Study Japanese in Japan: Enter Japanese University!

With our relatively inexpensive and intensive
Japanese language programs, NILS helps pave the way to one of the most fully immersive way to study here: Entering university as an international student! Deciding to “take the plunge” and apply to a Japanese university is a daunting and exciting decision that can change your life. While the requirements for each university do vary quite a bit, this article will outline some basics that will nearly always be expected should you apply. 

Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) & Other Requirements

You may already familiar with the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT), known in Japanese as the Nihongo Nouryoku Shiken. It is probably the country’s most widely-recognized test for Japanese proficiency. Most standard 4-year university programs, as well as 2-year technical schools, require international students to have taken the JLPT. There are 5 levels, with 5 being the most basic and 1 the most advanced. Level 1 is highly recommended, especially for students planning to enter a 4-year college or university in Japan. Students who have mastered JPLT Level 1 kanji and grammar (or above) have the best chance of succeeding in an all-Japanese classroom environment. NILS provides study courses for the JLPT; you can find some JLPT study tips here (add hyperlink to my other article on JPLT study).  

Many universities also require the Examination for Japanese University Admission for International Students (EJU). This test assumes a high level of Japanese proficiency, as students’ knowledge base across many academic subjects will be tested in Japanese.

While most universities do require at least JPLT Level 1 and/or the EJU test as a prerequisite for applying,  requirements will of course vary depending on the program. For example, if you choose to apply through your  home university exchange program, requirements may be less stringent than if you apply directly to the Japanese university on your own.  In all likelihood  the tests will be mandatory,  so please carefully read the guidelines and prepare accordingly.    

A Letter of Recommendation

As part of your application, you will probably be asked to provide one or more letter(s) of recommendation. A letter that appears to be last-minute, drafted by a professor or mentor who does not know you, is not likely to impress the Japanese admissions committee. It is recommended to request letters from university-affiliated individuals whom you already know and who can testify to your Japanese language skills and/or specific interests in Japan, your planned major, and your personality. 

This may seem obvious, but it is probably best to have a Japanese person recommend you to the program. This has impact because 1) he or she can write the letter in Japanese, and 2) the committee may respond better to a letter written by someone who knows Japanese culture intimately and can testify to your readiness to study in Japan.  If you do secure a Japanese  recommendation, be aware that the person writing it will likely feel somewhat responsible for you from that point forward, so remember to choose wisely and make them proud!  

Some programs may require a “secret” letter to be mailed with the application, while others may not specify the details. In either case, be sure to choose someone you trust who is willing to consult with you about the letter of recommendation before drafting it.  If you are legally able to do so, please look over the letter, ask questions, and suggest any changes you feel might be necessary. As your professor or mentor is likely to be very busy, try to obtain a draft as soon as possible. Good planning will help to prevent he or she from writing a non-specific or generic letter. Anything beyond one or two pages is likely too long.


Writing a Personal Statement or Essay 

The personal statement or essay is a staple of many university programs around the world—the difference here is that you will most likely be asked to write one in Japanese. Think of it as the “story” that you will be telling the admissions committee about yourself. Highlight important aspects of your personality, skills, strengths and weaknesses, with the ultimate goal of explaining to the committee not only why you would like to be admitted into the program, but also why you should be admitted.  

Remember that the committee members may read hundreds of applications, so it is best to create a narrative that stands out—ask yourself, “From a reader’s point of view, what are the most compelling aspects of my personal journey? How did they lead me to the point of wanting to study in Japan?” and go from there.

If you have lived extensively in  the country on exchange, had Japan-related internships, or even have Japanese relatives, mapping that journey may be fairly easy. If, however, you are like many people whose fascination with Japan began with anime, manga or other aspects of popular culture or  history, you may feel that you have less to say. But don’t worry: These days, Japanese cultural products are Japan’s most popular exports and cannot be dismissed.  Writing about anime and manga is actually fine, as long as you can show how that contributes to your potential as a student of Japan. The most important thing is that your narrative rings true—more on that in the next section.


University Interview Tips – What the Admissions Committee Looks For

  1. Level of Japanese: Even if the personal essay and other documents are written in perfect Japanese, the interview might end very quickly if you cannot speak! Try to answer questions posed as thoroughly as possible, using “keigo” (polite Japanese) where appropriate. If you have lived in a part of Japan where a special dialect is used and have picked that up naturally, it may be tempting to fall back on it; however, keep in mind that classes at major universities will be conducted in “hyojungo” (standard Japanese, or Tokyo dialect), and committee members will want to check your command of that language. If your committee members happen to be less formal, than by all means follow their lead!
  2. 2) Authenticity: Committee members interact with students and candidates constantly, and they know instantly whether or not a particular candidate is really interested in being there. Be enthusiastic from the start, and be attentive to the flow of questions from the committee. Keep in mind that you will be asked questions relating to your personal essay, so know it well—contradicting your  essay is one of the fastest ways to seem unprepared! Also, make sure that you show committee members some aspect of yourself either not touched upon or only hinted at in your essay—showing your interviewers “Easter eggs” proves that you have thought deeply about your own journey and are not simply repeating yourself. 
  3. Knowledge of the School & Program: Research your university ahead of time so that you are familiar with it, including what the faculty and  courses are like in the department where you are applying. Studying your application, other informational materials and the university website will of course give you the basics; student testimonials are another great way to add unique flavor to your knowledge, so finding a student  mentor before the interview is preferable. Current or former students will know about the best ramen shops, that favorite campus study haunt, or the school route to avoid. Knowing even some of this specialized information will impress the admissions committee and give you the inside track.
  4. A Solid Financial Plan:  You are expected to enter university primarily with the intent to study. Some universities offer an internship component, which will put some constraints on your study time. Add one or two part-time jobs and you could find yourself with little or no time for anything else! Therefore, you need a solid financial plan that allows you to pursue your own study goals as well as those of the university. If you obtain a scholarship, you are less likely to have to work. 
  5. Ability to “Go with the flow”: Finally, do not be surprised if the admissions committee members ask you questions seemingly unrelated to research, study interests, or even the information specifically contained in your personal essay. They genuinely want to get to know you, so establishing open communication early in the interview is an excellent strategy. If you follow these basic guidelines, you will be well on your way to studying at a Japanese  university.