Unlocking Sports Opportunities in Japan

Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games: Monument of Olympic Rings/ Dick Thomas Johnson, Flickr

If you are a student-athlete who plans to pursue your sport at the highest level during your university years, chances are you’re quick to pit the US as your number one destination. But before you jump the gun on the US, here are some reasons to consider taking your sporting career to Japan. 

In recent years, increasing interest and investment in Japanese league sports, has meant a variety of sports aim to encourage foreign athletes to train and compete in Japan. The J-League, the highest tier of Japanese soccer, places no limit on foreign players. Similarly, Nippon Professional Baseball, the highest level of baseball in Japan, follows similar rules on foreign player rules. However, one notable advantage is a rule allowing foreign baseball players who have studied and lived in Japan for over 5 years to be treated as Japanese players, acting as an incentive for foreign athletes to start playing in Japan early on. Whether you’re an up and coming athlete in baseball or soccer or any other sport, there are ever growing opportunities and pathways for athletes to pursue a sports career in Japan. 

The two main avenues of pursuing a sports career in Japan during university include: 

  1. Studying at a specialised sports university 
  2. Studying at a Japanese university whilst being supported with an external and/or internal sports achievement scholarship 

Sports Universities 

In Japan, there are five notable specialised sports universities that aim to cultivate students’ academic studies in sports sciences, whilst encouraging their athletic careers. These universities include Nippon Sports Science University, Japan Women’s College of Physical Education, Tokyo Women’s College of Physical Education, Osaka University of Health and Sports Science, and the National Institute of Fitness and Sports in Kanoya. 

Nippon Sports Science University

For those of you who are wanting to pursue a sporting career in Japan, Nippon Sports Science University (Nittaidai) is a force to be reckoned with – being by far the most recognisable sports university in Japan. Nittaidai is famous for its outstanding number of Olympians and world-class athletes produced. In its 72 years as a chartered university, Nittaidai has produced 128 Olympic medals, including 38 Olympic gold medals and several international level titles each year. 

Olympic gymnast and Nittaidai alumni, Kohei Uchimura winning gold at the 2016 Olympics / Compote Slate

Nittaidai’s Hasegawa Scholarship allows for 2nd to 4th-year students, who demonstrate outstanding sporting performance, to apply for financial aid to support their athletic careers during university. 

National Institute of Sports and Fitness in Kanoya 

The National Institute of Sports and Fitness in Kanoya is a public university that aims to produce world-class athletes, coaches and leaders in fitness and public health. NIFS has 14 associated Olympians, from student alumni to current professors and university club coaches. 

NIFS’ sports state of the art facilities / Wikimedia Commons

The university’s Sports Promotion Foundation scholarship awards financial aid for student-athletes or athletic teams who have achieved excellent results in physical education and sports activities. However, recipients are expected to be playing at an international level of competition in their sport, so do be aware.

Internal/External Sports Support

Students who wish to study at non-sports specialised universities can be supported in their sporting careers through a variety of external and internal university scholarships. 

YONEX Sports Foundation Scholarship 

YONEX is a prominent sports manufacturing company based in Japan, that offers financial aid to high performing student-athletes. The terms of the scholarship require awardees to be studying a sports-related major and be affiliated with a recognised Japanese sports institution, such as the Japan Swimming Federation. The scholarships can be awarded to high school, undergraduate and postgraduate students who are under 30 years old. 

Many universities will offer their students, who have achieved a high level of athletic achievement, financial support through the awarding of scholarships. Scholarships for high performing athletes provide financial aid ranging from 50,000 to 100,000 yen for individual athletes and scholarships organised for university sports teams. 

Meiji University, a popular university for aspiring professional baseball players, has churned out five All-Japan University Baseball Championship titles as well as numerous professional baseball players. The university’s Sports Encouragement Scholarship provides a subsidy of half the annual tuition for 180 students who have achieved a high level of achievement as part of a university sports club. 

While other countries have a more well-established place in the sporting world, increased investment in Japanese University Sports makes Japan a country to watch, and a country where student-athletes should seriously consider pursuing their careers.

Looking for further inspiration on working and studying in Japan? Check out these posts:

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Carmen Chung

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