On The Monbukagakusho Scholarship

In 2010 I came to Japan as a research student and in 2011 became a master student in the University of Tokyo thanks to the Monbukagakusho scholarship provided by the Japanese government. In this post I present my experiences on obtaining the scholarship and advice on how you can apply for it at your local Japanese embassy and get it yourself.

Lots has happened during the few months since my last post. Due to what happened I felt like creating a new post detailing the Monbukagakusho Scholarship awarded by the Japanese government. I just wanted to talk about my own personal case but also about the program in general. If anyone is interested in applying for the program I hope he/she can find the information provided useful.

The Japanese government and specifically the Ministry of Education,Culture,Sport,Science and Technology(MEXT) offers this scholarship. This is what Monbukagakusho means. It offers a certain number of scholarships to each country every year. In the case of Greece at 2009 it was 5 scholarships. Applying for the scholarship is easy. All you need to do is contact your own country’s Japanese embassy since they act as the representative of MEXT for your country. Actually getting awarded the scholarship though is another matter altogether. Depending on your country and how well-known the MEXT program is you will have to face a lot of competition. The number of scholarships is always but a minuscule fraction of the number of applicants.

My advice to you when you are going through this stage, the Embassy Recommendation stage is simple. Sell yourself exactly as you would for a job interview. At the time of writing at least, this stage has two sub-stages. The first is the application papers. Secondly from all the number of people who apply a small number is chosen to go through an interview. Following the interview, the scholarship is awarded to some of the interviewees.

At the application papers stage the only way to show that you deserve the scholarship is to have had:

  • Good marks at your university and good graduation scores
  • A presentable graduation thesis, or master thesis (depending on the program you apply for)
  • Write a presentable, concrete and thorough research plan

I can not stress the third point enough. The research plan is what makes or breaks a Monbukagakusho application. It is what the examiners will be looking at for each application and your research plan should be able to distinguish itself from the rest, so that it can get at the top of the application pile and grant you an interview.

At the second stage, the interview, you can do a lot more to help your case and get the scholarship. The interviewers will include Japanese people and academic people of your own country (usually the academic advisors to the embassy) . This is a run down of my advice about the interview:

  • You will be asked about your research plan so be prepared to answer any possible questions about it.
  • Brush up your Japanese. If you have any knowledge of the language use it. They will ask you if you can speak it, and just show them what you can do. Unless your Japanese is top-notch don’t do the whole interview in Japanese only but when they ask you if you can speak it, show them your ability. Having the will to try and speak the language even before going to Japan will give you lots of points.
  • Be presentable. You will be dealing with Japanese people and being formal is a must. Wear a suit if you can, but even if you can’t try to make yourself look as good and serious as possible

This is what I had to say as far as the application process is concerned. From here and on you will have to deal with finding professors through email and applying for universities. You can get accepted in as many universities as you want but the final decision goes with MEXT, they will decide to which university you will actually go. This differs on a case by case basis but you should know that positions in Tokyo and Osaka are always fiercely contended for so don’t be disappointed even if you don’t get in there.

Now here is the main reason why I wanted to make this post. To disambiguate a fuzzy part of the MEXT scholarship program. Even though they do warn you, and they do mention it in all the papers you get in the start most of us applicants don’t realize the nature of the program. The scholarship you get IS NOT for graduate studies. You get a 2 year scholarship to study as a research student in a Japanese university, inside the laboratory of the professor who accepted you. I can not stress this part enough. Many people (including me) come here thinking they will definitely get to obtain a graduate degree, suddenly realizing that it would be a lot harder than they thought at first or even impossible. Unfortunately there are people who do go back home without managing to obtain a graduate degree.

When you come to Japan you are what they call here a research student. By working at the laboratory of the professor who accepted you and also having the right to attend any classes you desire you are just like a Master/PhD student with the big difference of not being able to obtain any points towards a degree.

In order to become a master student while still being supported by the scholarship you have to notify MEXT that you would like to proceed to master student status in a university and actually take the entrance exams for that university. If you pass them AND if you get the actual extension from MEXT you are okay to go and can start you graduate studies in Japan. But the problem most people here seem to be facing is the entrance exams. It depends on the university, but for the top universities and especially for the engineering field the exams are fiendishly hard . Japanese people call the exams period “Exam hell” and for a good reason. With very difficult exam subjects ranging a variety of undergraduate level topics such as Math,Physics, Electronics and Computer science it certainly is hard to get accepted.

The only advice I can give here is to find a professor who shows interest in you and your work and can help you through the exams period. By university rules the professors are not allowed to actually help but even giving you a book to study or the occasional pat in the back helps. There have been students who were totally neglected by their professors and had to face the exams all alone. Needless to say the outcome was not nice. To pass the entrance exams you need to study the topics appearing at the entrance exams as hard as you can and hope for the best. Even if you don’t pass them the first time you have 2 chances in total as a PhD applicant and 3 chances as a Master applicant, so there is no need to despair. Just study harder.

As for me I managed to pass the exams of Tokyo University after a lot of hard work and finally am about to enter the Master Program from April 2011. This was actually what drove me to write this post in the first place, thinking that it might be useful to people interested in the scholarship.

Well that was my little summary detailing the MEXT-Monbukagakusho scholarship. I hope it is helpful for any potential applicants. Finally closing I would like to thank the Japanese government for providing this wonderful opportunity to both me and all the other students I have met here in Japan.

144 thoughts on “On The Monbukagakusho Scholarship”

  1. Hey, it’s me again.

    Thanks a lot for your prompt reply last time!

    This time well, I am worried about a different thing. I had emailed a professor in the University of Tokyo who has replied in a very positive manner.

    However, the placement form that’s given allows us to select up to 3 universities. Do you think it’s a better idea to email professors from other universities as well?

    All this, assuming I clear the Embassy recommendation stage… But still.

  2. Yeah it’s always a good idea to have letters of acceptance from multiple universities but I suppose it is not a hard requirement.

  3. hi i have been feeling very lost with this whole process.
    i contacted professors from 3 professors and non of them have gotten back to me yet. i am really worried because i only have a week left on the deadline given to me by my embassy to get a letter of acceptance.
    i emailed them about 2 weeks ago and have not heard back. so I called each school a few days ago to ask them if the professors were in office and they said they would pass on the message to the professors that I have been trying to get in touch.
    what do I do at this stage?
    Do I wait for them to get back to me or find new professors to contact.
    again I am really worried I will lose the scholarship if i cant get a professor to accept me

  4. If you are running out of time then you should really ask other professors.

  5. Hi, thank you for the post regarding the scholarship. From what you are saying, if I wanted to study as a research student (PhD) in Japan, then a scholarship would only be for two years and then I wouldn’t have any further funding, is that correct?
    Essentially I would be an international student and have to pay international students fees?

    Many thanks,

    Imi

  6. No, if you are accepted into any program, be it MsC or PhD your scholarship will be extended by the appropriate amount of years/months needed to finish the program.

  7. Thanks for a wonderful and informative post – has been an invaluable resource to me during the application process, and I’ve managed to be accepted to Todai as a research student starting this April.

    I have a question that I cannot seem to find an answer for: are research students obliged to apply for the masters course they put down on their original application (research proposal), or is it possible to apply for any masters within your department in your university? Also wondering if things like changing supervisor/university between masters and PhD is possible.

  8. I have applied for MEXT research scholarship in Tokyo Institute of Technology, after passing written test and 3 round of interviews conducted by Professor. Professor agreed to be my adviser and shared a letter of acceptance.

    Later, Professor has emailed me saying that university has shortlisted my name for MEXT scholarship after evaluating my application, however this year number of MEXT scholarship is reduced and my name is mentioned/ranked almost in middle.

    So he said it is difficult to get this year mentioning that it is not an official email.

    The final result will be declared in May 2016 by MEXT.

    I want to know, what are my chances of getting selected as we all know MEXT funding is variable and Japanese economy is not doing well.

    Your answers and experience are highly appreciated.

    Thank you!

  9. I have no experience with such a situation I am afraid. You should try to get more than one letter of acceptance to have as a backup though. This way if this professor does not work out you have more than one to show.

  10. Sorry for the late reply. No they are not. I actually changed both school and professor during my stay in Japan as a MEXT scholar.

  11. Dear Lefteris,
    Thank you so much for your story.
    I need your advice regarding my situation.
    I got accepted in MEXT scholarship and came to japan in April 2015. I took the intensive language course for 6 months, and because there was no entrance exam for my graduate school in Kyoto University, I started my Master’s immediately ( I started in October 2015). The problem is that I regret this decision: I regret the I started immediately and that I didn’t make much “full” use of my kenkusei period!
    I am doing fine in my Masters, but , I could have enjoyed my stay in Japan with the privilege of the ” semi-vacation” the kenkusei status offers..,!
    I want to continue to my Ph.D in Kyoto university, but in another lab.
    My question is that: Can I be offered a 6 months period of being a “research student” in my new lab???
    Thank you.

  12. Dear,
    Thank you so much.
    If I want to extend my scholarship from a Master’s to a PhD ( in a new lab), can I become a research student in my new lab for 6 months or so before starting my PhD?
    Any ideas about that?
    Thanks a lot.

  13. I think you may be able to but it’s always better to ask at the secretary office of the university. They would know better, or would be able to find a proper answer.

  14. Hi Lefteris,

    Let me tell you that all the information you have posted has been very useful for me!
    I can imagine how busy you are, but I would really appreciate if you can give me an opinion regarding a situation I have.

    I have received the MEXT scholarship by embassy recommendation, and I will be travelling next October. And I have this concern regarding the JLPT level the University requires: the University knew, when they accepted me that I have a basic level of Japanese. Even though I am studying really hard, I think that will be difficult (if not impossible) to reach a N1/N2 in five months. The Master I want to pursue is in English, it is in the Global 30 Program (I have checked it before applying), but they require an excellent Japanese level. Is it possible that the University rejects you in this type of situation? Maybe if they are not comfortable with your Japanese level, is possible to change University.
    The embassy told me that if you are committed to your investigation project and you really want to study in Japan, they will find a way to help you (changing university or tutor, for instance).

    However, I am really worried about this because I do not want to lose this opportunity. And I am wondering to ask my tutor about this, but maybe I am anticipating the situation and I do not want to bother her. I am kind of thoughtful.

    What do you think about this? Do you know any similar situation and how it ended?

    Thanks a lot!

  15. Hello,

    If you received the embassy recommendation already then you should be fine. Most of the times the university has sponsored classes for Monbukagakusho scholars and you can keep at them until you are ready to join your program. If you need a scholarship extension later it is not so difficult to get it. Also changing university and tutor is possible. I changed my tutor and department once while I was there.

  16. Thank you very much for your quick and kind reply. You are so helpul!
    Wish you all the luck.
    Best,

  17. Hi,
    I am thinking for applying for MEXT scholarship this year , on the website it is shown that we can apply for research student or master student so is directly applying for master student is possible or not

  18. It depends on the university program. If they can accept you for master’s directly having the embassy recommendation for the scholarship it should be okay.

  19. Hi

    First of all thank you for this article. I just have a question regarding the university choice. I was thinking about applying to middle universities (the rank), but my professor (Who was a MEXT scholarship student at Osaka Uni) advised me to put the top universities(Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto) on the list.

    I am a bit confused about this issue, so I wanted to hear your opinion regarding this issue and see what would be the wise choice to make.

    Thanks in advance

  20. Hello Lefteris,

    First of all, thank you very much for sharing your valuable experience about the MEXT applying process. I am going to apply this year for this scholarship, however I have doubts about the research plan. I know you stated that you could not emphasize about this point, however could you give me some advice to increase the chance to be accepted taking into account the research plan?. Thanks in advance. I appreciate your help.

  21. That is totally your choice, and if you believe you can pass the top university exams. It’s not that difficult.

  22. Hello, unfortunately I can’t give research plan advice as this is specific to an individual’s field. Google about the subject.

  23. Thank you so much for replying with reference to changing your school and professor during your scholarship. If you don’t mind, could I ask what were the circumstances you changed under? Did you change between research and masters or masters and PhD? I am really considering a change at the moment because my research interests have changed hugely since I applied for the scholarship (my research proposal was more to do with social science, but I really want to change into studying machine translation), but I don’t know if I will be permitted to make this big a change. I would really appreciate any information you can provide about how you managed to change!

  24. Thank you for posting this article.
    I have a question for you:
    We need to get letters of acceptance even when applying for UG courses?

    Kindly help me

  25. Hello Catherine, I have no idea what is UG courses. These kind of questions are better addressed to the embassy at which you are making the application.

  26. Ok, I read your post and somewhat the more information I get, the more I am getting confused. I am applying for the postgraduate study (PhD) as a research student and I get this thing from your post that though I get the scholarship and study there for two years (I am also confused about the length of study), I won’t get a PhD degree??
    Please advise

  27. Hello Sir
    though i believe its too early for me to ask this but still i am asking because i believe that earning a MEXT scholarship is no joke. I will be begin my engineering studies(B.Tech In EE) from this year itself and probably 3 years from now on i will be giving this scholarship exam. It is my dream to earn a masters degree from Tokyo University but i am completely clueless about the whole procedure and the syllabus too i know its too early for me to say or assume such things but still i want to work hard from today itself so that i dont gave to shed tears in future.. Please guide me well thanks for the post..

  28. Hello Lefteris
    firstly thank you for your post, really it is very useful, i like when you said scholar can change the university.
    i had applied this year and i will do interview next week
    i will do good in the interview inshalah
    but i am worried about the professor, i didn’t contact any one yet.
    i did small search on your blog and it is nice to see people who encourage start-up companies, i did start-up company in my country, we are software engineers.
    my research is about doing intrusion detection system based on machine learning to detect novel attacks
    can you suggest me a god professor to contact, who was your professor
    NOTE: i am a big fan of your coding and you projects
    best regards
    TGy aldeen

  29. Hello Aldeen. Thank you for your nice words!

    I am afraid I don’t know of any professors specialising on the field you are interested in but I am pretty sure you can find many of them with a simple google search, or search the university pages of the big universities like Uniersity of Tokyo or Tokyo-Tech.

  30. If you apply for a PhD program and finish it you will ofcourse get your PhD. If you stay as a researc student doing generic research under no specific PhD program you will not.

  31. I am sorry but I can’t just give generic advice like that, I can only ask specific questions if I know the answer to them 🙂

  32. Dr.L, Thank you for such a valuable post on MEXT. I have a doubt and it would be great if you could help me with that? I graduated in 2015 in Electronics and Communications and have been working as a full time employee in the field of analytics ever since I graduated. I want to apply for the Research Prog now. Would you advice me to do so after such a long gap between my graduation and research commencement date ? Also, my research proposal will be different from my current work ex. TIA!!

  33. Hello Lefteris,

    Thank you for the wonderful post. I find it indeed helpful.
    This year I will applying. So I have a question. Since the MEXT people get the last saying in where you will be placed, based on the acceptance letters you have received (Example: You were accepted in Todai and Tohoku, but they place you in Tohoku), would it be reasonable to give to the embassy just the acceptance letter of the Uni you want most (Ex: Only the letter from Todai).

    Cheers,
    Boris

  34. Hello, thanks for your post. I have understood that I have two options either applying for a degree course or non degree. Which is better to start by applying as a non degree researcher and then change the status in Japan or just applying to a degree course directly. Thanks!

  35. Hi Lefteris, thank you for making this blog post it was very informative, the only question I have is if you had a maths exam and if you did was it equivalent to A-level math or GCSE.
    Thank you again.
    Amiah

  36. I don’t know what A-level or GCSE math is. In my country’s (Greece) system it was equivalent to university level math. Not trivial.

  37. It’s not a bad idea. This could work. You can also give them all the letters but tell them you only want to go to Todai.

  38. Hello,

    I really am not an expert in career advice so I can’t provide proper guidance here. Just do what you feel is best for you.

  39. Must say I really appreciate you actually explaining what the “Research Students” scholarship is for, so far you’re the only one who I’ve seen does so.

    Ironically, the website for the embassy and the forms do a poor job at it, leaving ambiguity that certainly makes one think they are not only for research but for getting a Masters or PhD while at it.

    For example, my embassy says:
    El Ministerio de Educación, Cultura, Deportes, Ciencia y Tecnología del Japón (MONBUKAGAKUSHO) ofrece becas a estudiantes extranjeros que deseen estudiar en universidades japonesas como “research students” con opción a Maestría o Doctorado

    which roughly translates to:
    Japan’s ministry of education, culture, sports, science and technology offers scholarships to foreign students who wish to study in Japanese universities as “research students” with an option to Masters or PhD.

    The fact that the scholarship is for researching and that getting the option at a Masters/PhD is a whole other process of admission tests, extending deadlines, etc should be explained in more detail.

  40. hello. by any chance, do you know a case in which you already have obtained 2 letters of acceptance and still failed in the final selection?

  41. Nope I am not aware of any such case, but I have had no contact with monbusho in over 6 years.

  42. Γεια σου Λευτέρη! Θα συνεχίσω να γράφω στα αγγλικά,μιας και μπορεί και κάποιος άλλος να έχει την ίδια απορία με εμένα.
    Fist of all, thanks for your post,it is very enlightning. My question is about getting the letter of acceptance. I do not know if you know this, but from this year on we have to fill in a preference form about the universities we wish to attend with the application form. Would you suggest not going for top universities to have more chance of actually getting the scholarschip or are MEXT applicants something that top universities would also be wanting to have?
    And my second question is: is the letter of acceptance or the agreement to be your supervisor something that only a professor can do or would an associate professor or an assistant professorof the same department can do, too? Because when I search the topics from certain departments of dental universities in Japan, most of the times the research activity of associate or assistant professors matches my supposed research proposal more.
    Thank you in advance

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