Way to Ongaku: Study Music in top Performing Japanese Universities

Music plays a key role in human life which is why many people want to pursue an academic career in music. Japan is home to some of the unique conservatories in the world. Venturing between the mix of traditional and modern, they certainly equip students with an advantageous education in music.

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Japanese Music

History of Japanese Music

Japanese music started with traditional music which at first is heavily influenced by Chinese music mainly because of the presence of Chinese instruments that were being played. Japanese traditional music or hongaku is a term used to generalize the two oldest forms of music of Japan: court music or "gagaku" that involves japanese traditional instruments into songs and dances and "shomyo" which consist of buddhist chants and folk music. As time passed by, Japanese music then continued to develop over the years where new styles of music were introduced making the Japanese music that we know today. However, due to the introduction of other music styles, traditional Japanese music is starting to lose its color to younger generations. The government then responded to this by making primary level students learn Japanese Music to integrate into young minds.

Notable Japanese musicians and their achievements

There are a lot of Japanese musicians that contributed to the history of Japanese music. The following are just some notable musicians of Japan who graduated from famous Japanese schools of music:

1. Kosaku Yamada

Yamada is known as the very first Japanese man that composed a symphony. After studying in Berlin, he returned to Japan with the purpose of modernizing Japanese music and thus, released songs that are very much different from traditional Japanese music. His life story and compositions continue to inspire Japanese musicians to not just play already composed music but to also create it. His works and composition style resulted in what we came to know as today's Japanese music. He is an alumni of Tokyo College of Music, one of the top music universities of Japan.

2. Seiji Ozawa

A renowned conductor who worked with major theatres, orchestras, and operas both in Japan and overseas. He was a conductor at the Boston Symphony Orchestra for 29 years. He also conducted at the Vienna State Opera, where it is considered as the most prestigious job for conductors in the world. He is also an alumni of one of Japan's top music universities, Toho Gakuen School of Music.

3. Sekai no Owari (J-pop band)

Sekai no Owari (End of the World) is a popular Japanese pop (J-pop) known for their creative and unique stages. There are 4 members in the band namely, Nakajin (guitar), Fukase (vocalist), Saori (piano), and DJ L.O.V.E (DJ). They paved their way through in the western market when they topped the Billboard Hot 100 in 2013. They continue to inspire and reach people with their record breaking songs. Saori is an alumni of Senzoku Gakuen College of Music, a renowned school for musicians.

Japanese music schools in Japan

Top Music Universities in Japan

The following are considered among the top music universities in Japan:

1. Tokyo University of the Arts

Tokyo University of the Arts has two faculties and 3 graduate schools. The faculty of Music has eight courses: composition, vocal music, instrumental music, conducting, traditional Japanese music, musicology, musical creativity, and the environment, and special graduate courses. In addition, the school sometimes conducts stage performances abroad like in Paris and the United Kingdom to give students opportunities to have exposure internationally.

Tokyo University of the Arts

2. Toho Gakuen School of Music

Toho Gakuen has an extensive music course that allows students to major on instruments of their own choice (e.g. harp, percussion and wind instruments), composition, musicology, conducting and voice training. Teaching methods of music in Toho Gakuen vary from hands-on training, playing with other students, and performing on stage. They also offer non-degree programs for students who come from abroad; they last between 90 days to a year only. They also have a Graduate School, High School, Orchestra Academy, among others.

Toho Gakuen School of Music

3. Kunitachi College of Music 

Kunitachi has a unique curriculum they call the College Modular System that takes 4 years to finish. In this system, they let students choose from Foundation Modules (core classes) they offer while also taking special electives. They have two departments namely, the Department of Performance and Composition and the Department of Music Cultures and Education. The former has 6 Foundation Modules: Vocal Music, Keyboard, String, Wind & Percussion Instruments, Jazz Music, Composition, and Computer Music. On the other hand, the latter has 4 Foundation Modules: Music Education, Music Therapy, Music Information, and Early Childhood Music Education.

Kunitachi College of Music

Aside from the three universities mentioned, there are others that are considered top conservatories or universities to study music in Japan that you want to consider checking like Showa University of Music, Aichi University of the Arts, The Kyoto City University of Arts, Senzoku Gakuen College of Music and Musashino Academia Musicae.

Admission to music schools, requirements, tuition fees

Similar to other universities and colleges, to get admitted to music schools, you have to finish at least high school to get in. You also have to fill up their application form and submit it to respective universities or colleges and pay the necessary application fee. There are also entrance examinations that you have to take, the examinations vary depending on the course. If you apply for practical skill courses, then you have to audition, and if you apply for non-practical courses, then you take a pen and paper examination. If you get admitted, just pay for tuition fees of the respective university or college you got into, then you are good to go!

Some universities and conservatories set a number of international students that they accept every year. For example, Senzoku Gakuen accepted 66 international students in 2019. Also music education can be done in 2 to 4 years, depending on the course, but some may only accept international students for 3 months up to a year. It’s best to check the music schools of your choice first to see your chances to reserve your slot. 

※ Japan Study Support, "洗足学園音楽大学 | Senzoku Gakuen College of Music"

More Information

Scholarship Programs and Opportunities in the Music Industry

Schools and other organizations offer a variety of scholarship programs to both Japanese and international students. An example is the Rohm Music Foundation scholarship where they give their scholars a maximum stipend of 300,000 yen per month for a year or until the scholars graduate.

※ Japan Study Support, "Rohm Music Foundation Scholarship"

After getting your degree in music, there are a lot of opportunities awaiting you not just in Japan, but in other countries. You can start your music career to be a singer, composer, lyricist, conductor, instrumentalist, and even teach music. Or maybe start small by playing your music to live houses or music bars in Japan. You never know - a gig can be your good luck charm for the future.

Japan is the second-largest market of music after the United States, and houses one of the 3 remaining music companies, the well-known Sony Music Entertainment agency. There are a lot of favorable opportunities in the music industry in Japan alone. Japanese artists and foreign musicians do not need to necessarily break into the international market, since Japan already has a big market on their own, depending, of course, on the artists’ goal. Moreover, there are good chances internationally like in the US too since it has the biggest music industry in the world.

※ International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, "Global Music Report The Industry In 2019," p.13


According to Henry Longfellow, "Music is the universal language of mankind." People can understand and relate to music even if it is in another language. Japan has a lot of unsurpassed music schools that cater both to Japanese and international students. This can be your professional workplace to acquire your music skills. Some schools have close cooperation with the local music industries in Japan already, which can be used as a great advantage both to the Japanese and foreign students who wish to study music in Japan, and realize your dream of being a musician!

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