Best universities in Japan

Find the top universities in Japan using Times Higher Education’s rankings data

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March 25 2021
Tohoku University, Japan, Rankings, University

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Tohoku University has taken first place in the 2021 Times Higher Education Japan University Rankings.

The rankings, now in their fifth year, are produced in partnership with Japanese education company Benesse.

The Japan University Rankings are calculated based on four broad “pillars” (resources, engagement, outcomes and environment) covering 16 performance indicators. They differ from the THE World University Rankings in that they are more focused on what institutions offer students rather than on research data. Click here to read the full methodology for the Japan rankings.

Japan is a country that successfully maintains ancient traditions alongside its identity as a nation of technological innovation. This contrast can also be seen in the country’s higher education institutions as they develop their research output and international outreach while preserving Japan’s culture and values.

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Top five universities in Japan

Scroll down to view universities in the top 150

1. Tohoku University

Many of Tohoku University’s facilities are built around and within the ancient war grounds of the city of Sendai.

In 1913, Tohoku became the first university in Japan to admit female students after the appointment in 1911 of its first president, Masataro Sawayanagi, the vice-minister of education. Tohoku University was also the first university in Japan to admit international students. 

In 2009, Tohoku University was one of 13 universities selected by the Japanese government to contribute to providing higher education at an international level, and the university introduced a series of degree programmes that are predominantly taught in English.

2. Tokyo Institute of Technology

The Tokyo Institute of Technology is a national research university located in the Greater Tokyo area. 

It is the country’s largest institution for higher education that is dedicated to science and technology. The university is organised into six schools within which there are more than 40 departments and research centres. 

Nobel Prize laureate Hideki Shirakawa, co-recipient of the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 2000, attended the university.

3. The University of Tokyo

The University of Tokyo was the first national university in Japan when it was established in 1877.

It provides courses across the academic spectrum and has 10 faculties, 15 graduate schools, 11 affiliated research institutes (including the Research Center for Advanced Science and Technology), 13 university-wide centres, three main libraries and three institutes for advanced study. 

Students are taught at three main campuses in Hongo, Komaba and Kashiwa, but there are facilities associated with the university throughout Japan. The university has a slightly unusual course structure in that students follow a liberal arts education at one campus during their first two years before transferring to another campus to study their chosen major.

The campuses are in close proximity to many of Tokyo’s cultural attractions including Yanesen, a district of temples, and Ueno Park, with its museums and cherry blossoms. The campuses also have good transport links to the centre of the capital.


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4. Kyoto University

Kyoto University is spread across three campuses in Yoshida, Uji and Katsura. It is one of Japan’s oldest universities and is consistently ranked highly in Asia.

Kyoto University has about 22,000 students, 10 faculties, 18 graduate schools, 13 research institutes and 21 research and educational centres.

The university was initially made up of colleges in law, medicine, letters, and science and engineering. Within two years, the university opened a library and a hospital. Later, it established faculties in economics, agriculture and humanities, and the first graduate school was launched in the mid-20th century.

The institution has produced a number of successful researchers, including 11 Nobel prizewinners, two Fields medallists and one Gauss Prize winner.

5. Osaka University

Osaka University has jumped three places from last year to take fifth position. 

Founded in 1931, the university has become one of Japan’s leading universities. It is organised into 11 faculties for undergraduate programmes and 16 graduate schools. 

The university also has six research institutes, four libraries and two university hospitals. 

It considered one of the most selective universities in Japan, with one of the most difficult entry exams. 


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The best universities in Japan 2021: the top 150

Japan Rank 2021 University Prefecture
1 Tohoku University Miyagi
2 Tokyo Institute of Technology Tokyo
3 The University of Tokyo Tokyo
4 Kyoto University Kyoto
5 Osaka University Osaka
6 Hokkaido University Hokkaido
7 Nagoya University Aichi
8 Kyushu University Fukuoka
9 University of Tsukuba Ibaraki
10 Hiroshima University Hiroshima
11 International Christian University Tokyo
12 Keio University Tokyo
13 Waseda University Tokyo
14 Akita International University Akita
15 Kobe University Hyogo
16 Hitotsubashi University Tokyo
17 Tokyo Medical and Dental University (TMDU) Tokyo
=18 Kanazawa University Ishikawa
=18 Sophia University Tokyo
=20 Chiba University Chiba
=20 Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology Tokyo
22 Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University (APU) Oita
23 Okayama University Okayama
24 The University of Aizu Fukushima
=25 Nagaoka University of Technology Niigata
=25 Ochanomizu University Tokyo
27 Yokohama National University Kanagawa
28 Tokyo University of Foreign Studies Tokyo
29 Tokyo University of Marine Science and Technology Tokyo
=30 Ritsumeikan University Kyoto
=30 Shibaura Institute of Technology Tokyo Tokyo
32 Tokyo University of Science Tokyo
=33 Kumamoto University Kumamoto
=33 Nagasaki University Nagasaki
35 Kyoto Institute of Technology Kyoto
36 Toyohashi University of Technology (TUT) Aichi
37 Kyushu Institute of Technology (Kyutech) Fukuoka
38 The University of Electro-Communications Tokyo
=39 Meiji University Tokyo
=39 Yokohama City University Kanagawa
41 Kanda University of International Studies Chiba
42 Tokyo Metropolitan University Tokyo
43 Doshisha University Kyoto
44 Rikkyo University Tokyo
45 Toyota Technological Institute Aichi
46 Akita University Akita
47 Gakushuin University Tokyo
48 Kwansei Gakuin University Hyogo
49 Fukuoka Women’s University Fukuoka
50 Chuo University Tokyo
51 Niigata University Niigata
52 Aoyama Gakuin University Tokyo
53 Osaka City University Osaka
54 Shinshu University Nagano
55 Kobe City University of Foreign Studies Hyogo
56 Nagoya Institute of Technology Aichi
57 University of Fukui Fukui
58 Tsuda University Tokyo
59 Yamaguchi University Yamaguchi
=60 Osaka Prefecture University Osaka
=60 St Luke’s International University Tokyo
=62 Kansai Gaidai University Osaka
=62 Utsunomiya University Tochigi
64 Nanzan University Aichi
65 Hosei University Tokyo
66 Gifu University Gifu
67 Tottori University Tottori
68 Soka University Tokyo
=69 Kindai University Osaka
=69 Yamagata University Yamagata
=71 Obihiro University of Agriculture and Veterinary Medicine Hokkaido
=71 Saitama University Saitama
73 Kyoto University of Foreign Studies Kyoto
74 Juntendo University Tokyo
=75 Gunma University Gunma
=75 Kansai University Osaka
=77 Saga University Saga
=77 Toyo University Tokyo
79 Hirosaki University Aomori
79 Shimane University Shimane
80 Nagoya University of Foreign Studies Aichi
81 Kagoshima University Kagoshima
82 Shizuoka University Shizuoka
83 Nagoya City University Aichi
=84 Tokushima University Tokushima
=84 University of Toyama Toyama
86 Ehime University Ehime
87 Iwate University Iwate
=88 Aichi Prefectural University Aichi
=88 Future University Hakodate Hokkaido
=88 The University of Kitakyushu Fukuoka
=91 Akita Prefectural University Akita
=91 Kochi University of Technology Kochi
=91 Musashi University Tokyo
94 University of Shizuoka Shizuoka
95 Shiga University of Medical Science Shiga
96 Kagawa University Kagawa
97 Nara Women’s University Nara
98 Dokkyo University Saitama
99 University of Hyogo Hyogo
100 J. F. Oberlin University Tokyo
101-110 Ibaraki University Ibaraki
101-110 Kochi University Kochi
101-110 Kyoto Sangyo University Kyoto
101-110 Meiji Gakuin University Tokyo
101-110 Mie University Mie
101-110 University of Niigata Prefecture Niigata
101-110 Ryukoku University Kyoto
101-110 Sapporo Medical University Hokkaido
101-110 Showa Women’s University Tokyo
101-110 University of Yamanashi Yamanashi
111-120 Fukushima University Fukushima
111-120 Hamamatsu University School of Medicine Shizuoka
111-120 Hyogo College of Medicine Hyogo
111-120 Kanazawa Institute of Technology (KIT) Ishikawa
111-120 Kyoto Prefectural University of Medicine Kyoto
111-120 Nippon Medical School Tokyo
111-120 Otaru University of Commerce Hokkaido
111-120 Reitaku University Chiba
111-120 Seinan Gakuin University Fukuoka
111-120 Tokyo International University Saitama
121-130 Fukushima Medical University Fukushima
121-130 Kitasato University Tokyo
121-130 Kogakuin University Tokyo
121-130 University of Miyazaki Miyazaki
121-130 Miyazaki International College Miyazaki
121-130 Nagoya University of Commerce Business Aichi
121-130 University of Occupational and Environmental Health, Japan Fukuoka
121-130 University of the Ryukyus Okinawa
121-130 Seikei University Tokyo
121-130 Teikyo University Tokyo
131-140 Aichi Medical University Aichi
131-140 Chukyo University Aichi
131-140 Fukuoka Institute of Technology Fukuoka
131-140 Jikei University School of Medicine Tokyo
131-140 Kitami Institute of Technology Hokkaido
131-140 Muroran Institute of Technology Hokkaido
131-140 Musashino University Tokyo
131-140 Nara Medical University Nara
131-140 Tokyo City University Tokyo
131-140 Tokyo Woman’s Christian University Tokyo
131-140 Tsuru University Yamanashi
141-150 Doshisha Women’s College of Liberal Arts Kyoto
141-150 Fukuoka University Fukuoka
141-150 Japan Women’s University Tokyo
141-150 Kanagawa University Kanagawa
141-150 Kanazawa Medical University Ishikawa
141-150 Meijo University Aichi
141-150 Nihon University Tokyo
141-150 Prefectural University of Hiroshima Hiroshima
141-150 St Marianna University School of Medicine Kanagawa
141-150 Tokai University Kanagawa
141-150 Tokyo University of Agriculture Tokyo
141-150 Tokyo Medical University Tokyo
141-150 Wakayama University Wakayama

See the full Japan University Ranking here 

Editor's note: this article was updated on 16 April 2021 to reflect changes in university positions. More information on those changes can be found here. 

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