The University of Tokyo
💼 Master: International Relations
⏳ Oct 2021 — Sep 2023
✅ Student Visa
The University of Tokyo
🤓 28,000 Students
🌏 15% International
I majored in Computer Science during my undergrad, working on computational linguistics in Arabic language. My current research is similar, but for Japanese: using machine learning to get semantic meanings of Japanese texts, and analyzing Japanese documents. It’s mostly related to International Relations. I am essentially trying to analyze official documents by the Japanese government and understand whether they maybe changed their attitude and policies in the past few years, and how their attitudes are different towards other countries’ entities in East Asia. The project is still at a very early stage.
Reasons to come to Japan
One of the main reasons I came to Japan is because I want to be really good at Japanese. I like learning languages and learning Japanese has always been one of my goals. Even though my program is in English, these days I am taking classes in Japanese and I plan on getting a job here.
I went to high school in Canada and university in the Middle East, so I also wanted to go back to East Asia, but not my home country. I want to experience different places and lifestyles while I am still young.
Japanese culture and food are just amazing!
Why the University of Tokyo
The University of Tokyo is the best school in Japan, both for academics, and post-graduate employment. My program is in English and most of the students are foreigners, therefore it’s quite diverse. That would be a huge advantage for people who are not yet comfortable with Japanese and are not familiar with Japanese culture and how Japanese classes are taught. It’s basically perfect for international students. And Todai (The University of Tokyo) is one of the few schools in Japan to offer such a foreigner-friendly program.
Tuition costs & Scholarship
The program itself does not provide any funding, but it’s worth noting that Japanese schools are very cheap compared to US or UK. For UTokyo, or other national schools, yearly tuition is ~500,000¥ (3,700 USD). Private schools would be more expensive.
In my case, since I entered as an international student, I got a ~50% discount on my tuition. There are also a lot of different scholarship programs you can apply to after you get here. I received one such scholarship providing 50,000¥ per month, which adds up to 600,000¥, so it’s already more than enough to cover full tuition.
The cost of living in Japan is not too high compared to Western countries. You can earn extra by doing part-time jobs, I did a few different paid internships. A student visa allows me to work up to 28 hours per week. Overall, using my own money, scholarships, and internships, it’s not bad at all.
A lot of my friends here are on MEXT Scholarship, which is very generous. If you are not from “popular” Asian countries, like China or Korea, you are more likely to get a full ride. A lot of the scholarships are provided by either the Japanese government or 財団 (”zaidan” - foundations) and they aim for a balance between different nationalities, so it’s much easier if you're from a less represented country.
There are generally two ways to apply for a Japanese University. The most common way is for those who speak Japanese and are able to take exams in Japanese: you would contact the professor, apply to whatever program that professor is in, and then take a test. You have to either take it online or come to Japan to take it.
When it comes to English programs, the application process is similar to American schools. You apply online, write a few essays about who you are and why you want to study there, submit your grades, TOEFL scores, etc. For UTokyo I also had to submit GRE, but other schools in Japan don't require it. I applied in December and entered the university in October of the next year.
Your grades are definitely important. The schools you come from are important. But I know people who are from really good schools who still got rejected, so it’s not grades that stopped them. The most important part of your application is the research proposal. You have to make it relevant to the program, and the work your professor is doing. I think the professor has a final say in whether you get in or not.
First months in Japan
I went to Japan before, but it was for traveling purposes. Once I actually decided to live here, it's a very, very different story. Even though my Japanese was okay (N1) before coming here, language was difficult as speaking and listening are very different from taking a test.
Arriving in Japan was chaotic. Everything was mysterious because I didn't know how things work. Finding apartments, registering an address, setting up a bank account, getting electricity, water, Wi-Fi, SIM card — all of this is quite an arduous process. You definitely have to take some time to understand the way the Japanese do things. University supported me in this process, but I mostly asked my friends for help.
Eventually, you adapt!
Academics at UTokyo
Compared to American education at NYUAD, the system here feels more rigid. For example, once you're enrolled in a class, you cannot withdraw from it.
Speaking of my Master’s Degree, it does not require a lot of credits, so most of the time I am free to do whatever I want. I would say that research is more important than credits. If professors know that you are not planning on pursuing academics further, they will not push too hard. They are giving me time to work on my own things, like researching companies for my future job and preparing for interviews.
A unique thing I've seen only in Japanese universities is “zemi” - sessions where you meet with your professor and other students to do a presentation on your project and its progress. It’s a community, and I love that.
I definitely want to work in Japan at least for a few years after I graduate. I am trying to explore different options: IT companies, real estate, and consulting. I listen to info sessions of various companies to see which ones fit my personality, and where I would like to work. I believe that working in a Japanese company and going through interviews is a great way to improve my Japanese skills.
Most Japanese companies start in April, so I might be starting in April 2024🤩