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Useful Notes / Japanese Universities

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There are over 700 universities in Japan, one of the most educated countries on Earth. 21 Nobel Laureates (in the natural sciences and Economics) have come from Japan, second only to the United States. In the 2016 QS Asia Ranking, out of the top 50 universities in Asia, 10 are in Japan. Here is a list of the most notable universities in Japan.

Public and national universities

National universities are generally seen as more prestigious than public or private universities. There are 86 national universities in Japan, whose funding is directly controlled by the Ministry of Education (known as MEXT in Japannote ). There are also 89 public universities that are run by municipal, prefectural or regional governments. Just to make things even more confusing, all national universities were partially privatized in 2004, and are now known as National University Corporations (国立大学法人). While still part of the public sector and funded by the Japanese government, they were able to have far more autonomy in their management, and university staff would no longer be civil servants.note 


旧帝国大学 (Seven Imperial Universities)

Between 1886 and 1939, Imperial Japan established and operated nine "Imperial Universities" (帝国大學), designed to be the supreme institutions of higher learning in the Empire. These are now known informally as the Former Imperial Universities (旧帝国大学)note . Of these nine, two were established in occupied territories (Taiwan and Korea); those are now National Taiwan Universitynote  and Seoul National University.note  The other seven were on the Japanese mainland, and to distinguish between the two groups, are informally called the Seven Imperial Universitiesnote . The alumni club of the nine Imperial Universities (including NTU and SNU until after the Second World War) is known as Gakushikai (学士会), or Bachelor's Association. All Imperial Universities in Japan received their current names in 1947, when the term "Imperial" was stricken from them.


  • University of Tokyo (東京大学): Todai (東大) for short, Established in 1886 as Imperial University (帝國大學), renamed Tokyo Imperial University in 1897 (東京帝國大學). The granddaddy of all Japanese universities, Japan's equivalent of every Ivy League college, Stanford, Berkeley, MIT, Duke and Johns Hopkins, all rolled into one and multiplied by a factor of ten. Its main campus is located in the Hongo area of Tokyo's Bunkyo Ward. Like many with prestigious universities in Tokyo, the Hongo campus is close to the old outer moat of Edo Castle, the palace of the Tokugawa Shogunate (which was transformed into the Imperial Palace during the Meiji Restoration), and sits on land that was once an estate of a powerful warlord. In this case, the estate of the Maeda daimyo; the Maeda clan was the most powerful of the Edo clans (second only to the Tokugawa clan) and had some of the closest ties to the Shogun during the feudal period.
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  • Kyoto University (京都大学): Kyodai (京大) for short, located in the former capital of Kyoto. In most domestic rankings, Todai and Kyodai are a 1-2 for most prestigious universities in the country.
  • Osaka University (大阪大学): Handai (阪大) for short, located in Osaka, Japan's traditional center of commerce and the hub of western Japan. In most domestic rankings, Handai is ranked 3rd, but sometimes ranked 2nd ahead of Kyodai.
  • Nagoya University (名古屋大学): Meidai (名大) for short, located in Nagoya, Japan's center of manufacturing and the hub of central Japan.
  • Tohoku University (東北大学): Tohokudai (東北大) for short, located in Sendai, the capital and largest city of Miyagi Prefecture, and the hub of northern Honshu in general and the Tohoku region in particular. Tohokudai is spread out over five campuses in Sendai, the main campus being in Aobayama, home to Aoba Castle which was built by the legendary Tohoku warlord Date Masamune. Tohokudai has the largest number of international students of any university in Japan. The campus buildings were heavily damaged by the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, and classes were suspended for two months. However, none of the campuses were damaged by the ensuing tsunami since they were all at least twelve kilometers inland. On December 6, 2015, Aobayama Station on the Sendai Subway Tozai Line opened, connecting the Aobayama campus to the city's subway network and replacing the various city bus routes that connected the campus to JR Sendai Station.
  • Kyushu University (九州大学): Kyudai (九大) for short, located in Fukuoka, the capital and largest city in Fukuoka Prefecture, and the hub of southern Japan in general and of the island of Kyushu in particular.
  • Hokkaido University (北海道大学): Hokudai (北大) for short, located in Sapporo, the capital and largest city of Hokkaido Prefecture, and the hub of northern Japan in general and of the island of Hokkaido in particular.

High-prestige national universities in Tokyo

Hitotsubashi University and Tokyo Tech are some of the most prestigious national universities in Japan that weren't previously Imperial Universities. Sometimes, they are combined with the Seven Imperial Universities to create the Japanese acronym 旧帝一工 (kyutei-ichikou).

  • Hitotsubashi University (一橋大学): English shorthand of Hit U, Japanese shorthand of Hitotsubashi (一橋). It is perhaps the most prestigious university in Japan for the social sciences, economics and business (but not the most prestigious in all of Asia; that honor goes to the National University of Singapore or Peking University, and even in Japan, the University of Tokyo gives Hitotsubashi a run for its money in the social sciences). The campus used to be located in central Tokyo (like Todai, developed on old daimyo estates near Edo Castle), in Hitotsubashi, Chiyoda-ku, but was moved to Kunitachi City in suburban west Tokyo after the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake.
  • Tokyo Institute of Technology (東京工業大学): Known as Tokyo Tech in English and Tokodai (東工大) in Japanese shorthand, the Tokyo Institute of Technology is one of the most prestigious universities in Japan in technology, the physical sciences and engineering. Its campus is located in an affluent residential area of Meguro-ku.

Other national and public universities within Tokyo

Other national and public universities in the broader Tokyo area (including Yamanashi and Shizuoka)

  • Yokohama National University (横浜国立大学, YNU)
  • Yokohama City University (横浜市立大学, YCU): A "public university" operated by the Yokohama City Government.
  • Chiba University (千葉大学): Chibadai (千葉大) for short
  • Saitama University (埼玉大学): Saidai (埼大) for short
  • University of Yamanashi (山梨大学): Nashidai (梨大) for short, located in Kofu. Its agriculture program might not be as prestigious as TUAT's, but considering how much agriculture plays a role in Yamanashi Prefecture's economynote , it's no surprise that Nashidai has one of the strongest agriculture programs of the mid-tier national universities.
  • Utsunomiya University (宇都宮大学): Udai (宇大) for short, located in Utsunomiya, the capital of Tochigi Prefecture and right on the Tohoku Shinkansen. Utsunomiya University has one of the strongest education programs of any university in north Kanto.
  • Gunma University (群馬大学): Gundai (群大) for short, located in Maebashi.
  • University of Tsukuba (筑波大学): Tsukubadai (筑波大) for short, located in Tsukuba City in coastal Ibaraki Prefecture. Well known for its engineering and computer science programs. Unlike the city of its namesake, the university name is written in kanji (筑波) and not hiragana (つくば)
  • Shizuoka University (静岡大学): Shizudai (静大) for short. Its campuses are spread out over various locations in Shizuoka City (which have a great backdrop of Mount Fuji) and Hamamatsu City.

Higher-ranked national universities outside of Tokyo

  • Kobe University
  • Hiroshima University

Private universities

There are over 600 private universities in Japan. Most of them are seen as inferior to national universities or even public universities.

早慶 (Soukei)

This is an abbreviation for two of the most prestigious private universities in Tokyo. Popularized by Soukeisen (早慶戦), the twice-annual baseball game between these two schools that is a national sensation.

  • Keio University (慶應義塾大学): Keio (慶應) or Keidai (慶大) for short. It is the oldest institution of higher learning in Japan, established during the late Edo period and older than even the University of Tokyo. Confused from where 義塾 comes from? The founder, while traveling overseas as part of the Shogun's diplomatic mission (one of the few ways that Japanese people could leave the country in feudal times without being executed under the Sakoku edict), studied at Brown University and wanted to establish an equivalent institution in Japan. The school's original name was Keio Gijuku (慶應義塾). Gijuku was an old name for a school operated by a private entity for the public good; most institutions of higher learning during that time were designed to educate the samurai and daimyo classes.
  • Waseda University (早稲田大学): Soudai (早大) for short. Unlike Keio, Waseda was established after Japan opened itself to the outside world, established in 1882 by the son of a former samurai of the Saga clan. Waseda ranks a bit lower than Keio in academic rankings, and has produced three prime ministers (including Junichiro Koizumi) as compared to Keio's six (!), but generally speaking, they are academic equals.

Other prestigious private universities in Tokyo

  • Sophia University (上智大学)
  • Nihon University (日本大学): Nichidai (日大) for short. Known for producing many CEOs.
  • International Christian University (国際基督教大学): Known as ICU for short in both English and Japanese.
  • Tokyo University of Science (東京理科大学): 理科大 or 理大 for short.
  • Tsuda College (津田塾大学): Japan's most prestigious university for women. Alma mater of Tomoko Namba, the founder of DeNA.
  • Seikei University (成蹊大学): Known as 成蹊大 for short or just 成蹊. Established by the Mitsubishi zaibatsu and still retains close ties to the Mitsubishi Group to this day. Alma mater of current Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe.

MARCH Universities

The acronym MARCH refers to Meiji University, Aoyama Gakuin University, Rikkyo University, Chuo University and Hosei University. These are all private universities in Tokyo that aren't quite to the standard of Soukei, but still plenty prestigous nonetheless.

  • Meiji University: Meidai (明大) for short. Known for having Japan's most prestigious law school. There is a major transfer station on the Keio Linenote  near the university, appropriately enough known as Meidaimae (明大前).
  • Aoyama Gakuin University
  • Rikkyo University
  • Chuo University
  • Hosei University
  • Gakushuin University: Educators of the Imperial Family for over 150 years. Emperor Akihito and Crown Prince Naruhito have both studied at Gakushuin. Although not strictly part of the MARCH acronym, it is often included when talking about MARCH universities.

Other prestigious private universities in Japan

  • Ritsumeikan University
  • Doshisha University

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