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Education in Japan: How Did I Win the MEXT Research Scholarship Programme?

In the spring and summer of 2019, I applied for the full-scholarship MEXT Research program to study in Japan and became an awardee with Embassy recommendation. I decided to share my experience with you. In this blog, I write about the fields of study, language requirements, the importance of the research topic, and some tips about the interview stage. I hope, it turns to be useful for prospective awardees. Please note that the MEXT Research Scholarship is offered in Embassy and University tracks and my experience is related to the Embassy track.

To introduce myself briefly, I am holding a bachelor's degree in Law at the Academy of Public Administration of the Republic of Azerbaijan (2016), and a master's degree in Private Law at Marmara University in Turkey (2018). My major field of interest has been intellectual property law, in particular copyright and trademark law.

In this blog, I am not describing the details of the scholarship program, which you can easily access here, or for Azerbaijani candidates, the Azerbaijan version can be found here provided by the Embassy of Japan in Azerbaijan. Instead, this blog gives some tips about how to be successful in this scholarship program. So, it is recommended to first check the guide and then refer to this blog.


The Himeji Castle, Japan

1. No restriction of fields of study for the scholarship program

Any student who holds a bachelor's degree or is a senior student at the bachelor's degree program is entitled to apply for the research program. No restriction of fields of study means that you must compete with all students coming from economics, medicine, engineering, law, and other backgrounds. The most important point is to prove that you really major in your field of study, in other words, you are confident to defend the topic in your research proposal, and you are motived enough to study in Japan. The program is highly competitive, sufficient to mention that every year from Azerbaijan, around three students become successful to receive this scholarship with an Embassy recommendation.

2. Academic English or Japanese Is Enough

Some may think that even if they win the scholarship, they cannot learn Japanese or study in Japanese. Although Japanese is not a requirement to win the scholarship, it can be a plus to prove your motivation. Still, if the language of instruction at your intended university and program is English, academic English will be sufficient. Personally, I won the scholarship with no Japanese at all which is not a rare case.

Regarding your English level, the English proficiency exam conducted by the Embassy will speak about your level rather than your proficiency certificates, such as IELTS or TOEFL, or previous education in English. Please, also note that if you are awarded a scholarship as a research student, you are still allowed to take (intensive) Japanese language courses before starting your master's or Ph.D. program.

3. Thoroughly Research Your Field of Study and Research Topic

The most important document in your application is your research proposal. Since the expectations of master's and Ph.D. programs around the world is (must be) more than enriching students' CV and increase their chance to get a better-paid job, the candidate must be motivated to pursue an academic career, do research and publish articles in their fields of study and contribute to the literature. Thus, whatever your expectation is from this program, you must be aware of the title of the program and be research-minded, first of all. One must not be surprised at their failure once they apply for the program with mainly material expectations like getting scholarship money, work, and live in Japan rather than because Japan is almost ideal for your research topic.

Great torii of Miyajima at sunset, near Hiroshima, Japan

In addition, your proposed research topic must align with your academic background. The publications, as well as theses, in similar topics, would be appreciated. During the interview, the interviewers would like to see proof that your academic background and skills enable you to conduct this research, and Japan is an adequate country for your research. Your work experience, practical training, or voluntary activities you have participated in may be secondary. Lastly, the research topic must also be actual for your country and Japan.

4. "3P Rule": Be Patient, Punctual, and Polite at the Interview

Though have not read this rule elsewhere, I have been using it at interviews for a long time. If you already have some interview experience, you may also have overcome the anxiety and probably shaped your strategy. Nevertheless, you are expected to behave like a future academician in the research-program interview.

  • Patience can be described here as listening to the questions carefully till the end, avoiding long answers, and interrupting the interviewer to respond soon. Given that Japanese take the ethical conduct seriously, taking notes while listening can help you concentrate and give you a good listener view.

  • Punctuality or coherence refers to your good command of English or Japanese depending on your language of instruction in Japan, especially, academic language, and avoiding out-of-topic comments.

  • Politeness refers to your kind communication with the interviewers, emphasizing your good traits to leave a memorable impression and never telling a lie. One of the most difficult questions was like "why Japan but not Europe or the US since you could perfectly do your research there as well?". I think, my sincerity and politeness in answering that question helped me a lot to win the scholarship.

5. No Need to Obtain Pre-approval or Admission from Japanese Universities before Applying for This Scholarship

MEXT Research Scholarship Program has three stages:

I. Embassy screening;

II. Admissions from the university(ies);

III. Final approval by the MEXT and placement.

Kyushu University - Fukuoka

After presenting application documents to the Embassy and attending the language exam and interviews, if you are successful, you will be asked by the Embassy to contact the universities you are interested in to receive admission letters. Till that time, you are not required to present any admission letters. However, I recommend doing your own search long before that stage, even before the applications period to find out which universities, programs, and professors fit in your future career plans. At the interview, it may be advantageous to be informed about the Japanese education system, its expectations from you, and your takeaways from the program.


Dear Reader,

Thank you for reading my blog, and I hope I was able to share my experience to some extent. If you have any questions after reading the blog, feel free to ask in the comments section. I can possibly come with new blogs based on your questions. Feel free to follow us on Facebook here.

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