Studying Medicine in Japan

Hi everyone~
I’m writing this while 2 years away from going university and I have decided to study in Japan. However, after doing some research it seems like there aren’t as many English undergraduate programs for medicine as there are in Japanese and most people say you’re better off going somewhere else or you need to get high Japanese proficiency especially in science-specific topic words.
So I’m wondering if anyone else has ever tried doing this before and if so what method might work best. I had the idea of starting with science videos in Japanese for younger kids and building up vocabulary and understanding until I reach at least highschool level but I’m open to looking at other solutions people might have tried.


Whats your current level like?

1 Like

I’m almost done Hiragana and Katakana and have started Kanji, my vocabulary is kind of random because a lot of words I picked up from anime and YouTubers prior to actually starting to learn Japanese. And listening wise, I can understand most parts of a simple conversation

If you have 2 years, you could probably get good enough if you study (and I mean study a lot) but it might be hard if you are by yourself. You probably only need to get some strong general conversation skills and then can improve your more focused vocabulary and grammar from there once actually in Japan. You should look into getting a teacher (you can find online instructors through italki and genkijacs, certainly there are others as well).

Frankly the hardest part for you will be the actual listening and conversation, which really comes through practice which is why I suggest finding a teacher somehow or somewhere.


No personal experience, but wondering - do you mean you’d plan to study in English, but in Japan? Or are all the courses in Japanese (I guess I just expected the latter).

I don’t know much about the structure of Japanese medical schools, but having studied medicine, I would have thought you’d need a very high command of the language, particularly from the point of view of scientific terms. Much of the first couple of years is basic science but there’s no way I could understand eg immunology in Japanese (to be fair, I’m quite hazy on it in English).

In some regions of the world, you then need really good communication skills for the clinical component, but I know that other regions don’t really get high volumes of patient interaction during undergraduate courses (which I’d say is a weakness of these courses).

Would you plan to practice medicine in Japan? If not, studying in one country can be disadvantageous when you come to work in a different system.


According to what I heard from other people, the English courses in all of the universities I’m considering are limited and just not as good as their Japanese counterparts. So I plan to study in Japan in Japanese just to get the most out of it.
As for where I plan to work, currently, I want to practise and live in Japan after completing undergraduate and graduate school. So the issue of different work systems won’t come up

Mmm; you need a pretty high command of the language in all its facets to do well in an undergraduate degree that’s aimed at and paced for native speakers, regardless of subject. It might be worth investigating a plan that involves an intermediate year at a language school in Japan which would allow you to work on the language full time (as a combination of taught and self study) to bring yourself up to the necessary standard, and also get used to living in the country in slightly less stressful circumstances than “first week of a university course in a foreign language”.

I agree also (though without any relevant experience) that medicine seems like one of the more problematic subjects to study abroad, though – the only one I can think of offhand that would be worse is Law…


So far I’m interacting with natives through games, youtube and other apps all in Japanese. As for studying, I’ll have to rely on self-study since I can’t really get teachers due to time constraints and financial issues.
But on the issue of a lot of studying, how many hours would you suggest, 5-6? Or even more, if I want to get high levels of fluency

As much as you can handle I guess. Personally I study for around 2 hours every day plus 4 hours a week of conversation classes, and I’m trying to achieve roughly N3 level of speaking and reading ability in around a 2 year time frame (I started studying seriously in March of this year) before I go to Japan in 2024 to hopefully attain N2 in a year of full time study (20+ hours a week).

Here’s a video of a Japanese guy interviewing a Korean med student who is not a native Japanese speaker if that helps you get some context etc. for your plans?


I was always told the nagoya university was the best for medical school, usually they open spots for foreigners starting in Fall.

I dont know if they are picky for JLPT like kyoudai that only accept N2 and above.

I have a cousin that tried joining the art school in kyoudai, they really liked her drawings and stuff (pre skill analysis), but then no N2, it was a cold and direct “ok, good bye” from them.


That was interesting. So he got from zero to just-passing-N1 (and in what sounds like a rather focussed-on-passing-the-test-only way, if he couldn’t handle basic cashier-in-the-combini conversations), and it took him 5 hours of cram school six days a week for a year and a half. I’d say that was a reasonable schedule except he did it on top of a full day of high school, which is absolutely nuts, and I don’t know how he didn’t collapse with a nervous breakdown. Then he needed another year of full time language study in Japan, which got him to the level of being able to at least start on the university course and improve on his Japanese skills by using them.

I think the other key takeaway there is to research the available scholarships and what their requirements (language and otherwise) are (assuming you’re not planning to pay out-of-pocket for your degree…). You’ve got to know what target you need to hit.


Not to forget that he’s Korean, which is much closer to Japanese than English or other European languages, so it’s probably much easier for him to reach fluency :smiling_face_with_tear: although he did say that there were students from lots of other countries as well in his Japanese school as well.

Another thing to not forget about is the 入学試験. I don’t know if foreigners get to take a different, easier version (they only touched on it briefly in the video I think), but getting into a good university is a struggle even for native speakers and something many Japanese high school students study insanely hard for. On top of that you’d have the language barrier to overcome. The 日本語 part of the 入試 is no joke even for natives.


Exactly. For instance, in Austria you typically need B2-C1 German for university studies. I wouldn’t be surprised if the university in Japan called for N2 or even N1 as minimum. If it’s medicine, it’s not going to be a cake walk at all and one needs knowledge of specialized vocab on top of overall high proficiency.

I feel 2 years is really pushing it. I kind of say it as someone who pretty much failed N2 after 2 years of studies, but that’s another matter :joy: .


It definitely is pushing it considering I don’t even have 2 whole years more like 1 and a Half depending on how my studying goes right now. If I graduate year 12 early then yeah 1 and a half years and if I take the complete time then it’s 2 and a half-ish years. But where there’s a will there’s a way I guess-

Writing this, I realise how I insane I sound- Anyways, I spend almost all of my time at home because of online school so I have a lot of time to dedicate to something like this. Despite this, reading this comment really did make me realize how much I’ll need to dedicate to achieving this goal!


You would need an N1 minimum for anything regarding medical certification exams. That is probably a low threshold though, that says nothing whether one could handle patient care safely or even communicate it properly. Despite it’s heading, it’s really just a comprehension exam so the prep would not encompass the above.

I’d say make a short term goal that is challenging but realistically achievable, and then work your way forward with room adjust. Some direct experience with the culture could help with perspective on a decade+ plan.


I finished a BSc in Neuroscience with a study abroad in Japan and I attended there for a year of combined general studies + my science component split 50/50 mostly because of the structure of the program, it was not my choice but that was what was available. I chose what classes to take though. All my classes were in English formally. However, in practice, it was not like that. The programming course there was pretty self-explanatory. I did most of my work with tutorials online in English but the professor was not very proficient in English but we got by because we were all somewhat conversational in Japanese. History, Japanese, Culture and Biotech classes were taught by foreigners (read: not Japanese) professors so they used Japanese strictly for terms that would help us. The neuroscience part was split 50/50 in English for assignments and Japanese for informal conversations about the actual lab experiments. We got by and we understood each other but as mentioned in other replies it is not ideal. That year was not graded, it was just a pass or fail but if I can tell you anything at all is that undergrad students there found that they are unprepared for job hunting in Japan compared to their colleagues in the Japanese-taught counterpart courses. My exchange partner who is Japanese studied nursing and had a foreign friend who started undergrad in nursing there and she moved to a different course because of the difficulty with the language. Medicine imo is not something you want to get into lightly, some concepts are difficult in your own mother tongue let alone a second one. But let’s say you’re proficient at understanding concepts and you learn them from books in your mother tongue. That takes you so much more time and medicine has a lot of memorization associated with it. I say this as someone who has English as a second language and studied a degree with a decent amount of anatomy in a second language. You would end up doubling your work in that scenario. 2 years imo is more than enough to get an N1 and actually be very good in conversations. I got to N3 + neuroscience lingo in just that year in Japan but I forgot a lot of it and picked up wanikani to jog my memory. But you’d have to dedicate those 2 years fully to it. I do not think it’s feasible if you go full-on to school or have a job. I am working right now so I don’t think I would be able to be that proficient in Japanese in 2 years without immersion considering the job. With immersion, it might be possible but I wouldn’t know for sure. If you are interested in the health field I say go to something adjacent, not medicine. But that’s my two cents and it’s not meant to discourage you. If I wanted to go to uni for medicine in Japan I would deff not go into the English taught version (for reasons mentioned above), and I’d be reticent of the Japanese taught one because of how difficult and how much scientific jargon you would have to simply memorize.


Do I think its possible to get to N2/1 in a year and a half? Maybe?
Do I think its likely? No.

I want to start by saying that everyone’s learning speed is different and that by all means you might be able to do this. However, if you look at the average rate that people progress, your timeframe is too tight. (But I encourage you to look at my words with spite and use the hatred to fuel the dark side your progression.)

As this is WaniKani lets start with the subject of - Kanji
At breakneck speed you can finish all the kanji here in about a year (100% N2 kanji and ~90% N1 kanji).
1.5 years to 2 years seems to be the more realistic timeframe (we all make mistakes or days off) which just about fits in with your deadline, especially if you only go for 100% N2 level kanji/WK lvl 51.

Lets talk about everyone’s favourite - Grammar
I’ve seen wild estimates for how long this takes, because its a very individual thing.
But N2 is usually 1500-2000 hours of study.
and N1 is around 2000-4000 hours of study.

Lets say you have 550 days (just over a year and a half).
N2 would be 2.7-3.6 hours a day of study.
N1 would be 3.6-7.2 hours a day of study.
Doable but leaves little time for your own separate studies and commitments.

Now for the big one -The Test
Here’s my biggest feasibility problem. Many universities will want proof of your JLPT when you apply, with deadlines of what I’ve seen being usually around January (that was foreigner masters courses, not Japanese courses). Plus, December results for JLPT can come as late as the end of February. So ideally you would take the earlier mid year exam instead, giving you actually less than 1 year to prepare.

I’m sorry to say the chances aren’t high, but I think pushing ahead anyway is the best thing to do. We cant know for sure if we don’t try, you might have a knack for languages or Japanese specifically and master it in no time, and I hope you do and achieve your goals.

My advice is, if its at all possible for you in terms of time and money, take a year out before university to give yourself that extra time to prepare. With that I think this all becomes exponentially easier for you.

May the Durtles be forever in your favour.


First of all, thanks for the realistic encouragement:D I really appreciate people replying to my post with any helpful advice. As for the thing your days about taking one year off. I’m going to be trying for Japan through the MEXT program and they have a year of mandatory preparatory school as part of the program which takes place in Japan so between they’re Japanese classes and actually having to talk to Japanese people I think my conversational skills will be covered. They also help prepare for the entrance exam and so far, as far as my research goes Universities expecting l accepting through MEXT don’t ask for separate qualifications.

The issue here is the level of Japanese they teach in this preparatory school, which, some people have said will prepare you for your course and others say it only goes so far as allowing you to have conversations with your classmates and professors. That’s why I decided to pick it up beforehand so that in the scenario that the school actually only teaches basic Japanese I don’t need to worry because I’ve already learned it and the science specific words.


Before everything else- As far at immersion goes I try to be as exposed as possible, I recently so my phone and computers language settings to Japanese. Not sure if it will actually help me but I’ve started being able to read hirigana more easily and hopefully the same will happen for kanji. Plus pretty much everything I watch in YouTube besides educational content is strictly in Japanese. That and considering all the games I do have time to play are also in Japanese, I’d say I have immersion covered.

As for having to learn twice, I already know all 3 sciences up until highschool level because I’ve yet to study higher so it’s just a matter of learning the medical jargon because the understanding part is already done.

As for how much time I have, I mentioned in one of my earlier replies that I study through online school so actual school besides additional studying only takes up 4-5 hours of my day on an average morning. Sometimes it’s more or less depending on my classes that specific day so yeah I don’t have anything that consistently takes up a lot of my time each day.

Anyways, thank you for the inside view and advice, I really appreciate it.

I’m definitely avoid the English courses now and just work on getting my Japanese better. Hopefully I can reach the target!