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

Welcome to the fourth and final entry in a series about my successful application for a Monbusho Research Scholarship. If you haven’t already, I recommend reading parts one, two, and three first. This final entry deals with the interview process.

In June 2007 I received word that I had passed the initial application stage and had been selected to for an interview and a series of language proficiency exams.

The Tests

Proficiency in Japanese is not necessarily a prerequisite for receiving a Monbusho Research Scholarship, (in fact I’ve heard that some people have gotten the scholarship despite knowing no Japanese whatsoever) but nevertheless all applicants who make it to the interview stage are required to take a three-part Japanese test. In the U.S., applicants also have the option to take an English proficiency test if they choose (I believe in countries where English is not spoke as a native language, this additional test is required).

For the Japanese Tests: The Monbusho Japanese tests roughly equates to the JLPT, if the JLPT was reconfigured to only have three levels of difficulty instead of four. (If you don’t know what the JLPT is, here’s the wikipedia article about it.)

So the easiest Monbusho Japanese test is like a combination of JLPT levels 4 and 3, the middle Monbusho test is like a combination of JLPT levels 3 and 2, and the hardest Monbusho test is like a combination of JLPT levels 2 and 1.

Since my Japanese level was between JLPT levels 3 and 2 when I took it, I aced the easiest Monbusho test, did okay on the middle one, and bombed the hardest one (at least I think so; they never actually told me what my scores were). I’m in no position to offer study advice for the hardest one, so if you think your Japanese might be good enough to pass that, you’re on your own. But here are my thoughts for studying for the easier two:

The Monbusho Japanese tests from the past few years can be found here:
This goes without saying really, but take the aforementioned tests and get a sense of what they’re like. I recommend taking at least one set of tests the way you’ll take them on the actual day of the test; give yourself 60 minutes per test, and take them all in succession.

Bone up on the nitpicky differences between the particles, verb tenses, etc. You may think you have a good grasp on them, but I found I was often not 100% sure about whether I should use wo or ni or de, or whatever. Review the rules for which particle is used when, because that makes up a lot of easiest test. Also make sure you know your way around the politeness levels, the different ways to say give and receive, and stuff like that.

Here are some of the study aides that I find worked well for me in preparation for the Japanese tests:
For kanji: hands down the best flash cards I’ve ever found are the ones made by Rabbit Press. They’re well organized, durable, and set up specifically for studying for the JLPT, so if you want to study for that too, you’re set. [Amazon link for the cards: JLPT levels 3 and 4, and JLPT level 2]
For grammar, vocab, etc.: I’ve always been partial to the Minna no Nihongo series. Once you’ve outgrown that, I found An Integrated Approach to Intermediate Japanese published by the Japan Times, to be good.

Finally, the English Test. For our group of applicants in the United States, it was optional. Most people in my group chose not to take it, and left for lunch as soon as the Japanese test was done. I took it, because I figured it couldn’t hurt, and since I’m a native English speaker, I figured it’d be pretty easy. It was. It only took me about twenty minutes. Again, past versions of this test can be found here:
As a native English speaker, I have no advice for non-native English speakers for that test. If any non-native English speakers have any thoughts about that, please leave a comment to this entry.

The Interview
After a lunch break, they started with the interviews. To be perfectly honest with you, I don’t think I did so well on the interview. In fact, and maybe I’m wrong about this, I feel that I got the scholarship in spite of the interview, rather than because of it. So while I don’t feel like I’m the best person to give advice about that, here’s basically how it went down.
I interviewed with four people; two Japanese, and two American. One of the Americans, a college professor from a local university, dominated the conversation. I had prepared for a few questions (like “Why do you want to study in Japan?” or “Why do you want to study calligraphy since you’re a cartoonist?”) but she didn’t ask any of those questions. Instead, she asked about a few random things, and then at one point seemed to question if my research proposal even counted as “research” in the first place!
Now, I certainly don’t think that what I was proposing was a significant as the search for a cure for cancer or anything, but I felt it was important in its own small way. And since I had reached the point in the application process where I had been invited in for an interview, I wasn’t expecting a line of questioning that seemed to imply that my research proposal might not even have any value in the first place. But then, I don’t have much experience with interviews of this sort, so maybe it’s par for the course; maybe they just want you to “defend your thesis” or something. In any event, I was totally caught off guard, but sputtered out some sort of response as best I could.

There was also a section of the interview where they asked me questions in Japanese; I read somewhere that this would take up half of the full twenty-minute interview, but in my case it was probably only two minutes (though it you were studying, say, Japanese linguistics or something, it might be a bigger part of your interview). The purpose of that is to determine what your level of listening comprehension and speaking ability in Japanese. The questions were of the conversational variety.

Once that was over, they asked if I had any questions for them. I can’t remember what, but I asked them a couple things. It’d probably be a good idea to have a couple questions for them prepared. And with that, the interview was thankfully over, and I got out of there as quickly as I could without running. The end of a very long day.

Again, since I don’t feel I did so well on the interview, I’m probably not the best person to give advice about it. I will say this: one thing I wished I had done, but never got around to doing, was doing a practice interview. Ask a friend or colleague to look over your application and make up a few questions about it, some friendly, some adversarial, and then try to answer them on the spot, without allowing yourself any time to think about it first. This would have been great practice for me, and I wished I had done it.

The Long Wait
After the interview, the wait to find out if I had passed the interview stage was pretty short; less than a week, if memory serves. Then it was a matter of waiting for the “letter of recommendation” form to arrive from the consulate, turning around and mailing that to the professors in Japan, waiting for them to mail it back to me, and then mailing it back to the consulate. Even though I had done all the legwork for getting a professor to agree to work with me, and all I was doing was mailing sheets of paper back and forth, it still felt like I was strapped for time to meet the deadline. So once again, I would recommend doing at least some (preferably most or all) of the legwork for contacting professors/securing a commitment from them to serve as your advisor ahead of time.

So I got my letters of acceptance to the consulate, there wasn’t anything to do except wait. It was an anxious time of course, but it also felt like there was a big weight off my shoulders, because I had finally reached the point, some ten months after I started, when I didn’t to devote any more time to Monbusho Scholarship-related stuff. I’ve heard that Monbusho Scholars often hear about their acceptance by late January, but the notification can come as late as the end of February. In my case, I finally found out I was in around mid-February. And so that was that.

Since I spent hours writing this long-winded account, I hope you’ll forgive me if I put an unrelated plug in here: if you found this guide helpful, and/or if you’re interested in comics/Japan, please consider supporting this starving artist by purchasing my graphic novel Tonoharu: Part One from your local book store, or at, or directly from me. Thanks.

And for more about my new life in Japan now that I’ve gotten the Monbusho scholarship, check back in this site again. I update every Friday, and my experiences as a Monbusho scholar are certain to be the subject of many of those entries.

So I guess with that, I’ll bring this account about the application process to a close. I hope this helped Monbusho applicants in some small way on their applications, and wish them best of luck. Ganbatte kudasai! And if anyone out there with prior Monbusho experience feels I missed the mark on my advice, or just has a different take on things, please leave a comment to this entry. Thanks!

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

  • Lars Martinson


    I can’t say if this is their preferred format, but my research proposal from 2007 can be found here:

    And sorry, but I don’t know anyone in marketing.


  • Mimi

    Hello Lars,

    Thank you for a helpful site! As you mentioned before, the japanese test will be in 3 levels, do you have to do all of them? How long time were you given to do the tests?

  • Lars Martinson

    Hey Mimi:

    You have to sit in on all of them, and I can’t remember how long they give you (it’s been over two year now).


  • Dominique

    Hi Lars,

    Thank you for sharing your experience. Can you tell me if the scholarship tests are only language tests or if you also had to take tests on math, reading, etc. (like the SAT or GRE)?

  • Lars Martinson

    Hello Dominique,

    I only had to take language tests; maybe if your research area is different you might have to take math tests or something, I’m not really sure…


  • Jen

    Dear Lars,

    Thank you very much for providing very important details. I’m selected for interview (MEXT scholarship-postgraduate) next month. And I have no ideas at all about finding universities and lecturers. I studied ‘education with science’ bachelor degree in my country. I don’t where at internet i should search for universities that have education courses so that i can contact lecturers of education courses to accept me as their research students. Kind of headache. The interview is just one month away from now. I’m very panicked about this.

    Yours Sincerely,

  • Paul


    Thanks so much for this series of posts. I have found it all extremely helpful in the process despite our topics being more or less on opposite ends of the academic spectrum (whatever that may be!).

    I’ll be taking those practices tests over the next few days, so hopefully they aren’t too ridiculous. I was able to pass 2級 last December but I don’t think I’m that close to 1級 level just yet. Still, I’ll do my best and see what happens.

    What worries me a bit more is the interview itself. I have a feeling the Japanese portion will dominate mine, though I have no way to tell until I get there and go for it. We shall see, I suppose.

    Otherwise, I’m still a bit confused about the process of actually getting into a university. My question for you is this: did you have to take Japanese entrance exams or were you simply accepted because MEXT worked its bureaucratic magic? Does it simply depend on the university? All signs I’ve received point to taking the 入学試験, but it is all still very unclear. Of course, I still need to get past the test/interview, so while this may be frivolous at the moment, if you have a chance to get briefly comment, I would appreciate it.

    Thanks again and good luck with all your endeavors!


  • Lars Martinson

    I didn’t have to take college entrance exams. I had to have my adviser fill out a “letter of acceptance” (or whatever it’s called) but that was it. Maybe they’re more lax since the “research student” path isn’t degree-bearing.


  • jaeshi

    hello lars,

    thanks for sharing your experiences regarding monbushu. Im from the Philippines by the way. Our Embassy is offering this scholarship programs.
    I was supposed to try it out this year but I think I’m not that ready yet though I have lots of connections in Japan cause I’m partly Japanese and my relatives lives there. (but the bad news is that, I forgot my Nihonggo already though I can still read Hirigana and Katakana)

    My questions is, does the process vary from country to country? Cause I’m so confused about what was written in our Embassy Website and the way you got the Scholarship. I don’t know if I just misread the the embassy site or there really is a difference.
    In addition, our embassy is also offering some initial assessment to the to-be-applicants. I want to try it out but I’m not sure if that would be the best idea to do as my first step.

    I will try my luck next year, so as early as now, I’m looking for some advice.

    Thank you in advance.

  • Lars Martinson

    Hello Jaeshi:
    I don’t know for sure, but I’d assume it probably varies a great deal from country to country. So my experience applying may not be useful to you…
    Best of luck to you, though!

  • Sara

    Hey Lars,
    Thank you! thank you! thank you sooo much for sharing your experience with the application process and everything.
    I am in high school right now but I want to apply for the undergraduate scholarship and I wanted to ask if you had any information and advice on that.
    I also wanted to ask about the interview, where exactly do the interviews take place?
    Thank you so much.

  • Lars Martinson

    Hey Sara–
    I don’t have any personal experience with the undergrad scholarship, so I can’t offer any particular advice on that, sorry.
    As for the location of the interview, it’s at the Japanese consulate or embassy that serves the area where you live. So for me, even though I live in Minneapolis, I had to go to Chicago for the interview.
    Best of luck to you!

  • Lars you’ve definatly succeded in helping me with info. So far the only information i’ve been able to find is facts and data. I’ve read pretty much all there is to read from the embasies publications but its left me more confused than when i started.

    A personal account’s really going to help. Not only is it really helpful but i’m also aplying for an art-related subject. I do have 2 questions though that you (if this post is still active) or anyone else may be able to answer.

    I am already a bit fimiliar with the differnt types of entries and i know that under the “Research” catagory there are Doctoral, Masters, and Research. From what i could gather, where you aplying for Research? I’m planning on going for Masters so it may be slighly different, however your advice has helped greatly.

    Secondly, you mentioned that you had previous language ability. I havn’t done any formal tests however i can answer about 75% of the level 5 JPL tests, i know there is 6 months language schooling avaliable for research students and i’m wondering how you went with that and also how it fit into you plan and schedule. As well as that do you thing someone of my slowly improving language ability would be able to commence study in 2012.

    Sorry for the really long comment, but this is (you are) the best source of information i’ve found to date.

    Thanks again
    Shaun O’Brien

  • Lars Martinson

    Hey Shaun–
    1) Yup, I applied for a non-degree, post-grad research scholarship.
    2) I didn’t do the six months of language schooling, so I can’t speak to that. My Japanese at the time I went was between JPLT 2 and 3. As I understand it, they want your Japanese ability to be good enough for you to be able to do your research. So in your case, you’d want to make sure to get into an English language program, with an adviser who can speak English.
    Best of luck!

  • thanks for you quick responce. When you siad “So in your case, you’d want to make sure to get into an English language program” did you mean find a masters course in english or to attend a langage school.

  • Lars Martinson

    Hey Shaun–

    Whichever you’d prefer, I guess. I’d say to take college-level classes in Japanese you’d want to at *least* have a Japanese level between JPLT 2 & 3 (preferably closer to 2), so since you’re not quite there yet, you’d either need to do your master’s course in English or improve your Japanese.

    Good luck to you on whatever path you choose to take!


  • Beau Carr

    I bookmarked this page about 2 years ago when I first heard about the scholarship, and now I’m finally in my last year of high school and ready to apply. Just wanted to say a big thank you as all of your advice and personal experiences are proving to be invaluable to me and many others. I did my JLPT N4 (same as the old JLPT3) last year and got 100%, so hopefully can pull off a respectable mark in the scholarship exams. Just worried my degree won’t be recognised when I get back to Australia. Suppose I’ll call the consulate.

    Anyway, I’m rambling. Just wanted to say thank you! :)

  • ali secret

    Lars , i would like to thank you
    I’m applying for this year
    all i want to say is wish me good luck :)

  • Lars Martinson

    Hey Beau, Ali–
    Best of luck to you!

  • Great post on the interview process. I am curious (and I don’t know if you’d remember this or not) about the questions in Japanese they asked you. I’m studying for the N4 JLPT right now, have spent time in Japan twice (once with non-English speaking “host family” – long story) and have a degree of Japanese conversational fluency. I do get hung up sometimes. That’s a roundabout way of asking a simple question, but I’m wondering if you remember what questions they asked you? Or at least the general nature of the questions. Good advice on having a native speaker read over the politeness levels, BTW. I’ll have to request my former host dad do the same for me.

    Thank again for these posts, they’re invaluable!

  • Lars Martinson

    Man, it’s been so long, I don’t really remember; they asked something about my application if memory serves, and maybe something about my comics? For my interview, the Japanese part was pretty short, and the questions were daily conversation variety (I think).

  • AlexaLPN

    Hi Lars! I really enjoyed reading your blog… it pulled out some thorns… :)

    I am a second year Practical Nursing student in the Philippines, and I’m planning to pursue the Undergraduate Monbusho (Nursing) after I graduate…

    I’ve been really wondering if do the reviewers take into account my past grades? Does it really count if I have low grades? I’m worrying because I’ve been kinda low on my high school marks (yes, LPN course is just 2 years here, and there’s no such thing as Junior High. Our high school is four years after 6 grade school years.) and it says to pass my transcripts for the past 3 years… So far my college grades have a minimum of 82%… I guess it’s just fine…

    I know how to write in hiragana and katakana (thru self-study) and also a few phrases… do they count that too?

    And even though I know you applied for the Research Category, I would really appreciate if you could give us some useful tips in the exam…

    Thanks and Congratulations for making it to Japan! (I hope I become as lucky as you are)

    Sincerely yours,

  • Lars Martinson

    Hey Alexa:
    I put all my thoughts about the exam in this entry; beyond that, your guess is as good as mine. Best of luck to you!

  • andy mc

    Hi Las,
    How’re you going? I’m going through the application papers now for the MEXT scholarship, but got a quick question.

    In the attachment part of the application, it asks whether you have obtained admission yet. (the part you said about the professors). Does that mean admission to the university you want to go to? Or just get an oak from some professors?

    Also, in the application process do you actually have to go through the entrance examination procedures for universities? Or do you just apply through MEXT and so you don’t have to get official admission at the unis you want to go to?

    Thanks a lot,
    Love your blog btw~

  • Lars Martinson

    Hey Andy–
    It’s been so long since I filled the application out (almost three years) so honestly I can’t remember what I put for the “obtained admission” line. Sorry!
    If you’re going as a research student, you don’t need to take the university entrance exams.
    Best of luck!

  • Andy Mc

    Thanks for the quick reply Lars,

    ok don’t worry about that section.
    If you’re applying as a masters student (to get credit and the degree), do you need to take the university entrance exams?

    Or maybe.. I think I got it now.
    If you get MEXT scholarship and don’t take the Japan uni entrance exam, you’re just a research student and don’t get credit or degree.

    But if you get MEXT scholarship and take & pass the Japan uni entrance exam, you become a masters research student and get credit and degree?

    What do you think?

  • Lars Martinson

    Hey Andy–
    Actually, I don’t think you need to take the entrance exam in either event. I think you can get a degree if a) your university agrees and b) you fulfill the requirements for one. You’d want to let your adviser that you wanted to pursue a degree right away, so he/she could help you to prepare to go down that path.
    But again, all my knowledge about this is three years old (and it was shaky to begin with) so your best bet would be to address these questions to an official at an embassy or consulate.

  • Montenegro

    Hello Lars,

    Thanks for sharing this valuable information. I’m a general dentist, from Honduras, wishing to do research in Japan. I’ve already submitted my application to the local embassy.
    I wonder if you could please give me additional information or tips, besides the ones you mentioned, about the interview process. Maybe more questions that they asked you.
    I know your native language is English, yet if you think you could give me avice on how to prepare for the englsih exam, I will be very greatful.

    Best wishes,

  • Lars Martinson

    Hello Montenegro–
    It’s been over three years since I applied, so I don’t really remember what questions they asked in the interview. And as you say, I’m a native English speaker, so I can’t really provide you with meaningful advice about the English exam. But best of luck to you!

  • Hey Lars this post seems to have taken off again. I have just finished writing my Aplication and come to the realsisation that i have a million peices of paper and how to present them. I’m litereally sending it in 12 hours from now, and just thought i would ask you what you did for presentation/organisation and how you kept the million copies of everything neat. I do have essentially unlimited folders so thats not a problem but i was wondering if you had any tips if you hapen to be online within the next 10 or so hours.


  • Lars Martinson

    If memory serves, I put each copy of the application in a folder, and separated each section with paperclips. But as long as it looks neat and professional, I’m sure any format would be fine.
    Good luck!

  • Hey Tars thanks for all your help thus far. Hopefully this will be the last question. Somehow, dispite my shocking Japanese Ability i’ve been asked to attend and interview in a few weeks. I know you said you didn’t do so well in the interveiw but is there anything you would sugest to prepare for, that you didn’t mention above. I know it would have been ages ago for you but at this stage there isn’t alot of sugestions on the net. Australia has a high success rate among those get to the interview stage so i’m optimistic, but with my bad japanese any edge would help.

    If this has already been asked a thousand times dont bother answering, but if there were any particular things you wished you’d prepared an answer for it would be a huge help.

    Thanks again

  • Lars Martinson

    Hey Shaun–
    Sorry, I don’t really have any particular advice other than what’s in this entry. As mentioned above, the practice interview is the biggest thing I wish I had done, so have a friend/professor/whoever do one of those with you if you can.
    Best of luck!

  • jeanne

    i dont know if some1 asked this b4, coz i didn’t have time to read all the comments… sorry if it’s repeated..

    do you roughly know the weightage of the interview? and how random is random? like about your personal life or something related to the japanese field, culture or wad?
    and btw, they said everyone did quite badly this year (in my country) for the written tests.. is is necessarily a bad sign (sry it’s a bit stupid to ask this one, but just want ur comment anw)?

    sorry, ask so many things.. thanks a lot!! it was helpful! :)

  • Lars Martinson

    Hey Jeanne–
    It’s been literally years since my interview, so I honestly don’t remember what questions I got. And for the rest of your questions, your guess is as good as mine!

  • Shaun O’Brien

    Hey Lars no Questions this time, Just thought i should come and say thanks for your help. Seems they cut application numbers for Australia in half this year so at this stage i’ve missed out. Somehow i’m on a 2 person reserve list so all is not lost, but there isn’t much chance of 1 or 2 of the 7 applicants dropping out. if not, I might try again next year.

    Probably the last time i’ll post on here so thanks for all your help

  • Lars Martinson

    Hey Shaun, sorry to hear your bid didn’t pan out. Good luck to you next year if you decide to apply again!

  • Eriol

    Hello Lars, thanks for the entry! I sympathized a lot with it even though I’m not taking the research scholarship but the Undergraduate version of it: which pans a whole other lot of troubles and headaches, which I think will be worth it anyways. I plan on documenting them for later use such as your entry, because I wish I had one myself.

    I’m a new reader here, so maybe I got one fact wrong though. You recieved confirmation during June and took the tests the same month; just as I did. Confirmation for you after you passed the national screening was up until Mid-February, right? I had gotten word from the embassy that they’d try to get the confirmations by mid-August (quite some time ago huh?) but I recently called and they said they hadn’t heard from MEXT in Japan yet.

    To be honest it’s pretty stressing not to hear about it, as you may know already. I was just wondering if it was naturally a longer wait than expected, because then I can breathe a sigh of relief and simply wait for the refusal or acceptance notice with assurance from someone who already experienced it. Since the main reason why I even sought a scholarship was my economic difficulty, I was planning to drop out of my current uni to work for the initial funds I’d need if I got accepted until departure date. If it’s normal that notification is that late, though, I guess I’ll have to start planning other methods of raising money while not excluding any possible outcome, haha.

    Again, thanks for the blog post.

  • Shaun O’Brien

    Hey Lars, First congrats on getting into the comic festival. It seems like a pretty big deal. Also, it looks like i’ll be getting the scholarship after all. I found out that i passed the second screenings, so as long as the university i am attending doesn’t change their mind i’m set to go in april. Thanks for all your help, and good luck at the festival.

  • Lars Martinson


  • Thank you very much for sharing your experience about the Monbukagakusho. It helped to clarify many things and to make sure of other things. I am currently a senior about to graduate in around two weeks and still haven’t turned in my application and research proposal so I am praying dearly to God that this can all work out for me before the deadline. If not, I will have apply for the scholarship program for 2013. Anyways thank you very much and God bless you.

  • cobs

    Hello Lars, thanks so much for sharing your Monbusho application experience, especially on contacting profs. I’ll be turning in my docs tomorrow. I hope everything will turn out well :)

  • hxc__l

    Thank you so much! Everything has been super helpful
    Though I’m applying for the undergraduate scholarship I’ve gained more knowledge here than anywhere else!!
    Thank you thank you thank you!!

  • kiniku

    I would like to say that all your suggestion and advice on this website is very helpful. I read this post first time on last September 2012 and, now February 2013, I just signed the pledge for Monbusho scholarship last week. I got nothing to say rather than thank you very much for your blog here.