In Japan, PhDs usually take place within a specialist graduate school associated with a university. Much like the rest of the world, a Japanese doctorate is an advanced research qualification.
PhDs in Japan are often split into two phases – the first phase is aimed at graduates and incorporates a Masters qualification as part of the programme. The second phase is designed for student who already have a Masters. If you study a Masters as part of your PhD, you’ll gain a total of 30 credits.
Japan’s academic year begins in April, with the first semester running until September. The second semester begins in October and finishes in March.
For holders of Masters degrees, a PhD lasts a minimum of three years (four years if your research project is in the areas of medicine, pharmacy, dentistry or veterinary science).
At some institutions, students also have the option to study for a PhD directly after their four-year undergraduate degrees, although the duration of a PhD is then five years. There are also additional requirements in the first two years of study which consist of taught courses, a project proposal and an examination.
Before applying for your PhD, you should contact a potential supervisor at a Japanese university in advance, telling them about your research plans and why they’d be the perfect fit. You should also send them a letter of recommendation from your current (or previous) academic advisor.
Professors command a great deal of authority at Japanese university and the supervisor-supervisee relationship is more akin to a master-disciple interaction. If you feel you need to challenge your supervisor, do so with the highest level of diplomacy and respect.
There is also a strict hierarchy within research teams which is determined by age and position, with post-docs commanding more seniority than PhD students who, in turn, are considered as seniors to masters and undergraduate students. As such you may find that discussions within a research teams are generally top down rather than on an equal footing.
Professors are often busy with administrative, pastoral and other activities, delegating their day-to-day supervisory role to junior academics, post-docs or even final year PhD students. As a PhD student, you will be expected to be an independent researcher and the support you receive is likely to be minimal. In this context, your graduate school will provide the training structure you need.
Assessment and examination
PhDs in Japan are typically assessed based in the quality of the doctoral thesis, as well as a public oral examination similar to the viva. Sometimes you may also have to make a formal presentation about your thesis.