Japanese Government (MEXT) Undergraduate Scholarships in Japanese Studies


MEXT Alumni Personal Experiences

Gwen Baines
Japanese Government (MEXT) Undergraduate Scholarship in Japanese Studies
Doshisha University, September 2017 – August 2018

I came to know about the MEXT scholarship programme through my university; my undergraduate course involves a year abroad in Japan, and the MEXT programme was suggested by my teachers as a way of making the most out of that year.

A few words of advice to anyone thinking of applying for the scholarship: don’t leave your application until two weeks before the deadline, like I did! Provided you leave yourself plenty of time to prepare, the application process is perfectly manageable, but trying to cram paperwork, interview preparation and test revision into such a short period – on top of my university coursework – meant I was far more stressed than I needed to be. In contrast, I didn’t find the actual test and interview nearly as stressful as I was expecting; instead of the intense grilling I’d feared, I ended up chatting to one of my interviewers about the difference between Tokyo and Kyoto sushi. Throughout the process, the embassy staff were reassuring and helpful, ensuring that (after a tricky start) my application process went as smoothly as possible.

Choosing which university to apply for wasn’t a problem. I knew I wanted to study in Kyoto, and of the universities there, the one about which I knew the most was Doshisha, a university with a lovely campus, an excellent location – right opposite the Imperial Palace! – and, most importantly of all, an established tradition of welcoming MEXT scholars.

Attending a university with such a vibrant community of international students meant that I was able to participate in a range of activities aimed at those of us who were studying abroad. For example, two months into my year, I was lucky enough to receive a place on a field trip to the village of Kazamaura in Japan’s northern Aomori Prefecture. The village’s history is intimately connected to that of Doshisha’s founder, Nijima Jo, whose fascinating life story was one of the factors which attracted me to Doshisha in the first place. Not only did the three-day trip allow me to forge deeper bonds with the other MEXT scholars with whom I was travelling; it also helped me gain an insight into of some of the issues facing rural Japanese communities, and provided me with an opportunity to meet and spend time with residents of all ages, from kindergarteners to senior citizens.

Studying at Doshisha as a MEXT scholar also gave me access to classes on dissertation-writing, as well as lessons on Japanese culture. As part of the latter, I attended a sumo tournament, explored a traditional Kyoto machiya townhouse, participated in tea ceremony, visited the workshop of a Nishijin weaver and the headquarters of Shimadzu, took part in an ikebana flower-arranging class, learnt about Noh theatre, and worked on an English translation of Japanese-language tourist material for Kyoto’s Gion Festival – a project which culminated in an interview with the Kyoto Shimbun. Throughout my time at Doshisha, I gained not only from the expertise of my professors but also the company of my fellow MEXT scholars, among whom I made several close friends.

During the holidays and at the end of the academic year, before my (reluctant) return to the UK, I was also able to make use of my MEXT stipend to travel widely, broadening my understanding of Japan outside the Kyoto region. One of the things which has left the greatest impression on me is the kindness I encountered from, and the fascinating discussions I had with, the many different people I met while travelling around Japan – none of which would have been possible without the generous financial support of MEXT. I am enormously thankful for a challenging, enriching year; if I had a second chance, I’d do it again in a heartbeat!

Please note:
- The programme is for British Japanese Studies students
- Applications for the 2019 programme are scheduled to open in December 2018