Going to Graduate School in Japan on a Monbushō Scholarship

A long overdue primer on applying for a Monbusho. Hopefully just in time for this year’s application deadline.

What is a Monbusho scholarship?

Monbushō, short for Monbukagakushō (文部科学省), is the Japanese name of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology. It is also the metonymic name of the grad school scholarship distributed by said ministry to international students. In practice, unspecified mentions of “monbushō” will nearly always refer to the scholarship1.

In a nutshell, the main qualities of Monbushō scholarships are:

  • You get to study and live in Japan for up to 3-4 years (5-6, if you apply for a Master).
  • You have a free-meal ticket to practically any faculty in any university in Japan: both prestigious national ones (Todai, Kyodai…) or expensive private ones (Keio, Waseda…).
  • In addition to your (potentially costly) tuition fees, the grant includes a stipend for living expenses2.
  • Beside a few conditions (being a foreigner and having a bachelor degree, mostly) and a lengthy application process, these scholarship come with very few strings attached: you are free to study anything you’d like, wherever you’d like (and can leave a lot of the decisions to after the application gets approved).

For more technical details, Google, Wikipedia and your nearest Japanese embassy are your friends.

What do you know about Monbushō scholarships?

I successfully applied for one, 5 years ago, then went on to do my PhD in Bioinformatics at Kyoto University (Pharmaceutical Science faculty). I graduated last year and been working as a post-doc researcher in Tokyo ever since.

I still remember being intensely frustrated by the lack of accurate, unambiguous information regarding the application process at the time: for every vaguely-worded official email from the embassy, a million dumbass forum discussions based on hearsay and irrelevant anecdotal evidence. I was extremely lucky at the time (living and working in a Japanese academic institution) to know more than a few people who had already gone through the process and could give me first-hand advice (invariably more useful than anything I could find online or get from my embassy contact). Things might have improved ever since, but on the off chance they haven’t, I have long wanted to document my own experience here.

Although the Monbushō is a pretty old and static process, things are bound to have changed over time: everything contained in this post was accurate, back when I applied, and to the best of my (modest) knowledge, still is… However, I cannot advise you enough to double-check everything with monbushō officials. At any rate, the point of this entry is mostly to fill the gaps left by official instructions (and cover some of the topics they do not touch), not to replace them.

There are also many minor differences across application tracks, application types (Masters, PhDs etc), cities/countries of application and so forth. Most descriptions herein apply to my particular case (PhD with no kenkyūsei period, through the Japanese embassy in Paris), but seems to match the experience of most colleagues I have talked to ever since.

What are the main steps to obtaining a Monbushō?

There are three tracks for obtaining a Monbushō. For our purpose, we’ll just go and assume you are interested in the larger one: the embassy track3.

The practical order to applying for a Monbushō via an embassy would be:

  1. Check with the Japanese embassy of your country of citizenship (if you have many, you may want to check which one is most favourable, see below) for general conditions of applications. Generally, the deadline for the first round is toward April-May (for a start in April of the following year at the earliest. That’d be April or October 2014 for this year’s application).
  2. Once you have made sure the dates and conditions check out, I’d advise first starting to look for a potential supervisor in Japan.
  3. Submit the paper application to your embassy.
  4. If you pass the first round (i.e. managed to write your name on the dotted line and not screw up majorly in your application), you’ll be summoned for an in-person interview and some small written exams.
  5. A few weeks/months after your interview, you may hear back from the embassy to tell you you’ve been “conditionally” approved (every fucking step of the process is “conditional” or “temporary”). If you don’t hear back, you may still be on the waiting list. At that point, you will need to commit to a specific institution and host professor (don’t have to stick with your initial choice).
  6. Sometime around October-December, your application is officially handed to the ministry by the embassy and shit becomes real. From there on, the chances of your application failing are minuscule (barring anything stupid from your side).
  7. By the time your would-be supervisor starts receiving paperwork from the ministry, you can start packing your bag safely.
  8. Sometime in late march, out of the blue, the embassy will send you your (free) plane ticket to Japan, along with the official confirmation that you are indeed a Monbushō recipient. If you are lucky, this might leave you a week or so to prepare your move to Japan for the next N years.

A few notes about the above:

Even though it is not mandatory to have a potential supervisor lined-up when you start applying, it will make your life a lot easier (and your application more likely to succeed). You can read some general remarks I (and others) wrote about finding a PhD advisor in Japan (probably applies for Masters supervisor as well). No need to get firm commitments from your would-be advisor, a simple verbal agreement to welcome you in their lab, should you successfully get the scholarship, is enough. As long as you come with your own scholarship (and funding), most professors will be very accommodating.

Don’t expect much advance notice for anything (especially the earlier parts of the application), so plan accordingly if you do not live close to the embassy. In my case, I had to fly specially from Tokyo to Paris and a typo in my email address meant I was only notified 24h before the official exam date4.

When your application moves onto semi-officially confirmed territories (basically, when they start speaking to your advisor in Japan), it is a good idea to start looking into entrance exam conditions and dates. Assuming you do not want to wait 6-12 months as a Research student (kenkyūsei) after your arrival, it may be worth your money to fund your own trip to Japan and take it in December with everybody else. That way you can join as a full-on student upon your arrival in April.

Edit: Regarding the entrance exam: it usually involves a fee (the one for Kyodai was somewhere around ¥20-30k) that you will have to pay out of pocket. However, MEXT will refund it to you (since it is essentially part of the tuition) as soon as your scholarship officially begins. The plane ticket, however, is entirely on you (if your would-be supervisor is loaded and generous, they might try to arrange a research visit at the right dates, but you should still expect to pay for that bit yourself).

You said there was money! Tell me more about this.

Depending on a few things5, the stipend for Monbushō students is about ¥130-140k per month, every month, for the duration of your stay (including small trips abroad, provided you are in Japan at least once during the calendar month to sign the ledger).

The stipend must cover your food/rent, but you will likely be eligible for student housing: depending on where you study (and how much comfort you want), you could pay as little as ¥5-10k per month for student lodging (of course, regular unsubsidised rent for a tiny studio is more along the line of ¥50k in Kyoto and ¥80k in Tokyo). You are enrolled in standard Japanese health coverage (kokumin hōken): for our European friends, that’s roughly like home (for everybody else: you pay a couple ¥1000 a month and everything else is taken care of… The Hell of socialised medicine). That’s a lot of money left for food and fun.

Bottom line: you can live comfortably off that, if you live outside of Tokyo (very comfortably if you go to a remote university in the middle of nowhere). If you pick the exciting neon-bright Tokyo life, your wallet will be a lot thinner on average, but you could still survive (frugally) without taking a side-job.

Depending on your faculty (and the whims of your professor, who might be opposed to the idea of your wasting valuable research time elsewhere), you should not have too much difficulty scoring small paying jobs on campus or nearby.

Sounds like the life! How long can I hide there?

Up to 6 years (theoretically 7, if you are in medicine and were to join at the M.Sc. level). You have:

  • Up to one year of free play aka Research Student (kenkyūsei). More on that later.
  • 2 years for your M.Sc. (if you apply at this level)
  • 3 years for your Ph.D. (4 if medicine).

There is no room for extensions. If you are not done after 3 years of Ph.D., your only option will be to find funding elsewhere (generally, your prof. will either ensure that you are done in time, or help you find the cash for an extra 6-12 months).

On the bright side, once you are in the system, getting renewed from a M.Sc. to a Ph.D. (even if you did not originally apply for it) is a no-brainer: as long as your supervisor supports you, it is no more than a paperwork formality.

What is this ‘Research Student’ status you keep mentioning?

When applying for a Monbushō, you are offered the choice of spending up to two semesters without being officially enrolled as a student: as a kenkyūsei (“Research student”). Officially, this gives you time to prepare for the entrance exam (nearly all grade schools have one), as well as take Japanese language classes. In practice, it is mostly up to your supervisor and yourself: you could just as well be starting your Ph.D.(/Masters) research, or have a year of semi-vacation.

If you are not in any hurry to graduate, I would strongly recommend making full use of your allowed time as a kenkyūsei, even if you are ready to take the entrance exam earlier. This gives you time to get to know the place you just moved to, take some intensive language classes if necessary and overall relax before the years to follow (which are supposed to be a little more intense). Of course, you can also take the opposite road and push to take the entrance exam before officially starting the year so as to enter the university as a regular student directly. Either way: the optional kenkyūsei year does not affect the time limit on your further studying (2 and 3 years for MSc and PhD respectively).

What are my chances of getting in?

Assuming you are even remotely grad school material: pretty damn good. There is obviously no sure-fire way to tell until you apply, however there are a few good pointers to what make a successful application (some obvious and some less):

  • Applying in the right country. You have limited (/no) control over this, but each country gets its own quota of scholarships, and some receive more applications than others. I have heard of small Latin-American countries getting one single application for one or two positions (everybody gets in, yay!), while some Western European countries tend to count lots of Japan fanatics (or people desperate to get in grad school abroad) and only a limited number of places.
  • Having somewhat decent academic transcripts, academic resume etc.
  • Good recommendations by important people. Bonus for recommendations by people with a connection to Japan.
  • Japan experience. If you can show you’ve spent a sizeable amount of time in this blessed land, you’ll alleviate their greatest fear: that you’d land in Japan, hate it and run for the hills before completing your degree (apparently happens).
  • Japanese language experience: by no means a requirement, but anything you have will play in your favour (officially, an English language test grade is substituted to your Japanese test grade, if better, but let’s not kid ourselves: they probably look at both). If you are serious about getting some Japanese practice, that other project of mine might be of help. The embassy test for Japanese looks like a mini-JLPT with exercises going easiest to hardest, designed to let you go as far as your level allows.
  • Japan academic connection: particularly in showing that you have established one toward your graduate degree there. Having found a potential supervisor (and mentioning them in your application) will definitely go a long way toward showing that you mean business.
  • Having a concrete plan. Like many of the now numerous Japanese applications I’ve had to fill through the years, Monbushō asks you to plan ahead at a ridiculous level. Basically, they’d like it if you could write up your PhD thesis outline, one year before even starting your PhD. The best strategy is to go with it and write that outline as if you had a clue and nothing was ever going to change (ie: make stuff up). Of course, nobody will hold you to any of it once you are approved, it’s just there to show that you can write nice plans.

All these criteria are by no means exhaustive or independent requirements: approval just seems a matter of ticking enough of these boxes, whichever they might be.

I want in! Any more advice about applying?

Beside keeping the list above in mind, equip yourself with a lot of patience: like most bureaucratic affairs, this one involves a fair bit of whipping, crying and being left in the dark for extensive amount of time. Do not put too much credit on the word of your embassy contacts: very often, they won’t know all that much about what’s going on (and when they do, they’ll prefer to remain noncommittal, lest they have to go back on something they tell you).

The messy communication channels between embassy and ministry and opaque workings of the Japanese side mean that a lot of things can change at the last minute. Nevertheless, do not take at face-value all the talks of “temporary” and “unofficial” in your communications with the embassy: there’s a lot of arse-covering going on, and usually things are a lot more set than you are told. Don’t expect much advance notice about anything: you’ll be lucky to get a week to pack up before you are supposed to be on a plane to your new university.

Picking your advisor and university is obviously the most important part of the process: a supportive supervisor will go a long way toward smoothing out bureaucratic snags during the process. Do not expect your would-be supervisor to be unduly excited at first: they will remain cautiously distant until you come back with more than vague promises of funding6. But once your application is approved, they should be 100% behind you (and if they aren’t, you should be worried): their recommendation will single-handedly get you through the entrance exam (the written part is usually just for show).

Asshole supervisors who have a change of heart and silently drop their support are a rare but real occurrence: in a perfect symbiosis of both typical academic and Japanese business practices, they will not bother informing you, leaving you to find out on your own that you have ‘failed’ the entrance exam. If you are notified of such a failure, it is generally a waste of time to go for for another try. Although you usually are allowed two attempts and Monbusho will support you for two semesters as a kenkyūsei while you prepare, do not believe for one second that your exam performances are what get you in. Short of truly abysmal test results, nobody will so much as glance at your scores. I suspect this might be because even the most sheltered Japanese faculty members realise how crazy it would be to expect a freshly-arrived foreigner to take an engineering (or biology, or whatever other topic, except maybe for actual Japanese humanities) test in Japanese after a rough 3 months of accelerated language studies7. Instead, what truly happens is that all faculty members looking to get new members in will get together in a room and chat about their vacation and recent grants, all the while going over the list and rubber-stamping each other’s prospective grad student’s application.

If you get notified that you ‘failed the entrance exam’, what actually happened is that your would-be supervisor fell asleep when your name came up, or worse: scored some street cred with their colleagues by casually mentioning that you are a worthless piece of crap unworthy of joining their lab. Either way, chances are you’ll get the exact same result the next time around. In such a case, your best strategy is to cut your losses: find a more supportive supervisor (preferably in another faculty/university) and convince your current supervisor to let you go free (ultimately, the decision lies with MEXT rather than them, but always better to pretend and let them save face). They’ll usually be more than happy to let you go and become someone else’s problem.

On that note: beware of the Japanese fascination with “prestigious” university names. If daily interactions with Japanese civilians were any indication, all graduates of these institutions (the big national 5 + Keio/Waseda) would belong to some rarefied breed of genetically engineered super-geniuses who had to best a few million eager candidates just to get in8. The truth is that you will find just as many idiot savants and cunning slackers there as anywhere else. With the added annoyance that being constantly reminded of their eliteness tends to get to their head, resulting in higher-than-average rates of pompous idiot savants haunting the halls of these otherwise fine places of higher-learning. After collaborating with professors and researchers across the entire spectrum of Japanese institutions, I can say that some of the finer, more competent, not to mention motivated people I have met were hailing from would-be “second-tier” institutions in the Japanese academic pecking order. Unless your goal is to stop research immediately upon graduation and get hired by one of the big Japanese corporations9, the brand recognition won’t do much for you. Ignore the Shanghai rankings and Oxbridge-inspired university coat of arms, and focus instead on finding a lab with a young, dynamic, internationally-minded professor, even if it means their university doesn’t have a yachting circle.

Finally, if you successfully apply and end up studying in a Japanese university, do me a personal favour and make great efforts toward actually integrating. And I do not mean joining the local foreign student support group and hanging out with the same small group of foreign exchange students and the odd token English-speaking Japanese thrown in. Getting a Japanese boy/girlfriend (aka your own private English student) doesn’t count either. Make use of the 6+ months intensive Japanese language courses your university will probably offer (and on the note of Japanese studying…) and try to meet regular Japanese people (outside your lab/university is your best bet). It won’t be easy at first, but will make for a much more interesting stay than whatever group of people you find yourself sharing a linguistic affinity with. Especially when your academic pursuits will have taken their toll and you’ll be sick and tired of discussions centred on research or university matters.

  1. “MEXT” is the favoured English abbreviation when talking about the ministry []
  2. constantly decreasing over the years, but still pretty decent for a scholarship []
  3. the domestic ones are very similar, but if they are on your radar, you probably have a local university contact sorting out the application for you []
  4. considering it was their mistake, they made a special catch-up session for me and gave me a munificent 5 days to get there in time for the interview []
  5. slightly more for PhDs than Masters, plus a tiny variable part covered by the city you live in []
  6. especially if they aren’t familiar with Monbusho scholarship and unsure of what your chances are []
  7. hint: that will get you just about far enough to know where to write the date on the exam sheet []
  8. little do they know, basic literacy, endless patience for bureaucratic tasks and a foreign passport are all you need to get into Tōdai nowadays []
  9. better have flawless Japanese for that []

28 comments

  1. I was just checking out your blog from your link on the KanjiBox site (which is awesome, by the way). Thank you so much for this info! I’d never heard of this before and it’s something I’m definitely going to keep in mind, since Jet Programme-type stuff didn’t seem like a good option for someone planning on being a student for some time. Thanks again!

  2. It’s great you were able to obtain a scholarship; the steps seem rather hard to follow.

    “Ignore the Shanghai rankings and Oxbridge-inspired university coat of arms, and focus instead on finding a lab with a young, dynamic, internationally-minded professor, even if it means their university doesn’t have a yachting circle.”

    I think that’s a really good piece of advice, thanks!

  3. I just applied for this scholarship in my country. And i have to say this is by far the most useful info on the topic i’ve seen yet. Its also given me lots of hope cuz i seem to have done everything in line with your instructions even though i submitted before i read this – thanks for giving me hope!!! 🙂

  4. Hello, Dave!

    I can not express well enough how much your blog has helped me! Yet, I come here shamelessly asking for more advice! 🙁

    Right now I’m also applying for Monbusho scholarship. In my country the only Monbusho offered is the Kenkyuusei one and I’m troubled over my project. More like in my country usually project subjects are handed down by our advisors (after discussion of our general interests) and I’ve never had think much about such things. What’s more since the original idea of the Monbusho scholarship is based on the idea of iconomic help (or so they keep saying) we have to find topic which will help my country and a reason why it should be done in Japan (and not some other country). Now, maybe it sounds or is easy, but for the life of me I can’t find a solid reason how resarching what I want to research will help my country or why I should be doing it in Japan. I’ve done some checking and right now it’s not like Japan is the best country in that field, but I simply want to go there. In any case it won’t be worse than here (I think).

    So… I actually came up with project but it strays drasticly from what I want to study in reality. Also I’m informed that the project is valid only as my research project and not as a PhD. theme and since I have no intention to do research and my rough plans are to start directly with the phD I was wandering if it’s OK to submit it as it is?

    My plan was to apply with that but choose the university based on my real preference so I can switch easily to other field. Yet I began wondering about the advisors. How much flexability will be there? I know there’s also the problem with funding. If I am accepted for one research advisor can I switch directly to another after arriving? Or will that be extremely difficult? Also since we have to contact and be accepted by advisors in order to receive Monbusho won’t it be too much of a betrayal to leave immediately the advisor, thanks to whom I’ve received the scholarchip?

    I’m sorry for asking so many questions and troubling in such way! m(_ _)m

  5. Thanks a lot for this info, I have been worried because in my country the embassy asked us to please not talk to professors beforehand, so I ended up not picking one during the initial paperwork phase, right now I’m waiting till Wednesday for the written examination, and possibly the interview.

    What I would like to ask is about the interview process and what to expect about this? And now that u mentioned is it really possible to get into private universities as well?

    Again, thanks a lot about the info!

  6. Rapixxx: First off, I have no experience with “kenkyusei-only” programs (did not even know it existed). The whole thing sounds a little strange, since in most cases the kenkyusei period is mainly a way for students to prepare the entrance exam and study the language. In your case, this seems more like a sort of visiting researcher thing. Same with the “goal” of regular Monbusho research grants, which is most definitely not economic help (they are merely Japan’s answer to most other Western countries’ own post-graduate scholarship programs).

    Based on these major differences, I fear that I have very little help to offer in your case, sorry. All I can say is that you probably should not fret too much about guidelines regarding what future use you may do of your research theme (since it seems you would not be doing your PhD in Japan anyway, or am I misunderstanding the issue?) but you probably should not count on being able to switch university/advisors easily after you get here (it is technically possible, but not easy, especially if you are only here for a year).

    yves: Dunno if not contacting professors is an idiosyncrasy from your country’s institution, or a new official Monbusho recommendation. I suppose the idea is to avoid bothering people until the grant is approved. Even in such a case, I’d say it’s worth informally contacting people (if you have good leads on potential advisors) to get some support on research themes etc. Obviously best not to mention it at the interview, if they explicitly asked you not to talk to professors.

    Regarding the interview: it depends heavily on your country, as the interviewing panel is usually made up mostly of local academics from a partner institution (along with perhaps one Japanese, belonging to the embassy). Questions are likely to be very broad (none of the interviewer are likely to be familiar with your specific field) and more geared at your general career path, future plans etc.

    Technically, Monbusho can sponsor you for any university (including private universities)… although it used to be that your chances were considerably smaller if you were requesting one of the fancier/more expensive ones. But since it seems your pre-approval application does not need to mention any university/advisor-related matter, this shouldn’t apply in your case: by the time they ask you to pick a university, you should have received a definitive response.

  7. Hello Dave, I have a few things to ask you, please bear with me.
    1) I want to enroll into a Master’s Course, do I have to enroll as a Research Student ?

    2) Can I use the Research Student time to prepare for entrance exams instead of actually doing the research?

    3) Is it possible to upgrade the scholarship from Research Student to Masters?

  8. Hi Wantei,

    Yes, I will bear with you. However all 3 of your questions are fully answered in the long post I took the time to write, so I would first recommend you go through it and look for your own answer, then possibly come back if anything is still unclear (although these are the type of technical questions that would be best asked to your relevant embassy contact).

  9. Hi

    Thank you for this entry I have found it very useful!

    I took your advice and applied to ‘second tier’ Kobe University with a young professor who has studied in America.

    He has been so much more helpful than older more established academics within the national 5 that I have contacted! I feel like I will be supported in his small group and have a great time provided I can pass the next few stages.

    I have my interview at the embassy in 10 days (very nervous)!

    Thank you once again

  10. @Chris

    Very glad to hear you found a good potential advisor!
    Yes, it makes a lot of difference in how much help you can get.

    Good luck with your interview! Remember to emphasise your “Japanese experience” (whether a vacation, visiting a lab or whatever) and how your work in Japan will benefit international ties etc.

  11. Hi

    This entry is very useful! I hope I had found this earlier. I got a call from Embassy a few days ago that I passed the interview and now I need to hurry and contact advisors. Honestly I didn’t expect to pass the primary screening but I did sent emails to my perspective advisors since before the screening test. Too bad I haven’t received any reply from them up until now so I am super nervous that I might fail to get any letter of acceptance and be disqualified from scholarship.

    Btw, the universities of my choices are in Tokyo, I’m now nervous about living cost.

    Again, thanks for the information!

  12. Hi, i am applying for letters of acceptance right now and think I have a reasonable chance of getting the Mext scholarship although i would be on a masters degree scholarship and wouldnt have to be a research student first.

    I am slightly worried about the entrance exams since I havent done hardcore maths since my bachelors and even then i wasnt good at it. What you said about the entrance exams being a rubber stamp aslong as your supervisor likes you, is that true in most cases ? or that was just your case ? it seems strange to be letting people do graduate studies when they fail the entrance exam.

    If this is true though that could really work in my favour lol =)

    1. @ari:

      That is not what I meant exactly. The main point regarding entrance exams is that they depend entirely on your chosen university and faculty. Some are more interview-based, some are more exam-based…

      The second point is that what I wrote was mainly for PhD level entrance: MSc entrance tends to be a lot more exam-oriented. Then again, it depends a lot on where/what, but if you are going to study in the faculty of Engineering at Todai, you can expect a fair amount of math and physics and a pretty serious exam. There is always a part left to your advisor (via some ‘interview’ grade or whatnot), but they might not be inclined to give you a big push if you completely flunked the exam.

      Anyway: you’ll have to inquire with your potential future faculty to know more.

  13. Thank you so much for the detailed entry.
    I was starting my undergrad’s in my little Central American country after working for a few years after HS, when I found out about the Monbukagakusho. I applied for the undergrad, which my local embassy told me was highly competitive and I was one of the two finalists of my country even though I got horribly sick during the weeks where I had the time to cram stuff I had forgotten over the working years from HS. It seems that my very basic, almost JLPT5 Japanese knowledge back then impressed the embassy. Apparently I didn’t pass the international selection (undergrads don’t get allotted country tickets) and since I was too old to reapply, the embassy told me to try for what they literally call “Research Student with an option for Masters and PhD” after I finished my undergrad here, and that they would be happy to have me as an applicant since basically nobody in my country ever applies.

    I went around and found a professor from my university, albeit from another discipline and faculty, that won it about 12 years ago, and he did emphasize that “find an advisor from a university that you want to go”. He did differ though, in that he explicitly told me to aim for the big-name ones if I could. Now, I’m only a sophomore going into my junior year next year (our years are somewhat like Japan’s, we start around March), so I don’t know if I might be jumping the gun a bit looking for an advisor right now, so:

    TL;DR: Do you think it’s worth looking for an advisor while you’re an undergrad sophomore for a potential Research Student into Masters into PhD plan of action?

    I know I’ll probably be thinking about it much more seriously in a year’s worth but if it’s no harm trying early then I would be up for it. You wrote about choosing and not leaving it to the embassy for that in the other article, but do you have suggestions about actually communicating with the professor? Send e-mail and wish for the best?

    Even though I’m a sophomore, I am actively engaged in research with a private company here in Panama as a part time job, on the development and integration of low-cost robotics for solutions of problems in developing countries such as mine, and I think the Monbukagakusho would really be an ideal road plan.

    P.S.: Thank you for your Blogging for Google tag too, it’s been really enlightening.

  14. @Eriol: looking for a potential advisor 2 year in advance seems a bit premature. However, something you could definitely try to do is contact people in the field that you think you may be interested in working with and inquiring about the possibility to go for a research internship (Summer or other). With a bit of luck, you might find a lab with enough funding to at least partially fund your trip and expense and that would give you an opportunity to see if you like the lab and professor (and if they like you)…

  15. @Dave: Thanks for the research internship suggestion, I will definitely look closer into that option. Some googling shows me that Todai has something called the UTRIP that may be interesting for anyone with a similar case than mine. Other suggestions are welcome.

  16. hello !
    Thanks a lot dave for your blog , indeed very helpful. Actually, I applied for the munbusho scholarship, I found a professor and now I’m waiting for the final result, the one from october to junauary ( or february).
    But I have a tiny issue , in fact , I am working on a factory and to leave my job I have to notice my boss two months earlier. If I quit now , I still wait for the final result, and if I don’t I won’t really have time to prepare my travel ( I hope). looking for advice!! Thanks a lot. what are the chances to be your application to be accepted when yu have a professor and the acceptance form the embassy ?

  17. Thanks Dave for this very helpful blog, it really cheered me up !!

    I just have one question, in your case, what was the time interval between the second screening result by MEXT and the final screening result by the University ?

  18. [Better late than never, I guess]

    @timmy: really cannot give a 100% answer, obviously, but I’d say the chances are extremely high (*if* the embassy already told you it was accepted).

    @Bassel: not sure what you mean by screening result by the university: I don’t think there is one. They’ll take you no matter what (unless they find out your are a mass-murderer on the run from authorities, I guess), but it’s still entirely up to you to pass the entrance exam… Which is completely separate from getting the Monbusho scholarship.

  19. Hello Dave,

    Thank you for your detailed information! I am also applying at the embassy in France for a PhD (I am from Guadeloupe but in Canada now)! But I was wondering how long did you wait to have a reply from the first screening? Reading your entry made me wonder about some of the stuff that I wrote on the application, especially the study plan, as I wrote it more like a PhD proposal than a motivation letter (I have a supervisor already!). So I am basically freaking out now!!!
    Thank you for help 🙂

  20. Hey dave! Thanks for the detailed info! Its very helpful! I just had one question, is it better to have 3 Letters of acceptance from 3 different universities or should we just stick with one university? 🙂

  21. Thanks for the great info! After several months of researching about this scholarship I’m still in confusion. Can you give any advice on writing out a research proposal? I have mine done but, because my field is a science field, it’s rather long (7 pages). It might impress the professors as it is written in Japanese but I don’t think the scholarship folks would bother reading it. I hear I should also write out a timetable but I don’t plan on starting off as a research student but rather head straight for masters program and take the entrance exam. Also depending on which school I get accepted my timeline may differ.

  22. Hi Dave,

    Thanks for providing such great information about the MEXT scholarship. I’ve been accepted to Todai this April as a research student, and this blog was a great resource during the application process.

    I don’t know if you would have any information regarding this, but I’m wondering if it’s possible to switch unis between Masters and PhD (ideally I’d like to do masters in Todai followed by PhD in Kyodai). I don’t know if switching is permissible with MEXT, but wondering if you’ve encountered anyone who has done this.

  23. @Buke (sorry for the super-late reply… mostly posting in case this is interest to some future visitor):

    AFAIK, it is entirely possible to switch, since it’s a different application. It’s even somewhat possible to change advisor mid-PhD (but that’s definitely not ideal).
    However, there is no question that it is much easier (and safer) to be applying to continue with your current advisor…

  24. Hi Dave! Got your id from reddit and also read your blog! Very enlightening! Wanted to ask few qs and suggestions on MEXT. I would be really grateful if you could throw some light. I applied for MEXT this year but did not get through the first screening via embassy recommendation. They suggested me to try via university recommendation. I do not have any contacts with any Japanese Universities/professors . My field is medical(I am a medical doctor interested in postgraduate training and research in Hematology/Oncology) and I am from a third world country. The guidelines say that applicants have to communicate and seek permission from a supervisor before submitting application for University recommended MEXT. I have sent emails to at least 6-7 different professors in my field of interest but none have replied till date.
    Questions:
    What do you think about my chances of getting a Uni. recommendation when I am applying from outside Japan.
    Do I already have to be enrolled as a student in a Japanese University? People say I have an impressive CV. I wish the professors thought so too.
    Should I write to more/many professors or should I wait for replies?
    You mentioned that people in second-tier universities are more finer and motivated. I am thinking about applying to those too. Do you think the chances are more in these universities?

    Some suggested I take a short visit to Japan to establish contacts and networks but it’s gonna take a lot of money and I do not know where to head to first as I have not established communication with anyone. I looked up for short visit scholarships but see that all of them require applicants to be in enrolled as students or be affiliated to institutes that have relations with the university which does not relate to me at this moment.I am in a huge dilemma. Any suggestion is appreciated! Thanks for taking time to read my message!

  25. Hi Dave!
    WOW! This is a really great article! It answers almost all of the questions i had in mind! Thank you for that!
    I still have one thing to ask though..
    Im applying for PhD in Tokyo Uni, as a research student first. My Monbusho application has been sent by the Uni for government approval last week. My SV mentioned that i might need to use my own money for the first few months of staying in Japan, since it will take some time for scholarship money to comes in. (They tell me to prepare at least 2k$)..
    Is this true for most cases though? How long does it ussually takes before money from scholarship can comes in? The prospect of surviving on my own saving for too long does makes me a bit nervous..

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