MPhil in Japanese Studies | University of Oxford
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MPhil in Japanese Studies

About the course

The MPhil in Japanese Studies is a two-year programme offered jointly by the Faculty of Oriental Studies and the School of Interdisciplinary Area Studies that combines intensive language courses, three courses about Japan, research methods courses and a 30,000-word dissertation. Native speakers of Japanese take two additional courses about Japan.

The MPhil in Japanese Studies is designed as a two-year, six-term taught programme that comprises advanced research training focusing on developing language skills and on deepening your understanding of contemporary Japan.

It acts either as a foundation for those intending to seek employment working in Japan or with the Japanese, or as a preparation for further research on Japan on a doctoral programme at Oxford or elsewhere. It is taught by full-time members of the Nissan and Oriental Institutes and all the courses are designed for master's-level students.

The department does not teach Japanese for beginners but rather aims to develop your existing language skill to the level at which you can use it to conduct research about Japan. The department's courses aim to take you from a minimum of JLPT Level 3 up to and beyond Level 1.

There are eight components to the MPhil degree.

In the first year, you will take:

  • a core course on research methods
  • two courses about Japan chosen from the following options (NB not all options may be offered every year):
    • Modern Japanese History
    • Japanese Linguistics
    • Modern Japanese Literature and Film
    • Japanese Politics
    • Japanese Economics
    • Japanese Social Anthropology
    • Sociology of Japanese Society
    • Classical Japanese Literature
    • Classical Japanese
    • Old (8th century) Japanese Texts
    • Modern Japanese Literary Texts
    • Texts in Japanese Linguistics
    • Classical Japanese Texts
  • the Japanese language course (or a further course about Japan if you have native-speaker language competence).
In the second year of the course, you will go on to take:
  • one or more courses on research methods in the appropriate department
  • one course about Japan
  • the advanced Japanese language course or a further course about Japan
  • a thesis of 30,000 words.

All the courses about Japan have been designed for students at the graduate level and most students will be on the Japanese studies programme. Some courses may also be taken by students who are studying elsewhere in the university - for example, the course on Japanese politics is an option for both Japanese studies students and students on the MPhil in Politics (Comparative Government).

A range of assessment methods is used:

  • the research methods course is assessed on the basis of projects and tasks set in the course of teaching;
  • the language course is assessed through a combination of tests and quizzes set during the year and a final examination; and
  • the courses about Japan are assessed by a three-hour written examination in English in the chosen subjects.

Progression to the second year is conditional on satisfactory performance in the first year.

Graduate destinations

There are three typical career courses that the department’s graduates pursue. The first is further study on discipline-based graduate programmes either in Oxford, elsewhere in the UK or overseas, including the US and Japan.

The second career pattern of the department’s graduates is to work in Japan or with Japanese employers. Recent examples include Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Mitsubishi Fuso (Daimler Trucks) and Mitsui-Sumitomo Bank. Not only Japanese native speakers but also non-native-speaker graduates obtain employment in Japan or with Japanese companies outside Japan, making full use of their enhanced Japanese language skills and social science knowledge of Japan.

The third route is to professional careers with such companies as Accenture, KPMG, and Ernst & Young, in which the department’s alumni can utilise their presentation skills both in English and Japanese, and their critical thinking skills.

Related courses

Changes to the course

The University will seek to deliver this course in accordance with the description set out in this course page. However, there may be situations in which it is desirable or necessary for the University to make changes in course provision, either before or after registration. For further information, please see our page on changes to courses.

Entry requirements for entry in 2017-18

Within equal opportunities principles and legislation, applications will be assessed in the light of an applicant’s ability to meet the following entry requirements:

1. Academic ability

Proven and potential academic excellence

Applicants are normally expected to be predicted or have achieved a first-class or strong upper second-class undergraduate degree with honours (or equivalent international qualifications), as a minimum, in any subject or discipline, although it is preferable to have some social sciences or humanities background.

For applicants with a degree from the USA, the minimum GPA sought is 3.5 out of 4.0.

If you hold non-UK qualifications and wish to check how your qualifications match these requirements, you can contact the National Recognition Information Centre for the United Kingdom (UK NARIC).

No Graduate Record Examination (GRE) or GMAT scores are sought.

For non-native speakers of Japanese, Japanese language proficiency equivalent to the Japan Foundation Japanese-Language Proficiency Level N4 is required, and in general, an aptitude for Japanese language learning.

Other appropriate indicators will include:

Supporting documents

You will be required to supply supporting documents with your application, including references and an official transcript. See 'How to apply' for instructions on the documents you will need and how these will be assessed.

Performance at interview(s)

Interviews are not normally held as part of the admissions process.  


Publications are not required. 

Other qualifications, evidence of excellence and relevant experience

  • Research or working experience in Japan may be an advantage.
  • Preference may be given to those who have previously studied social sciences or humanities.
  • Evidence of training in the Japanese language is required.

2. English language requirement

Applicants whose first language is not English are usually required to provide evidence of proficiency in English at the higher level required by the University.

3. Availability of supervision, teaching, facilities and places

The following factors will govern whether candidates can be offered places:

  • The ability of the Nissan Institute of Japanese Studies to provide the appropriate supervision, research opportunities, teaching and facilities for your chosen area of work. 
  • Minimum and maximum limits to the numbers of students who may be admitted to Oxford's research and taught programmes.

The provision of supervision, where required, is subject to the following points:

  • The allocation of graduate supervision is the responsibility of the Nissan Institute of Japanese Studies and it is not always possible to accommodate the preferences of incoming graduate students to work with a particular member of staff. 
  • Under exceptional circumstances a supervisor may be found outside the Nissan Institute of Japanese Studies.

Where possible your academic supervisor will not change for the duration of your course. However, it may be necessary to assign a new academic supervisor during the course of study or before registration for reasons which might include sabbatical leave, maternity leave or change in employment.

4. Disability, health conditions and specific learning difficulties

Students are selected for admission without regard to gender, marital or civil partnership status, disability, race, nationality, ethnic origin, religion or belief, sexual orientation, age or social background.

Decisions on admission are based solely on the individual academic merits of each candidate and the application of the entry requirements appropriate to the course.

Further information on how these matters are supported during the admissions process is available in our guidance for applicants with disabilities.

5. Assessors

All recommendations to admit a student involve the judgment of at least two members of academic staff with relevant experience and expertise, and additionally must be approved by the Director of Graduate Studies or Admissions Committee (or equivalent departmental persons or bodies).

Admissions panels or committees will always include at least one member of academic staff who has undertaken appropriate training.

6. Other information

Whether you have yet secured funding is not taken into consideration in the decision to make an initial offer of a place, but please note that the initial offer of a place will not be confirmed until you have completed a Financial Declaration.


Oxford University IT Services runs courses on various computer programmes and can offer help and guidance.

Oxford University has an extensive library system and the Bodleian Japanese Library (BJL) is the main lending service within the University for the material you will require. A large part of its material can be borrowed for a limited period.  It is located within the same building as the Nissan Institute. A tutorial on using the library and IT facilities will be provided during the first weeks of the programme by the librarian at the BJL.

The Nissan Institute provides students with the use of a study room that has desk space, chairs and storage for student belongings.  Wireless internet access is available throughout the building and there is an internet socket available should you wish to use it.  The student room also contains a collection of Japanese and English books and dictionaries, DVDs and a DVD/VCR player, a TV and access to JSTV, the Japanese language television service. This room is available to all students on the MSc and MPhil courses during normal office hours.

The Nissan Seminar runs weekly over the Michaelmas (autumn), Hilary (spring) and well into Trinity (summer) terms. Each week, speakers with a national and international reputation in Japanese studies are invited to present a paper about their current research. Attendance at the Nissan Institute Seminar is an integral part of the programme.

In addition, the Nissan Research Seminar provides an arena for graduate students working on Japan to meet weekly during Michaelmas and Trinity terms to exchange ideas about their work in progress. Master’s students are welcomed into this graduate research community. 


There are over 1,000 full graduate scholarships available across the University, and these cover your course and college fees and provide a grant for living costs. If you apply by the relevant January deadline and fulfil the eligibility criteria you will be automatically considered. Over two thirds of Oxford scholarships require nothing more than the standard course application. Use the Fees, funding and scholarship search to find out which scholarships you are eligible for and if they require an additional application, full details of which are provided.

A number of Research Council awards are available each year from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), and Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC). A number of awards are also available from the Ertegun Scholarship Programme.


Annual fees for entry in 2017-18

Fee status

Tuition fee

College fee

Total annual fees

(including Islands)

The fees shown above are the annual tuition and college fees for this course for entry in the stated academic year; for courses lasting longer than one year, please be aware that fees will usually increase annually. For details, please see our guidance on likely increases to fees and charges.

Tuition and college fees are payable each year for the duration of your fee liability (your fee liability is the length of time for which you are required to pay tuition and college fees).

For more information about tuition fees, college fees and fee liability, please see the Fees section of this website. EU applicants should refer to our dedicated webpage for details on the impact of the result of the UK referendum on its membership of the European Union.

Additional information

There are no compulsory elements of this course that entail additional costs beyond fees and living costs.  However, as part of your course requirements, you may need to choose a dissertation, a project or a thesis topic. Please note that, depending on your choice of topic and the research required to complete it, you may incur additional expenses, such as travel expenses, research expenses, and field trips. You will need to meet these additional costs, although you may be able to apply for small grants from your department and/or college to help you cover some of these expenses.

Living costs

In addition to your tuition and college fees, you will need to ensure that you have adequate funds to support your living costs for the duration of your course.

For the 2017-18 academic year, the range of likely living costs is between £1,002 and £1,471 for each month spent in Oxford. Full information, including a breakdown of likely living costs in Oxford for items such as food, accommodation and study costs, is available on our Living costs page.

How to apply

You may wish to communicate with the department via the contact details provided on this page to discuss course content, teaching, assessment and to ask any questions. However, it is not necessary to contact academic staff before you apply.

The set of documents you should send with your application to this course comprises the following:

Official transcript(s)

Your transcripts should give detailed information of the individual grades received in your university-level qualifications to date. You should only upload official documents issued by your institution and any transcript not in English should be accompanied by a certified translation.

More information about the transcript requirement is available in the Application Guide.


A CV/résumé is compulsory for all applications. Most applicants choose to submit a document of one to two pages highlighting their academic achievements and any relevant professional experience.

Statement of purpose/personal statement:
500 words

Your statement should be written in English and explain your motivation for applying for the course at Oxford, your relevant experience and education, and the specific areas that interest you. 

This will be assessed for:

  • relevant academic, research, or practical experience
  • your reasons for applying to this particular programme of study
  • areas of study in the subject that interest you
  • the ability to present a reasoned case in English.

Your statement should focus on academic rather than personal achievements, interests and aspirations.

Written work:
Two essays of 2,000 words each

Academic essays or other writing samples from your most recent qualification, written in English, are required. Extracts of the requisite length from longer work are also permissible.

If necessary, you should arrange translation of your written work into English. Where written work has been translated, you must ensure that the fact it has been translated, and the person and the method of translation, is clearly identified.

The work does not necessarily need to relate closely to the proposed area of study. The word count does not need to include any bibliography or brief footnotes.

This will be assessed for:

  • comprehensive understanding of the subject area
  • ability to construct an defend an argument
  • powers of analysis
  • powers of expression
  • presentation of material in the appropriate scholarly form.

Certificate of Japanese language proficiency

A degree of Japanese language proficiency equivalent to the Japan Foundation Japanese-Language Proficiency Level N4 is required. Please upload your score report to your application as a transcript.

This will be assessed for evidence of your Japanese language proficiency. 

References/letters of recommendation:
Three overall, of which at least two must be academic

Whilst you must register three referees, the department may start the assessment of your application if two of the three references are submitted by the course deadline and your application is otherwise complete. Please note that you may still be required to ensure your third referee supplies a reference for consideration.

References should generally be academic, though you may provide one professional reference if you would like.

Your references will support intellectual ability, academic achievement, motivation, ability to work in a group and fitness for chosen course of study.