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How to get Monbukagakusho Scholarship

I’ve been meaning to write this a long long time ago, but only now I was able to do it…

This is not a fail-proof way to get the scholarship, of course. Of course many of these guidelines also apply on how to get other scholarships, but this is specifically about the japanese government scholarship –  monbukagakusho shougakukin.

First, just to explain why I think I can give you any kind of advice… well, I got one, that’s why. I am from Portugal, by the way. I applied for a PhD Scholarship and was ranked first of the 3 people selected to receive the 3 scholarships that were available for my country in 2011. – no I am not studying japanese culture/language ( currently a PhD student at Keio University – Graduate School of Media Design), and no, I don’t speak fluent Japanese, or even intermediate for that matter.

Disclaimer: My insights were valid for Portugal in 2011. I assume they have it pretty standardized, but different countries might have different criteria. They sure do have different number of scholarships available ( Portugal: 3, Philippines: 25).

So, let’s get on with the important stuff:

First I will explain what ACTUALLY happens, and what stages you need to go through, as the process is all but clear.

1 – Apply to the scholarship, deliver all the paperwork

2- If you pass the first selection, you will be called to do an interview, english test (piece of cake) and japanese test (you don’t need to know any japanese and leave it blank, of course if you do, it helps I guess). Usually only around 9 people will be selected for this second stage.

3- If selected, the embassy will cal you informing you. This basically means you’re going to japan, but it’s not 100% sure, so they won’t tell you. By “going to Japan I mean: any university they might decide to place you in, if you’re not accepted at the one you want.

4-  send the docs that you delivered at the embassy to the university(ies) that you wish to apply to, so they can send you back the letter of acceptance.

5- Give the letter(s) to your embassy and they will send it to the japanese government.

6- the government will place everyone in japanese universities, as research students, according to their preference and budget for that year.

7- In February of next year you will be informed where you were placed.Yes it is the longest wait ever, and stressful because you have no idea if you’re going to be placed or not. But I would say, don’t be stressed, you 99% sure will unless there are serious budget cuts.

8 – you go to japan to learn japanese for 1 semester, and then be a research student next semester.  Theoretically that is… You should do Whatever your adviser tells you to. If he says “you don’t need japanese lessons”, you won’t do it. If he says “you don’t need to be research student” you won’t be. You might start your program on the semester after you get to japan, instead of 1 year after.


9 – Because you are just a research student, you need to do the admission exams to be a real Master or PhD student. Don’t forget that acceptance letter was just acceptance as research student. 


Note that the scholarship you got, whether  you applied for PhD or Masters, is going to be a Research Student scholarship for 2 years after you arrive in Japan. Later on after you’re in Japan you will apply for the extension of scholarship as a master (2 years after you start Master program) or phd student (3 years after you start the PhD program).


Now that I told you all that is really happening, I will give some tips on how to get selected in the first place. Note that my area is Technology/Design/Urbanism – this may not apply to every study fields.

First you nee to know that you are competing with EVERYONE for the same scholarships: masters, research students and PhD candidates. You don’t need to be the best in the world to get this scholarship, you just need to be better than everyone else who is applying. Of course to do that, you need to aim to be the best in the world.

Every tip here might inscrease your change of getting it by as little as 0,5%. but if you add them up they might become 5%  – and that may be the difference between you and the next guy who didn’t get it.

I’ll do it very straight to the point in bullet format:

– Talk to, and make sure you have advisors as soon as possible – this is Very important, because means you won’t have trouble finding one later on.


– before choosing 3 universities when you deliver the documents, check the next step (getting the acceptance letter) as some universities won’t write you acceptance letter if you apply to it as ONE AND ONLY option.  It is a risk, yes, but this is how they know you are really motivated to go there. They even do this for famous elementary schools. And Keio university certainly does that.


-Because I choose a private university and was afraid that because of the great east japan earthquake there would be budget cuts, I asked my advisor to write a letter that i could annex to the documents sent to the japanese govt, explaining why I should go to that particular school. It doesn’t hurt trying – university professors are very respected in Japan.  Statistics say that 30% of people have been placed in private universities, which is very reassuring, because I imagine most people apply for national universities.

 – the initial selection is not done by the japanese government, but by the embassy. I don’t know who (if people from your country or japanese do it,but they don’t send anything to japan before they selected the few people who will receive it)


About the research plan: it is all about psychology and people. Ultimately people will choose you, not a machine.

– Don’t write more than 2-3 pages. 5 maximum. I wanted to write 3 but limited myself to only 2 pages. Really, no one reads more than 2 or 3. Imagine if you work at the embassy and have to read 10 pages x 50 applicants. you’d soon be skipping through information in a 10 page long plan.


–  Put a Chronogram (aka Gantt chart) in there. Tell them what you think you will do for the next 2 or 3 years. They will know your ideas are organized and you know what you’re doing. – this is a major thing, really. They want leaders, smart and confident people, not otaku who will come to japan to read manga. 


– Use Cialdini’s principles of persuasion. For example, contact professors of other, recognized, universities, and ask them about your project. if they are interested in collaboration or how relevant they think it is. You’ll be surprised on how open and reachable they can be.   – principle of authority


– Tell them why Japan and not any other country. And also the benefits of your research towards:  a) your country ; b) Japan ; c) Society as a whole.   – this paragraph is also important for your interview, it is a typical question. 


– You may notice they don’t ask for your CV, which in my case was bad because I cam from a different area and my professional experience was much more relevant that my academic one. So what I suggest is that you give them your CV anyway, if you have something relevant to add. 


– At the interview you cannot get a computer in there and you’re not supposed to make a presentation) Still,I prepared a printed presentation to better explain them about my research, because my proposal was only 2 pages long.


– Don’t forget to dress properly for the interview. The kid before me was wearing shorts.. In japan everyone uses suit and tie, even high school kids. I cannot stress how important this is. there will most certainly be one or more japanese people doing your interview.


– My interview was done by 2 portuguese and 1 japanese. They may ask you to say something in japanese if you know, so it doesn’t hurt to have something prepared, because you will be nervous if this is the chance to make your dream of coming to Japan come true.



To add I can only say Japan is an amazing country, with the most amazing and friendly people. Of course there is sometimes small discrimination towards foreigners, but nothing serious, and Japan is not perfect, and is not as the cartoons portray it, so don’t come here expecting spaceships or robots, or you will be disappointed. – actually scratch that, there are robots here! 🙂


If you treat Japan right, it will treat you good as well and you will spend here the best time of your life.


Good luck!


10 Comments on “How to get Monbukagakusho Scholarship”

  1. Harumi Ueda says:

    This was really useful since I am also interested in getting this scholarship and in the Media Design field. Thank you!

  2. mariali says:

    Hi! I have a question about:

    “before choosing 3 universities when you deliver the documents, check the next step (getting the acceptance letter) as some universities won’t write you acceptance letter if you apply to it as ONE AND ONLY option. It is a risk, yes, but this is how they know you are really motivated to go there. They even do this for famous elementary schools. And Keio university certainly does that.”

    It means I have to contact first the profesors or tutors from universities I want to apply and asked to give a recommendation letter.

    If so, What is the content pf the letter?

    Thank you

    • Diogo Almeida says:

      Hi Mariali. I strongly suggest you do get a potential supervisor before you apply.
      Contact by email is fine. As long as you can briefly explain what you intend to research. No need for a lot of details at this point I think.

  3. Sudhir says:

    Hi there! Very informative and interesting blog you got going on here. I too am interested in doing my further studies in Japan and someone who is experienced in this domain, I would like your advise. I would like to study HCI or Human life engineering as they call it there. It would be great if you could, as an experienced UX professional/researcher tell me of the quality of my portfolio


    p.s. I am currently doing my Masters in IxD in Switzerland and am almost completing it(doing the thesis right now).

  4. thank you! This very helpful! I wonder if you sent your CV along with your application forms or you hand it them during your interview?

    • Diogo Almeida says:

      I handed it when I handed all the other documents yes. I can’t understand why a CV is not even part of the required documents, but I handed it anyway.

  5. Yasrab says:

    hi,i wanna apply for mext scholarship researcher 2015 but the problem is i can’t found the application form so can you please help me in it?? please

    • Diogo Almeida says:

      U will find all the documents in your country’s Japanese embassy website. If they don’t have it uploaded, just go there in person.

  6. abir says:

    hello 🙂 thank u a lot 4 ur help 🙂 i have few questions
    1. i made my potential supervisors list but still i can’t find their e mails any where !!! is there any way out of this ?
    2. about the admission exam is it in Japanese or English ? and how it looks like ?
    thaaank u a loooot 🙂

    • Diogo Almeida says:

      1- contact the school admin office and ask them.
      2- depends on each program you apply to.

      np 🙂 good luck!

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