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. Hello Lefteris,

    I hope that even after leaving Japan (I’ve been following your twitter updates – congs on all you’ve achieved, by the way!), you still get time to provide some guidance to MEXT hopefuls.
    I have a question regarding the application form sections “the first course you plan to take in Japan”, and “term you wish to study”. It is my understanding that it is possible to ask for extension of scholarship so that one can join a master’s degree course after a period as a research student. So, can I indicate the term I wish to study as “until the master’s degree course completion”, but the first course I plan to take as “Research student”? Or can I also state the first course I plan to take as “master’s degree course”? I’d be grateful for any insights you may have regarding the matter.

    Related information: I’d like to study under the scholarship until I get a master’s degree, anything in-between is fine by me.

    Thank you very much.


  2. Hello Edwin and thank you for the good words. It’s my pleasure to assist Mext applicants.

    I believe that what you are asking sounds pretty normal. Mext people know that this is pretty much the standard “route” students take when going to Japan. I know only one person who went to Japan with Mext scholarship and started a Master course immediately. All other friends of mine, including me, had to spend some time being a research student preparing for the university entrance exams.

    If I were you I would simply indicate that I want to go for a master degree. Now if there is a research student period (which most certainly will be) you will just have to go with it. The factors that decide it are: 1) The department of the university you will be enrolling to 2) The professor under whom you will be studying

  3. Hello Lefteris,

    Thank you for your prompt, and as usual, very informative reply. I did notice that some universities explicitly stated that one would need to go through the research student phase, while others did not, so your recommendation makes a lot of sense.

    Thank you very much.


  4. Hello Lefteris,

    I was wondering, when it comes to writing your choice of universities and professors, suppose I’ve made contact with only one who seems interested in my work (or has replied in at least a positive way) – does indicating only one choice ruin my chances? In your opinion, is it better to indicate only the one professor willing to work with you? Or to also indicate other choices you have (but have got no responses from professors yet)?

    I’m looking at this from the viewpoint of acceptance letters – if, after embassy selection, I manage to get acceptance letters from universities I did not originally indicate on my application form, will MEXT in Tokyo consider them?

    Thank you very much.


  5. Hello!

    I’m so grateful I found your blog. I was really desperate looking for info about this scholarship and couldn’t find much.

    I have one big question and can’t find a certain answer for it. How important are the grades in getting the scholarship? Are they more important that the japanese exam that you take at the embassy? My grades weren’t so good in the last university year but I was hoping to compensate that with the fact that my japanese is good ( jlpt level 2 ) and also the fact that I was awarded the japanese studies scholarship in the past.

    But as I kept looking for info, some people said that the grades matter the most *shivers in panic* I calculated my GPA based on this formula http://www2.siit.tu.ac.th/crd/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/GPA_Criterion.pdf and I got 2.48. It’s below the requirements but guess it’s not too good considering that that maximum can be 3.0. Should I still hope?

  6. Hello Cristina,

    Do not worry about the grades. They are certainly not the most important thing that matters for the monbukagakusho scholarship. Of course situations differ between countries and I can’t know how it is in yours but from my experience and the talk I have had with other monbusho scholars what matters is mostly your enthusiasm to study in Japan and the presentation of a concrete study plan.

  7. Hello Edwin. I would try to get additional acceptance letters if possible but it’s not something you should feel pressed about.

    As for presenting additional acceptance letters after embassy selection yeah of course anything is possible. You can pretty much do anything you want after you get the final okay from the embassy as long as it does not take you completely off track from your originally stated goal of study. Can’t suddenly switch to humanities while your intended field was technoogy for example. But changing professor or presenting additional school choices you can do.

  8. You can’t even imagine how grateful I am for your reply. I’ve been extremely depressed since I saw the grades for my last exams ( got low grades for low attendance due to some health problems even if I did fine in the exams ). I kept crying because I thought everything is over. Going back to Japan means alot to me.

    I asked about this on a lot of websites but you were the only one who replied. Really, thank you!

  9. Hello Lefteris,

    Thank you for your reply. My heart thanks you as well (I was very worried about this issue of professors).


  10. Hi Lefteris,
    Thank you for having this site. I searched high and low on the internet but can’t seem to find what I needed.

    I have just been informed that I have passed the exam and interview round. Now I have to find 3 professors to sign the Letter of Acceptance. All these have to be done within 3 weeks!

    I have 2 questions
    1) I know for sure the university and the professor that I want to be mentored by. In fact, we have been emailing each other for months. I do not really want to go anywhere else. Is it going to look bad on my form if I only put down one professor/university? Will that affect my chances of being selected?

    2) What are the chances now that I have come this far? Is it possible for them to make us contact all the professors and then don’t offer me the scholarship? I wonder how many people get in/rejected at this last stage. Have you any idea?

    Thanks in advance!!

  11. First off congratulations.

    1) It would not hurt to have one or two more universities as choices as long as you mention that you strongly prefer the first one and that you already have been in contact with him.
    I don’t think that this would hurt your chances.

    2) if there is no additional embassy selection stage then it is almost impossible to not get accepted. but of course this is something you would have to ask for and confirm from your country’s Japanese embassy.

    Best of luck

  12. Thanks for the reply.
    I was told that the next stage was to submit the Letter of Acceptance to the consulate. Then they would send everything to Tokyo for MEXT to decide. Does that mean my chances are very high, or as you’d mentioned, it’s “almost impossible” not to get it? I’d thought that MEXT would select only some successful applicants from the applications that come to them but I’m probably wrong.

  13. Hmm this sounds strange. In my case all applicants who were selected by the embassy were accepted. What we were waiting to hear from Tokyo though was which university and professor each one of us would serve under from the suggestions we had made.

    So in my case the letters of acceptance were even before the final embassy screening. The process can very well have changed since then. Some years have passed

  14. It’s actually nice to hear that. What country did you get interviewed in?

  15. I shall contact my consulate to ask if there will be a selection process at the embassy in October. Thanks, Lefteris, I appreciate your taking the time to answer all my questions. Good luck on your masters program.

  16. Yeah that would be a good idea. As for my master’s degree I already finished that and am out of Japan right now πŸ™‚

  17. Hi. You have been mentioning about research student n pursueing master degree. how is the whole process? I mean, you arrive there as a research student(for how long),then you sit the exam(when).so how long is the period from the time you went to Japan until you got your master’s degree?

  18. Is there anyone having idea about Monbusho Scholarship by university recommendation? I’ll be particularly pleased to know whether the recommendation by a Japanes university for a research student is a guarantee of his/ her selection.Or, around when the results will be published this year?

  19. I am afraid I can only give you rumours about that. I can tell you I have heard that university recommendations do indeed have a very strong case to make for themselves.

    As for the results, it really depends on your country. For more information contact your Japanese embassy.

  20. Hey, finding your blog (and the comments) are very useful, thanks for this!
    I have a question concerning the letters of acceptance. Since I really want to go to a specific university, is it a good idea to get 3 letters of acceptance from the same university? (yes there are enough possible profs) Because I heard that the university decides at the end and then 3 letters from the same university would be bad??

  21. I don’t think that it would matter if you had 3 letters of acceptance from professors of the sme university. No reason for it to affect anything in a negative way.

  22. hey! just found out about your blog.. idk if you will see this or reply.. but even i am aiming at the Research student scholarship from India.. and one university has said okay to me and i was told to contact the professors in the dept (biotech- i am interested in genetics) but the thing is.. aside from one professor replying to my mail saying that sorry he couldnt accept me .. no other professor has replied to me . i have mailed 3 professors i didnot want to mail more as they might think its rude or something.. did this happen with you too? I have mailed using a Japanese email id so the mail should have been delivered.. i am really confused as to what to do.. its been a week since i mailed them.. any advice will be appreciated(>δΊΊ<;)

  23. Agapite Lefteri.
    Katarxin tha ithela na grapsw sta ellinka gia na ginw perissotero katanoitos se ayta pou thelw na se rwtisw kai as me sygxwresoun oi ypoloipoi.
    Sygxaritiria gia osa exeis kataferei ews twra (fantazomai tha itan skliros o dromos) kai dineis kai se emas elpida oti mporoume na exoume mia pithnanotita na mporesoume na paroume tin ypotrofia.
    Egw asxoloumai me tin iapwniki texni kai istoria.

    1)Exw brei 3 panepistimia stin iapwnia pou exoun master sta agglika alla den einai epi tou idiou thematos. p.x ta dyo einai perissotero se neoteri istoria kai to allo se arxaia istoria kai texnes. Ean kanw ena research plan den tha mporesw na ta ba;w ola amzi mesa afou den einai to idio thema etsi den einai?
    i den peirazei? diladi mporw na pw endiaferomai kai gia ta dyo kai na grapsw pws tha akolouthisw to plano mou se kathena apo ayta i mipws ola ayto tha fanei aferegyo kai oti den kserw ti thelw na kanw kai na spoudasw..?
    kalytera tha itan na epikentrwthw se na pedio?

    2) kalytero pisteyeis tha itan na ksekinisw epafes gia letter of acceptance prin katathesw tin aitisi stin presbeia?
    kai etsi na kserw panw katw pou tha kateythynthw?
    exw idi arketes epafes me tin presbeia kai nomizw exw arketes pithanotites epityxias.

    Oson afora ta agglika tha prepei na exw parei IELTS i TOEFL prin kanw tin aitisi i mporw na to parw kai meta an px me dextoun gia sinenteyksi?

    Eyxaristw poly gia ton xrono sou kai tin ypomoni sou kai sygxaritiria gia to blog sou.

    Ean peirazei pou ta egrapsa sta ellinika mporw na to metafrasw kai na to steilw pali sta agglika gia na to doun kai oi ypoloipoi..

  24. Geia sou Giorgo,

    1) To research plan 8a to dwseis argotera ston ekastote ka8igiti/sxoli analoga me to antikeimeno etsi kala 8a itane na einai diaforetika kai sxetika me to antikeimeno. Gia tin arxiki aitisi mporeis na grapseis kati pio geniko opws eipes.

    2) Nai sigoura. Kai na to anafereis episis ayto otan kaneis aitisi stin presveia. Sigoura 8a voi8isei tin aitisi sou to na deixneis oti eisai proactive.

    3) Gia ta Agglika nomizw eksartatai apo to panepistimio. Den 8umamai an xreiazotane Agglika gia idia tin ypotrofia. Exei perasei arketos kairos apo tote kai polla pragmata mporoune na exoune allaksei.

  25. Kalimera Lefteri.
    Eyxaristw poly gia tin amesi kai apantisi sou! me boithises poly.
    Kali synexeia se oti kaneis kai eyelpistw se boitheia sou se kapoia mellontiki mou aporia.

  26. Hi lefteris
    I have got a sholarship (MEXT) and i expect to commence this April, i have one question to ask you for now. You see during the application process i provided a birthday which is not my actual birthday, 4th December, the reason because my university certificate was erroneously written that way, i did so to avoid confusion and provide consistency. My actual birthday is 8th April. I have just emailed the international office at my prospective university and the person in charge seems to seem furious a bit, he says he will inform MEXT about the issue. How does that affect my candidacy?

  27. Hello Lefteris, how are you? I hope you are doing well.

    I appreciate your words and sharing your MEXT scholarship experience. About this I have one question, and if you are familiar with the answer I’ll be really grateful for your comments:

    1. Can I apply as a research student and be selected from one university and then in Japan apply for a masters degree in another different university???


  28. I really can’t say. It shouldn’t but I am in no way affiliated with the Japanese ministry of Education or that particular university and as such I can’t know

  29. Hi Lefteris,

    While I did find what you said about Tokyo U to be true ( MEXT students are only “research students” because it is mentioned in their website, what I see on other university websites about MEXT students is different.

    For example, this university looks like it says MEXT students are full fledged graduate students:

    What is going on here? Does this mean I should decline to go to any university that does not recognize me as a real graduate student under MEXT?

    Thanks & warm regards.

  30. This is a different MEXT scholarship from what I understand. Their ministry of education of course provides multiple scholarships. You would be best to sort out the details with the university itself and find out more information from them.

  31. Hi Lefteris,

    Thank you for your help. I’m currently preparing to apply for the scholarship as a research student for 2016.

    I’m wondering how did you find your lab/advisor/professor? I’m a software engineer looking at Todai as my first option (this might be similar to you), but i’m having trouble finding good information about the labs and professors there or at other universities.

  32. You mostly find information about the professors by their laboratory websites. Most people don’t aim for a particular university but instead aim for a particular lab. So I guess you know a few famous professors on your field and try to apply to join their labs.

  33. Thank you for the detailed information! This is such an unusual process it’s great to have some guidance from someone who’s been through it. I am interested in the 2016 RS scholarship. I have contacted some professors and they sound interested. Would this information be helpful for the application, pre-interview, or even during the interview?

    And is there any data published online on how many MEXT scholarship they grant each year by country?

  34. What do you mean it’s not for completing graduate degrees? They website has guidelines in the form of downloadable PDF files for all levels of studies. You’re scaring me.

  35. The scholarhsip is for Research in a Japanese university. If you happen to also get accepted in a master’s program then the scholarship can be extended to cover its expenses. But it is not a guarantee to a master degree.

  36. Hi Lefteris,

    Hope you doing well.

    I have been called up for the interview, but there is one issue bordering me. I have received a reply from a professor and he is willing to accept me joining his lab. But his current research is slightly different with the topic i had proposed in my proposal. The research field is still the same, but it apply in different industry. Last time did you make some changes in your research topic before attending the interview?

    By the way, i am from Mechanical Engineering.

  37. Hey,

    First of all, thanks so much for writing this article! Wow, that was a huge illusion I was having…

    I’d like to ask you a few questions about this whole matter. I’ve already asked what I could from the embassy of my country, and this relates more to the research proposal.

    So I’m looking at Japan and US for my Masters in CS. The systems are so radically different… Is it true that “It’s much easier to get into a US uni, but graduation is much harder. Whereas for Japan it’s the opposite.” ?

    Also, the second question relates to my research proposal. I had written one basing parallel processing and multimedia alongwith a study plan to learn in the first year and find and solve a real life problem the second year (unfortunately, since I’ve only done a bachelor’s degree, and I am unable to be more specific than that…). But reading this article changes things.

    What should I present in front of the interviewers next week? How I will research as a research student? Or how I’d like to move on to Master’s course?

    Also, if I’m entering as a research student in Master’s, is it possible to go there as a research student and then apply for PhD aka Doctoral course directly, skipping Masters? Will MEXT mind in that case?

    Or if I need to do a PhD, I have to go the Research student –> Masters –> PhD (Doctoral) way?

    Thanks a lot for this post again. It opened my eyes.

  38. I can’t speak for US universities as I have no experience with them.
    As for going directly for a PhD, I think this is not possible with Japanese, universities. You must first obtain a Master’s degree. What you should present to the interviewers is an abstract plan of what (in general) you would like to work on, how it would help your career, how it would help your country when you come back e.t.c.

    What you actually do after you arrive in Japan can differ as it did with me.

  39. hey lefteris! I had a query regarding research topic upon arrival in japan and study program in Japan. what do we have to fill in each column? also can it be different than what was given in the online application as I basically gave a sop at that stage.

  40. Hello,

    I really can’t go into that much detail. I assume it’s different for each embassy so I don’t have any experience with your country’s embassy, plus you have to understand for me it has already been 5 years πŸ™‚

  41. Should I collect 3 acceptance or 1 letter of acceptance from Japanese Universities

  42. One is sufficient. The more you have though the better since it would strengthen your position as an applicant.

  43. I have a bad cgpa of 3.1 out of 4. Do I have any chance of getting this scholarship? Please inform me. I am studying electrical engineering.

  44. I really can’t give you an answer to a question such as this. It all depends on too many different factors.

  45. i recently managed to get through the primary screening for the MEXT postgraduate scholarship in my country. Now I have been asked to gain acceptance as a research student or regular student into the school of my choice by the end of august.
    my problem is i have no idea how t begin doing so. I would like to go as a research student to begin with. i hear that to do so i need a supervisor. do i just contact professors at the schools i want directly…?

  46. Yes, find a professor whose research you like and write to him about it and get him to send you a letter of acceptance.

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