Exchange report - Student at KI
Fushimi Inari, Kyoto, Japan
Home university: Osaka University
Study programme: Biomedicine (Master's)
Exchange programme: INK
Semester: Autumn semester 2018/2019


I decided to go abroad from abroad (I am originally from Germany) since I felt it might be the last opportunity during my career to benefit from this exchange option. Applying at KI for exchange was relatively straight forward, you can submit a list of places where you can imagine going and also rank them. I knew I wanted to go far so I put Japan, Canada and Brazil. I felt there was not much competition for the spots in Japan, so my classmate and I both got a placement at Osaka University, which was our first choice.

After nominating me to go on official exchange, KI then mailed Osaka University, and slowly the whole process started. I had to apply at Osaka University then (but I feel this is a formality as there is the exact number of people nominated by KI for whom Osaka has available spots for intake), Ms Emi Maeda from the Exchange Office in Osaka was of great help and gave me updates and told me what to do through the whole process.  

The most important thing to take care of is the visa. You will have to apply online for something called “Certificate of Eligibility”. This is then issued in Japan, sent to you in original paper form (!) and when it found its way to you it must be taken to the Japanese embassy (or consulate), where you’ll get the visa within some days. This takes time! The whole process took easily three months for me, so it should be on top of your list. After you were assigned to a lab you can start the online form, your supervisor will be “hosting” you. It’s all a bit old fashioned, but the international office will help you with all details.

When going on exchange its very likely that you will do research abroad as part of your course at KI. I had to find a lab to be able to perform a 16 ECTS research project which is part of the 3rd term in the biomedicine master. Ms Maeda simply told me to send her a few labs I am interested in (you find the professors on the websites of Osaka University, although it can be a bit tricky since parts are always in Japanese) and then she figured out the rest. The website of the Graduate School of Medicine ( and the one of the Graduate School of Frontier Biosciences ( are the place to search for labs. 
I joined Prof. Iso at the Department of Public Health. Ms Maeda established the contact with this group so I had someone to talk to. This was all very convenient and easy, although my specific project was then set up only after my arrival. So I had only chosen the area of interest myself, and then I was given my actual project there. 

Arrival and registration

I arrived on a Friday, starting on the following Monday. At the airport, a residence card is issued (make sure to queue at the right immigration counter, it says “residence card”). Since I couldn’t access my student dormitory (it wasn’t possible during weekends), I stayed the first nights in a hostel and slept my jetlag off. Don’t underestimate the travel from Kansai Airport to Osaka University, this takes at least 2 hours and there is no public transport at night. So I recommend booking a flight that gets in during the day.  

The first day at uni was very organized. I first met Ms Maeda to sign some documents and after that I met the people from my lab. The professor had scheduled a meeting with me and we talked about my potential research project. I week later, I was able to submit my project description to KI (this was in September, the deadline for this submission had been in May, still was no problem) and it got approved within a day. 

Also, during the first week, I was able to organize some classes I could take to get the necessary credits. My lab mates where of great help here. Unfortunately, the secretary of our group didn’t speak English, but she was the one who organized everything for me, if I got someone to translate my questions. There are enough classes in English to choose from, a list for international students had been sent to me before my arrival after I asked about this. Lectures are organized in “periods 1, 2, 3 and 4”, which means 1 is the morning session, 2 is before lunch, 3 is after lunch and 4 is the late afternoon. With this (and the day of the week when the class tackles place) you can determine which lectures you can visit, scheduling-wise. 

Within two weeks, the residence card needs to be registered at your local municipality office or city hall. There, someone will print your address on the back of it (which is very convenient in case you need to tell a taxi driver where to go, simply hand over the card). 


Coming from Germany, Sweden is already expensive to me. So I would say Japan is slightly more expensive, but in different areas compared to Sweden. Food is cheaper, local transport is much more expensive (no student tickets or monthly passes!). 

I received the JASSO scholarship from Osaka University of 80.000 JPY (= 6.400 SEK) per month, so this made things much easier. The scholarship is given to you when the funding is available, no extra application is necessary, it’s just a box you tick during the formal application to Osaka University. 
Also, there is a scholarship from the Sweden-Japan Foundation. The deadline for it is in March, you can apply without an acceptance letter. Apparently students usually get some funding here, but not me. Maybe you have to be a Swedish citizen for this or my application in Swedish contained too many weird mistakes since my language skills are rather limited. Who knows. It’s worth a try though, but you have to be quick with the deadline.

KI provides free medical insurance for the whole stay (it doesn’t cover trips to other countries though!), however you will still have to sign up to the national insurance in Japan. This happens at the city hall when you register your residence card. The invoices are the sent to you by mail and you can pay them at any convenience store. For me, it was 2.500 JPY per month. The insurance contract is made for the time your visa lasts. This was six months in my case, but I only stayed for four. You can simply go to the city hall again and cancel it before you leave. I was also told to sign up to the national pension plan and received some letters (in Japanese) about this, but never did it. Wasn’t planning to receive any form of retirement subsidies so I didn’t do it.

I bought a return ticket with Emirates from Munich to Osaka Kansai KIX. Itami Airport, which is also called Osaka International Airport, doesn’t have a single international connection. It’s a trap. Make sure to state the right one in the visa application, I was fooled by this. My ticket was 850 € and surely not the cheapest option, but I wanted to do a stop-over and stayed three days in Dubai on my way to Japan. I can recommend doing this, it’s usually not much more expensive. Istanbul, Singapore, Seoul, you name it, just depends on where the airline  hub is. KI gave me 7000 SEK as a grant (INK) which almost covered the ticket. 

The public transport is a bit annoying around Osaka Uni, which is why I bought a used bike for 11000 JPY. This saved me a lot more money in return, and I even could sell it at the shop again before leaving. 

In general, the JASSO funding provided for living and housing, and the money I usually have came on top so overall my financial situation was more than ok.


Accommodation was very cheap in my case (8300 SEK pM including internet, washing, cleaning and bed sheets). I got a place in one of the student dorms, the so called “International Student Dormitory Suita”. I was charged on a monthly base, so I moved there in the beginning of the month so I wouldn’t waste too much money. Facilities were ok, cleanliness is generally not an issue in Japan. I can’t recommend it though. It’s a strict male-only dormitory with no social vibe at all. I was very bored here. I heard the dorms at Tayonaka Campus are the best ones to apply to. Even if it might look farer to Osaka Uni Suita Campus (where medicine and biosciences for postgraduates are), the bus connection is way better. 

Studies in general

My project was a bit of a disaster. While the people at my lab were friendly and helped me where they could, I didn’t really had something to do often. The data I should analyze (remember, public health) had been there for ages (200+ publications already from this study) and it felt like I was given the task “check if there is something we’ve missed”. Not so nice. In the end I thought I should maybe have joined a classic biomedical lab, on the other hand I learned a lot about statistics. It’s hard to say how the lab will be from only looking at the website of course. There wasn’t much supervision or guidance during my project and I had to find a research question on my own. 

Courses during the exchange period

Courses corresponding to semester 3 at KI
I took three lectures, in English. 

1: Advanced Medical Sciences II. Different researchers presenting their work, every week a different lab. A one page report had to be submitted after every week to get the credits. Only three sessions had to be taken so people could choose the topics they were interested in. Credits depending on how many lectures are visited. This is the lecture that covered the credits I had to do within the third term. 

2: Global Health, organized by my supervising professor. Kind of “out of the regular schedule” this lecture was held on 5 Saturdays with 3 lectures each. One report at the end, no exam.  2 credits

3: International Collaboration and Development II, Professor Sawamura. Really nice guy who shares his ideas about sub-Saharan Africa and how Japan is involved in development aid down there. Mid-term exam and a small presentation. Not really biomedicine but really interesting! 2 credits

Osaka University credits have to be multiplied by 1.8 to correspond to our ECTS. So I made even more than my needed 9 credits. It wasn’t really hard work and usually the lectures were fun! This was also were I had the most contact with people apart from my own research group. Keep in mind that the ACB courses (at least in the biomed master) take a lot time in the third term. This was more effort that I thought!

Language and Culture

I can only tell you what everybody will tell you. The language barrier is real. Bus drivers, staff at the shops, university staff: it’s difficult. I am usually very good with talking with my hands, this helped from time to time. Also, Google translate can sometimes work, but it’s still annoying of course. In my lab, I was the person with the most fluent English. If you imagine learning Japanese from scratch like people in Japan have to learn English it makes sense of course. 
The culture is different, surprise. People are more reserved and don’t have Fika together for example. Also, hierarchical structures are more present than in Sweden. Both of this of course doesn’t mean people aren’t sincere and friendly and kind, it’s just something I needed to adjust to a little. Also, Japanese people are so disciplined. Everything is so clean (and Munich and Stockholm are clean already). There are millions people in the metropolitan areas of Tokyo and Osaka but everybody gives you your space and is polite and decent. It’s amazing and crazy at the same time. People are generally speaking very polite and respectful, which is also why security is never a real problem.  

The food is amazing as well! Ramen, Takoyaki, Okonimyaki, Sushi, Tempura… Luckily the food is displayed in front of the restaurants (it’s plastic but looks so real) so as a last resort you can always take the staff out and point at it! 

The rest of the cultural surprises can be found in every travel guide. Speaking of tea ceremonies, crazy toilets, cleaning your nose (don’t!) and so on…

Leisure time and social activities

As I mentioned, I was not so close with the people I worked with, but the other students from my lab were a nice bunch. We went out for dinner and made dumplings and so on. Many of them were Chinese and couldn’t speak Japanese themselves, so this was some common ground. 

I had a few visitors while I was here, but I also traveled a lot on my own. I managed to see Taiwan and South Korea, and I did trips to Nagasaki, Hiroshima, Tokyo, Nara and Kyoto. Kyoto and Nara are so close that they can be done as several day trips. Nagasaki means flying and Hiroshima and Tokyo mean taking the bullet train, the famous Shinkansen. If you travel within Japan, some advice: ANA offers “Experience Japan” tickets on their international websites, which can be as low as 60 € one way. You just need to proof you’re a “tourist”, a return ticket to Europe does the job. When it comes to Shinkansen travel: the price is always the same. Tickets can be bought on campus at the COOP shops. Buy them two days in advance there, or directly on the day at the train station. is the place to check timetables and prices. Osaka Uni students can get discounts, but not exchange students. 

For traveling outside of japan: you need a Japanese multiple entry visa, otherwise that’s off the table. Peach, T’way Air and Tiger Air are like Ryanair and EasyJet in Europe and made my outside-of-Japan adventures possible. Japan has many public holidays, especially in autumn, and usually they are on Mondays or Fridays, that gives great opportunities for exploring. It’s worth it. Especially Tokyo is a must-do of course whilst you’re here. I used the Lonely Planet “Best of Japan” which lead me to many amazing sights. 

Golden Pavillion, Kyoto, Japan


Even if the things might not have been ideal at my stay here (boring project, no social life at the dorm) I still had a good time and can recommend going to Japan. This country has so much to offer and you’ll most likely never have the chance to spend some time here so easily. There is world class research ongoing here, whenever I mentioned to Japanese people that I study at Osaka Uni they are super impressed as the reputation is really good etc. I have never experienced a country which is on the same level in terms of development, safety and living standards as my home country but culturally so different. Go! 
Osaka City, Japan