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Ninja Your Way into Studying in Japan for Free

Tokyo Skyline

Picture this: You, in Tokyo, strolling past the bright lights, stopping to sample fried octopus balls as you go. Or how about this: you, wandering through the cherry blossoms in Kyoto as you explore ancient temples. You, soaking up the sun on the beaches of Okinawa while studying Japanese. You, charging down the slopes of Niseko in the winter.

Sure, you’re probably thinking, that sounds great. But there’s one little problem – Japan is expensive. It’s true that Japan has a reputation for being pricey, but that doesn’t have to be a deal breaker. If you’ve always wanted to study in Japan, now’s your chance. We’ve pulled together a few resources that can help you study in Japan for free – or very close to it.

Money Saving Tips Before You Study in Japan

Research your options and keep in mind that studying abroad is likely to incur some costs, whether or not you manage to snag a scholarship. Work out what your budget is, and think about ways you can live within your means once you get to Japan.

1. Apply for Any (and Every!) Scholarship for Studying in Japan

Now is the time to find out which scholarships you might be eligible for and apply for them. Be thorough in your application and make sure to fill it out completely. There are several different organizations that offer scholarships for both short-term and long-term study in Japan.

Japanese Government The Japanese government offers a few scholarships to foreign students. The JASSO International Student Scholarship for short-term study in Japan can go from three months to one year, while the Japanese Government (Monbukagakusho) Scholarship Japanese Studies Program lasts for one academic year.

Japan National Diet Building

Private Scholarships There are several scholarships available each year for US students who want to study abroad in Japan. Here are some possibilities:

Other Scholarship Options If you are involved with any university groups like an honor society, or even a fraternity or sorority, find out if they offer any scholarships for overseas study. Explore what’s on offer from your home university or from universities in Japan. If you choose to go with a study abroad program, there may be scholarship opportunities for you there, so be sure to inquire with your advisor.

If your scholarship application efforts fall short, consider fundraising for study abroad. Getting other people excited about your trip will undoubtedly strengthen your motivations for studying abroad.

2. Book Cheap Accommodations

Where you choose to sleep and eat can have a big impact on your study abroad budget, especially in Japan. Consider cutting costs by doing a homestay with a Japanese family, an option offered by several study abroad programs. In some cities, like Kyoto and Osaka, there are also opportunities for students to stay for free at Buddhist temples. This can be arranged independently by contacting the temples directly, and is best done in advance. Keep in mind that you will be expected to follow the rules of the temple, and be respectful at all times.

3. Consider Direct Enrollment in a Japanese University

Sometimes it pays to skip a program and apply straight through a Japanese university. Although the trade-off may be less support as you head overseas, you can save a considerable amount of money by dealing directly with a university, as well as enjoy a considerable number of other perks. Try contacting the International Student Centers of Japanese national universities for more information, or check out the GoOverseas direct enrollment at international universities database for more options.

Our Comprehensive List of Best-Value Programs

It can be really tough to find programs in Japan that don’t bust your wallet. Luckily, we’ve done it for you!

Low cost, all-inclusive study abroad providers
Low cost language program providers:

4. Consider studying in smaller Japanese cities

Just as you could live like a pauper in NYC for the same price as living like a king in Kansas, so too are the geographical financial implications in Japan. Consider steering clear of cosmopolitan urban centers if you'd like to make your yen stretch a little further. Plenty of benefits will yield from studying in a more rural location, including the potential for stronger relationships with locals and a unique lens to view Japanese culture through. Not many can boast of studying in Hokkaido or Kyushu!

Consider the cost of living when deciding where to base yourself in Japan. To cut costs, avoid Tokyo, which consistently ranks as one of the world’s most expensive cities. Try going further afield to Hokkaido or Okinawa, regions that have a lower cost of living.

Money Saving Tips for While You’re Studying in Japan

Now is the time to formulate a budget and stick to it. Even if you’ve scored a scholarship and free accommodation, you’ll still need to eat. Chances are, you’ll want to travel a little bit, too. In order to stretch your money as far as you can, you’ll need to be frugal.

1. Shop Locally and Shop Late

The best bargains are often found at markets, where you can save on fresh produce, sample street food, and eat what’s in season. Let go of the comfort foods from home, which can quickly and easily triple the amount of money you spend on food. Learn to make local dishes and cook at home whenever possible.

Department stores often start discounting their wares 30 minutes before closing time. Check the closing times for your nearest stores, prepare yourself for potential crowds, and save while you shop.

2. Take Advantage of Free Events

Imperial Palace

Living on a budget doesn’t mean being chained in your room! Check out the Japan National Tourism Organization for free or inexpensive events in your area. Many temples and shrines do not require an admission fee. Remember, people-watching is always free! Head to a park with a book and a blanket and soak up the atmosphere.

3. Get a Bicycle!

Instead of depending on public transportation, which can sometimes take up a big chunk of your budget, get creative. Renting or even buying a bicycle can save you money as well as providing a novel way of seeing your new surroundings. For example, in Tokyo on Sundays it is free to rent a bike and cycle around the Imperial Palace.

Studying abroad in Japan can be a launch pad to much more than just a semester abroad: a new perspective on life, increased career opportunities, and maybe even a future in Japan. Your initial investment may result in more benefits than you bargain for!

Next: Look for programs or ask a question about study abroad.

Photo Credits: jamesjustin, hofstrauniversity, and Whitworth University.
Photo of Lauren Fitzpatrick

Writer, expat, and former working holiday addict setting up shop in Australia. Embracing surfing, reversed seasons, and cricket, but not Vegemite.