The 10 Best Universities in Japan

Japan is known for its high educational standards, its focus on technology and its natural beauty. 

From the museums and neon nightlife of Tokyo, to the vast forests and mountains, to intimate tea ceremonies and historic temples, Japan is appealing to nature lovers, entrepreneurs, and global adventurers. 

Navigating between cities is easy by train, and the trains are renowned for being punctual. 

Japanese universities welcome international students, and many offer scholarships and degree programs taught in English. Opportunities are available for undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral studies. 

And you won’t be alone. The number of U.S. students studying in Japan has increased every year since 2014. 

U.S. News and World Report’s  2022 Best Countries to Study Abroad list ranks the U.S. and Great Britain first and second, with Japan closely following at number 6. 

Japan received high marks for quality of life, heritage, entrepreneurship and cultural influence. The country is also seen as highly progressive and modern.

Whether regarding the arts or natural resources or technology, Japan is a country that values history and culture while celebrating innovation. Studying at a university in Japan could be the adventure of a lifetime.

This ranking is based on a weighted score assigned to each school based on its position in other ranking lists in major online publications. The sources for those rankings are at the end of this article.

10. Waseda University (Tokyo, JP)

Global citizenship for its students is a prime goal of Waseda University, located in Shinjuku, Tokyo. It aims to earn the status of a global university by 2032, the college’s 150th anniversary.

Waseda has thirteen undergraduate schools and twenty-three graduate schools, with campuses at six locations. 

Among its many notable alumni are nine prime ministers of Japan, world-renowned writer Haruki Murakami, and former CEOs of Sony, Honda, and Toshiba.

Diversity is a point of pride for Waseda, as evidenced by its being home to Japan’s international students. 

Over 5000 international students from 100 countries study there. In addition to classes, students congregate at the Intercultural Communication Center, where the university’s goal to develop good global citizens flourishes through events, dialogue and interactions between students, faculty and staff.

As part of the Waseda experience, students receive a cap stamped with their name, department, school seal and the phrase “This certifies that the owner is a student of Waseda.” The cap was specially designed to be distinctive and is considered a status symbol.

Between semesters, students enjoy a two-month break from studies, when they can explore Tokyo – considered one of the safest cities in the world – or travel further. The famous cherry blossoms – sakura – abound on campus and beyond.

Waseda believes their students can help bridge cultures and work across the globe to research, address and resolve complex global challenges.

9. Kyushu University (Fukuoka, JP)

Kyushu University
新幹線, Open Learning Plaza, Ito Campus, Kyushu University 20180903, CC BY-SA 4.0

Kyushu University is commonly referred to as Kyudai and is located in Fukuoka on the island of Kyushu. Fukuoka is ranked the number one city to live in in Japan. Kyudai’s campus is one of the largest in the country.

Over 2300 international students from 102 countries and regions study there. The university is recognized in the top 20 schools in all of Asia, and in the top 10 for research institutions.

Notable alumni include the first Japanese commander of the International Space Station, and the inventor of Siri.

The university has a 9 to 1 student to faculty ratio, with the School of Engineering boasting the most students. The schools of medicine, science, and economics are not far behind, and studies in agriculture, design, education, and many other subjects can be pursued.

The university’s annual Design Festival is held in November and is the biggest event of the year. Performances, interactive art, and exhibitions attract 20,000 visitors. The campus is decorated for the event, amplifying the beauty of the autumn season.

8. Keio University (Tokyo, JP)

This private university is situated in Minato, Tokyo, and has eleven campuses. It is one of only two universities in Japan, along with the University of Tokyo, to be a member of the World Economic Forum’s Global University Leaders Forum.

The school values both collaboration and jitsugaku, or empirical science, a way of learning through reason, observation and verification. It is considered the first Japanese university to welcome international students, first accepting them over 140 years ago.

Over 900 classes are conducted in English, and numerous degrees, both undergraduate and graduate, are offered entirely in English.

Research is valued and supported, with Keio dedicating top-notch facilities to science and technology. Keio University Hospital is among the best in Japan for education and research, as well as treatment.

It’s not all academics – they play hard in Keio, too. The university has a proud history of athletic accomplishment; almost 150 students and graduates have competed in the Olympics and Paralympics. To date, they’ve earned 5 gold, 13 silver, and 10 bronze medals. 

7. Hokkaido University (Sapporo, JP)

Hokkaido University, located in Sapporo, offers scholarships to international students, including students who enter their Modern Japanese Studies Program. 

The MJSP is taught in both English and Japanese, helping students gain fluency in the language while they learn about the culture, politics, and history of Japan. 

Hokkaido also offers a 5-year Integrated Science Program, aimed mainly at international students who seek an accelerated program that will earn a Bachelor’s followed by a Master’s Degree. Students may specialize in biology, physics, or chemistry.

Over 18,000 students attend the university, which originated as Sapporo Agricultural College. Nowadays, the most popular undergraduate programs are engineering, medicine, and science, but agriculture is still offered at the undergrad and graduate levels. 

Hokkaido is home to the Institute of Seismology and Volcanology, which collaborates with observatories to help predict earthquakes and evaluate seismological data.  

And in 2021, the university established the Institute for the Advancement of Sustainability, which promotes a green and sustainable campus. 

The main campus is stunning, with ginkgo trees lining the streets. Their bright yellow leaves in fall are part of the expansive greenspace, inviting nearby visitors as well as tourists. 

In keeping with its interest in natural beauty, the University logo incorporates a flower, trillium, which grows on campus. 

The design represents the six directions – East, West, South, North, Heaven and Earth – which symbolizes how information is shared between Hokkaido University and the world. 

6. Tokyo Institute of Technology (Tokyo, JP)

Known as Tokyo Tech, this prestigious research university specializes in science and technology, and admittance is considered highly competitive.

The university is home to the supercomputer Tsubame and is at the forefront of supercomputing, as well as a leader in the field of condensed matter research. 

About half of the 10,500 students are in undergraduate programs, and the other half are in master’s and doctoral programs. 

Tokyo Tech’s ambitious long-term goal is to be known as the world’s top science and technology university. Among the ways they plan to earn that title is by promoting international collaborative research.

The school’s seal features a stylized bird, and is called “Swallow at the Window.” In Japan, swallows signify good fortune. 

Students at Tokyo Tech have an opportunity to earn that good fortune by studying at state-of-the-art facilities in the midst of the world-class city of Tokyo. Who knows, they just might become part of the process of creating the best science and technology university on the planet. 

5. Nagoya University (Nagoya, JP)

Nagoya University
いどれいざん (Idoreizan), Nagoya University 00, CC BY-SA 4.0

Nagoya University, commonly referred to as Meidai or NU, is well-known for research in the sciences. Their G30 International Programs, established in 2011, are full degree programs where all classes are taught in English. 

NU’s concept of “courageous intellectuals” refers to students and faculty who prize audacity, courage and creativity. 

As proof, six Nobel Laureates have been affiliated with NU since 2000, and the university ranks in the top 5 in terms of the number of patents registered in the U.S. and Japan. 

Still teaching at NU is Hiroshi Amano, awarded the Nobel in physics for inventing the energy-efficient blue light-emitting diode, better known as LED. 

In 2022, the largest enrollments were in chemistry (School of Science) and in the School of Law. 

About 2400 of the school’s 16400 students are international, arriving from 97 countries. NU is actively working to increase that number. 

Students are not required to be proficient in the Japanese language to be admitted to NU, but all students take Japanese language courses. 

They can also improve their language proficiency by joining any of the school’s clubs, including clubs for manga enthusiasts, judo, a tea ceremony club, and groups focusing on art, music, and literature. 

4. Tohoku University (Sendai, JP)

Tohoku University has four main campuses home to over 17,000 students. The school is known for its research and appears on many rankings of the top research universities. 

Admissions are highly selective, but accepted students will have unique and intensive opportunities for study.

For its 115th anniversary in 2022, the university created a new logo featuring an image of the bush clover, or hagi, representing the knowledge that grows and blossoms.

Undergraduates hoping to study in English should check out programs in molecular chemistry, marine biology, or mechanical and aerospace engineering. At the same time, graduate students will discover quite a few opportunities in a wide range of fields. 

The Global Learning Center, International Student Help Desk, and the Center for Learning Support are there to assist international students in their studies. 

And when students have free time, they can visit the famous festivals of Sendai. The summer festival is called Tanabata Festival, where visitors write their wishes on colored paper which they tie to bamboo trees. 

As guests wander the festival, they’ll marvel at the beautiful decorations and streamers which will be judged for best design.

And in winter, don’t miss the Pageant of Starlight, which reveals zelkova trees lining the streets adorned with 600,000 lights. Although Tokyo is only an hour and a half away, students will discover much to keep them busy in Sendai.

3. Osaka University (Suita, JP)

With three campuses all just a short bus ride apart, Osaka University is organized into 11 undergraduate schools and 16 graduate schools. 

It has exchange agreements with colleges worldwide, allowing students to study in a school in their home country and at OU without paying additional tuition. Harvard, Cornell, CalTech, and Stanford offer such exchange agreements in the United States.

Accolades abound for OU, which receives high rankings in the areas of research and innovation. The university also excels in economics, and Osaka University’s graduates are widely represented in Japan’s top companies.

Like other academically competitive universities, Osaka holds regular athletic competitions as well. 

They recently began competing in windsurfing, where they’ve won intercollegiate prizes, and students can participate in dozens of other sports and activities, including rock climbing, badminton, archery, aikido, fencing, and more.

The university is known for its friendly atmosphere, and its location is ideal for students who love all four seasons. 

Japan is surrounded by water, and Osaka is home to Kaiyukan. In this aquarium, students can walk through a transparent tunnel and view colorful fish as well as otters, dolphins, sea lions, and seals. 

At OU, students may study in fully English programs, programs taught partially in English and partially in Japanese, or programs entirely taught in Japanese. Osaka University’s motto is “live locally, grow globally,” and students will have every chance to put that motto into practice.

2. Kyoto University (Kyoto, JP)

The second oldest university in Japan, Kyoto University is considered one of the top two in the country. Five prime ministers from Japan, 19 Nobel laureates, and scores of distinguished scholars, politicians, doctors, lawyers and other professionals hail from Kyoto U. 

The university has three campuses, with a fourth currently in progress. A wide range of programs and fields of study are available to both undergrad and graduate students.

Engineering can be studied entirely in English at the undergraduate level. For other fields, the Kyoto University International Undergraduate Degree program is taught in both English and Japanese. 

No proficiency in Japanese is required for admittance; students initially take intensive language courses, and once gaining proficiency, they study in their majors. 

When not in the classroom, students can explore Kyoto’s rich culture. Over 2000 shrines and temples coexist with modern technology companies like Nintendo. The city is circled by mountains and draws visitors year-round. 

Despite its popularity, Kyoto is less crowded than other major cities. Students can find their way around and explore sites like the Kyoto International Manga Museum. They can select to live in an international dormitory as they learn to speak Japanese and appreciate the region’s history and beauty. 

1. University of Tokyo (Tokyo, JP)

University of Tokyo
Kakidai, Yasuda Auditorium – Tokyo University 3, CC BY-SA 4.0

About 30,000 students, including 4,200 international students, are enrolled in the University of Tokyo, considered the most prestigious school in Japan. Its alumni include five astronauts, 18 Nobel Prize laureates, and 17 prime ministers.

A variety of undergraduate options are available to pursue, including Arts and Sciences, Medicine, Education, and Economics. The university’s law school is ranked first in Japan, and the university as a whole is widely considered the top research institution in the country. 

Commonly called Todai or UTokyo, the university’s graduates earn the highest average salaries in Japan. 

Enrollment skews more toward males than females, so UTokyo has been actively attempting to attract more female applicants. Special housing allowances are available for female students, and the university is dedicated to hiring more female professors and researchers

That research is at the heart of the university’s stature. UTokyo supports entrepreneurship for companies that use research originating from within the university. 

As of 2022, almost 500 UTokyo-affiliated startups have been created.

Studying in Tokyo means students are at the center of culture and activity. Historical landmarks are within walking or easy traveling distance and include temples, gardens, and natural wonders. 

Hongo campus boasts a history of attracting prominent authors, and students can take a cultural history tour that passes the homes and favorite stops of authors in this “capital of culture.” 

Many museums are nearby, such as the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, the National Museum of Nature and Science, and the Tokyo National Museum. 

Students can enjoy the art of a different kind at Ueno Park, which explodes with beauty, from the lotus-filled Shinobazu Pond to some of the prime viewing areas for cherry blossom season. 

Back in school, students will work side-by-side with others from across the globe, becoming part of the university’s mission to “discover excellence.”

The following sources were used to create the aggregate ranking for this article

US News

Times Higher Education



QS Japan (2019)