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.

148 thoughts on “On The Monbukagakusho Scholarship”

  1. Thank you for writing this. I’ve been up and down the internet trying to gather as much information as I could but wasn’t able to answer my question of whether or not the research student would be taking regular classes (without credit). In my case, I am aiming to study Japanese cultural asset conservation which is a specialty science that requires a lot of hands on experience working with various aging materials and learning how to analyze and treat them. I don’t have any experience in this field, though I do have experience in museum studies, art history, Japanese and cultural resource management. One can’t really have experience in this field from the get-go. You work from the ground up at the graduate level with something like this, so it’s hard to say whether or not you ‘qualify’ for the position. Anyway, I found your article insightful so thank you again.

  2. Hello Elisa and thanks for the comment. I am happy that the article has helped you.
    As for taking classes without credit that really appears simple and possible at least in the universities I have seen. As for hands-on experience, maybe that could be obtained by joining one of the many clubs/circles that are in the universities in Japan.

    Anyhow I wish you best of luck in your future endeavours

  3. Hello,
    Thank you very much for this post. I am thinking of applying for this scholarship this year (2012) but the best information I could get was from students that qualified for the undergraduate courses so I was still in the dark about postgraduate studies.
    If you have the time to reply to this, I would like to know just how detailed the research proposal should be? (Do I need to have a research title, background to and justification of the study, methodology and anticipated outcomes?). May be my other question is which exams are done at the preliminary stages? Is it only English or do they also test applicants in fields such as mathematics and science?

    Once again, Thank you very much!

    from Uganda

  4. Hello Edwin,

    The research proposal should be detailed and should be showing that you have a good understanding of a certain field and that you have the skills and the will to take it to the next level to Japan. Do not be afraid that whatever you will write will be binding for you. It will probably change dozens of time when you come to Japan and when your professor will get actually interested in you after meeting you. Basically in Japan you do what your professor tells you to do.

    As for the preliminary exams in the stage of the embassy stage the most important is the interview where you have to show them that you are willing to go to Japan and have a concise plan of what you want to do when you are there. They also will test you in Engish and Japanese. Does not mean that you need to have a good Japanese ability to pass. They just need to test it.

  5. Hello Lefteris,

    I can not thank you enough, but I hope an honest thank you will suffice.
    I am currently studying Civil Engineering (Final year) so I’m trying to balance my time between carrying out my final year project and preparing my research proposal for the Monbukagakusho scholarship. I am going to do my best to be ready for the interview and I’m sure it will go well thanks to your information.
    And may I say congratulations upon making it to Tokyo University!

    Thank you once again,

  6. Hello, I’m thinking of applying to this, but the kind of research project I’d propose would probably center on radical politics, or at the least, back-to-nature movements/opting out of mainstream governance. Given that this program is government largesse, what’s your sense of the consequences this may entail for projects that imply a critical stance on capitalist/governmental institutions? Are the ones who decide who gets funded wary of funding studies that may become critical of Japanese governance/policy-making?

  7. Hello,

    I do not have any experience with such a case so I do not think I am qualified to give you a correct answer. The only thing I do know is that when in Japan you should avoid stepping on people toes, especially the government’s. I have heard stories, but then again half of them turned out to be fake. So in short, I really don’t know what to tell you about that.

  8. I wonder if you can offer any input on the ?????. Do most successful MEXT applicants receive the it before they submit their application? It seems like a really short time to get such a document from three universities. I applied last year but was unsuccessful, and I wonder if it was my lack of the ????? that was at least partially to blame.

  9. Oops… seems the website doesn’t like my Japanese input. I had written Letter of Acceptance. Thanks!!

  10. Hm..I don’t know why it does not show Unicode. Must have something to do with WordPress, I will check it out.
    You can never know what’s the reason behind your application for MEXT not being accepted but you can’t say that it’s not enough time to procur letters of acceptance. I know that if at the application stage you show them lots of interest and that you have already done lots of your homework (procured letters of acceptance or at least contacted professors) your chances would be higher

  11. Is it alright to put a portion of this on my blog if perhaps I publish a reference to this web page?

  12. yeah it’s not a problem as long as you put a reference to the original article

  13. Dear Lefteris,

    Please suggest me, what would be the probable questions for Mobusho Mext apart from the ones you have mentioned above, as I am appearing for an Interview after 5 days. I would be glad If you would write be some question format.

    Thanking you for your time and cooperation,



  14. Hello,

    Congratulations on your acceptance, Lefteris. This is quite impressive and good luck with your studies.

    I’m from Istanbul and I already completed my studies at Masters level. What I’d like to know is, it seems this scholaship is mostly designed for undergrads. Like you wrote, you have to notify MEXT for further degrees and this seems a lot of extra work for someone who is already engaging in heavy research work. Therefore, it doesn’t seem rational to apply for Msc or PhD in Japan through this scholarship. But people do it alot. Do I get this clear or am I making a mistake here?

    Second question is, I don’t see any other scholarship opportunity in Japan. Are there any other options? Like private funding from an institiution etc. I mean, do you have any knowledge on this?

    Thanks in advance,

  15. @can
    There is no problem in applying for a master or a PhD in Japan with the Monbukagakusho scholarship. It is designed for foreign student. All you have to notify MEXT for is your research plan. Nothing more. Problem is that each graduate school might require you to take entrance exams.

    There are some other options for scholarships, like from JASSO or other organizations but you would have to research on them.

    @Prashrit Simkhada
    I am sorry but I can’t know a specific question format. The only suggestions I can give are in the blog post. Questions vary between embassies since each embassy gets local advisors in the interview too.

  16. Hello,

    thanks for the good work you are doing. I want to apply for the Monbukagakusho scholarship to pursue a masters in Japan. I am from Uganda in East Africa and i have just finished a Bachelors degree in Civil Engineering. My question is how can i summarize my research proposal in 600 words to fit the limit that has been set by the Embassy, what are the main things i should include…..Thank you

  17. Hi there,

    This is the best article so far that answers the puzzles most of us had on whether it is possible to get Master’s degree by using this Monbukagakusho Scholarship, what to expect and what to be prepared before flying there ;in terms of the professor, the university, and the entrance exam. The main worries would be the environment of the research place and the professor instead of the living place, right?

    Many people have gain benefits from this article or would have in the future, I believe so. Thank you for your great efforts and well done. Hopefully I will be able to pass the interview stage on this coming July and follow your footsteps there. Might as well bump into you.

    Good luck for your Master’s study. Do share your stories and experiences with us.

  18. i am informed by the japanese embassy that i am qualified to take the written exam later. I am quite nervous but i am worrying more about the interview (if ever i reach that stage. haha.) thank you for this post, at least we have a clearer idea of what to expect.

    by the way, what is the university entrance exam like? what are the exam types and the coverage?

    thank you very much.

  19. As for the university exams they differ by university. It all depends on the university that you enter in. There is a big difference even between departments of the same school

    So it all depends on the department, and you should check out its webpage for that. For Tokyo university I can tell you that the types and coverage is ridiculously broad and quite hard.

  20. Hello Lefteris,

    As regards the research proposal, we are advised to write about research that can be undertaken in Japan. This may be quite difficult if you are proposing to research about issues faced by, say, developing countires and for which you can not get case studies in Japan. I say this because I am mainly interested in transportation planning and engineering, a field I may say Japan is an authority on!

    My question is; can the scholarship cater for travel outside Japan for purposes of data collection? Not too far away, but outside?

    Thank you very much.


  21. Hello Edwin.

    This is not a matter of the scholarship but a matter of the funding that your professor/department will be able to provide to you. It’s not uncommon for your professor to fund trips abroad for research purposes or for conferences. But it has nothing to do with the scholarship.

  22. Hey Lefteris,

    I understand.

    Is that why most of the research papers I’ve seen are written by graduate students together with their professors? Because the research is basically conducted for the benefit of the laboratory?

    Well, thank you very much.

  23. hello
    how can I find a professor e-mail?and what should I write for accepting by a professor ?

  24. I am sorry mary, but for that you will have to do your own research. I would suggest starting from each university’s website and searching for professors who are working on the same field as you are interested in

  25. Thanks, Lefteris — you really present a wealth of information and I look forward to hearing how your program evolves.

    I’m an “older” student who, now in his forties, is finally matriculating through the under and grad (U.S. American) systems. While not unknown in my country (I was able to get a fairly decent partial scholarship), it appears that in for Japanese schools, the Monbukagakusho and most other scholarships have a 30 or 35 y.o. cutoff.

    “Plusses” in my favor are a fairly high proficiency in “nichijokaiwa” Japanese (from a year there, post highschool, way long ago!), and — well, hopefully, sheer determination.

    I’m of the mind that lightning *can* strike twice (in terms of scholarships), if one does the “legwork”; also that planning ahead for Grad School work (Cultural Anthropology, in my case) makes a huge difference.

    That about sums it for me; if you should happen to have come across others who are in my age set and are still able to find scholastic grants and such, I’d love to hear what they’ve done.

    Best to you, Lefteris, in your own journey!


  26. Hello Robert,

    In Japan I have come across family men studying in universities so I think that there are various age groups that can make it into studying here for a degree. Even though the Monbukagakusho scholarship has a cutof at 35 y.o. there are certainly many more scholarships/fellowships which allow one to study here. Unfortunately I can’t mention them off the top of my head but with a little more research I am sure you can find them.

    Best of luck to you too!


  27. Hello Lefteris,

    Thank you for the opportunity of asking questions about MEXT. I am going to apply for a MEXT scholarship but via recommendation from Tokyo Tech instead of my embassy. Do you think i will get less opportunities making the application through the university instead of the embassy? Do you have any info about this way of applying? thank you 🙂

  28. Hello Annica.

    I am afraid I have no information for people who have applied through university recommendation. This is not a bad thing. I believe that on the contrary this is a good thing, since most people get in via their embassies and have to search for a school later while you would start by having your school recommending you. So it may even be an advantage.

  29. So basically one should spend the entire “research student” year in studying Japanese and at the same time prepare for the entrance exam. If I am not mistaken the entrance exam for engineering are just Math and/or Physics. Any tips, references you can share in order for us prospective students to pass the exams?

  30. Well it depends. Research year is basically a preparation time. It may not always be a year. You may be able to pass the exams in 6 months or there may even be no exams. It all depends on the specific department of the university you are applying to. For engineering you can see the subjects in the university’s website. It’s math, physics and if you are in computers, it’s also computer science related. For tips the only thing I can advice is to prepare early and to make sure to ask and get as much advice from your professor and the japanese people/labmates you work with as possible. They will always have the best tips since they will be familiar with the process for your university.

  31. Hello Lefteris,
    I have read your post and found out that you have made a lot efforts to help future MEXT candidates, thanks for that.
    I have been recommended by the Embassy of Mali to the MEXT and I’m waiting for the second screening results. I obtained a LOA from Kobe University so think that my application isn’t so bad. My question is the following, is it possible at this level to be rejected by the MEXT?
    Thanks in advance for your help.

  32. hello maco!
    You sound as if you have a strong application already. There is always the possibility of failing the 2nd screening but you should not worry and try to show your best self.It depends a lot on the number of candidates per year in your country. Best of luck!

  33. Hello Lefteris, the post was really helpful thank you.
    I am interested in MEXT scholarships as I would like to study MBA majoring in project management in kyoto university as I found a postgraduate program specially prepared for international students for the same. Now my question is, will it be helpful to get the acceptance from the university then applying for MEXT?
    Since this program does not include any kind of research I quoted this paragraph from the Japanese embassy website in Bahrain stating that they are willing to fund my master degree expenses but only after my arrival in Japan :
    2. Research Students
    Applicants may choose one of the following terms of scholarship:
    (1) Two years from April 2013 to March 2015. (Includes six months for studying the Japanese language)
    (2) One and a half years from October 2013 to March 2015. (Includes six months for studying the Japanese language)

    If the Grantee enrolls in a master’s course, doctoral course, or professional graduate course after arriving in Japan, regardless of the time of his/her arrival in Japan; the scholarship will be payable for a period necessary for the Grantee to complete his/her regular course (standard course term). (Plus a 6-month Japanese language training period for the Grantee who requires such training.),}}

    is it possible to get the scholarship directly as master student before getting to japan??


  34. Hello.
    It’s typical to get the scholarship as a research student and then advance to the status of a degree student. There can be exceptions to this, I personally know some people who started directly from the master degree. It largely depends on the program and what the professor will say.

  35. Hey Lefteris!
    I have finally passed through the second screening! The embassy called me today (21-12-12)!
    Because of the over ambiguity of the process, I’m still not sure if it’s ok for the scholarship!? What do you think about it? o.O

  36. Hi,

    I was interviewed for the 2013 scholarship in the middle of July 2012 but up to now I haven’t received any communication from the embassy. I tried to search for the actual date the results will be given but I haven’t seen one on the internet. For this reason, I haven’t applied to any university yet. I just need to confirm if I have not passed the scholarship so I can proceed to plan B.

    Thanks in advance!

  37. Hello,

    I am in no way affiliated with Monbukagakusho or the embassy of your country so I can not confirm whether you have passed the interview or not. I would suggest calling the embassy directly and inquiring about the status of your application

  38. Hello Lefteris

    Thank you very much for your post as it helped me to gain some insight regarding the research student of MEXT. I have been awarded MEXT scholarship as a research student in Todai and i’m starting in april 2013 in engineering. I intend to pursue my studies in doctorate. What am i going to ask you is about the format of the entrance exams? Do you need to sit in the exam with other regular entrance examinee or only research students? And what subjects does it include? do you need to give an interview too??

    Thanks in advance


  39. Oh so we will be in the same university! You will be coming to Japan just about when I am going to be leaving. As far as the format of the entrance exams is concerned, it’s the same for everybody, Japanese and foreign students alike.

    The subjects depend on your department. Which department of the school of Engineering are you applying to? Yes an interview is also going to be included. It will mostly ask you about your past achievements, interests and to lay out your research plan for your PhD.

  40. thank you very much. i am accepted in dept. of architecture. i am concerned about the exams because my background is geology and i chose to study earthquake so i had to enter architecture department. so i will have to go through a lot of hard work i guess. you are in software engineering right? hope to see you in hongo.


  41. Hi Lefteris! Your post was super helpful and your answers are so too! So I hope you can help me too. I have been accepted at the University of Tokyo to do a TMI master degree, and they will be recommending me to the government for the MEXT scholarship. However, I still need to do the research proposal and they say it is the most important thing for acceptance. Do you have any tips on what must be included?? Thank you very much!

  42. First off congratulations!Alba. Sorry for replying a day late but I was really busy yesterday. As they told you the research proposal is quite important but the format also heavily depends on the field you are studying. As an example for a generic format take a look here or on any other result in google for “research proposal format”.

    The most important thing to remember though is that it will most definitely, 99% change radically after you get accepted and even while you are in the first 6 months or 1st year of your studies. It happened both to me and most of the people I know in Tokyo university.

  43. Hi there,

    I am a MEXT research scholar since April 2012 to March 2013. I appeared for graduate school entrance exam but, unfortunately I couldn’t pass. In-order to extend this scholarship I should enroll in doctoral course before 31st March 2013 as per MEXT guidelines. But, by this time, almost all universities entrance exams in Japan are over. Please suggest me what are the possible options to save my scholarship and get enrolled for doctoral course. Also, please provide me with the information about universities in Japan which doesn’t conduct entrance exams so that, I can directly enroll for doctoral course and save my MEXT scholarship.

    Please Help!

  44. hi.i was graduated in french language in IRAN.but it was not my choice.my parents forced me to follow that.i am a good soccer player and i have always wanted to be in soccer.maybe a good coach.in my country coaching is not enough organized and strong. i went to the Embassy of Japan in IRAN for scholarship.but they told me that i studied french language and its not related to coaching..i dont know what to do now…how can i get the scholarship in this situation?could you please help me to follow my dream.thanks a lot

  45. you know what? maybe i am able to get this problem solved if i could contact with a professor in related university who is interested in my case..but i dont know how can i get professors address e-mail. i did some research about that but nothing finally..short of information …s.o.s

  46. Hello Lefteris,

    Congrats on getting into 東大! Thank you for writing this very informative article. I had two questions for you regarding the scholarship I was hoping you might be able to answer:
    1. From the time of the first interview, when do applicants find out when they were accepted or not?
    2. I am very interested in getting my Masters of Fine Arts degree in Japan, and in terms of a “concrete and thorough research plan”, how do you think someone seeking a MFA might do that in this context? I don’t want to focus on some detailed scientific or political theme like most other applicants might, but rather I want to combine my Japanese language skills, interest in Japan, and my passion for creating art.

    Thanks in advance!

  47. Hello. My husband became a monbukagakusho scholar in 2006. He was supposed to take his PhD degree in the University of Tsukuba. He stayed in Japan for 3 years. Unfortunately he was one of those unlucky ones who were sent back to their own countries without the Degree. His Sensei forced him to resign from his scholarship. As I can recall, his Sensei wanted him to develop a unique traffic system using a large Data. I don’t know the technicalities but my husband said it was impossible to do that thing using the whole data his sensei provided him.. He told them he could process a portion of that data and develop the system out of that small portion due to limited time. The Japanese didn’t accept that. They said he wasn’t good enough and should go back to his own country. He is a government employee here in our home country and as soon as he came back he got his job back. Recently he attended a conference about transportation. During the question and answer portion he asked the facilitator if they already developed that certain system the Japanese wanted him to develop. And the answer was no. With all the advancement in technologies, programers and researchers they have they still failed to develop that system. Which makes me angry at some point. To think they forced my husband to do it on his own, and cost him his scholarship and his PhD degree. It’s been 3 years since we left Japan but that failure of not getting his PhD degree back then made a huge effect in our lives. Too much humiliation put his morale and self-esteem 6 feet under the ground. It’s hard seeing him like that. I know he wanted a PhD degree and I’ve been encouraging him to apply in another scholarship abroad but he can’t still get the courage to do it.

    I just wanted to know if after you were forced to resign from monbukagakusho scholarship can you still re-apply? I thought somehow if he’ll be able to go back to Japan to study he will regain his confidence.

  48. Hello,

    Thank you so much for all this information. I am just wondering should one be able to apeak the Japanese language and how much of it? Secondly, is the research done in Japanese?

  49. Hey,

    It all depends on the university and the program that you enroll into. But most of the times no Japanese is required and most scholarship awardees simply start intensive Japanese classes on arrival.

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