Author: M.Kok

Differences between Universities in Japan and Western countries

Differences between Universities in Japan and Western countries

Perhaps you have noticed that most of the Japanese job advertisements require a university degree. Even if your education level is on the same standard, yet the school you graduated from does not have ‘university’ in the name, you might have trouble getting a working visa. It is because in Japan only universities and junior colleges are thought of as secondary education. Even though the Japanese higher education system is designed after Europe, there are two main differences.

The Japanese University entrance exam

Getting into a university in Japan is decided by one or depending on the university two tests. Up until last year, Japan used the ‘National Center Test for University Admissions’ (大学入試センター 試験 Daikaku Nyushi Center Shiken).

The test takes place once a year and famously starts at the same time all around Japan. When the test results are less than desired, you have to wait another year to retake it.
A new format of the test was introduced this year. Supposedly it is meant to test the ‘thinking’ and ‘problem-solving’ ability more than the previous version.

After doing well on the first test, the most prestigious universities require taking their own second test, which is often thought to be more complicated than the standard test.

The tuition fees in Japan are cheap compared to the UK and the US. Kyoto University, which is on the expensive end, charges 535,000yen (4,000 pounds). Plus, the admission fee is around 270,000 yen (about 2,000 pounds).

The Japanese University Life

After being admitted to the university of the students’ choice, the difficult part is over. Depending on the subjects and the university itself, the first year can be busy (although not by western standards). There are many compulsory subjects to take. And after that, it slows down to writing a paper or two every now and then attending classes and preparing for the final thesis. The final stretch consists mostly of dressing up like Mr. Smith or someone from the men in black and job hunting.

The exceptions to this are the medical studies and hard sciences.
(Despite past scandals revolving around some of the prestigious medical school admission processes.)


It is hard to get into a Japanese university. And if your goal is to acquire knowledge, the effort to merit rate might not be the best. However, some Japanese universities have world-class research programs that do produce results. For example, the most recent Japanese Nobel laureate Akira Yoshino is a professor at the Nagoya Meijo University.

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