Exchange report - Student at KI
Home university: Osaka University
Study programme: Biomedicine (Master's)
Exchange programme: INK
Semester: Autumn semester 2017/2018
Name: Benjamin Heller Sahlgren
Email address:


To go on exchange is a great opportunity to get vital life experience, get acquainted with other universities and laboratories, and to experience how science is conducted in other countries. I applied for exchange studies at Osaka University in Japan mainly due to its great reputation in the field of Immunology. Another reason for choosing Japan was my fascination with the country due to its quite peculiar cultural traits. Japanese culture is very old and its historical and cultural marks are very preserved.

After the nomination, I received a contact person at Osaka University. This person helped me with most things regarding the exchange such as administration, accommodation and course accreditation after the exchange. A few things to consider prior to your departure, is to send in the application to Osaka University in good time, as the papers required for your student visa application will not be provided until you are accepted. After your acceptance, the university will provide you with information regarding how to apply for student visa. The student visa application may take some time so remember to have your papers in order some time in advance. To receive the Visa you first need to fill out a specific web-survey. The ministry of migration then needs to accept your application which takes about a month. Once accepted you will receive a certificate from the Japanese ministry of migration. Bring this certificate with your passport to the Japanese embassy and the Visa will (in most cases) be issued within 2 weeks. The ministry of migration in Japan requires that you can provide evidence that you have/ will have sufficient finances for your stay in Japan. For Swedish students, who acquire CSN, this can easily be solved. Simply call CSN and ask for a letter of certification that you are entitled to the specific sum in question. Furthermore, it is vital that you acquire a credit card prior to your departure. Most shops do not accept debit and thus if you wish to pay by card, credit is a requirement. Most ATMS in my experience, however, allow you to take out cash using you debit card and conveniently all shops accept cash. Still it is my recommendation to bring both a credit and a debit card. Regarding flight, I booked a roundtrip for 7100 kr with Finnair. The flight was very convenient as it only required a short stop in Helsinki before flying straight to Osaka.

When travelling within Asia or to the countryside of Japan, it’s good to get vaccinated against Japanese Encephalitis. I booked an appointment with Cityakuten for my vaccination ( More information regarding areas of risk for Japanese Encephalitis can be found here:  

Arrival and registration

I choose to arrive in Osaka at the start of the semester (1 of September) to avoid any stress regarding accommodation and registration. When passing through migration you need to show the certificate of eligibility that you received during your visa application. The migration will keep this certificate and give you a resident card which you are required by law, to carry with you at all times. Once settled in your dorm, you need to bring this card to the city office responsible for the area where you live to register and connect your address to your residence card. 

There are multiple ways to get from the airport to the city. You can either go by JR train in case of Kansai airport (KIX), or by monorail in case of Osaka airport. The most convenient option is to take the airport shuttle bus which will take you straight to the city center. Once you have arrived, you will be asked to go to the university the very same day as your arrival. This can be a bit stressful after a long flight without any knowledge how to get there. Thus, I strongly recommend that you make a travelling plan, prior to your departure, with a sett route on how to get from the airport to your accommodation, and from your accommodation to the university premises. Save and bring the map you will receive from the university by mail, as this map contains a detailed description of the Campus. When you first arrive to the university you will meet with your official contact person. This person will provide you with some general information regarding the university prior to taking you to your assigned laboratory. The official semester start in Japan is not until October, but prior to the course start I was invited to a meeting with the course administration who informed me about the general layout of the course.

Medical faculty, Osaka University


On the first day when you arrive at the university, you will be asked to pay a small insurance fee. This insurance is mandatory and the cost is about 1500 yen (roughly 150 kr). To live in Japan is not cheap by any means. A good rule of thumb is that the cost for most things in Japan are about 5 – 10 % lower than Sweden. Living expenses such as accommodation and food are a bit cheaper than Stockholm and some dorms actually offer breakfast and dinner included in the rent. Travelling by public transport is quite expensive as Osaka does not have a system like Stockholm where you can purchase a monthly card. The only option available is a 6 month access card which will not be applicable for you. For public transport I used something called the ICOCA card which can be purchased from most ticket stations. You can charge this card with money when needed, which is then subtracted every time you travel. What is rather confusing in the beginning is that the price of the public transport depends on the mean of transportation. For example, travelling with metro and monorail is more expensive than to travel with the Hankyu railway (, as these trains are managed by different transport services. Thus to save money, do not only consider the cost of your accommodation, but also what’s included in the rent, and the means of transportation when travelling from your accommodation to the campus premises. To check the train schedule and to make a travelling plans, I found the most convenient way was to use Google maps. 

Considering the everyday expenses, I strongly recommend you to acquire some savings prior to your stay in Japan. Luckily, however, there are scholarships to receive. The staff at my laboratory helped me to apply for the JASSO scholarship, entitling me to 80 000 yen (roughly 6000 kr)/ month. Just make sure to fill in the section regarding the JASSO scholarship on your university application form. Paying bills in Japan is very easy. Just bring the bill to any convenience store (e.g 7 eleven) and they will register it and charge you the amount in cash. These stores are pretty much everywhere and there might actually be as many convenience stores as there are people in Japan.


There are ways to find accommodation on your own accord but personally I asked for help. The university staff is very helpful and if asked they will help you as best as they can to find you an accommodation. Just remember that you need sufficient funds before your departure, as most dorms require you to pay the first bill prior to your arrival. This sum is quite large, (roughly 10 000 – 13 000 kr depending on the dorm) as it includes service costs for your entire stay. My university contact person helped me to find a room in a dorm located in tenjimbashisuji 6-chome in central Osaka. This area had very good subway connections and many tourist attractions were located within walking distance 

I paid about 50 000 yen/ month for a single room with the option to rent bed sheets and a fridge for an extra fee. The room included a bed and a closet but bathroom and showers were shared with other tenants. Breakfast and dinner was included in the rent, allowing me to save quite a lot of money on food, but I had to pay extra for internet (about 5000 yen for the entire period). The only downside with my dorm was the distance to the university campus which was about 50 min. Personally, I preferred to live central as it was easier to sightsee and enjoy the city when time permitted. Things to consider regarding the location of your accommodation is not only the distance to the University, but also the distance to the City. If you are a night owl who likes to frequent bars and clubs, just remember that Taxi services are not cheap and thus it is my recommendation that you try to live as central as possible considering that all public transport service stop between 24:00 – 01:00 and start around 05:00. However, living central of course require you to travel further to get to the campus.

Osaka Castle. Walking distance from tenjimbashisuji 6-chome

Studies in general

My exchange studies were carried out during semester three of the biomedical masters program, which include the following courses: Laboratory research project 16 credits and elective courses 9 credits. My contact person at Osaka University, later provided me with the papers required for course accreditation back at KI. 

During the application to the university, I had to choose and write a motivation letter for three seperate areas of interest. Based on your stated interest you will be matched with a laboratory that best suits you. I carried out my research project in a laboratory focused on immunology. The English level at my lab was quite good, and my supervisor and Professor could communicate nearly perfectly. The lab was, for Japanese standards, quite international so most lab member could speak English at a sufficient level. My general experience of the laboratory environment was fantastic! I had a great professor and supervisor who both made me feel welcome and appreciated. For example, my professor took me out to an extremely nice traditional Japanese restaurant with amazing food, and he also organized a trip to Kyoto for me and another visiting researcher. The entire staff at the laboratory was extremely friendly, and I felt that they were genuinely happy to have me there (one member had even learned a few word in Swedish which he proudly told me in the beginning). Japanese are famous for working very hard, but I personally felt that I had freedom to adjust the workload as I saw fit. I quickly realized that as a short time student I was exempted from certain expectations which thankfully meant that I did not have to work weekends. Regarding my research project, I found it to be very interesting and in conclusion I very much enjoyed my time there!

Immune Regulation laboratory

Courses during the exchange period

Courses corresponding to semester 3 at KI

Instead of the elective course, I studied a course named Interdisciplinary Biomedical Sciences. The course curriculum can be found here: 

This course was held entirely in English and consisted of a total of six modules that were conducted during the entire academic year. The modules i studied were the following: 

  • MODULE IV: Contrast and cooperation between the immune system and nervous system
  • MODULE V: Stem cells in regenerative medicine
  • MODULE VI: Advanced imaging techniques opening windows on integrated biomedical systems
There were two scheduled lectures every Friday held in a similar format as at KI. I found most lectures to be of high quality with a focus on new and relevant research. The examination did not consist of an exam, but rather of writing a summary of each lecture that had to be handed in before the following Friday. For most lectures no handouts were provided, but some lectures were filmed and uploaded to the intra-web for later viewing. Personally, to obtain the information required for writing the summary, I took notes by hand.

Language and Culture

The Japanese culture is very old with a lot of influences from old Chinese culture. Japanese people are very proud of their cultural heritage and traditions are very important for them. If you show even the slightest interest in their history and traditions, they get very excited. There are certain aspects of their social culture that you are required to follow. For example, speaking loudly or on the phone in the train is strictly taboo in Japan and people will get annoyed if this is not followed. Furthermore, Japanese people are very polite and it’s very important to bow and to address a superior in the lab as sensei. 

The food in Osaka is something extraordinary. Osaka is famous for having many variants of street food such as Takoyaki, which literally means grilled octopus. I often visited a large food market (about 600 meters long) called Kuromon Ichiba Market, famous for its variety of sea food ( Neighboring cities such as Kyoto and Nara are easily accessible using the JR train service. Kyoto is the old capital of Japan and harbors many cultural sites such as shrines and temples. I can strongly recommend a visit to the golden temple in Kyoto built 1397. The city Nara is home to many UNESCO world heritage sites, and to a vast amount of tame deer that run around everywhere in the city. You can support the organizations that tend to these animals by buying food used for feeding them. As mentioned earlier, I found Google Maps very useful when making make travelling plans.

The English level in Japan is rather low and in the beginning it’s hard to get around without any Japanese language skills. Google translate is very useful when trying to communicate so remember to carry your phone with you. With some prior travelling experience and a map, it’s very manageable to find your way as metro signs are often in both Japanese and English. Despite this I regret not taking Japenese language classes prior to my stay. It would have made things a lot easier if in could have spoken the language even at a very basic level. Unfortunately I was not informed about any language classes offered by the University.

Golden Temple in Kyoto (top left), Temple in Kyoto (top right). Park with deer in Nara (bottom left) . Tōdai-ji Eastern great temple in Nara (bottom right).

Leisure time and social activities

There were no university organized social activities that I received any information about. Osaka University does host something called the center for international education and exchange that offers some activities and social events ( The administration of the course that I participated in, did organize a welcome party for me and the other exchange student from KI. My classmates were also very friendly and we went to dinner on a few occasions. However, most of the activities that I took part in such as daily trips were organized by people in the lab.

There are many things worth visiting in Osaka. For example, I went to Osaka castle and several high buildings with an amazing view over the city. The main restaurant and bar district in Osaka is called Namba which was a blast to visit during Halloween. Japanese people are crazy when it comes to Halloween and dressing up. Another great thing with Osaka is its location! It’s very easy to travel to neighboring cities and locations. Japan has a lot of national holidays which one can use for travelling. For example, you can easily travel longer distances with the fast train Shinkansen ( I strongly recommend travelling to Kyoto, Nara and Kobe, all which are easy to visit just for one day. These cities are easily accessible using the JR commuter trains. Another gem that I found was a place located at the countryside of Osaka called Shiga prefecture, home to one of the largest lakes in Japan. Shiga offers a lot of nature, and there is also a local Sake distillery which I recommend to visit.

Shiga lake


I very much enjoyed my stay in Japan! The cultural differences were large but I was surprised how similar the social culture actually was to Sweden. How to behave in the subway was almost identical to home. In contrast to Swedes, Japanese people are very hierarchal and learning how to conduct oneself in their company will be very useful when working with Japanese in the future. Academically I benefited a lot from my exchange studies. It was a great experience to visit a laboratory in a country outside of Europe, and I learned a lot about how the science was conducted there. Osaka University is quite an esteemed institution with a lot of novel and innovative research, and is home to many fantastic scientists. 

During my stay, I particularly enjoyed the culture heritage in Japan! The food was also amazing and it was a treat to be able to afford eating out. I wish I would have spent more time on travelling tough and in hindsight, I should have remained in Japan during New Years Eve celebrations. Considering this, I will definitely go back soon! There is too much left undone and too many places to visit, and unfortunately one semester simply is not enough. I’m sure that you will enjoy your stay in Japan as much as I did! 

Happy travels!