How I got the Monbusho Research Scholarship (Part 3 of 4)

Welcome to the third in a four part series of entries about my successful application for a Monbusho Research Scholarship. If you haven’t already, I recommend reading parts one and two. This entry deals with my process for filling out the application and contacting professors.

Filling out the Application
The majority of the application is pretty straightforward; names, addresses, dates, that sort of thing. You can write it in English or Japanese; I went with English. Just go over the application guidelines and follow them to the letter.

Make your application look as pretty as possible. Since I have graphic design training, I was able to import the Monbusho PDF application into Adobe Illustrator and fill in the information there, so everything had a nice, typeset look to it. If that’s not possible for you, I recommend finding a typewriter and typing up your application. Failing that, write as neatly as possible with a black pen. Proofread everything carefully to make sure you don’t have any spelling or grammatical mistakes. Print out clean laser copies of the application on a good quality paper. Separate the different copies in clearly labeled, brand new folders. Again, every aspect of your application should exude earnestness and professionalism.

You’re required to attach a passport-sized photo of yourself to your application. For mine, I dressed up in a suit and tie, and had a solemn expression; you can decide for yourself if you want to take it this far, but sticking out your tongue while wearing a lime-green tanktop would probably be a bad idea.

The application also requires you to submit academic thesis, to give applicant reviewers a sense of your work. But in the case of people applying for arts-related scholarships, an artwork example is acceptable in lieu of a thesis. I included a twenty-page excerpt on my comic book Tonoharu: Part One. On the back of my excerpt, I included an artist’s statement that tied my comic book into what I hoped to achieve by studying in Japan.

Seven pages of the twenty page excerpt I submitted can be found here, if you want to get a sense of what my work looks like.

Contacing Professors
There isn’t much to say about the main application itself, but the so-called “Attachment” part of the application is a little more demanding. This is where you indicate what you’ve done in regards to contacting professors and securing their good graces. All said and done, this is probably where I spent the most time on my application; probably even longer than on my research proposal itself. It’s also the reason I got my application out just before the deadline, because I was waiting for professors to get back to me. (All the more reason to start contacting professors early.)

I should say first of all that the way the Monbusho Research Scholarship was set up the year I applied (in 2007), you weren’t able to receive an official letter of acceptance from a professor until after you’ve passed the interview stage through your embassy/consulate. But nonetheless I would very strongly recommend you start contacting professors just as soon as possible; long before your interview, maybe just as soon as you’ve come up with a near final version of your research proposal. You don’t have much time after you pass the interview stage to get letters of acceptance from professors, so it’s important to lay the groundwork beforehand. Plus, you’re more likely to get to and pass the interview stage if it looks like you’ve already got the professors pretty much all sorted out.

The first step is to make a list of schools you would like to go to. Probably your best option here is to solicit advice from people with Monbusho experience that you’ve networked with. Failing (or in addition to) that, your best resource is a search via the internet.

There may be better options out there, but I found this website to be useful:

Type in a keyword at the top (art, painting, physics, whatever), select “Japanese Universities”, and click “search”. A list of universities and their websites will pop up. At this point, there’s nothing to do but slog through them. Many Japanese universities have English homepages, but they usually don’t have much information. Your best option, if your Japanese is up to the task, is to explore the Japanese version of the website to see which one is a good fit for you. If your Japanese isn’t good enough to navigate the Japanese pages, it might even be a good idea to enlist the help of a Japanese friend, to get there opinions about the schools you’ve tentatively selected.

For my own personal research topic, calligraphy, I found that there actually weren’t that many schools that offered a dedicated calligraphy program. And of those that did, many were teachers colleges whose only goal was to train teachers to teach calligraphy to elementary students (calligraphy is a mandatory subject in Japan, starting in third grade). In the end, I was only able to find twelve schools that offered a non-teacher training calligraphy major, so I just contacted all the schools. If your major is more general, you’ll probably have the luxury/burden of having to narrow down your list of possible schools.

Once you have a list of, oh, ten or twenty schools that look good to you, it’s time to seek out contact information for specific professors at those schools.

Personally, I decided to approach professors via e-mail, because that way I didn’t have to worry about the time difference and expensive phone calls. And it would give me the opportunity to perfectly craft my message to them without having to worry about my Japanese, and would give them a chance to think about my proposal carefully without me waiting there on the phone. So for me, e-mail seemed like the way to go.

I quickly found, forever, that unlike in the States, finding an e-mail address online for a Japanese professor was really tough. So if you’re Japanese is really good and you don’t mind racking up high phone bills, or calling at 2am your time, a phone call inquiry might be an easier way to connect with a Japanese professor.

That is not what I did, however. I stuck with my e-mail plan, and somehow managed to track down the well-hidden e-mail addresses of some professors. It took some sleuthing. For one professor, I found their e-mail address in an obscure PDF file on their universities website. For another, I found the professor’s name, googled that, and contacted them through a contact form I found on their blog. For another, I sent an inquiry through the calligraphy club at their school and got it that way; for another, I inquired through the school’s international center. And it goes without saying that pretty much all of this information was only found on the Japanese versions of their websites. So for those of you who’s Japanese is shaky, it might pay to see if you can get a good Japanese friend to help you.

At that point, I had the e-mail addresses of about ten different professors. But before I even thought about contacting them, I tried to put myself in their shoes.

When you contact a professor about serving as your supervisor, you’re asking for a lot. You’re asking them to supervise a near stranger from a foreign country for two whole years. Professor’s are usually busy, and having to supervise you will only be a further burden on their time. They would be held personally responsible if you behaved badly, so they’re taking a risk in that arena as well. When you consider all this, it’s easy to understand why many Monbusho applicants say finding a professor who’s willing to work with you is the hardest part of the application process.

So as I considered how I would approach professors, I wanted to make it as easy as possible for them; I didn’t want to give them any excuse to rejecting me out of hand. I concluded that writing in Japanese would be the best option; I figured professors whose English might be shaky would be unlikely to read through an English e-mail (and even less likely to reply in English).

So I wrote an inquiry e-mail in Japanese. My Japanese at that point was definitely good enough to write an e-mail that would be understood, but wasn’t good enough to write it in perfect, polite, humble Japanese. Since showing a high level of respect was important at that early stage, I wrote the e-mail in Japanese, and then had a Japanese friend help me edit it, to fix politeness level errors, etc. My inquiry letter was very short; just a few sentences.

So I had my inquiry e-mail. But again, thinking of things from their point of view, I figured I should also show them examples of my artwork, so they could get some sense of who I was and what I did. I decided it would be obnoxious to send large, unsolicited file attachments and clog their inbox, so I decided that the inquiry letter would contain a link to a mini, one page website about me. That way the teacher could choose to go there, and see what I was about at their leisure. Needless to say, the website was in Japanese as well. It also contained PDF links to my Monbusho application, samples of my comic and a few samples of my calligraphy.

For informative purposes, I’m providing a link to the website I designed and submitted to the professors. The PDF links no longer work, and I took out my private e-mail address, but other than that it’s exactly as the professors saw it. [Link]
Of the twelve schools I sent inquiries to, half didn’t get back to me at all, despite a follow-up e-mail I sent later. Three rejected me right off the bat, and three seemed intrigued by my proposal, and wrote back that it either “might” or “probably” would be possible for me to study at their schools. This was perfect, because it allowed me to put three schools and professors on the “Attachment” part of the Monbusho application, stating that each professor has at least expressed a willingness to work with me. Since I couldn’t get anything official until after I passed the interview stage anyway, this was about as good as I could make my application.

So with all that done, I sent my application off to the Consulate, and waited to hear back from them to see if I’d been granted an interview. Check back next Friday for the final part about that.

And if anyone out there with prior Monbusho experience feels I missed the mark in my advice, or has a different take on things, please leave a comment to this entry.

Part 1 of 4–Introduction/Disclaimers
Part 2 of 4–Writing the Research Proposal
Part 3 of 4–Filling out the Application & Contacting Professors
Part 4 of 4–The Tests, the Interview, & the Long Wait

  • Alex

    Your blog is interesting!

    Keep up the good work!

  • ida hashim

    Hi..Thanx for the useful tips. I’m applying for the Monbusho Scholarship for my Master’s degree. I hope to specialize in Special Education. Do you think they’d award the scholarship for Education courses?

  • kathleen mae gaspalinao

    hi. i love reading you blog. though we’re not on the same field of study (im a chemist), i acquire so much knowledge from you on how to have a monbusho scholarship that i really dream of. i hope one of these days you can give me some idea about how i can become a research student in japan on my field of study.

  • Selim

    Hi… I’m interested for the Monbusho Scholarship for my Master’s degree in electrical engineering. Please send me information, application form, the procedure to get this scholarship.

  • Lars Martinson

    Hello Selim:

    You’ll want to contact the Japanese Embassy in your home country.


  • Angelyn

    Hi Lars,

    Your advices and tips are great. I am a graduating BS Chemistry student and very much interested in doing research in Japan. However, I am not that confident with th results of my undergraduate thesis since I wasn’t given enough attention by my adviser.

    By the way, I am not that good in arts but I should say you are a talented cartoonist and blogger (writer).

  • Md. Ziaul Abedin

    i want to do postfraduate research with Monbusho Scholarship in Japan.

  • A non native speaker of englidh

    I want to say you is best person fom place recomending thing I herd of never. Piece to you and colleagues of you.

  • Juan

    Hi, I’m applying for the Postgraduate Monbusho Scholarship because I want to study my Master in Economics in Japan. I had my interview yesterday and I’m on the waiting stage. In the attachment I proposed three Universities, buy I haven’t gotten a recomendation yet. How important is it to have a teacher’s recomendation? Do you think they could reject me for not having one?

  • Kara

    Hi! I found this to be super valuable, especially the part about the proposal (although I’m going to format mine as a regular anthropology proposal). I do have a question that I would appreciate advice on. On the attachment part of the application, under the list of universities listed, it asks whether I have received admission as a) acquired, b) acquiring, and c) not yet acquired. If I have found a prof willing to work with me, should I select “a” even though nothing official has occurred? Thanks.

  • Lars Martinson

    Hey Kara–
    I remember that part of the application drove me crazy too, since it’s so vague. I hate to say it, but it’s been three years since I filled it out, so I can’t remember what I put… :-/
    But I think I *might* have put “A”, since it’s impossible to get anything truly official at this point. And maybe I put an extra note saying “received provisional acceptance from professor”, or something. Like I say, I can’t really remember. Someone at the consulate/embassy where you’re applying might have a better idea.

  • Lynn

    Stumbled upon your blog while learning about International Japanese scholarship. I’m graduating with a BA degree, majored in English Literature.

    Would it be possible if I further my studies in Japan and work on the scholarship? I’ve searched online with it’s possible to undergo two bachelor degree but the responses were vague and confusing. I hope to continue to do in the field of art.
    From your experience, what would you advice?

  • Lars Martinson

    Hey Lynn–
    Your guess is as good as mine.
    I’d recommend contacting the Japanese embassy or consulate in your country and asking them.
    Good luck!

  • Carlos

    I have a question regarding the letter of recommendation we’re supposed to submit with the application. It says it has to be done by your adviser, principal, or boss. How strict are they on this point? I never had full time employment (since I’m finishing my undergrad), and I believe my adviser is not the best person to answer some of the questions in the recommendation form.

  • Lars Martinson

    Your guess is as good as mine. But if it says that the letter of recommendation *has* to come from an adviser, principal or boss, that’s what I would do.

  • Alaa Chan

    I have been filling out the MEXT application forms for quite some time now,
    I’m a bit confused by the requirement to send two “original” application forms.

    This is really confusing! I don’t know if they need a copy of the application form or just another re-filled application form

    Any idea about what to do?