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I am considering a master's degree in Japan.

From a purely career oriented POV, I should be aiming for universities in the USA, Germany or Italy as these are the leading countries in my field. However, I have a great passion for Japanese culture and language. I have considered applying for the JET program, but I wish to avoid a 1-2 gap in my resume.

Would going for a Japanese university (instead of a stronger one) for personal reasons be seen as a bad thing? If so, would it leave a lasting mark and impede on my future career?

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    Studying in Japan is such a relative novelty (for Westerners) that you can spin it positively in many ways. – TheMathemagician May 25 '16 at 8:56
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    1-2 years spent working abroad for the JET program is usually considered a resume entry, not a gap, and will be looked on positively by many people. Talk to people running the kinds of programs you're considering to find out how they would view it. – Karen May 25 '16 at 13:19
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    Wait... since when is Italy one of the top countries for robotics??? (at least I infer from you saying "my field" and defining your field as robotics in your about page) I ask because I'm Italian but, if this is true, is something I'd never have guessed... probably harvesting all these kiwis requires some advanced agricultural robots.... – Bakuriu May 25 '16 at 19:36
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    Well if it is robotics, isn't Japan widely considered the foremost in the world in robotics? At least more so than Italy! – user51101 May 25 '16 at 21:18
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    There are a lot of different areas of robotic research and universities in Japan, US, and Italy (the University of Rome is known) - all are considered top level but each have a different focus. So like many other graduate positions, I would look more at the advisers at the universities and how well known they are in your specific area of research (more than Japan is better, US is better, no Italy, no UK, no.....) – LinkBerest May 26 '16 at 2:08
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Assuming there is a negative stigma, why would you ever need to tell anyone why you picked the university you attended? Having a great passion for Japan and Japanese should be enough for anyone assuming you do an awesome project which you can and should do no matter where you go to school. This is especially true if you're likely to want to stay in Japan after your schooling to be an academic there, and it's a great reason to go to a Japanese university if you'd like to make a life there due to your passion.

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    Or even find out whether you want to make a life there. – Patricia Shanahan May 24 '16 at 23:12
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As someone on the ground in Japan, I would say that there's more to consider than just the supposed quality of the university if you choose to do a graduate degree in Japan.

First, there's the school year. With the exception of ICU and the University of Tokyo, the school year here starts in April -- meaning if you finish a degree elsewhere in May, you will have an 11 month gap. (the same time gap will hit you on the return but less so. Since programs finish in March, it would not be impossible to start up somewhere else the next fall.)

Second, the gap in quality between institutions in Japan and elsewhere may be larger (or possibly smaller I guess) than people realize. The language barrier in many fields means that it may be hard to grasp the lay of the land within Japan, so the institution you go to here maybe much worse in quality than you thought. On the flip side, when people think about how good your program was, they will have the same information gap. (So they may think "oh, I've heard of X university and professor Q from there, it must be decent).

Even in programs and areas that publish in English or ostensibly hold courses in English, the opacity may still remain.

Based on the second reason, I would say merely doing a degree in Japan leaves no negative mark on your CV. I don't think it's ever hurt to be able to say I got 1.5 years of funding to go study in Japan at a decently ranked university there.

BUT because of the above opacity, it may be hard to tell how good the program you come to really is. If it is poor, then the quality of instruction may genuinely hurt your ability to do further research, i.e. you may not receive the same quality of mentoring and thus not be as prepared for Western-style independent research.

At least in my case, it didn't particularly help much of my research being in Japan, and I didn't learn any new techniques. (But I'm in philosophy where this opacity barrier is huge and I had already started writing my PhD thesis before I came).


If you are considering an MA/MS/PhD or study in Japan, rather than the JET Programme, you should focus on the MEXT Research Scholarship.

  • Thanks for the answer. As for the MEXT program, I already knew about it, but I don't feel that it's comparable to the JET, they don't have the same goals. – JS Lavertu May 25 '16 at 18:59
  • I'm slightly confused by your comment. The top of your question says I am considering a master's degree in Japan.. JET won't get you a master's degree. In fact, you can't get one while on JET due to visa requirements, lack of control over placement location (how does one take an MA while living nowhere near a university?), and the fact Japan doesn't have evening MAs. – virmaior May 25 '16 at 22:28
  • Thats what I meant. I will most likely apply for MEXT for a masters degree. I was considering JET as a separate thing entirely from any degree. – JS Lavertu May 25 '16 at 22:38

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