the Japanese university is going to go class-by-class through your transcript and convert your grades to the 3.0 GPA system.

Other “Proof of Outstanding Academic Performance”

In the event that you absolutely cannot get an explanation of your grading system, you’re going to face an uphill battle to get consideration from the university, but it is still possible, in theory.

Basically, if you are too “unique” of a situation, or require too much work, the university is going to favor applicants who make it easier on them. So you should do as much legwork as possible and make it easy for the professors and admin staff where you’re applying.

Remember, at this stage of the application, you’re just one of hundreds of people competing for a handful of slots. The university doesn’t know who you are or what you’ve done, so they have no reason to give you special attention. You need to earn their attention.

Other forms of proof of academic performance can include class order of merit, academic awards or other external recognition in significant or international venues. Papers published in known, peer-reviewed journals or presentations in (preferably international) conferences.

Anything that can be evaluated numerically is in your favor: “first place”, “number one”, “top student I have ever seen”, etc., are all good buzzwords.

Still not clear? Hit me up in the comments below!

Outline of Graduation Thesis

If you don’t have a graduation thesis because your degree didn’t require one, then use your most significant paper instead. The paper should be related to the topic you propose in your Field of Study, of course, and should be your best/most significant work.

Unlike this blog post, the outline should be short and to the point. One page is a good target, but I’ve seen 1/2 to 3/4 of a page work just fine. Don’t go any longer than 1 page unless the university specifically tells you to.

Don’t send the whole thesis, either. It’s going to cost you extra postage and nobody is going to bother reading it.

Objective Proof of Language Ability

You want formal international test scores, such as TOEFL or IELTS for English or the JLPT for Japanese.

Do not send institutional tests, such as the TOEFL ITP, a “TOEFL prediction test”, or a test created by a local testing center- nobody is going to trust those as being accurate. The institutional tests say right on the score report: “Not to be used for admissions purposes.”

Don’t even waste your time.

Yes, these tests are expensive, but don’t expect the universities to care. The Monbukagakusho scholarship is a merit-based scholarship, not need-based. If you start complaining to the university about cost at this point of the application, you’re going to poison your relationship and your chances.

The universities in Japan know that, in most cases, you can get an English language proficiency test score (TOEFL iBT) in about 3 weeks, if you’re really trying, and they will look up when tests are offered in your country if you try to claim there is no availability.

Just a heads up. I saw that excuse a lot- and usually wrote those applicants off as too lazy to consider for the scholarship.

What if my Education was in English?

If English is your first language, you can almost certainly get this waived. (There may be one or two stubborn universities that will insist on another form of proof like a GRE English score, but I haven’t confirmed this).

If English is not your first language but you graduated from university in Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, Singapore, South Africa, the UK, or the US, most universities will consider that sufficient, although they may ask you to also submit a copy of the proof of language ability you submitted when you first enrolled in that university.

If you’re from India, Bangladesh, Ghana, or any other country where English is not the primary language of daily life, but you attended tertiary education in English, do not expect to get this requirement waived.

By this time, almost every university in Japan has admitted at least one international student who graduated from an English-taught program only to find out that the person has no English ability whatsoever. They graduated from the English program by getting extra tutoring outside of the class in their native language, or because the program wasn’t really all in English to begin with.

Heck, this has been known to happen in “English-taught” classes in Japan, too.

Similarly, submitting grades from English as a second language courses isn’t generally going to work, either. Just because you can pass a class doesn’t mean you have any ability (Japan’s own English language education – one of the worst in the world – proves this).

No Test Score?

If you don’t have a test score and you legitimately can’t get one by the application deadline because there is no test offered, then some schools may allow a workaround. Where I worked, we would allow exceptions as follows:

You need to go the the head of the English language department at your university and have that person administer (or sign off on) a personal examination of your English language ability. The result of that examination will have to be very specific- such as “The applicant has English language skills equivalent to an IELTS band of 6.5 in reading, listening and speaking, and 7.5 in writing.”

Just saying “the applicant’s language ability is sufficient to complete a degree in English” was not enough.

Objective Proof of Specialized Ability

For most applicants, this won’t apply. Don’t send in your Microsoft Word training course participation certificate (yes, I used to get those – and throw them out). Don’t send in your community service participation certificates- unless it was directly related to your field of study.

Relevant certificates are professional or government licenses related to your field of study. For example, if you’re applying for an architecture program and you have passed the LEED Exam, that’s relevant. If you’re applying for a public health program and you volunteered for Doctors Without Borders, that’s relevant.

I processed over 500 of these applications and never once saw a relevant certification. So, if you don’t have one, don’t worry about it.

Certificate of Health

This requirement will vary from university to university. Monbukagakusho only states that “universities are responsible for ensuring applicants are physically and mentally healthy.” It doesn’t require a specific form. However, a lot of universities will use the Embassy-Recommended Monbukagakusho Scholarship health form for the sake of simplicity.

If your university uses the Embassy form form, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Every field is mandatory – double check that everything is complete before leaving the doctor’s office.
  • Related to that – the forms is really badly designed, so you might want to consider highlighting the fields for your doctor before going to the exam. It’s easy to miss some of them.
  • Don’t forget your name, sex, and birthdate in the top row – I had to send dozens of medical forms back to applicants because their names were missing (how do we know you were the examinee?)
  • The X-Ray fields are the ones that trip applicants up the most.
    • You must have a chest x-ray, even if your doctor doesn’t think it’s necessary.
    • You need to fill in the date that the x-ray was taken as well as the film reference number (the index the doctor would use to look it up again in the future). In some cases, the reference number might just be your name and the date- that’s fine. Leaving it blank is not.
    • Do not send actual x-ray film through the mail.
  • If you are attaching test results, make sure they’re in English and highlight everything that corresponds to one of the fields on the form.

You’re (Almost) Done!

You should now be ready to collect and submit all of the required documents for your Monbukagakusho Scholarship application. Hopefully, with this list you can breeze through the requirements and spend your time where it’s most needed- on the Field of Study and Research Program Plan.

The only mandatory form that I haven’t discussed yet is the Application Form. That one gets its own article next, and I’ll walk you through the badly-translated and poorly worded questions one-by-one.

In the mean time, if your university requires any other documents that I haven’t mentioned above, tell me about them in the comments below, and include a link to the university application page, if you can!


Before asking any questions in the comments below, please read through the MEXT Scholarship Application FAQ top page and specific FAQ pages to see what I’ve answered already and to find tips about how to get your questions answered faster.

You can ask your questions in the comments here, on the FAQ page, or by email and I will answer them by updating the FAQ and letting you know when the answers are available.

I’d also recommend signing up for my mailing list to get notified whenever I have updates to any of the FAQs or new articles about the MEXT scholarship!

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