What can you do with a Japanese major? | Study and work opportunities in Japan

So you just graduated with a major in Japanese… or maybe you are contemplating majoring in Japanese. As a Japanese major myself, let me say – Congratulations!! Although some might call majoring in Japanese “the worst thing you can do for your career,” I protest.

If you are willing to be creative and resourceful, there are many interesting opportunities to study (even for free!) and work in Japan. Here are just a few programs and opportunities that I have found since graduating with my Japanese degree. (This list is a work in progress. If you have more resources to suggest for the list, do let me know!)


Study & Funding

  1. Fulbright Fellow Scholarship
  2. Inter-University Center (IUC) Language Program
  3. Blakemore Freeman Fellowship
  4. Monbukagakusho (MEXT) Scholarship
  5. National Science Foundation East Asian and Pacific Summer Institutes Program

Work & Networking

  1. Japan Exchange Teaching (JET) Program
  2. Career Forum Network (CFN)
  3. U.S. Japan Council events


Study & Funding

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1. Fulbright Fellow Scholarship

See also – Fulbright U.S. Student Program (details)

Intended For: Recent graduates with a bachelor’s degree to pursue language study and an independent research project at a university or institution outside of the Tokyo area. (8 months)

What You Get: Generous living stipend and tuition fees to pursue your project of interest

What the Application Involves: 

  • Online Application Form
  • Statement of Grant Purpose (2 pages)
  • Affiliation Letter
  • Personal Statement (1 page)
  • Foreign Language Forms
  • References (3 letters)
  • Transcripts

Deadline: early fall (begins the following September)

Pro-Tip: I applied for this program in 2009 and was accepted for the 2010-2011 cohort. Part of the application involves finding a researcher in Japan to support your application. It can be challenging to find an affiliation in Japan that fits your research proposal, so start looking early! (Or do what I did and find your affiliation first and THEN write your proposal.) In some cases, Fulbright will assign an affiliation to you. Even so, it shows good initiative and focus to begin looking for your own contacts early. 

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2. Inter-University Center for Japanese Language Studies 

Intended For: “Students who are embarking on careers in some area of Japanese studies or a profession in which fluent Japanese is necessary.” (10 months – The Center also offers a two-month summer program.)

What You Get: Exceptional quality, super intensive Japanese language classes. (I have not participated in the program myself, but from what I hear, the quality of instructional is excellent and you come out well-prepared to take the JLPT N1 exam.)

What the Application Involves:

  • Application Form
  • Statement of Purpose (3 questions, ~1500 words total)
  • References (1 language, 2 general)
  • Transcripts
  • Funding application
  • Japanese Proficiency Test
  • Fee ($80)

Deadline: January (program starts the following September)

Pro-Tip: I applied for this program in 2011. I was accepted for the 2012-2013 program, but did not end up attending. The application involves a two-hour Japanese proficiency test, which must be administered by a professor or professional in February after the application is due. If you are not currently an enrolled student, it can be hard to find an appropriate proctor, so start looking early to have the arrangements ready in time.

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3. Blakemore Freeman Fellowship

Intended For: Students pursuing one academic year of advanced level language study in East or Southeast Asia. Eligible languages include Japanese, plus Chinese, Korean, Burmese, Indonesian, Khmer, Thai, and Vietnamese. This grant is only eligible for certain language programs, including the Inter-University Center 10-month Japanese program (see #2 above).

What You Get: Full funding to cover tuition for the language program, plus living stipend.

What the Application Involves:

  • List of classes or training in chosen language
  • List of academic and professional awards
  • CV or resume
  • Personal essay
  • Letters of recommendation (2)
  • Transcripts

Deadline: opens in July closes in December (for the following year)

Pro-Tip: Honestly I have none. I applied for this grant in 2011 and was not selected. The grant is very competitive (<10% acceptance rate). All I can say is good luck! The website lists current and past grantees, who might have better insights into how to get accepted.


4. Monbukagakusho (MEXT) Scholarship for Research Students

(Also check the website of your local Japanese embassy for more information.)

Intended For: People who want to pursue graduate work at a Japanese university as a research student. Also allows recipients to receive a graduate degree (Masters and/or PhD) given they pass the assigned entrance examination and complete other necessary requirements. (18 months or longer)

What You Get: Full funding to cover tuition fees, plus a modest living stipend.

What the Application Involves:

  • Application Form
  • Application Attachment Form
  • Research Program (4 pages)
  • Photograph
  • Transcripts
  • Graduation Certificate
  • Letter from Dean certifying graduation
  • References (2)
  • Medical Certificate
  • Abstract of Thesis (if applicable)

Deadline: March (begins following March)

Pro-Tip: Note there are SEVEN different MEXT scholarships. There are 4 undergraduate-level scholarships and 2 graduate-level scholarships. Check out the table here for more details on the eligibility criteria and details of each scholarship.

Also just to make things even more complicated – There are two different pathways for applying to the scholarships: 1) embassy recommendation and 2) university recommendation. If you are in Japan and have a university affiliation, you can apply through the “university recommendation” route. If you are outside Japan, then you can apply through the “embassy recommendation” route. I applied to be a graduate-level Research Student through both the embassy recommendation and university recommendation. The application materials are similar but the deadlines are different. So be careful!

The application for this scholarship is very long and extremely detailed. Start early. 

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5. National Science Foundation East Asian and Pacific Summer Institutes Grant

Intended For: Current graduate students in science, engineering, and education to gain first-hand international research experience with the goal of initiating professional relationships to enable future international research collaborations. This program includes Japan, and also Australia, China, Korea, New Zealand, Singapore, and Taiwan. (The Japan program is the longest at 12 weeks.)

What You Get: $5,000 stipend, travel allowance to cover plane ticket to Japan, and living stipend for time in the country.

What the Application Involves: 

  • Project Summary
  • Project Description
  • Biographical Sketch or CV
  • Data Management Plan
  • Host Letter of Acceptance and proof of correspondence with host

Deadline: November (for the following summer)

Pro-Tip: This is an amazing program! It includes a one-week orientation with your fellow grantees, who come not only from the United States but other partner countries (including Canada, Germany, France, and others). The biggest challenge is finding a host in Japan that fits your research interest. Fortunately I had an introduction through my graduate advisor. Ask around, you might be able to find someone. You might also try cold emailing people, which worked for many people in the program who I met.


Work & Networking

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1. Japan Exchange Teaching (JET) Program

Intended For: Young professionals interested in working in schools, boards of education, and government offices through Japan.

There are two types of positions:

1) Assistant Language Teacher (ALT): Work in English language instruction at public elementary, junior high, and/or senior high schools. (12 months, possible renewal)

2) Coordinator for International Relations (CIR): Work in internationalization activities at the local level in the offices of local authorities or related organizations. (12 months, possible renewal)

What You Get: Yearly salary ranging rom 3,360,000/yr – 3,960,000/yr.

What the Application Involves: 

  • Application Form
  • Authorization and Release Form
  • Self-Assessment Medical Form
  • Physician’s Form (if applicable)
  • FBI Background Check (if applicable)
  • Certificate of Health Form (if applicable)
  • Statement of Purpose (2 pages)
  • Transcripts
  • Proof of Study Abroad (if applicable)
  • Proof of Graduation
  • Proof of Teacher’s Certificate (if applicable)
  • Proof of U.S. Citizenship
  • References (2)
  • Self-Addressed Stamped Envelope

Deadline: Fall (program starts the following summer)

Pro-Tip: I applied for this program in 2011 and was not accepted. The program has abouta 25% acceptance rate. If you pass the first stage, there is an interview (a portion of which may be conducted in Japanese). The interview will be held at the embassy closest to your residence. The program has a reputation of asking slightly strange questions- be prepared for anything.


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2. Career Forum Network (CFN)

A large annual Japanese-English bilingual job fair, offering full-time positions, internships, and travel scholarships. (Held in Boston, London, Tokyo, and Los Angeles)

No official application. Register for the event online.

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3. U.S. Japan Council (USJC)

Mission – “A nonprofit organization that contributes to strengthening U.S.-Japan relations by bringing together diverse leadership, engaging stakeholders, and exploring issues that benefit communities, businesses, and government entities on both sides of the Pacific.”

Membership is invitation-only. But even non-members can attend early conferences. I attended the 7th USJC Annual Conference in Silicon Valley and was impressed by the caliber of participants. Definitely worth checking out for networking!


Thanks for reading! Have you studied or worked in Japan? How was your experience? Do you have any tips to share?


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