Studying in Japan: The lowdown

Samuel Clennett

Even though there are plenty of great universities in Australia, studying abroad is a hugely exciting idea – and one that could end up not just teaching you all the academic and professional skills you need for a successful career, but also broadening your horizons by introducing you to a different culture.

If you want to study in Japan, that’s especially true: the enthrallingly different Japanese culture will ensure that your university experience is truly a life-changing experience.

Studying abroad does often get expensive, though – in Japan just like anywhere else. It’s important to know how to manage your money effectively when abroad – which is why, as well as telling you what you need to know about applying for university in Japan, this article will tell you about Wise, which could save you money as you pay your way in the Land of the Rising Sun.

Studying in Japan

It’s actually a great time to be a foreign student in Japan. The Japanese government is keenly trying to increase the number of international students in Japan, so there’s currently a big emphasis on making life easier for them while they’re in the country.

That means there are now far more courses at least partly in English. Plus, students can now start in September instead of April – the norm in Japan – and some staff have been hired specifically to help out foreign students. Even better, there are some financial incentives for foreign students, to relieve a bit of the burden of living in an expensive country¹.

What about the universities themselves? Well, Japan’s excellence in science and technology speaks for itself. Several of its universities excel in modern languages, too. All in all, it’s an excellent country for higher education, so if you can find a course that looks like it’s right for you, you’ll likely receive an education to be proud of.

The principal downside – although you could also think of it as an upside, or maybe even the whole reason you want to go to Japan – is just how different the culture is, both in Japan in general, and in universities specifically. You’ll need to be prepared for a very different sort of university experience – it’s the sort of opportunity that’s best if you grab it with both hands.

Don’t be discouraged, though. Tokyo has been named the world’s second best city in the world for students, two years in a row. Kyoto-Osaka-Kobe is in the top 20 too².

Study visa

Will you need a study permit for your time studying in Japan? Unless you’re doing a short language course of less than 90 days, the answer is a simple yes. It’s a time-consuming process, but with adequate planning, you should be fine.

The first step is to get accepted by your institution of choice, so first of all you need to make contact with them, give them the information you need, and quite probably sit some entrance examinations – there’s a standard test for prospective international students that most universities require you to sit, and there may be other tests too³.

If you are accepted, the next step is to get a Certificate of Eligibility – a process that’s handled by the institution, not you. You’ll need to supply plenty of documents and details, though⁴.

Once you’ve got that, it’s up to you to apply for the student visa – technically a type of “General Visa”. To complete this application, Australians will need to make their way to an embassy or consulate in Canberra, Sydney, Perth, Brisbane, Cairns or Melbourne⁵.

For more information on this admittedly complex process, check out this guide to getting a Japanese student visa.

Cost of studying in Japan

Studying abroad is often extremely expensive, and by international standards it’s actually not so bad in Japan. However, it still doesn’t come cheap. Here’s a look at the cost of studying in Japan at one of its foremost universities, the University of Tokyo⁶.

They’re correct at the time of writing, but may change in the future. Remember, of course, that fees will vary by institution – especially in a country like Japan where there are both public and private universities.

University of Tokyo fee (undergraduate)Amount in yenAmount in AUD (using mid-market rate of 16 December 2019)⁷
Admission fee¥282,000$3,743
Annual tuition fee¥535,800$7,111
Examination fees¥17,000$226

Don’t forget about the cost of living in Japan. estimates that monthly living costs in Tokyo – including accommodation, food and transportation – might add up to around ¥112,500. At the time of writing that’s $1,493. That’s only Tokyo, mind – in other cities, you might expect to have to pay less each month.

Want to study in Japan for free? You’ll need to apply for a scholarship in that case. As mentioned before, the government is keen to increase the number of foreign students it takes, so there’s a chance you’ll be in luck.

Universities in Japan

While there are hundreds of Japanese universities, Univ. in Japan lists 28 that offer undergraduate programmes in English⁸. A few of the most renowned from that list include:

  • University of Tokyo
  • Kyoto University
  • Tohoku University, Sendai
  • Kyushu University, Fukuoka
  • Sophia University, Tokyo
  • Hokkaido University, Sapporo

Don’t be restricted by that list, though: take your time in finding the university that’s perfect for you and what you want to do. There are many great universities in Japan.

An easy way to pay for your studies: Wise

Wherever you choose to study, you’ll need to have access to your money, in order to pay not just those university tuition fees but also everything else, from rent to groceries. And it’ll all get pretty costly if you keep on using your Australian bank account. If you are looking for a way to send money to Japan, Wise could be an option.

You’ll need to get a bank account in Japan, of course – but that probably isn’t something you’ll be able to do until you’re already living there. Which means you’ll be looking at an awkward period of time when you move, when you might face bills in both Australia and Japan, yet lack a local bank account in your new home.

Wise can help – not just with sending money abroad, but also with holding your money. It always converts funds at the real mid-market rate, which means that its transfers could be as much as 8x cheaper than you’d get from a bank. But even better, you can also get a multi-currency account for no monthly fee. This will let you hold money in 40+ international currencies – including Japanese yen – and hence enable you to pay bills in Japan without incurring costly international transfer fees.

It even comes with a debit Mastercard for Australian customers, making paying abroad even easier still.

The multi-currency account is particularly useful for that tricky period while you’re moving abroad, but it’s generally a handy thing for any international student. Living in Japan, especially, is expensive enough without having to pay hefty bank fees all the time, just to access your own money.

Good luck in exploring your options for studying in Japan. It’s a wonderful country, a thrilling place to study, and this could just be a life-changing experience.


  1. Guide to Universities in Japan
  2. Top Universities
  3. Where to Study
  4. Student Visa
  5. Visa Enquiries
  6. Tuition Fees
  7. Wise Currency Converter 1 JPY = 0.01327 AUD at 11:43 UTC on 16 Dec 2019
  8. List of Universities in Japan

All sources accurate as of 16 December 2019

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