One of the most common kinds of questions I get in comments and from my mailing list subscribers, is “What is the best university in Japan for my field of study?”
I can’t tell you, but I can help you find the answer.
How to Search for Universities in Japan
There are over 700 universities in Japan, all with multiple fields of study, and many with degree programs in English. By the end of this article, you will know how to narrow down your list to the best universities for you.
Once we’ve narrowed down the universities, I will help you search for specific professors there that you can list as your desired adviser.
There are three primary ways I can recommend to search:
I will go through each method below, plus how to evaluate professors to determine whether they would be a good adviser for your research.
Let’s get started!
The best way to find the best degree program for you in Japan is to go through your connections. When you go through a connection, you will have access to someone with direct knowledge of the program.
You may also have an easier time making connections with the graduate school or adviser in Japan, if the connection is a personal one. Academia in general, and Japan in particular, is still heavily influenced by personal connections.
Leveraging a Current Professor or Academic Adviser
Your first stop in searching for a university in Japan should almost always be your current academic adviser. Ask your adviser if he or she has ever worked with a scholar from Japan in the same field, or if he or she knows someone who has.
Accessing a personal connection here is ideal, but relatively unlikely. If your professor does have a connection, I would recommend following through on that link before you pursue any other search methods in this article.
Even if your adviser does not have any personal connections in Japan, he or she might be able to recommend specific scholars in your field from Japan that you could study with. If you get names of scholars here, it’s time to go find out where they research or teach and then learn more about that university’s programs. (See the section on searching by research field below.)
Leveraging a University Partnership
If your adviser cannot help, your next stop should be your university’s international office.
Go to the international office to find out if your university has any links with universities in Japan. If you can get a list of universities in Japan that are affiliated with yours, then those are a great place to start your search.
This is especially important if you are applying for the University Recommendation MEXT Scholarship. Some Japanese universities will only accept applications from partner universities overseas!
Leveraging Your Extended Network
If you know anyone who has studied in Japan or is studying in Japan, you can ask them for recommendations about their university.
Even if you do not know anyone directly, put out a call through your friends in person or on social media to see if they know anyone in Japan that they can connect you with.
Even though this connection is weaker than an adviser or university partnership, it can still help you to narrow down your search!
For most readers of this site, you are limited to programs that are taught in English. The program language determines the language of your courses and also the language of your thesis.
Even if you find a professor who speaks English in a Japanese-taught program, you would not be able to study there unless you can take all of your courses and write your thesis in English.
Typically, if you want to study in a Japanese-taught program, you would need at least N2-level Japanese for STEM fields and N1-level Japanese for everything else. Each university sets its own requirements, so be sure to search the web page for your specific degree!
So, how do you find universities that teach your degree in English? Fortunately, there are a few sites that have them all listed, including some that list which individual degree programs are taught in English. Review the sites below to find our what programs are taught in English, then go to each individual university’s website to learn more about the actual curriculum.
- Japan Study Support (Browse): http://www.jpss.jp/en/univ/english/
- Japan Study Support (Search): https://www.jpss.jp/en/search/
- Japan Student Services Organization (JASSO): http://www.jasso.go.jp/en/study_j/search/daigakukensaku.html
- Univ in Japan: http://univinjapan.com/
Once you have identified universities that offer the field of study and level that you are searching for, go to each university’s own website to learn more about the exact courses, focuses, and professors there. Hopefully, by combing through each website, you will find professors close enough to your field of study to approach as potential supervisors.
Especially if you are seeking a PhD, it becomes increasingly important to find a program and potential supervisor more closely aligned with your particular research interest.
Searching by English language programs, as explained above is still a valid way to do this, but another way to approach the search is by starting with the field of study first and considering the language later.
One advantage with this approach is that you can find opportunities that might not be apparent if you start with language.
For example, you may find a professor in your field of study who is not affiliated with an English-taught program, but works at a university that has an English program in a similar field.
For example, I worked at a university that had a graduate school of pharmaceutical sciences and a graduate school of life sciences. Pharma had no English program so students could not apply directly to that program unless they spoke Japanese. Life Sciences, however, did have an English-taught program. Many English-speaking students enrolled in the Life Sciences PhD, selected a primary adviser from that program, and still worked closely with the Pharma professors to accomplish their research.
Names from Previous Research
If you have come across the work of active Japanese university-affiliated researchers in your previous work, start by reviewing the universities where they teach. You already know they are active in research and publications and know enough of their body of work to start building a relationship.
How to Search for Professors by Field
The website below has a search tool that will allow you to find professors by name, field, institution type, region, keyword, and other criteria:
Selecting a “Research Area” will give you a general list of professors and their affiliated universities. That will give you an idea what universities offer your field of study so that you can search their websites in more detail.
Identifying Potential Advisers for MEXT Scholarship
If you searched for programs, rather than specific professors, now it is time to select potential advisers from within those programs.
Even if you searched by professor, it is a good idea to research that professor in detail and make sure he or she is a good match. You should also look for a back-up adviser within the program, in case the professor you want to work with is about to retire, go on sabbatical, etc.
How to Search for Individual Professors
In most cases, you can find the names of professors either on the university’s website or in their graduate school pamphlets.
On the website, look for information about professors in:
- A general researcher’s database or faculty database
- The individual graduate school’s web page (lists of faculty members or department news)
- The online syllabus (look for the names of professors that teach courses related to your studies)
- Digital graduate school pamphlets
Usually, you will be able to find the names of professors from one of those sources. If a university does not have any of that information available, you might want to think about just how much that university cares about recruiting students (not much).
Another place you might want to look is in the application guidelines for self-financed students. Those guidelines will tell you if the university wants applicants to get in touch with professors in advance or not, and how to go about it.
If none of that information is available and you are determined to study at that university, you can try contacting the administrative office of the graduate school to ask where you might be able to find information about their professors related to a specific field. Tell them that you are interested in studying at their graduate school and want to learn more about the specific research being done.
I would not recommend that you tell them that you need a professor’s name to list in your MEXT scholarship application. Especially before you pass the primary screening, you are not likely to get a very enthusiastic response.
How to Screen Your Professors
Your relationship with your adviser is going to be the single-most important factor in determining how successful and enjoyable your next several years in Japan will be. Getting to know their research and character then getting in contact with them to start forming a relationship is important to guarantee your future success.
I am only going to cover how to research them, for now. Getting in contact is a subject for another post.
The following advice comes from past successful MEXT applicants, in no particular order:
- Google your professor: Find out if they have a personal web page in English or Japanese and what their recent activities have been. (“G”)
- Make sure your professor speaks English if you do not speak Japanese! (“G”)
- Check the professor’s recent work and publications. Look for young, active professors who are dynamic and engaged, rather than the senior professors resting on their laurels. (Unknown Genius)
- Check the university’s Japanese webpage via translation or with a Japanese-reading friend. Usually, Japanese professors post more detailed information in Japanese. (Lars Martinson)
Qualifications: You need to make sure that your professor has earned at least the same degree you are going for, or else they will not be able to supervise you.
Rank: This depends on the university. Some will only let full professors supervise. Other universities may let Associate or Assistant Professors supervise. If you do not have any full professors on you list, adding one as a back-up might be a good idea.
Own Lab (esp STEM): If your professor is in the STEM fields, he or she should have their own lab and not be a member of another professor’s lab. If your professor is not head of their own lab, the chances are good that he or she cannot advise students.
Good Luck with Your Research!
You should now know the three methods to search for a degree program and adviser in Japan and be prepared to start your search. Good Luck!
Let me know in the comments below!
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