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The Uni-Files

A candid look at EFL life and lessons from a university teacher's perspective.

February 19, 2010

Q&A time: Everything you want to know about Japanese medical students and becoming a doctor


How many years do students study medicine before graduating in Japan?
Six. But the number of ryunen-sei ('year' repeaters) is higher than for most other subjects. Some students take up to 9 or 10 years to complete the program.

So they can come in straight from high school and typically graduate at age 23/24?
Well, theoretically, yes. But medical students tend to be slightly older on average than those in other faculties. More have transferred from other universities, have been working in society, or have spent a year or three as a ronin. Only about 40% of the freshmen in Miyazaki University's medical faculty are en'eki ' (straight out of high school) students and many of those will end up repeating a year or two (see above) so typical grads will be between 25 and 30.

Is there anything like Pre Med in Japan?
Yes and no. There is no specific 4 year Pre Med program as typically found in North America, but in their first two years Japanese medical students focus on General Education (Kiso Kyouiku- including English classes, humanities etc.) but begin to gradually focus more on applied sciences (anatomy, biology, physiology, histology) before eventually moving into more and more specific medicine-based classes by the time they reach 4th year.

What happens in years five and six?
They go through most or all individual departments in the attached university hospital under the tutelage of practicing professors/physicians. They have to attend departmental conferences, relevant lectures, participate in research studies, and carry out report writing during this time as well. In many Japanese medical schools this is called Porikuri (Poly Curriculum) and/or kurikura (Clinical Clerkship). This practicum typically extends to other locally-affiliated hospitals too.

When are the big exams?
The end of year four is chock full of subject exams and of course graduation exams occur in Nov/Dec in the 6th grade. These are the biggies.

So after graduation they are officially doctors?
Not yet. After completing and passing the graduation exams they have to sit for and pass the National Medical Licensing Board Examination (known as the 'Kokushi'), held in February. After they pass that they become Dr. Watanabe or whatever.

So, after only six years of study they can just open their own clinic?
No again. All freshly graduated doctors are required to partake in a two year trainee (kenshu-i) program. They will choose a small number of departments that they want to get a feel for (as a doctor now, not as a student) and spend two years doing the rounds and learning the ropes (typically 4-6 months) of each department.

How does one end up as, say, an ophthalmologist or orthopedic surgeon then?
Towards the end of their trainee programs, they will choose their specialty. Most will enter a university hospital at first under the auspicies of the departmental 'ikkyoku' (loosely translatable as a 'central office'). After five years in any one department (six for some) the doctors can then sit for the National Specialist Medical Licensing Exam. It is after this that many branch out into private clinics and practices, although most do not have the financial means to do so while so young.

OK- getting back to university study- are medical students generally brighter and keener than other students?
The medical faculty is very often the most difficult school to enter at a university, so yes, they tend to be quite good academically (although Miyazaki is obviously not Tokyo University). I think this is true worldwide but, yes, there are some who make you think 'How did that guiy ever get into medical school'?

So, do they get in to medical school based on their Center Shiken scores?
Entry standards vary from university to university. Center Shiken scores will almost always be a factor, as will second-stage individual university entrance exam scores (nijishiken). But local quotas, recommendations, and personal essays/interviews are also typically part of the process. Many universities (particularly private ones) have feeder high schools which gear prospective medical students for entry.

Are medical students, ummm, more nerdy than most students?
Not really. Med students actually tend to be a bit wild (the faint of heart would not want to see our pre-student festival party!) . There are all types: the jocks, the gals, the hippies, the arty types- you might be surprised. But most have had good study habits- although this can unravel temporarily in their first few months or years away from home and Mom.

Are most rich?
Maybe above average. But since national universities like Miyazaki U. are heavily subsidized fees are relatively low and therefore less of a factor for the not-so-well-to-do. What is a factor is that a fair number of med students have parents in the medical profession.

More males than females?
Slightly. About 55-45 on average. But we've had two freshman classes with more females than males.

I've heard that Japanese students can often pass by doing almost nothing. Is that true of medical students too?
No. The study demands are definitely harder than in most faculties and there is more academic accountability. As I said earlier, there are quite a few repeaters. Students who don't hit the books will eventually feel the pinch somewhere along the line. I've heard that 95% of all medical students here have failed at least one course during their six years.

Can they take part in operations and so on while they are students?
No. Japanese law is extremely strict in this regard. They cannot administer an injection to a patient as a student, for example. They can't make any official clinical decisions or take any clinical actions. It's a liability issue, but of course our students want to do these things (under supervision). When medical students from other countries visit our university (or vice-versa) our students are envious that most other countries allow their medical students to carry out simple medical procedures. But in Japan this would typically start during the trainee period (2 years post-graduation)

Do many choose to do post-graduate study?
A number do, often while working full-time as doctors.

How do they choose where they want to work?
They are heavily recruited as there is a doctor shortage in almost every department, and especially so in the Japanese countryside. They will be courted, wined and dined from 5th year on. During pre-graduate years many will carry out short internship programs at various hospitals during their summer 'holidays' just to get a feel for a potential workplace. Most will choose a hospital based on 1) a doctor they like or greatly respect being in charge 2) a hospital being famous for the special field(s) they are interested in 3) hometown access.

Any more questions? Fire away....

UPDATE Feb. 2012:
A number of students outside Japan have written asking about studying medicine and/or obtaining a medical license in Japan in response to this article. Let me state clearly here that if you are not absolutely fluent in Japanese you will not be able to pass the university entrance exams, participate in the classes and practica, or pass the national licensing exam. The door for foreign medical students is open however at the post-graduate level. After you have obtained a degree in a medically-related research field or an actual MD degree elsewhere most universities in Japan can offer some post-grad research degrees and positions which are conducted in English- usually overseeen by a single professor in a very specific field. For more detailed information you should consult individual university websites as details vary.

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Hi Alexander.

Speaking for my own university, which is pretty standard for National Universities in Japan- if you were to enter as a grad student you would have a chance as the 'entrance exam' and graduation research/thesis can be done in a foreign language (almost always English if so). But for the general medical program (which is what you seem to be aiming at) you would have to take the regular departmental entrance exam which is of course, in Japanese (as are all the courses). Any inability to write, read and speak academic Japanese with total fluency would pretty much rule you out.

Then again, the concept of pre-med and med in N. America and Undergrad/Grad in Japan don't exactly match so it could be awkward to transfer even if you were fluent in all aspects of J and coming from U.S. pre-med.

Japanese Medical School is 5 Years, PERIOD...

There is NO such thing as a 4 year Pre-Med requirement.
There is NO internship
There is NO Residency.

After 5 Years of a Japanese Medical School, you pay what-ever the licensing fee is, and then you are a Licensed Doctor to practice medicine in Japan...

No. Just... no.
And no again, in case I wasn't clear.

That is, except for the 4 yr. pre-med requirement bit- in which, as I said initially, a General ed.period is part of the Med. degree.

I was wondering if you could elaborate about choice of major in the U.S. Do Japanese schools prefer one choice of major over the other?

Sorry Hannah- Could you elaborate a little more on exactly what you mean?

Well, you said that pre-med majors don't transfer well to Japanese schools, so I was wondering if the Japanese prefer certain majors. As in the case of Alexander, I would like to spend some time in Japan to acquire language skills, and then apply to medical school there.

I have considered getting a medical degree in the U.S., but I don't want to stay stuck in the U.S. for another 4-8 years. :(

Thanks for the clarification, Hannah.

Let me explain. The problem of transfer into a J medical school is not so much a matter of pre-med vs. med school or the choice of one's pre-med major but rather 1) language and 2) systemic incongruity.

If you planned to enter Japanese medical school you would be taking the same classes and practica as Japanese medical students and of course these classes are conducted in the Japanese language- university-level and rather technical Japanese at that. So your language skills would have to be at least near-native to attend, understand and pass the courses.

What most international students do in Japanese medical faculties instead is post-graduate work (not the regular med courses) in a medically-related specialist field such as parasitology, physiology, anatomy etc. and work under the direct supervision of a Japanese professor in that department. But as post-graduates, they have of course completed at least an undergrad degree in that field in their own countries prior to arriving in Japan.

There may be rare exceptions in Japan (maybe Sophia U.?) but I don't know of them.

Hope this clarifies. And best of luck with any decision you make.

hi,m student 4rm india,doing gratuation in medicine.i want 2 know entrance test for p.g. in 2 appear 4 it n wats preparation needed?

To be frank Supriya, if you are serious about post-graduate medical studies I'd tell you first to write in a style more in line with your intentions.

More to the point, there is no standardized requirement for post-grad medical study in every Japanese university. You would of course have to already have a medical or related degree. Then, after contacting a university of your choice or interest, they would likely line you up with a professor- proficient in English- who specializes in the field you wish to study. He/she would then go over requirements, standards, expectations and so forth before any decision is made.

I hope this helps.

hi! I'm half japanese and half filipino. I was born in the philipines, grew up here and finished medicine here (philippines)as well. I have been to japan several times few years back, so i know basic nihonggo, can read katakana and hiragana. As dual citizenship is accepted here in the Philippines, I was able to practice my profession here. I am planning to go to japan and hope to work there as a doctor. My plan is to 1st finish studying Nihonggo and pass JPLT N1 here in the Philippines before going to Japan. My question is... being a Japanese citizen will i be able to take the Japanese National Medical Licensing Board Examination even if i did not graduate from a japanese medical school?
I understand that if i'll be able to take the licensing exam and hopefully pass it, i will still have to go through a two year trainee (kenshu-i) program before going to a specialized field of choice. I am willing to go through it. My next question is, during the 2 year kenshu-i, will i be receiving a stipend/salary? Do you have any idea how much is it monthly? will it suffice monthly expenses? How about during specialty training (5-6years)? how much do they usually receive monthly? As you can see i'm kinda particular regarding the monthly income because i'm raising my daughter alone. I'm still thinking of bringing her with me to japan (she is also a japanese citizen,by the way) or to leave her here in the philippines with her grandparents if the salary of a trainee is not enough to raise a child there. hope you could answer all my questions..thanx!

Hi Yoko. Thanks for writing.

I have several answers to your question(s). First, all the official details about qualifying for the Kokushiken (Med) are found at and but of course all in rather technical, bureaucratic Japanese.

The short answer is that nationality is no barrier to taking the Kokushi and thereby getting a Japanese medical license. The two obstacles are:

1) Language. The test is in quite technical Japanese, no unless you are close to absolute fluency in reading and writing medical Japanese it will be very difficult. For students coming from abroad some proof of Japanese proficiency is required.

2) Your alma mater abroad. Some medical schools abroad will be recognized by the license-granting bodies in Japan but some will not. Suffice to say that if you graduated from an established medical faculty in a country with well-regulated health and education systems, it would probably be recognized. But you do have to send in forms and documents concerning this in advance (as per the links I pasted above).

Good luck in your endeavours and if you think I missed anything in my answer please write again.

Hello, I'm a high school student and I want to study medicine in Japan. I want to know if I get my doctorate in Japan, would I be able to practice in America or any other country?

I have a few questions.

1. Does this program here give an MD if you complete the masters and the doctorate program?

2. I've heard that, in Japan, you can transfer in your second or third year of an ordinary college to a medical school. Is this true?

Hi Isabelle.

In answer to your questions...

1. No university in Japan has the authority to grant a medical license. That is done by the government, upon the candidate succesfully passing the national medical licensing exam.

2. Yes, most medical schools will allow transfers after the second year of study elsewhere but there will be various conditions- such as passing the medical school's entrance exam (for national universities at least). The number and value of credits transferable from the previous university will also vary, Rather than jumping straight into 3rd year med it is far far more likely the transfer student will be considered a 1st year med student but will be exempt from several courses.

Hope this helps.

Hi Mike,

I've seen several doctors working in dermatology and emergency medicine at the nearby hospitals who look very young, probably mid 20s. 6 years of medical school + 2 years of training + 5 years of specialization would put them at at least 31 years old, right? I highly doubt the ones I've seen are even 30. Could it be that they're still in their 5 year specialization period? They didn't seem to need to consult with any senior doctor.

Also, do medical schools here really let students repeat classes so frequently without kicking them out? In the US, they'd be kicked out if they failed class; certainly if they failed more than 1 class.

Hi Al.

There could be a number of explanations for what you've seen. The first is that Japanese often look younger to Westerners than they are but, assuming you've already factored that in...

...the 'doctors' you saw may actually be 5th or 6th year students doing Clinical Clerkship, in which they go around all the departments but in full doctor regalia. A closer look at their name-badge will reveal their gakusei status. They may be as young as 22-24.

Kenshu-i status doctors (2 year work rotation after graduation/licensing) are officially MDs but will often be in their mid-twenties.

A new post-kenshui doctor now based in one department might be as young as 26. One with a specialist license under 28 would be very rare indeed.

My wife is an MD. she did clinical clerkship at age 23-24 and graduated/passed the kokushi exam at 24, worked as a kenshu-i MD aged 25-26. She got her specialist license at age 30. If the hospital you refer to is a teaching hospital or university affiliated you will definitely see many younger doctors and those who look like doctors.

(Also ORTs, teachnical assistants, can often look outwardly like doctors too).

I have three questions:

1.) How would I know the extent of knowledge expected of a someone taking entrance exams? Because I've been educated in the US, I don't exactly know how the curriculum I've studied compares to the typical curriculum for a high school student in Japan (I'm sure US high schools are way below Japan academically). I don't want to take an exam blindly, so how can I find out what exactly it is I need to prepare for?

2.) What would the post-grad training period be like if I wanted to become a peds surgeon?

3.) What if I ever wanted/needed to move back to the US, would my medical license from Japan transfer to the US so I could practice there?

Thank you for sharing your knowledge! It is very helpful!

Hi Anna. It's a little difficult to answer your questions until I get a clearer picture of your intentions. You can write to me at offlist if you wish.

For the time being my answers are:
1) You will need native-like Japanese ability to pass a standard entrance exam at a Japanese medical school. You can tailor your subjects on both the national entrance exams and the 2nd stage (individual university exams) but although you would have no problem with the English section, obviously, the rest.... if you are not very fluent in Japanese.... hmmm.

Post-grad foreign researchers however can apply, take an entrance test, and conduct research all in English, depending upon the universty and indivdual Prof overseeing your specialty.

2) To be a Ped in Japan you have to pass the Nat'l licensing exam first (in Japanese) and then complete 2 years as a trainee doctor before assuming your specialty. After that you can easily start post-grad research. Post-grad research can be very hit and miss in Japan- some institutions make their students do little except carry out their regular work and publish a research paper (often in English). Some do hands-on intensive training in complex, gradiated programs. It varies wildly.

3. I'm not American so I think you could find this out more easily than I.

Hi There,
I'm currently still in high school in the UK and I'd like to study medicine, I have considered but ruled out the possibiliy of studying medicine in Japan because I've come to the conclusion that it is unrealistic to enter a J University' medical course because of the language barrier and expenses.

However I'd like to know if I am to study Medicine in a UK university and also study Japanese is it possible to attain a japanese medical licence if the exams are passed?
If so to what level would japanese need to be studied and how long do you think it would take to become fluent in all forms?

I'm interested in neurosurgery and that in itself is quite an challenge so would it be a more wise choice to not try and practice in Japan if I manage in the UK?


Hi Nas.

Yes, you can get a Japanese medical license if you pass the national licensing exam. I would say that to master the language for a high-level professional qualification such as this-- with many difficult kanji-- it would probably take 3 to 5 years of intensive study of kanji.

Unless you have some very pressing need or reason to practice in Japan, I'd recommend practicing in the U.K., where you won't need to learn an entirely new language and can focus solely on your medical studies.

Good luck.

Hey Mike, great article!

I just have a question regarding what employment opportunities there are for a US MD degree who does not wish to pursue clinical medicine in Japan. Are there pharmaceutical or research options available? Or perhaps teaching opportunities?

Thank you!

Hi Ashley.

There are positions in research and pharmaceutical companies for qualified personnel but of course fluency in Japanese would be a likely precondition.

Many universities have research positions which are a mixture of grad research plus work as a research assistant to the professor but they tend to be largely temporary (i.e., during a PhD research period). However, they can lead to something longer lasting.

If your home university has a Japanese university partner or sister-U. relationship you'll probably be able to get some type of research fellowship that way but turning it into partial employment would generally only come later, as it has to go through the proper legal channels. Major Japanese university English websites can also provide leads for foreign researchers but the type of research and role will vary considerably according to the institution.

I know far far less about pharmaceutical company employment practices. Sorry.

Good luck.

Hello Mike!

I had a question regarding studying at a Japanese university in their "medical school". I will graduate with a Bachelors of Science degree in Biology - Human and Health Sciences from a US university (the equivalent of pre-med in the US), and I was wondering if I would be able to apply for the "medical school" options offered at various universities.

Would it be possible for me to continue from their equivalent of their 5th year, where they begin to take their medical/natural science classes? Or would I have to go straight down the route of obtaining a master's degree with a following doctorate.

I want to practice as a doctor in Japan (preferably in the rural/suburb areas of Japan) and hopefully the government is looking for people like that?

So, to summarize:
would it be possible for me to continue from the 5th year and take the NBME once I've completed *technically* 2 years of schooling in Japan?

I've been studying Japan for about 6 years off and on, but I am willing to dedicate the time to try to pass the N1 for the JLPT test and also focus on some medical terms commonly used (I found a book with some medical terms commonly used in the pharmaceutical industry)

Sorry for the long message. Hope to hear from you soon!


Hi Joy.

I'm afraid I can't answer your question with great authority. Why not? For one thing, the value of transfer credits will vary from university to university. -- and particularly from national (mine) to private.

It is unlikely that a U.S. pre-med will be considered an exact equivalent to the first 4 years in Japan because of the separation/overlap of content. As an example, at my own university we have some graduates from top Japanese universities such as Tokyo U. enter our Med school but these students too start off as first year students. However, they gain many general ed. exemptions based upon having equivalent credits from their first university. Again, private Japanese universities in particular may have a different policy.

To enter most general med programs (not as a grad student) you will also have to display a Japanese ability suitable for medical school study in the language-- as almost all lectures, readings, tests will be in Japanese.

There willalso be some sort of entrance exam in 99% of the cases- in Japanese.

To practice in Japan you will also need to pass the Nat'l licensing exam too, as you know, but keep in mind what level of reading ability in Japanese this presupposes.

If you do succeed (best of luck!) you will be able to work anywhere in Japan and rural hospitals in particular will recruit. You don't need Japanese nationalty- we have a few Chinese and Korean nationals who have gaduated and now practice in Japan, although no westerners. Yet.

Hope this helps at least a bit.

I am medical student from Pakistan . I will graduate in November 2013. For now I am on a 6 weeks clinical electives at Tsukuba university hospital. I liked it a lot here, and I intend to do my post graduation from Japan. Tell is there a possibility that the government will be changing the language to English for foreign doctors if they wish to take Japanese license exam to be able to work at international hospitals at Tokyo?
What if the professors recommend you, will it play any role?

Hi Ume! Good question. Each international appears to have a slightly different philosophy or principal but the bottom line appears to be this:
If you want to work as a doctor inside the national health system of Japan, which of course includes just about every hospital of note, you need to have passed the Japanese licensing exam.

If you plan to open a private practice that is NOT a part of the national health insurance plan (meaning that your patients would be largely tourists, short-timers, business people on big budgets etc.) you will need a recognized license from a (medically) 'recognized' country and of course the relevant work/business permits to carry out such a practice in Japan.

As always, if any reader can answer more thoroughly or specifically or finds an exception to my answers or believes I am outright wrong please write here-- preferably with some evidence.

Good evening !

I'm sorry if the question was already asked, it was way too long to read. If it was, just tell me and I'll read.

I'm a French Canadian from Québec, I have never been to University over there. I finished high school (which is 11 years of studies in Québec) and I did a training as an orderly (health care taker) of 6 months.

I've been living in Japan since last year, teaching English and French.

I desperately want to go to Med School, it's my dream and I just can't let it go, yet. I was wondering what kind of requirements (educational) do they ask to get accepted in Med school ? Is there a University you would recommend ? I'm planning on passing the entrance exam as soon as I master Japanese to the ''almost'' fluent level.

Thanks in advance

I apologise in advance for a long post.
I am currently living in Japan as a spouse of a Japanese national. I am considering to attend 2 year intensive Japanese language course, which is said to prepare for the university entry, and is aimed at student with no prior knowledge of Japanese. Then I plan to apply to a medical or nursing school. I am not considering to do english language postgraduate study since science jobs are very scares in Japan
I was wondering if you have an opinion regarding such language courses.
How likely is it to learn Japanese in 2 years (I currently do not know any Japanese).
I am B.Sc.(Microbiology) graduate, would my bachelors be considered during admission process or should I submit my high school scores instead ?
Thank you for your help.

In an earlier reply to Ume, July 24th 2012, you mention that someone wishing to do private practice in Japan outside of the National Health Insurance plan would need a license to practice from an approved country. Do you know where I can access information about which countries are approved? Is the UK one of them? Would such an arrangement also require one to sit the National licensing exam?
Many thanks.

I think I'll close the comments on this entry here. The reason is that the title is intended to be a bit tongue in cheek. I do know something about the medical licensing system in Japan, and that which I've not been sure of I've checked with senior doctors at my affiliated hospital and the Health Ministry's website.

But it is clear that a number of people who are making important decisions about practicing medicine in Japan have found this blog entry and may be assuming that I have more authoritative insights than I do. I'm afraid of not giving such people precise and exact information (which, in some cases, can be found with Google searches) and therefore advice such readers to check with established authorities first.


Dear Mike,

I am currently a pharmacy student in the United States and I'm curious about the differences in education and practice of pharmacy in Japan. Do you have any insights or know who I can be directed to get more insight about this topic?



PS Sorry for the side topic!

Sorry Amy. I do not teach, nor am I associated with, pharmacology in Japan. I'm not American either so I really can't even begin to compare the two. Sorry.

Hello Mr.Mike ^^!
thank u so much for ur article , i find it very helpful :)

I am studying medicine in china , i am on my 3rd year .
is there a chance i can do my internship in Japan !! and is there any specific conditions or regulations !!

waiting for ur replay
Have a nice day :)

*ps , i am not a Chinese ..


Thank you for your informative article and insightful answers. I interpret and teach English at a hospital here so it's interesting to read about other westerners in the field of health care in Japan.

I never did pre-med as an undergrad in the US - I majored in Japanese and came here as a JET. The language has not been so much a barrier as my lack of math-science background. My EJU scores were a little shy of the median last November so it's probably another year of cram school for me...

If I can add anything to this conversation it is to reinforce your point. The door to medical school in Japan is open for foreign applicants but REQUIRES: *near-native Japanese fluency*, and high level *math-science proficiency*. Because you will need to score VERY highly on the EJU, 日本留学試験which is in my opinion much more friendly than the MCAT but still HARD and ALL IN JAPANESE. On the other hand, if you are fluent in Japanese and are good at math and science, but didn't finish your premed, one could make a strong case for Japanese medical school because there are no premed requirements, no volunteer requirements... and the cost of public med schools is much cheaper than in the US.

For all of you wondering how good your Japanesee has to be, I majored in Japanese, have JLPT N1, worked as an interpreter for 7 years, and am married to an obstinant Japanese woman who despite knowing English refuses to speak it. And I still am probably not good enough to get in and definitely not confident in my ability to keep up with the other students if I did. If you aren't close to that level, run while you still can.

Thank you.

I hope that everyone who has questions about the level of Japanese necessary to enter and complete medical school in Japan will read DG's comment right before this. Do not underestimate the language ability requirement!

I have few questions.
I have passed my bachelor degree of MBBS from china and i have also passed screening exam in India for foreign medical graduates. so, my degree is valid in china and india. and i am about to finish my internship. i want to go to japan for post graduation in surgery. what do i have to do ? first, take some screening exams in japan as well? or can i apply for post graduation directly in japanese universities? do they teach in japanese ONLY? is there any english medium course available? or if i finished my PG in Japan, what are the job options?

Response from Mike Guest:
Chirag, post-grad medical research in Japan for international students is managed by individual universities. Many professors welcome foreign post-grads and will do their best to assist them in English. There is no national screening test-- but remember that we are talking about research here, not the actual practice of surgery.

Hey Mike, thanks for the article, it was really helpful. I'm an American with two years of high school left and for various reasons wish to one day workin a Japanese hospital. Would it be a good idea if I were to begin taking japanese now and attend an American university with a prestigious medical program while minority in Japanese? Could I maybe even get some job experience in America while continuing my japanese studies and take the japanese medical exam when ready? Thanks for the help and sorry for being so late to post.

Hi Manuel.

I cannot understate how important it would be for you to start taking Japanese as soon as possible if you ever plan to take, and pass, the national licensing exam. In order to pass the exam you will not only need the medical knowledge but also the ability to read an enormous number of kanji, many of them specialist terms that are likely to appear only in a Japanese medical school.

Best of luck.

I will complete my high school education in a year and I'm going to apply for a MEXT scholarship which I think I have a fair chance of getting. The scholarship offers two choices, that of direct placement and that of spending a year in Japan receiving language training and then placement. If I opt for the direct placement, I need a university with English courses and I haven't really been able to find any. So do you any information about universities which offer English courses in medicine?
Will the degree I get be valid in other countries like Germany or US?

Thanks in advance :)

Hi !

I am a Sri Lankan student and currently an undergraduate in biological science. If I want to enter a Japanese government university to study medicine or bio medical science (as an undergraduate), what will be the procedure? If you can please let me know about the cost of studying too. Thank you very much.

Are there pharmacy or medical schools in japan that instruct in english at undergraduate level?
Is it possible to study both concurrently?
Am from uganda,east africa

Hi Mike! Thank you very much for your article. It has been very informative. I love Japan and would love to come and work there as a physician and possibly specialise after it. I graduate this December as an MD, and would read somewhere about getting the license to practice- it involved 2 options/ "patterns".

My questions are:
1. To whom would I apply for the job?
2. Do foreign medical doctors get paid?
3. If I was to end up specializing in Japan, would I have to pay any fee for the teaching process? Would I also get paid whilst doing the residency?

Thank you so much!

Hi Mike!

Thank you so much for this excellent post! There's one thing that concerns me is that, are there any study guides out there like the USMLE? How did you review? I am a medical student and would like to take their medical licensing exam in the future.

Thank you!

Sorry Krystal but I am not a doctor nor was I ever a medical student. As a result, I m unfamiliar with foreign standards and protocols. I am only familiar with Japan's (as a teacher in a faculty of medicine here) so I am unable to answer your question.


Hi, I'm a 4th year medical student in Ireland and want to work in Japan as a doctor after I graduate.

Is there such thing as internship or residency in Japan? And is it open to foreign medical graduates?

If not and I complete my internship in Ireland, would I be able to do post graduate training to specialise in Japan? Like say Ophthalmology, or dermatology etc. And would it be before or after the National Licensing exam?

About the licensing exam, is it similar to the USLME, as in 4 parts assessing everything learnt in med school? I can't seem to find any information about the Japanese exam at all, or what it entails.

Sorry for all the questions. Thanks.

Hi Mike!
I'm from Japan but obtained my MD in Europe, and have spend almost two decades living abroad.. I recently returned home in the hopes of obtaining the Japanese medical license, and to my luck, they accepted my application and I was allowed to take the practical exam which I passed. The problem though occurred when I started studying for the actual boards. I'm finding it difficult to study the material in Japanese as most of the foreign trained doctors would.. But perhaps more so because I don't know anyone who is on the same boat as me whom I can exchange information with. Do you happen to know any community or organization for foreign doctors who are trying to study for this exam? If so, please let me know! Otherwise thanks a lot for this forum, you have no idea how helpful you are being! :)

Hi Marie.
I don't know any groups or organizations specifically but, as you probably know, all Japanese universities will have some sort of informal 'benkyo-kai' arrangement for 6th year students. My suggestion would be to find an internationally-oriented igakubu in your area and find out if any other multi-cultural examinees are in the same position as you and therefore might be amenable to making a mutually beneficial benkyo-kai.

Dear Mike,
Thank you for a great article!
I am a U.S. medical student and was wondering if there are any externship/clerkship rotation opportunities at your university.
I'm fluent in conversational Japanese because I lived there until I was 7 years old and speak Japanese with my parents, but I most likely would not know medical jargon in Japanese.
If you have any information or a pertinent contact person to offer me, I would really appreciate it!

hey mike

im a medical undergraduate student...I wanna study my post graduate in medicine in searching for everything to get help from anyone about study in, I will be so happy if you suggest me something...

I can't offer anything more than what's in the article Saolin.

i want to know how to become doctor in japan ..i completed my 12 last year from indian cbse board will be great if u can help me ..Thankyou

I can't offer you anything more than what's in the article, Shivam.


Hi, I've just started to work in Kyushu with the 臨床修練制度.
I'm an orthopedic surgeon from Italy with the JLPT N2, now I'm studying for N1. Everybody tells me after 国家試験 I'll be able to practice in Japan without supervision and as a specialist in my field. Can you confirm it's true? It's not like in US, where a foreign doctor, after passing USMLE, should repeat residency training? Thanks a lot

Hello Mike, great article, I was googling becoming a medical researcher in Japan and ran into your page.

I'm a licensed medical doctor in South Korea and I'm in Japan as a clinical trainee hoping to work as an MD researcher. I read through a lot of the posts here and thought I'd add a bit of my own knowledge that I managed to gather over the years, working as a researcher and a physician.

I guess the Pre-Med system puzzles a few people from North America, but in many other countries, Medical School is an independant college that offers a Bachelors Degree and a license. So, if you were in one of those countries, to pursue a good career in research, you need a PhD degree even after you get your MD degree, and no, you can't really apply for a medical school after graduating a pre-med course.

There are exceptions to this of course, courses that you can apply for with a degree even from one of the North American schools, but if you have to find out about them now, you probably can't afford to get into them because those slots are truly scarce and the qualifications of the applicants into those programs are insane(most have PhDs and several research papers).
What's more, the pre-med system in those countries are 2+4, not 4+2. That is, if you have completed 4 years of pre-med in North America, the best you can aim for is becoming a 3rd grader, or honkasei, in Japan(the 2 years of pre-med is yoka, and the 4 years after that is honka). You cannot bypass the (worst part of...) basic science subjects like biochem, anatomy, histology, physiology... and rightfully so, I believe.

Some other points:

1. The pay of a kenshu-i is probably not the worst in the world, but by no means in line with what most people think of as far as doctors are concerned.

Here is an example, I've looked through many hospitals so I suppose this is around the average except a select few which are either bankrupt or run by people who have too much money and are willing to give it away to employees.
I think around this is right for many Asian countries.

2. Do I get paid if I can get a residency?

Yes, if you can get into one. The Japanese Medical System offers a Residency Matching nowadays, you can check it out here:

If you read through the page, you may notice that a good many of the Residency programs are understaffed, and they HAVE to fill up the positions with match applicants first before they go for naitei, so you have a nice chance to get in if you can pass the Japanese kokushi.

Well, of course some of those positions are obviously going to be burakku, but hey...
Kuuseki means the programs didn't fill up. You may notice that the hospitals need a lot more doctors than those that graduate. Not all of them can be burakku.
Here, you can see they even have a corner for FMGs to apply for.
No, however, if you're here for clinical training, which is to teach you and promote international communication.

3. Can I transfer my Japanese license to xxx... yyy.... zzz?
Yes if you graduated an internationally recognized Medical School. I know people who came to Korea or went to the US after graduating Japanese schools.

You need to take the board exam again, though, of course. No country will allow foreign doctors to practice without the right tests. There are a few exempt cases, I've heard, involving GBR, France and Singapore but I don't think it's worth it to go for special cases in your life.

However as Mike pointed out, you can surely go for research positions, and being an MD can be very, very, very advantageous in biology research. I mean, not in terms of output but in terms of qualification.

4. Can I take the Japanese kokushi in English?

Errmm... not sure if Japan has other plans yet, but I think it doesn't make much sense if I change the question slightly,
Can I take the USMLE in Japanese or Chinese?
Of course, you can argue that English is the international language, but the bulk of people Japan expects you to see after the Japanese license are Japanese-speaking patients so...

5. Mike already mentioned this, but I'll go over it briefly again, as someone who's actually visited the Ministry to apply for the exam.

These are the requirements for APPLYING for a kokushi in Japan(not getting the license. Of course, getting the license would be relatively easy if you can pass the board, just pay the fee :P).

First: You need 12 years of pre-college education to qualify for the exam. If you had 11 years of pre-college, you will need to start from taking the pre-exam, which involves... basic science exams and a year of training if you can pass it.
Now, I don't doubt the bulk of the FMGs who won their medical degrees from other countries are as good as the Japanese MDs, but really, talking about where the deltoid and quadriceps gluteus inserts in Japanese and memorizing the Kreb's cycle in Japanese may be a totally different matter. Heck, English was hard enough for me...

Second: You also need 6 years of medical school OR 5500 hours of curriculum time. 5 years will be sent back to the pre-exam course with the biochem and anatomy.

How do I find out about that curriculum time? You need to go ask your Medical school to print that out for you, or the nice looking guy at Korosho will politely send you back to your country... as he did to me :P

Third: All this stuff has to be notarized before being presented to the Japanese ministry of welfare and labor and well, of course your Japanese has to be good enough to actually call the guy at korosho and make an appointment(I seriously doubt he speaks English, although I never tried). If you actually visit the ministry, there is an actual squadron of armed policemen watching over every single entree and checking his/her passports or driver's license, so without an appointment you will not be admitted.

Fourth: You need a JLPT N1 or the old JLPT 1 to just apply for this test, and well... although I have had both the JLPT 1 and medical license for around 7 years, I still find it pretty hard to read as fast as the Japanese and go through their questions. And I studied kanji from since I was in elementary school, so.... (we learn them in Korea, too)

Apart from that, if you think your medical knowledge/Japanese is super good so you never worry about it, there are a couple other things to consider.

- the Japanese like tategaki, which is writing vertically. They even call alphabets yokomoji, which means being written horizontally. I am sort of used to tategaki and can read books in them, but it still confuses me when medical jargons are written this way.

- the jargon of Japanese medical terms are a combo of kanji, English and German. pH is called pe-ha, electrocardiograms are EKGs, drugs like tigecycline are called Chigesaikurin... Not saying you can't get used to them, it may take some time for even medical professionals.

6. Okay, so now we know this is totally hard. So how can we study for it?
If your Japanese is already JLPT N1 level, you still need to go a long way but there isn't more for you to prepare.

The medical stuff can be had from these books: get the previous exam questions and the numbered books. Yes, all of them... well, all except the subjects you are totally confident in and don't feel the need to study anymore.

7. Is there a residency in Japan?

Yes. Whoever says that they don't probably is a time traveler from the Meiji era. And no, you don't pay the hospital when you do the residency. Don't feel sorry, you work a lot more than what you get paid for(>_

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