Updated March 13, 2023
Computer science in Japan: The 2023 guide
The overwhelming popularity of computer science is undeniable.
It seems like everyone wants to become a programmer nowadays. And studying computer science seems like a good way to start a career in tech.
After all, a computer science (“CS”) degree provides a structured program that teaches you everything you need to know — from the basics to the advanced stages of programming and system design.
It seems like a no-brainer, but the popularity of CS programs varies by country.
A college education is invaluable in its own right — there’s no doubt about that. But if you’re considering getting a CS degree from overseas, it’s important to understand the state of CS education in that country.
This brings us to the topic of computer science education in Japan.
Japan’s connection with technology is irrefutable. So many Japanese tech brands have become staples in the industry, and Japanese-made devices have been in use in almost every household around the world for decades.
So you might think Japan must be a great place to study computer science… but is that really the case?
In this post, I want to clear the air on the state of computer science education in Japan and answer the common question, “should I study computer science in Japan?”.
Let’s start with a brief history of computer science in Japan.
In this article: 📝
In this article: 📝
A Little Bit of Background on Computer Science in Japan
As I mentioned above, Japan has a long history when it comes to building hardware and physical goods. From musical instruments to small kitchen gadgets, Japanese-made hardware has been in our homes for as long as we can remember.
This is because Japan’s tech companies were mostly focused on hardware up until recently.
To this day, one could argue that software isn’t getting the respect it deserves from the traditional tech companies in Japan, but the ones that have been putting their eggs exclusively in the hardware basket are starting to feel the pain.
Nowadays, software is where it’s at. And while much of the world has embraced software (for example, America’s FAANG companies), Japan has a bad habit of ignoring software in favor of hardware. This societal view that hardware is more important can have a negative impact on computer science and engineering graduates.
The Status of Computer Science Majors in Japan
There’s no way to sugarcoat it. Due to Japan’s relative neglect of software and programming, computer science has mostly failed to catch on as a desirable degree in Japan.
Although things are changing now, up until very recently, computer science was seen as a relatively low-level degree. As jarring as it may sound, in general, computer science and programming weren’t very respected in Japan until recently.
Historically, it’s been super common for Japanese firms to hire young people with no computer science background to write code. At these companies, coding was basically seen as a small, unimportant task that could be done by just about anyone, and thus, people who wrote code were seen as replaceable workers.
Many programmers saw writing code as a form of paying their dues until they were able to move on to a management or consulting position. Of course, this systemic lack of respect and interest has also affected the state of computer science education in Japan.
Unfortunately, due to all of this, Japan hasn’t exactly been the best country to study computer science in.
Apart from a few colleges that already provide the best overall education in the country, e.g. the University of Tokyo and Kyoto University, you’ll find that the quality of education in this field is just not up to the standard set by countries like the USA.
Even in the earlier stages of education, children are typically not taught about computer science. It may not even be presented as a realistic choice for a major when students are choosing a college.
However, in all fairness, things have really been changing in recent years.
Computer Science in Japan: How Popular Is It Now?
Nowadays, I can safely say that computer science in Japan is seen as much more mainstream than before.
As I mentioned in my post on programming in Japan, the Japanese government has been taking steps toward making computer science and programming popular in schools since 2016.
In fact, starting this year, high schoolers will have coding as a mandatory subject as part of a government-sponsored program called GIGA School that aims to promote digitalization. The program also aims to introduce programming and computer science to all levels of education, starting from as early as primary school.
While this is, of course, only a freshly planted seed that’ll slowly grow over the years, things are improving on the college level as well. Many colleges are opening computer science courses for both undergraduate and master’s programs, and the ones that already provide CS courses are completely overhauling their existing curriculums.
Alternatively, there are also two-year associate degree programs that allow students who excel in the field to continue and complete a full four-year bachelor program as well.
The Future of Computer Science in Japan: Changes in Hiring Practices
These improvements are good and all, but they won’t be enough if businesses don’t change their practices too.
Fortunately, as computer science education in Japan is getting better, businesses are now shifting their perspectives as well and changing the way they hire.
Normally, Japanese companies do their hiring around the same time every year when students graduate. I explained this extensively in my post on job hunting in Japan, but traditionally, most Japanese companies would hire in a system called “Shukatsu.” This meant that students would be hired right out of college without any experience — to be trained on the job.
This also leads companies to adjust salaries based on skill and position, which is a source of motivation for candidates to improve and better educate themselves.
As I mentioned in my post “Are software engineers respected in Japan?”, the number of people occupying System Engineering (SE) positions — one of the most highly regarded CS-related titles in Japan — without knowing how to code has been alarming in the past.
Now that a new emphasis is being put on computer science as a major and a profession, businesses are leaning towards hiring competent individuals with good qualifications.
All things considered, it’s safe to say that studying computer science is becoming more and more an actual choice rather than an afterthought. Thus, it seems like people who actually choose to study computer science in Japan will be rewarded accordingly as well.
Computer Science in Japan vs. Other Countries
While these improvements I mentioned are great, and the existence of modern companies that hire competent candidates is proof that a change is happening, Japan has been falling behind compared to other countries.
As I said, most system engineers in Japan, who are people that oversee software development projects, usually don’t even have relevant backgrounds. According to a report, only 23% of system engineers in Japan have actually graduated from information technologies-related programs.
While that doesn’t even comprise half of the SEs currently working in Japan, this number is around 72% in India, which is an absolute powerhouse in computer science.
The education in Japan is currently not up to worldwide standards, and while this is changing, a CS education in Japan still can’t compare to the CS education you’ll get in the United States. Yet still, the U.S. is still coming up with initiatives to promote CS education in elementary and secondary schools.
While Japan is just starting to promote CS education in schools, the “K-12 Computer Science Framework” started by the U.S. government is taking the same measures as Japan — and then some — to improve CS education.
The same goes for Germany as well, which is known for its good education overall, and computer science is no exception here.
Not only did the German government make CS courses compulsory in schools in the 5th and 6th grades, but the government is also planning to implement CS classes in the first grades of elementary school as well.
Of course, the companies in Germany offer very competitive salaries for CS-related jobs, which, in a climate where 77% of the population wants kids to learn to code as early as possible, is expected.
Considering all this, while Japan is definitely on the right track, the country still has a bit more ways to go.
A Few More Things To Consider
There’s no doubt that the quality of education is a deciding factor, but if you’re thinking about studying in Japan, there are a few more things you should consider.
First of all, if you’re going to be studying abroad either way, it’s important to consider the financial aspect of things.
Generally speaking, Japan offers a much more affordable college education compared to the United States. However, if this is a concern for you, European countries like Germany even have free education, and the quality of education, as well as the job opportunities you’ll have later on, can be a solid point of consideration.
Besides, you may have heard that life in Japan isn’t exactly cheap. While this isn’t completely true, as I explained in my post on the real cost of living in Japan, you can still find countries where it’s more affordable to live relatively comfortably.
As you’ll be moving to a new country, safety is another valid point of concern that can be a deciding factor. Fortunately, Japan is a strong contender here since it’s one of the safest countries to live in, as I explained in my post “Is Japan safe?”.
The strong culture of respect in Japan still guides most citizens during their day-to-day lives, which leads them to be respectful, considerate, and understanding. With a low crime rate and lots of people with above-average manners around, it’s safe to say that your life in Japan will be pretty peaceful and safe.
Ease of Living
One of the best perks of moving to Japan is that life, in general, is as practical and easy as it can get.
For instance, Japan has one of the best public transport systems in the world. If you move to any major city in Japan, which will likely be the case, you’ll be able to commute and travel with great ease. This means you most likely won’t need a car at all.
The reason public transport works so well is that Japanese people are great at planning and establishing order. This also reflects on the environment, as you’ll find that the streets are clean and tidy in general, which is something not many think about, but it’s guaranteed to help with your overall mood even if you don’t realize it.
Japan also has a great health insurance system. The standard insurance covers most of your regular health expenses, and the ones that aren’t covered will at least not bury you in debt.
Not worrying about money when you’re already dealing with sickness is a luxury most Americans can’t afford, and it’s readily available in Japan.
As you can see from the job listings on Japan Dev and the number of companies on our company list, Japan is no short of good companies that offer great career opportunities with lots of competitive benefits for CS graduates.
However, while these companies are growing in number, they’re not representative of what the majority of tech companies are like in Japan. There are still a large number of businesses that work according to the same traditional Japanese standards that involve bad overtime practices and low pay.
Overall, in terms of building a career, you still have a good chance here in Japan. Sure, there are bad companies, but as long as you know where to look and what to avoid, I’d say that you can still have a pretty satisfying career.
Final Word: Should You Study Computer Science in Japan?
To sum things up, while Japan has been left underdeveloped in terms of computer science for a long time, things are changing rapidly on all levels.
CS courses are becoming mandatory not only in high schools but in elementary schools as well. Children are encouraged to learn to code starting from as early as second and third grade. Colleges are opening new CS programs, and the ones that do have them are updating their programs to provide more value.
Now that the truth is out regarding just how few system engineers have actual computer science-related backgrounds, more and more competent people are filling these positions every day.
Even more traditional businesses are opening up to the idea of hiring outside of specific months and on skill-based terms. All of these changes make Japan a desirable place for studying CS and working in CS-related jobs.
It’s all a matter of time, of course. While the signs of a profound change can be observed clearly, the country still has some ways to go.
Before I go, I’d like to leave you with an interesting read that might be helpful to anyone who’s looking for a CS-related job in Japan.
In my post on how to find a job as a software engineer in Japan, I cover a wide range of topics such as recruitment practices, alternative ways you can look for jobs, and a whole lot more that might be useful to you.
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