What Do I Need to Know About Japanese Universities?

  • July 2, 2018 / Lily Cernak

This article is an at-a-glance reference on the types of Japanese universities, degrees, related Japanese terminology, fees, and so forth.

For more articles on studying and living in Japan, click here!



Types of Japanese Universities

国立大学 Kokuritsu Daigaku (National Universities)

Universities that operate with grants from the government. The programs at national universities tend to be geared towards either general studies or sciences.

Each Japanese national university is operated as a national university corporation. Most of their operating funds come from national taxes. However, much like universities overseas, the university runs itself without excessive control by the government; and so is able to retain individuality in the way that it educates. Also, because the universities function like corporations, they have relatively few hurdles in terms of cooperating with private companies for research purposes.

公立大学 Kouritsu Daigaku (Public Universities)

Operated by a prefecture or a city.

Public universities receive tax money from a prefecture or city as opposed to from the government and are operated by public university corporations, and so give an education that is more rooted in their locale than national universities. For example, they are involved in planning joint ventures with local companies, and jointly run regional events. It is relatively easy for them to do research that has an influence on their regional economy.

私立大学 Shiritsu Daigaku (Private Universities)

The programs at private universities tend to be more geared towards humanities and social sciences.

One major difference between national, public, and private Japanese universities is that students must often take a national test and a test from the university when applying to a national university or a public university, but only a test from the university when applying to a private university.

短期大学 Tanki Daigaku (Junior Colleges) ー 

As its name shows (the first two kanji in Tanki Daigaku, 短期 tanki, are “short” and “period of time”) students tend to spend fewer years at junior colleges than at other types of universities.

専門学校 Senmon Gakkou (Vocational Schools)

Much like vocational schools in other countries, Japanese vocational schools are geared towards helping a student to enter a particular line of work. Students who have gone through a vocational school often have an easy time finding jobs. Vocational schools are not degree-oriented, but rather certificate- or license- oriented. Sometimes a student will go to both a university and a vocational school.

Japanese university departments



All Japanese university department names end with the kanji 学 gaku, which means “studies” or “learnings.”

This is a general reference list of some of the most common university departments: 

法学 hougaku (law), 教育学 kyouikugaku (education), 医学 igaku (medicine), 薬学 yakugaku (pharmacy), 工学 kougaku (engineering), 保健学 hokengaku (health science), 文学 bungaku (literature), 理学 rigaku (physical science), 農学 nougaku (agriculture), 獣医学 juuigaku (veterinary medicine), 経済学 keizaigaku (economics), 商学 shougaku (commercial science), 経営学 keieigaku (management), 教養学 kyouyougaku (general education), 音楽学 ongakugaku (musicology), 神学 shingaku (theology).

At-a-Glance Chart of Degrees and Schools

Category Japanese Sub-Classification School/Program English
学位 Gakui (degrees from 4-year, 2-year, and graduate schools) 博士 Hakushi A graduate school doctorate/PhD program (大学院の博士課程 Daigakuin no Hakushi Katei) Doctor, PhD
修士 Shuushi A graduate school master’s program (大学院の修士課程 Daigakuin no Shuushi Katei) Master’s
専門職学位 Senmonshoku Gakui (Professional Degrees) 法務博士 Houmu Hakushi A law school (法科大学院 Houka Daigakuin) Juris Doctor
教職修士 Kyoushoku Shuushi A graduate school with a Master’s in Education program (教職大学院 Kyoushoku Daigakuin) Master of Education
修士 (専門職) Shuushi (Senmonshoku) A graduate school with professional degree programs (aside from law or education programs) (専門職大学院 Senmonshoku Daigakuin) Master’s
学士 Gakushi (4 yrs) An undergraduate school (大学 Daigaku) Bachelor’s
短期大学士 Tankidai Gakushi (2 yrs) A junior college (短期大学 Tanki Daigaku) Associate degree
称号 Shougou (degrees from other types of schools) 準学士 Jungakushi (2) A vocational/technical school (高等専門学校 Koutou Senmon Gakkou) Associate degree
高度専門士 Koudo Senmonshi A program at a special vocational school (特定の専修学校の専門課程 Tokutei no Senshuu Gakkou no Senmon Katei) (Mostly longer than 4 years) Advanced diploma
専門士 Senmonshi A program at a special vocational school (特定の専修学校の専門課程 Tokutei no Senshuu Gakkou no Senmon Katei) (Mostly 2-3 years)  Diploma

Department/School and Degree Names

Example Department/School Name Degree Name
法学部 Hougakubu (Law school) Bachelor of Laws
教育学部 Kyouiku Gakubu (Education department) Bachelor of Education
医学部 Igakubu (Medicine department) Bachelor of Medicine
薬学部 Yakugakubu (Pharmaceutical department) Bachelor of Pharmaceutical Sciences
薬学部 Yakugakubu (Pharmaceutical department) Bachelor of Pharmacy
工学部 Kougakubu (Engineering, technology, or science department) Bachelor of Engineering
保健学部 Hokengakubu (Health science department) Bachelor of Health Sciences
文学部 Bungakubu (Literature department) Bachelor of Arts (Literature)
理学部 Rigakubu (Physical science department) Bachelor of Science
農学部 Nougakubu (Agricultural department) Bachelor of Agriculture
獣医学部 Juuigakubu (Veterinary medicine department) Bachelor of Veterinary Medicine
経済学部 Keizaigakubu (Economics department) Bachelor of Economics
商学部 Shougakubu (Commercial science department) Bachelor of Commerce
経営学部 Keieigakubu (Management department) Bachelor of Business Administration
教養学部 Kyouyougakubu (General education department) Bachelor of Liberal Arts
音楽学部 Ongakugakubu (Music department) Bachelor of Music
神学部 Shingakubu (Theology department) Bachelor of Divinity

time in School

School year

Generally, new students at Japanese universities begin in April, but some universities also have new students who begin in the fall. A school year begins in April and ends in March of the following year. The school year is split into two pieces: 前期 zenki (the kanji are “before-period”) (April to September), and 後期 kouki (the kanji are “after-period”) (October to March).

school career length

National universities, public universities, and private universities are at least four years (six years for medicine, dentistry, or pharmacy).

The shortest periods of study at a college or university are around two years.

University breaks

Summer break: late July to early September

Winter break: late December to early January

Spring break: February to March

学費 Gakuhi (Tuition)

  • National universities: First year 817,800 yen(入学金 Nyuugakukin (Matriculation Fee): 282,000 yen+学費 Gakuhi (Tuition): 535,800 yen)Second year 535,800 yen
  • Public universities: First year average 935,578 yen(Matriculation Fee: 397,721 yen+Tuition: 537,857 yen)Second year 537,857 yen
  • Private universities: First year average 1,124,516 yen(Matriculation Fee: 256,069 yen+Tuition: 868,447 yen)Second year 868,447 yen

When Do I Pay Tuition?

You pay half in May, and half in November (for example, at a national university, you might pay one half of 535,800 yen (which is  267,900 yen) in May, and the other 267,900 yen in November).

One major difference between national universities, public universities, and private universities is the allotment of research expenses. Because national and public universities use tax money to help run the school and receive subsidies from the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, their research facilities tend to be substantial. On the other hand, a lot of private universities tend to focus more on facilities related to the school itself, or to student life.

Admission Requirements

Generally speaking, if your pre-university school was twelve years or longer, you qualify for application to a Japanese university or junior college. If your pre-university school was less than twelve years, you can take a course that will qualify you for application.

The rule for vocational schools is the same, but some vocational schools (and some universities, for that matter) also have requirements for a student’s Japanese language proficiency. Japanese language proficiency requirements vary drastically from university to university and from school to school, so if you have a particular university or school in mind be sure to investigate their language proficiency requirements.

That’s all for this article!

If you have any questions, please leave us a comment. We’ll get back to you and make a note of anything that we left out to include in future articles!

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