Learning by doing in Japan

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    studying architecture in japan

    will galloway
    Jun 13, '16 11:20 AM EST

    There is a message in my inbox about once or twice a week asking for advice on how to study architecture in Japan. Many of the people who followed through and ended up studying  here have ended up becoming friends so I am genuinely happy to get those messages. Still, I notice I am becoming repetitive in my response so to indulge my laziness I wrote the major points down here. If you have any questions not covered in the text below, feel free to drop a line.

    Every mail I get has three big questions. I try to answer these and add a point or two more that nobody asks about because its kind of unexpected. Based only on my experience this is what I know about studying architecture in Japan...


    sure, you bet. no problem. You can study in Japan in English if you want to. Among the top universities I imagine all of the professors can speak in English by now. The students on the other hand may not, and that is where it gets complicated and the point of view of the professor changes the outcome. In some classes professors will summarize discussions in both Japanese and English. In others the language is set and only a bit of translation is offered - that can go in either direction. Its tedious to sit for an hour listening to a group talk in a language you can't understand, but I see it all the time. In my own classes I teach one undergrad course on sustainable design entirely in English and its fine, but in a master's course I need to say the same thing twice, once for each language. When it comes to one on one time with a professor, for studio or thesis then its no problem at all. English is more than enough. In the major schools you can do your thesis in English as well, no problem at all.

    Outside of school is another thing altogether. Japanese education includes 6 years of English in elementary school and more in high school, and its part of all the entrance exams for university. This seems to be symbolic. If you go to a restaurant English is only common in the tourist areas. Trains and buses are at least labeled in English now, and Tokyo is getting ready for the olympics so there is more and more of it. So you can survive here no without any Japanese if you want. I absolutely recommend taking trips to places where there is no English though. That's where all the interesting things happen.

    If you really want to study only in English the most hard core place recently is at the University of Tokyo, under the guidance of Yusuke Obuchi. He keeps it all English all the time. He also is doing some kick-ass work with computational design and fabrication.


    There are many scholarships depending on where you come from, but the one that always comes up, and the one that I used to study here is called the monbukagakusho. It needs to be applied to from your own country, takes about a year to get through, and is pretty competitive. But it pays full tuition plus a living stipend that is enough to live in Tokyo on. This is the fund I used to pay for my PhD at U of Tokyo. It was not quite enough for me because I had a family, but was awesome just the same. Definitely recommend it.


    Architecture is popular in Japan and there are quite a few universities with an architecture program. The best ones are the University of Tokyo, Keio University, Waseda University, Tokyo Institute of Technology, Yokohama Graduate School of Architecture (Y-GSA).

    For the connections, U of Tokyo is the best, and if you are into computational design its also awesome. Very similar to the AA, and getting better (Kuma is also a professor there, a great way to get into his office if that is an ambition). Keio at SFC is based on project-based learning. Shigeru Ban is here, so you can imagine the students travel around building in disaster areas a lot. He is just one professor though and other profs do different things, like building zero energy houses, etc. This is the most relaxed school I have taught at so far in Japan. Waseda is more conventional in the sense that it feels more like a Western university to me, with more or less regular studios, etc. I dont know the others so well except by reputation, so I rely on google to fill in the gaps.


    Nobody ever asks me what a laboratory is. I'm not sure if it is unique to Japan or not, but it has huge consequences to the education experience. Basically when you apply to a university the person who decides your life for the duration of your study is the head of a lab, which you have to apply to when you apply to the school. This means you have to contact the professor as soon as possible in the process. If you have an idea for research it should match what your professor is interested in or s/he will likely push to change it. What it comes down to is that students in a lab are all working on one big project that the professor is guiding over the long term. Students come and go, but the work is constant and usually ambitious and interesting. The professors kind of need your work to fit in to their big idea in some way for it to make sense for them. When you apply it is useful to keep this in mind. 

    Labs rule the Japanese world the way studio does in the North American system. The reality of what this means is that while there are studio courses nobody really cares about them. Sometimes there are a few students who take it seriously, but the real work is whatever the lab is doing. At Keio this is exaggerated because our students are building and that takes a lot of time and planning and travel. It means there are no summer breaks (we build overseas during breaks, usually), and that a lot of time spent in the lab is focused on production. Our graduates are great at project management and adapting to surprises. They are not as strong at design though, because they don't really get to practice much. They will have to develop those skills in an office.

    The big upshot of all this is that the professors are leading the show. If there is going to be a cutting edge it will be on them, not the students or the school as a whole to find the way forward.

    Closely related to this is that Japanese architecture schools are mostly all founded on engineering and science. That means the master thesis is not a design but actual research. With data. Data! Architects are not normally trained to do research so its kind of hit or miss in my experience but if you are creative it is an amazing opportunity. If the lab you are in is a good fit you might even get to do work on the cutting edge.

    If you really want to focus on design I hear that the University of Tokyo allows students to do a design project instead of a paper. Apparently Keio has the same deal, but I've never seen a student go that route in the last 5 years here.

    Acclimatizing to the research led approach to architecture study is something I see students from overseas struggle with a lot. When they get it sorted its pretty cool. When it goes well its because the student has a clear idea and/or talked to their lab professor as much as possible before applying.


    • gooma

      Thank you very much for posting this! It is really a great help as I am totally lost in Japanese website...

      I got my bachelor degree in UK, I guess its education system is quite different from Japan, but I am really interested in Japanese culture and architecture and planning to study in a  master course in Japan.

      I still have few questions after reading your post ...

      Most of unis courses require N1 level, is it still possible to get into a lab without Japanese test?

      I also saw Meiji University has an English programme for graduates. Do you know anything about it?


      Thanks in advance!

      Aug 10, 16 11:19 pm  · 
      1  · 

      I dont know anything about Meiji except that I know a few of the professors in passing. It is a well regarded university.

      About English and Japanese, short answer is you can probably get into the lab without a Japanese test. You might need to take an exam to enter the university, and that is often offered in English as well as in Japanese, but that depends on the university.

      If the school is internationally oriented you should be able to do your thesis in English, so I would assume that not speaking Japanese at all is OK if you really want to. That said, the monbukagakusho scholarship has a 6 month intensive Japanese course that students are expected to take before they go into the proper program. It is not really enough to do more than get by though, so its purpose is a bit of an open question. In my case when I did PhD at U of Tokyo my professor waived the language requirement and I spent the 6 months preparing for the entrance exam and doing some work on my actual research. In the lab very few students spoke English at any level of proficiency, but that is not what I see around me so much anymore. Professors will definitely speak in English and if they are interested in you they will work out a way to have you in their lab.

      English is becoming more common, and as I mentioned above in the lab of Yusuke Obuchi you work entirely in English. I would guess that if the program is advertised as an English program then it actually will be, or mostly so (sometimes its hard to do it 100% in English). That said, at Keio I teach studio in Japanese and English; a sustainable design and architectural history entirely in English for undergrad; and a course on design thinking and business only in English as well. The only difference is that there are few masters students who want to study in English, while undergrad courses have more students, which is probably a problem in terms of making it worthwhile for the university. Universities will respond to that kind of demand issue in their own way and that is where you will see a difference.

      hope this helps

      Aug 15, 16 11:16 pm  · 

      Thank you so much for your post, it has clarified a lot. 

      Unfortunately though as soon as I start my research I get stuck again. I finished high school in May 2016 and want to apply for an undergraduate course in Architecture in Japan, in English. I have gone through all the universities you had mentioned, and was able to find out a lot about their programs, but have been able to find only one English undergraduate program at Kyoto Seika University, which also requires a Japanese language test. As soon as I go to any of the admission for any of the universities architecture always disappears under the english programs offered.

      I would be very grateful if you could give me any tips of universities where you know of that they offer English undergraduate programs. 

      Thanks in advance! 

      Oct 28, 16 7:56 pm  · 

      Do you know if any of the schools you mentioned accept payment from the US Veterans Affair aka GIBill? Also, I did some search on the schools that you mentioned but it seems like only M.Arch is offered and not B.Arch. I am interested in pursuing a career in architecture and looking to possibly study in Japan. Any advice would be greatly appreciated. Thanks in advance.

      Jan 26, 17 2:21 am  · 

      Dr. Will Galloway, I am currently trying to apply through monbukagakusho scholarship for master's degree, and i was wondering if you know a reference in which i can study from for the entrance exam at any Japanese university or past exam samples. Because I just want to get to know about how hard are the entrance exams at Japanese universities.

      Feb 10, 17 8:44 pm  · 

      About undergrad architecture schools I have not heard of any that run in English. Usually it is masters level where that becomes common. This does not mean they dont exist, I just dont know about them. Keio SFC offers a course called GIGA, which is all in English and you can take architecture courses, but if you want a professional degree in the end you need to study in Japanese (makes sense, the laws are in Japanese, so are contracts, etc). 

      Japanese websites are horrible. This is my opinion but I think its grounded in fact. Somehow they are still more for show than as places where things are expected to happen. Its a frustration for many I am sure. In general most of the information you need to enter a university is also in Japanese not English.

      About GI bill, I have no idea, but seems unlikely on the face of it.

      About exams to enter universities, once you are accepted you will have 6 months as a research student to prepare for the entrance exam. You should go to the university library and take out previous exams to study with once you arrive. The exams are not easy. In my case it was similar to the test for licensure, but much simpler. Expect some structures/math questions, a bit of history, some site planning problems. If you have practiced architecture in an office it is easier. Having said that, the exam is likely different at every university, and at UofTokyo if you take the global COE program I hear there is no exam at all. You only need to get into the program itself...

      Feb 12, 17 6:19 pm  · 

      Thank you for this great summary - this is very helpful. I am applying for an exchange for the Geidai University in Tokyo, which is the University of the Arts. Unfortunately I can not find anything about what this program is about. I was hoping maybe you know something about this school and could give me a brief overview how the design philosophy looks like? The Geidai University is famous for its music program, so I am afraid the architecture class is not their main strength.(I'm currently studying in Austria in a school with a more Sci-Arc-like orientation.) I am thankful for any help!

      Mar 2, 17 7:25 am  · 

      I don't know Geidai so well but do know one of the professors there, Tom Heneghan -you might find something about him through the google machine.

      The school location is great, next to Ueno park which is cool on its own, and includes amazing architecture by Le Corb, Kunio Maekawa as well as Taniguchi. Also a nice children's library by Tadao Ando in the area.

      I would not expect it to be Sci-Arc like, somehow, since its a govt university and those tend to be conservative...but you never know.

      Mar 3, 17 1:23 am  · 

      one thing i might add about geidai is that it is an art school where most architecture education here is based in engineering school.

      this may mean they focus more on theory and conceptual work, but i could not confirm that from experience. What I do know is that in schools taught in the engineering pool do not teach theory or conceptual clarity. Students and practitioners here tend to rely on intuition with their work and to otherwise follow practical trends. Designs are buildable and boring. They also tend to focus on how they will be inhabited by individuals, which explains why there are so many ethereal drawings and models with people living what we can imagine would be real lives. In Western tradition I feel people do not really matter to design, the goal is the architecture in and of itself (see the recent pritzker winners for reference). In Japan buildings are more like containers for people and about space more than tectonics. This seems to come, perhaps ironically, from the engineering background combined with a complete lack of interest in history, but I am again only speculating about the origin of this approach. The results are often stunning, especially when Sejima or Fujimoto are doing it. When the students and professors do not require more of themselves the outcome can be pretty lame. I do not know where Geidai rests on this scale, but they are one of the top schools in Japan, so perhaps you will find it a good experience.

      Mar 4, 17 2:42 am  · 

      Dr. Will Galloway, I am currently trying to apply through monbukagakusho scholarship for master's degree, and i was wondering if you know which universities should i mention in my forms , since i'm supposed to mention name of three universities that i will apply for them . My interest is technology and i'm studing in Iran . I like to know which fields of study i can choose and about field of research ...

      Apr 26, 17 9:19 am  · 

      When i applied for monbukagakusho i applied to university of tokyo only. I was advised to not apply to the private schools like Keio and Waseda. This is still a thing apparently. Unless you can prove that your research can only be done at Keio for instance they are unlikely to let you go there (higher tuition is the reason, I presume).

      The system has changed since I went through it. For what it is worth If I were to name three then u of tokyo, tokyo institute of technology, and maybe try keio or waseda in spite of the above.

      technology as a topic is too broad to offer any opinion about. I am not able to comment on field of research either, except that you should be specific and tailor it to the school you want to go to and the professor you will study under. I would also advise not to be overly romantic about japan and to find real information by reading articles etc. Best of luck.

      Apr 27, 17 3:58 am  · 

      sir i am final year Architectural student in one of recognized university of (kpk) Pakistan .

      sir can you help me in finding scholarship for my master study in university of japan .

      what will be the process ?

      thank you sir ..

      Apr 28, 17 3:27 pm  · 

      Try finding MEXT scholarship at the Japanese embassy in Pakistan. After that maybe you can look at ADB site. I have no other ideas, sorry.

      I'm an architect not a school Councillor ;-)

      May 1, 17 4:12 am  · 

      Dr Will, What about Parametric design method and standards . I'm very interesting in studying this field in Japan but I don't know which universities are the top in this field .Would you recommend me three universities ? Does Keio University provide English programs in this field ?  Thanks in advance 

      May 1, 17 2:44 pm  · 

      Thanks so much for the post! I'm wondering if it'd be too much trouble telling us which universities have post-grad or masters programs for architects? I'm interested in Sustainable Development and Emergency Architecture. I'm going through some websites and it's really not helping. Or maybe I should try directly contacting them?

      May 1, 17 8:39 pm  · 

      Hello Dr. Will Galloway. Thank you for all the input you've provided. It was the most helpful on the topic that I could find.
      I am an architect from Brazil, and I'm planning on applying for the MEXT scholarship for the research program.
      My question for you is: is there any online platforms that you recommend for searching professors and what they're working on, and in which schools they're developing those researches?
      Thank you in advance.

      May 29, 17 11:19 pm  · 

      hi thanks for your information you posted, my name is elio sharara i will graduate may 2018 with a master degree in architecture (duration 6 years) and i am willing to do a master and phd program in design of highrise buildings (skyscrapers)  or project management. Please send me the email adress of Dr. kuma so i can contact him. Do you suggest other universities witch are good in skyscrapers design and project management.

      Aug 6, 17 1:29 pm  · 

      thank you for all the info ! 

      I have got only one question - when i searched up for the program of Yusuke Obuchi, i didn't reslly understand who could sign up for this program ; master students or anyone? Its written there that education in architecture is not required, but its strongly preferred. On the other hand, it's mentioned that only 10 master's degree students are admitted. So basically, you could have a b.a in anything? I didn't really realised this thing.

      Could you please make it clear for me?

      Aug 15, 17 1:00 am  · 

      its a graduate school as far as i know

      Aug 24, 17 2:12 am  · 

      Hi! I'm from Paraguay, that scolarship you mentioned (thank god) exists in my country, now.. I'm a bit scared and anxious about the admissions test, my school is so far behind!! The scolarship itself is reachable, but what about the exams there? I want to apply for the U of Tokyo.. 

      Thanks a LOT for all the information! I will let you know if I ever get in there lol

      Oct 19, 17 8:32 pm  · 

      I have only now discovered this post. Thank you a lot for the gist. Finding out any information regarding admission on any Japanese university site can be quite a task in itself.

      I still have one query to make: as you talked about lab, and I think this is the first time I got to realize the purpose of the lab concepts and different research interests that a student is supposed to work on, under the professors, but here goes my stupid question. How can I say in the emails to potential supervisors, that  his research interest strongly resonated with mine, since most of the time the research topics are 'so specific'? For instance, study of juxtaposition of high-rise and low-rise building in certain 'X' area? In that case, even if my research interests don't match with his ones, should I overlook my own ideas or speak the truth as it is? My research interest lies with urban public spaces and landscape areas, but most of the professor's database I have looked at, works on a very detailed/specific urban/landscape related topic. Should I then say that,  I would like to work under his supervision since his area of concern matches mine or I find it intriguing, even if that isn't the case?

      I am sorry  for asking this question, but my undergrad degree was coursework based, so often I have struggled about how to approach architecture professors regarding research interests, since it isn't really something we did in our undergrad school. And so far it's only Japanese universities who ask about contacting a supervisor first before applying, at least in my experience. Anyway sorry for the rant, and thank you again for the informative post! And I hope you could give some feedback on this,  given your experience with the Japanese teaching field.

      Oct 23, 17 2:34 pm  · 

      About research, my advice is to make it specific. If it's interesting or fits the direction of the professor it is fine. He or she is not rigid and will certainly have the capacity to do something entirely different even than what they normally do. There will need to be some overlap, but not 100%. Keep in mind also that your topic will likely change over the time you are in university, so don't worry too much about it. Its a starting point rather than a fixed idea that you will have to carry out exactly.

      Oct 27, 17 3:14 am  · 
      Yuu San
      1. Thank you mr. Will Galloway for these precious informations. But i was wondering about how many years it takes to study architecture in Japan ,and how many it takes for the architecture PhD afterwards ?And thank you.
      Nov 13, 17 5:22 pm  · 

      m.arch is 2 years, undergrad is 4 years. I dont believe there is anything like a 5 year pro degree.

      phd is 3-5 years. phd in japan does not include very much instruction time so it can be shorter than in other countries. It's pretty focused and can be intense if you are serious.

      Defense of m.arch degree is easier in japan than in most countries, except you are required to do real academic scientific research in most schools (no final design project), which can be hard for some to get a grip on. PhD is maybe about the same as elsewhere in the world. ie, a 1 or 2 hour defense of some serious research topic in front of about 5 judges from several universities.

      Nov 14, 17 1:30 am  · 
      Yuu San

      Thank you Mr. Will for your reply ,i just still have one more question, the Japanese embassy in ky country gives mext scholarship wich can be 3-5 years of studies. So i was wondering if it was possible to study PhD as well knowing that i will be only an undergrad. And thank you.

      Nov 17, 17 11:40 am  · 

      As far as I know you have to finish a master degree before you can apply for PhD. I know many people who extended their study to include a PhD. I guess that would be 2 years m.arch + 3 years PhD. If you don't finish in that time frame you would need to pay for the extension yourself. I had to pay for the last semester myself as a MEXT student as I went over the 3.5 years they pay for. The university forgave me the tuition but I did not get any funds for housing etc after it ran out. This happens quite often for PhD. It is a good incentive I suppose.

      Nov 18, 17 5:05 am  · 

      If study in English in Japan at my university will it be risky when im applying for the architect job in Japan. Do I have to study in japanese at the university to have an job in Japan

      Nov 21, 17 7:51 am  · 

      if you want a career here in japan then yes you should learn the language.

      Nov 24, 17 2:54 am  · 

      Hi. This is so helpful. I'm currently studying architecture in my country and  I plan to study my masters in Japan. I was wondering on how much would the total cost of tuition (with no scholarship) and living expenses per year. Thank you.

      Nov 29, 17 3:17 am  · 

      Honestly I dont know. I came to Tokyo with 2 children to support and always worked. I didnt pay tuition at U of Tokyo because I had a full ride plus a living stipend of about $1600/month. I needed to earn that much more each month to pay for everything, but I know that many students lived on that amount quite easily, without a family to support. Tuition was about $5000/term I think, but I can't be trusted on that. I believe Keio is twice as much. Again take that with a grain of salt.

      food is cheap-ish. there are cheap places to rent if you dont mind old and beat up (but generally not so dirty) places. Its not as expensive or segregated as london or New York, but has some of the same problems of any world city. I live a bit outside the city center as it is cheaper. There are always trade offs and choices...

      Dec 13, 17 5:16 am  · 

      Hi there Will!

      I am a third year architecture student studying at California Polytechnic University. Next year we have a year to study abroad. I am interested in studying in Japan at University of Tokyo but am unsure whether they have international programs for undergraduate students. An information you have about undergraduate studies taught in English in Japan would be greatly appreciated!

      All the best,


      Dec 14, 17 6:27 pm  · 

      Hi Fiona

      It depends on the professor I would think. If you can get in touch with one of them I would recommend asking him or her directly. At Keio SFC campus it is normal for labs to have undergrad students from as early as 2nd year as well as grad students and PhDs. At U of Tokyo the custom was to allow undergrads to join the studio from 4th year. That may be different with Yusuke (Obuchi) or Kengo Kuma lab...

      as far as it goes the professors speak english. The  courses may not always be in english except perhaps studio. At Keio I can attest that the classes need to be in Japanese because its a professional degree and the contents are for japanese speakers who will get a license. It is a different situation for grad school, where the purpose of study is maybe not about getting a license.

      Dec 20, 17 2:12 am  · 

      Wow! Thank you Dr. Galloway for this precious information. 

      My name is Chris Aiden Cheng. I am a recent graduate student from University of California, San Diego in USA with a bachelor of art degree in Urban Studies and Planning. I applied to Meiji University’s international master program in Architecture and Urban Design a few months ago. The program is to be conducted in English. Unfortunately, I was rejected. My dream is to become an Architectural Designer, however, through my undergraduate studies I did not learn anything about designing. Most of my works were done in a paper. A lot of paper works and readings. Which I find it not suitable to my personality and ability. The only few design works I had was probably using basic sketchup. No other design skills, such as AutoCAD or Rhino. I am thinking about applying to architectural design master programs at either a vocational school or an art and design schools.  I am wondering what do you think of attending these schools rather than well-known universities like Tokyo Tech, University of Tokyo, etc. I am more of a hands-on work person. I want to attend a vocational school or an art university to learn those design skills. I do know that I need to go to a Japanese language school first. I am actually applying to a language school as we speak. 

      Looking forward to your response!

      Best regards, 

      Chris Aiden Cheng

      Dec 20, 17 7:33 am  · 

      Hi Chris

      That is a beyond my experience so I cant say if it is a good strategy or not. In Japan architects are all technically engineers and can in fact stamp their own structural drawings/calcs. Which is to say, architecture schools here tend to be part of engineering faculty. Geidai, the fine art university, has an architecture program, and is well regarded. I dont know very much about vocational schools.

      To get your license you would still have to take the exams same as everyone else. so I guess it is all the same except for the kind of access to employment that a top ranking university provides. Same as in America really.  The other difference is one you have recognized already, apart from the ivy schools there is not not much English used in Japan, so you would indeed need to learn Japanese to go to a vocational school here most likely. 

      One thing to be wary of, if you want to practice in the USA or another country, the Japanese education may not be recognized as a professional degree outside of japan. This is even more likely of the regular schools here. Do be sure to check before committing to years of education in Japan if you will be able to do what you want back home. it can be quite a dead end if you are not prepared.

      unrelated to the education itself, I would be remiss if I didn't point out that rhino and autocad are just tools and not necessarily important as far as design education goes. They have a lot of depth in terms of function but the basics can be learned in a few hours really. Unless you plan to focus on computational design I wouldn't stress too much about what software you are comfortable with.

      Dec 20, 17 8:28 am  · 

      Thank you Dr. Galloway! I will do more research about completing architecture education in foreign country. What are the chances with a student getting into Keio University’s architecture master program with a urban studies and planning degree? And really no prior architectural experience?

      Dec 20, 17 9:07 pm  · 

      It is possible. Write one of the professors with a proposal and see how far it goes is my best advice. The same as for any school. It would not be a professional degree in itself however. The license side of things is covered in undergrad here mostly, as best I understand it.

      Dec 22, 17 12:53 am  · 

      Hi Dr. Galloway,

      Your replies have answered a lot of my questions so I want to thank you for that! I just have some clarifications regarding some points you mentioned. 

      I am quite aware of the 6 month period given to learn Japanese and to get into a University for MEXT Scholars. But I can't help but worry about the difficulty of passing an entrance exam especially for a top university like University of Tokyo. I just want to get an idea about the preparation for (self-study or under some kind of tutor/class) and the difficulty of the exam itself.

      Thank you!



      Jan 2, 18 7:35 am  · 

      In addition to my previous query, I would like to ask regarding one of the points you mentioned about Architecture being under the Engineering Department. Do programs heavily rely in computations? Does expertise in physics and maths matter? I would appreciate it if you could elaborate on this!

       Thank you!



      Jan 2, 18 12:02 pm  · 

      The exams are in English or Japanese at U Tokyo. It was harder than I expected, but not impossible if you study. If you have practiced architecture it is easier. They have previous exams in the library that you can study with. There are statics and math questions but if the test is the same now as when I was there you can choose from a list of questions and can avoid them if you are not comfortable with math. About computational design, that depends entirely on the professor. See above.

      Jan 3, 18 7:55 pm  · 

      How can i study architecture Master in Keio University? Thanks for helping.

      Jan 11, 18 5:33 am  · 

      are there any japanese english books that we can read and study a little before university? Or dictionary of japanese english architecture and construction words? 

      Mar 23, 18 8:33 pm  · 

      I used to have Japanese English dictionaries for construction. Google translate has taken their place. Or if I can't find it that way I do the search in google in Japanese. Not sure if any books are out there now.

      If you want to see how things are built here the section diagrams by Atelier bow-wow are pretty good. Not really typical buildings, but the materials and details are not so far from what you can see on the street and its in english and Japanese both.

      Mar 25, 18 11:46 pm  · 


      Thank you so much for all the information. It has been really helpful. I am planning to apply to Uni of Tokyo for 2019 entry. I am from the UK with a BA Architecture degree and currently working as an Architectural Assistant in a firm specialising in healthcare and since I want to stay in this part of the industry, that's what I would want to focus on if possible at all.

      I want to go to Japan so I have the opportunity to become a fluent speaker of the language as well as carry on with my architectural education. I would (if allowed) rather go with the design route as when I'm back in the UK I will need to take RIBA Part 2 exam which will require a portfolio. Also I don't like the idea of losing my AutoCAD and Revit skills...

      Anyway, I was wondering if it's possible to actually study for the exams without going there? I don't want to quit my job as I would need to save money for tuition fees and living expenses beforehand. Also every minute I spend working in my office adds to my experience so wouldn't want to stop earlier than necessary.

      My second question is what level of Japanese would be accepted? I will have taken my N2 exam before I apply but can only hope to achieve N1 during the enrollment stages. Would this be a massive problem? It says I can take their exams in English on their website.

      Apr 3, 18 2:15 pm  · 

      U of Tokyo is not really a place that brings healthcare design to mind. If you can find a professor who is interested in the topic it should not be a problem though. My experience is that whatever you think you will study in Japan is not going to be close to the reality after you get here. The reality of the country warps intentions once you are in it.

      About Japanese, if you are at U of Tokyo and planning to go back to the UK I would not bother to learn the language, at least not for your education. It is not really needed. Professors will speak English.

      The exam is difficult to study for because it is so very broad. In my case I worked at an office in Japan while studying for 6 months, using copies of the previous tests taken from the architecture library as a guide. I was officially a research student for that period. This is pretty common for scholarship students. Unfortunately I do not know how it would work in your specific case. Without sample exams it may be hard. For what it is worth the test I did included designing a building for a given site (following the basics of japanese building code), some structure questions, some math questions, an archi-history question, and a few essay questions on theory and sustainable theory. I cant recall the format except that I could choose to answer 3 or 5 of the total question set (maybe there were 10 questions in total), meaning I could answer according to my strengths. I also recall it was not so easy, but for someone with a few years experience and a reasonable education, not so difficult either.

      I have heard some students say they got into the school without taking an exam, but do not know how that worked exactly. Perhaps they were part of a particular program. You may want to look into that and see if it is still true. 

      Apr 4, 18 8:50 am  · 

      Hai Will,

      Thank you for such an elaborate response to this questions. Appreciate it.

      One is wondering about the possibilities of working in Japan after the education or even with a foreign bachelor's degree in architecture.
      -How open are the firms there for foreign students?
      -What are they looking for essentially in an employer? Like the degree or your potential in designing (Like Portfolio)?
      -How's the pay scale for a fresher or a 4-5 years experienced architect?

      Thanks in advance.

      Apr 6, 18 2:12 am  · 

      you can work in japan from abroad.

      Aug 31, 18 5:03 am  · 

      sorry, entry went wrong and edit comment failed.

      Aug 31, 18 5:19 am  · 

      you can work in japan from abroad. portfolio may or may not be relevant. It is easier to get a job if you study here, but there is the risk of having a degree that is not valid back home, so do keep that in mind. wages are not high. Japan's economy has been stagnant for 20 years so pay is low, about $2000 to $4000/month is normal. The better the office the lower the wages. If you have special skills like BIM manager perhaps you can find a job easier than others, however I would not expect to be paid much compared to what you might make in USA or elsewhere.

      Aug 31, 18 5:23 am  · 

      Dear Will 
      I am currently studying architectural design whilst continuing my career in another unrelated profession ... & I am very passionate about Japanese architecture.  Is it possible to enter a Japanese University as an older (50+) student to study architecture?  I only intend to be my own client, so the journey of learning is what is most important to me. 

      Aug 14, 18 3:30 am  · 

      I have not seen any older students in a Japanese university. The idea is quite alien to this highly stratified society where age determines social position, and it would probably be quite a head turning experience. That said, it might be possible to study carpentry or similar if you can find an introduction. That is a more likely source for some of the older styles of building if that is what you are looking for? Architecture schools here do not really teach anything about Japanese architecture in terms of the secret behind how to make "Japanese" spaces and so on. That happens more by being born here than anything overt as far as I can tell. This is also a country that is relentlessly NOT nostalgic. You would be studying the same trends as everyone else in the world, with the only change being that the location of projects might be in Japan. So you get to make buildings that look like sejima or fujjimoto in the context where their work maybe makes the best sense...

      Aug 31, 18 5:33 am  · 

      Dear Dr. Galloway 

      I am YiLynn from Malaysia, I've just graduated from Bachelor Science (Hons) in Architecture and I'm currently working as an Asst. Architect for almost a year and a half now, mainly involved in project management. I'm eager to take up a Master Degree Program in Japan (2019).

       I have came across that university of Fukui also offer English Master program in Architecture (Environment Design & Structural Engineering), a Global Engineering Program for International Students (GEPIS). 

      I wonder if you have any knowledge in their program & university? And how would you advise me in obtaining a scholarship?  

      Another concern of me studying abroad is, will the cost of living in Tokyo comparably very much higher than Fukui?

      Nov 4, 18 9:20 am  · 

      ​i would apply for a MEXT scholarship. It is the best option that I know of. Apply from your own country through the Japanese embassy closest to you. You can find information on their website (Japan embassy in your country). cost of living in Tokyo is not so high. Probably not hugely different in Fukui, though I guess there would be somewhat lower rent. Tokyo is not like London or other world cities where people are priced out of living there. Mixed use, mixed-income, etc, is pretty normal, meaning it is not impossible to live in tokyo on a student budget.

      Nov 4, 18 11:12 pm  · 

      Thank you very much for your valuable information on MEXT Scholarship and the living cost. Would appreciate if you could also give me some advice on the Environment Design & Structural Engineering Master Course (under Global Engineering Program for International Students) that University of Fukui offer.

      Nov 6, 18 11:10 am  · 

      i have no idea about the program unfortunately. school is generally about the student more than the teachers but if you find a professor who is doing something that is interesting for you it is a good place to start. It depends on what you are hoping to get from the process. If its connections to the industry then I would recommend tokyo. if its really about a particular kind of research project then go for the professor.

      Nov 10, 18 10:09 pm  · 

      Hi Will, I am so glad I found your website.

      I am in late 30s planning to switch career path from computer engineering to architecture. I have some background in Artificial Intelligence and am strong with computer languages, but very little Japanese language skills. I have no educational background in architecture but I have lots of passion, and no wife or children, yet (haha).

      1. Is there are particular field in Architecture & school you would recommend for me? I am living in Taiwan planning to move to Japan next year (2019). 

      2. Do you know of architecture firms that is hiring computer engineers? I am planning to either get a scholarship (not sure if possible at my age) and/or work part time and go to architecture school. 

      Thanks so much for your time and look forward to hearing from you!

      Nov 17, 18 9:42 pm  · 

      I cant add much to the original post, except to suggest there is a lack of BIM and computational design skills in Japan in comparison to the rest of the world. That was part of the reason Zaha Hadid's stadium was so expensive. Lots of graduates from U Tokyo Obuchi lab are beginning to fill that gap. Keio University's Yasushi Ikeda lab is also strongly oriented to BIM, but on the construction side, where Japan is decades behind the curve. This does not mean there is any work per se for these specialties but it is certainly one way to stand out. Large companies are also starting to invest in this side of the profession. Places like Ni kken and so on.

      Nov 19, 18 5:42 pm  · 

      hey this was really helpful and probably the best article written on the internet. Thank you for this. I had some queries as in i am a Japanese citizen but I’ve been living in Bangladesh since 2008 and I’m planning to move back to Japan and study architecture. But what I’ve been planning to do is go there after im done with my O levels (10th grade) and then go for foundation and study in bachelors degree. But I haven’t seen any unis that offer foundation nor bachelors in Japan for architecture. Now what am I supposed to do? Should i study in other country and then come back to Japan for masters? I’m really confused. 

      Nov 20, 18 10:56 pm  · 

      there are lots of undergrad degrees in architecture. It is usually in faculty of engineering. Keio SFC and Yagami campuses both offer undergrad courses (i believe), as does u tokyo etc. They are in Japanese though, not English. I dont know of any undergrad architecture courses that go beyond intro to architecture theory/history and so on. Entrance exam at undergrad level to U Tokyo is pretty harsh. Keio SFC is lighter and they tend to be more open-minded in my opinion, which is better if you are coming from another country and dont quite get the Japanese way of doing things (which can be irrational in some ways, same as any country). I would advise to study in the country you want to practice unless the degree has value wherever you are going. In Asia a Japanese degree may be helpful still. It is nothing special in Europe or USA.

      Nov 26, 18 3:44 am  · 

      Thank you Dr. Gallaway for precious information.

      I am planning to take master program, and very interested to Takafumi Noguchi's lab at U of Tokyo. I really need some advice from you what i need to do first. Do I need to email the professor first (in this case I don't have it, I hope you can help me with this) or I need to apply MEXT first?Thank you in advance.

      Best Regards,


      Dec 8, 18 2:40 am  · 

      sorry i dont have his email and it would not be correct to share it on this kind of forum if I did. 

      About applying to MEXT, yes write to the professor to see if he is interested in having you as his student.

      Start the application at the same time. You will be required to suggest who you will study with, and if the topic matches the work of the professor you may get to work with him. If you really want to work with a particular person then be sure to tie your research topic very clearly to the work of whoever you are asking to work with. I cant say very much else about MEXT other than it is a great fund and I always recommend it to people who want to study in Japan. It is also quite competitive so do be sure to spend enough time on it.

      Dec 11, 18 1:14 am  · 

      Dr Gallaway

      Hello!  Thanks for the info, but is it possible for you to speak more about the architectural approach and labs of the Yokohama University? just to get an idea

      thank you in advance!

      Dec 13, 18 10:06 am  · 

      i dont have any direct knowledge unfortunately. The professors have a strong interest in urban side of design and i would expect them to be serious about design as an art, somehow. This is my intuition not backed up by anything I can confirm so please take the comment with a large grain of salt. I would advise looking at the work of the professors at the school as a good guide to what is taught. Professors here are definitely of the master/pupil persuasion and there is not any history of professors learning WITH their students on a shared journey. This is not intended as a negative comment in any way, only that what you see is what you get. A good rule of thumb perhaps...and a vague answer I know. Hope its useful anyway.

      Dec 14, 18 6:15 am  · 

      Thanks for sharing those information Dr. Galloway,

      It's still confusing for me on the language part. 

      You mentioned that we can study in architecture without Japanese at all in most case, but I haven't found any information on Keio's english website except this: It didn't mention the admission process or the faculty contacts either. So...Can I entry the program without learning Japanese from what you know? Any other exam needs to be taken?

      I'm a undergraduate architecture student in Sydney uni and I found that most of Japanese architecture programs are lab base instead of a coursework one. It's more like a research degree rather than a taught degree. Would it be a problem for registered? I know you might not be familiar with Australia but I think it's similar in Commonweath countries.

      Thanks again!

      Jan 26, 19 9:21 am  · 

      you can do the courses in english only. It is better to work in Japanese and if you want to take the Japanese license exam you need to take courses that are not available in English (this is rational, the exam is not in English).

      Jan 26, 19 6:48 pm  · 

      about accreditation, if you plan to work in australia i suppose you would be better of getting your professional degree in australia. As far as I know there is very little acceptance of foreign degrees across the globe. Studying in Japan is especially isolating. Japan can accept foreign degrees along with experience in order to take their exams, but I am not sure how well it works the other way around. Best advice is to ask the local architecture board and find out directly. As far as the kind of education, yes you are correct the system here is very much a research degree. Academia here requires that you get an academic degree. That means research, based on your professors work. You can do your own thing of course, but it will probably be shaped by your professor quite a lot, and in any case will need to meet academic standards. That means for a master degree you do research, with some kind of hard data and information that you can communicate to others. The design aspect of the final project is minimal and usually zero. At Keio SFC the students build so you could easily be building a wikihouse in nepal or similar, which then becomes a research on joints or computational design, etc etc.

      Jan 26, 19 6:55 pm  · 

      Good day.

      Thank you for this post and loads of information. I am a parent who is trying to look for options for my daughter to study abroad. We are from South Africa and currently as safety, academic's and economy is going we believe she might have a better future studying and working outside our country. She is in high school currently (grade 10) thus 2 years to go and she loves Engineering Graphics & Design at school and is considering a studying Architecture. Her brother is going to study Bio-technology in Japan in 2020. Thus we naturally started looking for options for her also to study in Japan and started to wonder regarding the degree that she gets in Japan. Will this allow her to go work in other countries if she does not wish to work in Japan ? I read what you said about the  accreditation in Australia and this is why I started thinking about it, as she might want to move to a western country if all does not work out (although her brother seems set to stay in Japan). They are both learning Japanese, but more to communicate instead as to study in it currently.  I know this question is basically out of scope for your post, but was hoping for your thoughts on this as you might have more experience of working in different countries and the view of the world on degrees from Japan ?

      Thank you for your time and help in Advance and have a wonderful day

      Johannes Pretorius

      Feb 17, 19 9:17 am  · 

      I can't add much to the above. Any professional degree is best taken in the country a person expects to practice, regardless of the field. There are ways around this but they aren't easy, and I wouldn't recommend it. For non-professional degrees I suppose Japan is as good a place as any, except for the lack of name value outside of Japan.

      Feb 18, 19 7:49 am  · 


      Thank you for all that information, its quite an eye-opener. I will graduate with a Bachelor of Environmental Design(Hons) later this year and and I am interested in studying an M.Arch from outside my country. I am from Uganda by the way. 

      My interests lie around sustainable design, net zero energy and emergency relief housing among others. What are my chances of getting into one of the Universities you have listed above considering the type of undergraduate program i did? Also, what may be your recommendations based on some of my interests? Thank you.

      Feb 19, 19 11:08 am  · 

      i cant add much to the above except to repeat that the MEXT scholarship is quite good for foreign nationals looking for a smooth entry into the Japanese education system. You might also be able to get funding through the ADB, which has connections to various universities in Japan and is similar to the MEXT scholarship. I have no advice on how to get these other than to point out their existence. As for the topic and the degree I would guess they are both great. Since masters degree is about the professors more than the institution it will be most important to make a connection with a professor in Japan and get their support in the application. Keio could be a good fit, but I would look further afield as well, including u of tokyo, etc. good luck!

      Feb 19, 19 7:06 pm  · 
      Micky Darto

      Dr Galloway,

      Thank you so much for the eye opening information. I truly believe this post would be an excellent guide for studying Architecture in Japan.
      I am in a current confusion of choosing a PhD program in Architecture between private and public universities through MEXT. My field of study will be almost related to computation, environment, and new visualization techs etc..

      My top choices are Keio SFC and Osaka U. Out of confusion, do you know about Osaka U's reputation in architecture education among Japanese universities, and compared to Tokyo based universities? Does its graduates get employed easily at top tier companies like Nikken sekkei etc? or have positions in other Japanese universities? Anyway, is it better to go for the prof. name or university name? how much the supervisor being a star in his field can impact (positively or negatively) in your future career after graduation?

      While Keio seems prestigious, I am a little worried that SFC offers no dorms at Fujisawa so you have to pay for private from day 1, so is it livable for a student with family to be there solely on the mext fund? Also, the PhD there seems to be offered in Media and Governance but not in Engineering or Design etc. Also, I felt like Keio labs are focusing on design competitions and practical works more than publishing journal papers that correct? if so, does this affect getting academic positions upon graduation?

      Looking forward to knowing your advice..

      Mar 8, 19 3:38 am  · 

      the MEXT scholarship is def enough to live on if you are on your own. It is harder with a family. Tokyo is not so expensive compared to other world cities though and I never had to worry about paying the rent, with the MEXT scholarship and some freelancework. SFC is north of Yokohama so even cheaper. Less food choices and too quiet for my taste, but there are lots of options, and if you like it quiet then the nearest town, Shonandai, is friendly enough. I cannot guarantee that you will find it easy, but it is not impossible. As far as the PHD goes with publication, you will need to publish 2 or 3 peer-review journal articles (I think) for PhD at keio, before you do your final defense. You will also need to prepare a course outline, and I suppose you may be called on to give a lecture or two and help out with graduate students in one way or another. So you will get some experience academically. I would recommend also getting reviews from profs and peers back home to be sure you are writing at the level you need outside of Japan. PhD is not easy anywhere but the focus is different in Japan than elsewhere. Regarding the faculty name, it is not actually meaningful as the school is based on the idea that students will make their own curriculum, so architects and computer programmers graduate with the same degree and vastly different specialties. The school is also set up so people work across fields a lot, which is not normal in Japan, or anywhere actually. As a piece of general advice I would say that PhD is mostly about learning how to do a PhD and not about becoming a good teacher or theorist or researcher. If you are serious about it then you can take it in that direction, however it is not an automatic thing. My experience is that it takes a few years after graduation to get any good at those things, often while teaching as an adjunct professor, which sucks as a position. About Osaka, I dont know anything about the university I am afraid. I can say that Osaka is a much friendlier part of Japan culturally speaking. Its kind of like the working class part of the country compared to Tokyo as financial centre. If you are staying in Japan it works well enough as a place to be. I suppose Keio may give more reputation wise in Japan, and perhaps outside too, since we are associated with maki, sejima, and shigeru ban. If you are thinking about working in office I would imagine if you can do computational design you will be able to get a job in most companies, like Nikken Sekkei or Tanaka, etc. They are looking for people with those skills as most schools here do not tech them. If that is your goal then I would think about who your professor is connected to as they will be the ones to make an intro. The profs name value will be important in that regard. In daily life Keio will carry more prestige and maybe open more doors, at least in tokyo. If any more questions feel free to message me.

      Mar 9, 19 3:25 am  · 
      Micky Darto

      Thanks so much for your reply,

      Mar 9, 19 9:36 am  · 
      Micky Darto

      You mentioned earlier that for mext, it's not advisable to put a private uni as first choice, as they will mostly relacotes to the next public choice in your list. However, is putting keio as the first and only choice is a wise move?

      Mar 9, 19 9:39 am  · 

      I dont know to be honest. When I did MEXT the professor signed the application and that is who you went with. The system is different now. At the time I was advised (not officially and not by a govt rep) to not use a professor from a private school as it would reduce my chances of acceptance. I am guessing this is about cost and bureaucracy. If your research can be done by another professor in another school I suppose MEXT will choose the one they think works best. In which case you should be thoughtful about how you present your research topic. This is true in any case. Having said all of that, there are MEXT students at keio, so it is clearly not a fixed rule. My advice is to ask the professor you are hoping to work with for her/his advice.

      Mar 9, 19 11:27 pm  · 

      Thank you for this great post.

      May I ask to get through architecture master's exam, is there any textbook or any kind of review material that you can recommend? I am in Tokyo now and planing to take Tokyo university's admission exam in August this year. I got previous exam papers and analyzed them, found that I can handle structure and mathematics questions, but history and city-planning questions are hard to grip. I'm still confusing about to solve these two questions, what kind of reference book should I choose... Could you tell me what did you do about it at that time?

      Your advice means a lot to me, thanks in advance!

      Apr 8, 19 4:57 am  · 

      I did the same thing. I studied the old exams. I had already worked for 5 years in Japan when I did the tests though, so I could answer most of the planning type problems. They were not so hard, in my memory a least. One of the books that I find really useful still is the MEMO book published each year that converts most of the building code into flash card summaries with really great graphics. If you can read a bit of Japanese it is a really excellent resource. For history and city planning if its the western history and you went to a western school I guess your education should more than cover it. For Japanese architecture I can't recommend anything specifically, but the book by Andre Sorenson called "The Making of Urban Japan: Cities and Planning from Edo to the Twenty First Century" is the best English book on the subject that I am aware of. It is an easy read and covers pretty much the entire history of Japan to modern times.

      Apr 16, 19 1:46 am  · 

      Thanks for your advice. The book you recommended provides a very comprehensive and complete view to Japanese architecture. I'll take it as a reference. And here I found a more condensed version----- 建築計画(architecture planning?) which may be useful for preparing for exam. But it seems like there is no English version of that book...

      May 30, 19 9:42 am  · 

      Now I'm still working on reviewing, hope I'll make it. Thank you again .

      May 30, 19 10:01 am  · 

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About this Blog

keio university's architecture program is probably the best kept secret in the country. Hidden away on a campus an hour from tokyo the curriculum is wide open and connected to a campus-wide project aimed at community-driven innovation. students of economics can take courses in architecture and vice versa but we all are expected to take part in real projects somewhere in the world. there are a few starchitects on the faculty but mostly we are hoping to make a difference.

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