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A Guide to Japanese Degrees Abroad

Are you a travel ninja looking for the next mission? Interested in becoming a superstar of the Japanese language? Why not take your language studies to the next level and get that degree abroad in Japan? If you’re already knee-deep in language study (and even if you’re not), you’re probably aware that there’s a lot more to a language than its words. Every word is steeped in its own cultural history, the kind that only makes sense in the context of the culture as a whole. A bite of fried octopus balls and a sip of aojiru will help you earn Japanese degrees abroad!

Why Earn Japanese Degrees Abroad

Japan is the third largest economy in the world, and Japanese is the ninth most widely spoken language. From business to literature and the arts to mathematics, a degree abroad in Japanese can pave the way for personal development and professional success.

Everyone knows it takes more than majoring in a language to become fluent in it; it takes real-world experience. Classroom study is never as memorable, useful, or as natural as connecting with new friends, figuring out how to meet your needs, or getting yourself from one place to another in a new language. Apart from just the language, it is crucial to know the intricate system of Japanese honorifics and etiquette. The building blocks of Japanese are as much seeped in history as they are in phonetics!

Apart from being immersed in a culture that produced the world’s first novel (Tale of A Genji by Murasaki Shikibu), gaining a degree in Japanese abroad can open doors for you to Japanese companies around the world. Whether you’re interested in translation and interpretation, teaching, law, advertising, or flight attending, a firm grasp on Japanese expands the pool of job market candidates. If you want to impress future hiring companies with a Japanese degree, might as well show them that you put 100 percent of yourself into the task, right?


Different countries across all regions offer their own set of challenges and benefits. Choosing what’s right for you can be the trickiest, yet most rewarding, part of the process.

Let’s start with the obvious: Japan. Beaches in Okinawa, cherry blossoms in Kyoto, skiing in Niseko… where to go? You might want to start with “Tokyo” or “not Tokyo” to get the ball rolling. Tokyo is exciting, fast-paced, and full of unique food and the real reason you came to Japan: karaoke (OK, maybe not, but, when in Rome…). Tokyo is great for making business connections and getting experience living and working in the professional world.

However, rural areas in Japan also have their own perks: potentially stronger relationships with locals, a more intimate look at traditional routines, and the unique, often unasked-for, position of being a cultural ambassador for your home country. You might be one of the few–or only–Westerners rural locals will have seen, so you’ll be in the important position of representing your whole country. What they learn about you will greatly shape what they know about all your compatriots! (Just remember… with great power comes great responsibility).

What’s more, the Japanese government actually wants you to come. Yes, you. And they’re paying. As part of the huge movement of “internationalization” happening right now in Japan, the Ministry of Education has chosen 37 universities and is giving them $3.6 million each year for the next 10 years to accept more diversity and increase international collaboration. Japan is actively seeking foreign students to bring in new ideas, and there are scholarships to help you. 

Before making your final decision, be sure to check out schools from around the globe, too! Studying outside of Japan gives you the added bonus of mixing with a more international group, getting experience in a related field (if you’re double majoring), and standing out among a smaller pool of Japanese speakers. Also, Toyota, Nintendo, and Toshiba all have huge offices throughout the world, and they all need Japanese speakers like you.

There are many options to study Japanese in Europe, Asia, and Australia, which is the perfect opportunity to combine your Japanese with another skill set. If you are majoring in business and Japanese, for example, you might want to consider New Zealand, which is one of Japan’s major trade partners. Want to be a diplomat? Combine Japanese with law or political studies in the United Kingdom. Want to work in Japan-related firms? Add your commerce or science major to a Japanese one in Germany and watch your opportunities skyrocket.

Japanese Degrees

Degree types for Japanese language diplomas acquired abroad are as many as there are syllables in the language. To be kept in mind are also differences in class structure and learning methods.

Typically it will take three to four years to complete an undergraduate degree in Japanese, depending on the program. Apart from your basic language skills, most universities incorporate cultural activities into the courses to give a more well-rounded experience and deeper look into Japanese culture.

A master’s degree can take anywhere from one to three years, and usually narrows your point of focus to specific career goals or cultural areas of interest. The University of Otago in New Zealand, for example, offers specialization in Japanese pedagogy for future teachers, while Nanzan University in Nagoya has concentrations in tourism and economics.

Most programs require twelve years of formal education and recommendations from Japanese-Language instructors (if applicable) to apply. There are also options for direct enrollment in Japanese universities, which, while less supportive, may be cheaper and more immersive.

Another interesting thing to note is the teaching style in Japanese universities, which are notoriously laid-back (they have to be, after those grueling high school years!). For Japanese students, this is a welcome break; for Westerners, it may be a shocking change of pace. There are typically fewer hours of class per week, less stringent grading, and more flexible testing. There is a lot of emphasis on club activity, as that is where people make connections for future jobs.

Benefits & Challenges

It is not uncommon to hear that universities in Japan are “hard to get into, but easy to graduate from.” There is the idea that university is jinsei no haruyasumi, loosely translated as the “Spring Break of your life.” This might be just what you’re looking for, or it can be one of the most frustrating aspects of your college career, if you want to be pushed. You definitely get out what you put in in Japanese universities, so your academic growth will really be up to you.

There is also the slight problem- if you look at it that way- of Japanese filling just a small niche of society. It’s not uncommon to hear, “But what are you going to do with a Japanese degree?” The answer: anything you want. Want to be a nurse? You can help the Japanese population in your own country, or help the English population in Japan. A lawyer? There is a need all over the world for Japanese legal translation. Where there’s passion, especially in this day and age, there’s a job opportunity.

If your heart pounds in 5-7-5, but you don’t know what direction to take it, take the leap and get that Japanese degree abroad. Follow your hearts flutter towards kanji, hiragana, katakana, or romanji. Pack your tamagachi (but not your furby, please) and get international degrees in Japanese abroad!

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