OIST Graduate School Frequently Asked Questions

Below are answers to questions frequently asked to Graduate School members. 

How much do utilities actually cost?

Depending on usage.

In the Axis Building apartments, electricity/water/gas should not total more than ¥6-7000 per month but this will depend on how much cooking and bathing is done, and on settings and use of the air conditioners. In any case, the cost should not exceed ¥5-10,000 per month.  For comparison, average utilities (water, gas, electricity) cost for a single, working person in Okinawa is about ¥10,000 per month.


Central heating is not provided; the winters are not cold enough to require this. The air-conditioners are reverse cycle systems, providing ample heat for the rare cold spells.


Internet access must be paid for by the student. Fiber optic to the building or to the home connections are cheap and fast in Okinawa (much faster than the university network). We estimate that the average monthly costs will be around 5,000 JPY.

How much are taxes?

It is about 360,000 JPY per year (based on 3 million yen of yearly income). That includes Income tax, Residence tax and National Health Insurance premium.

What will I need to get a valid driver's license in Japan?

If you already have a driver’s license:

A valid current nation driver’s license accompanied by an International Driver’s Permit may be necessary when you first arrive in Japan. This will allow citizens of most countries to drive in Japan for 1 year from the date of arrival. Depending on their country of origin, some students may be directly granted a Japanese driving license following translation of their home license and a written test (those holding licenses from the following 21 countries: France, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Belgium, Netherlands, Luxemburg, UK, Denmark, Ireland, Greece, Spain, Portugal, Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Finland, Austria, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada), or they may be required to pass both a written (available in English, Chinese and Japanese) and practical driving exam (Japanese only, but not difficult language) to obtain a Japanese driver’s license. (“gaimen kirikae” – switching foreign license into Japanese one).


If you do not have a driver’s license:

We recommend obtaining one at least 3 months before coming to Japan.

(To use the “gaimen kirikae” there is one condition: a person must be in possession of the document for at least 3 months in the country of issue before coming to Japan.)


Passing the regular driving exams in Japan is difficult and expensive.

Driving in Japan

Japan Automobile Federation

Getting your license

What are the laws on cycling in Japan?

Laws (summary):

Bicycles are regarded as a vehicle under Japanese law.

You have to ride a bicycle on the roads when the roads and the sidewalks are distinguished. You can ride on the sidewalk only when traffic signs permit.

You must ride as far to the left of the road as practical.

Pedestrians have priority on the sidewalk, so you have to ride slowly on the right side of the sidewalk. You have to ride at a speed at which you can stop immediately, and you must stop when you are blocking pedestrians.

You have to abide by all road safety rules.

Riding under the influence of alcohol, two people riding on a single bike, riding bicycles parallel to each other, and using an umbrella while riding a bicycle are prohibited.

You have to abide by the rules of traffic lights, stop signs, and check for safety at an intersection.

You should not ring your bell recklessly.

You have to use lights at night. 

You must not ride a bicycle while talking on a cell phone or using head phones.

What types of foods will be available in the market in the community zone?

Within the campus village area there is a convenience store stocking basic foods such as milk, bread, cheese and convenience foods.


For café/restaurant food: both Asian and Western. Japanese o-bento lunch boxes and sandwiches are available in the campus café.


There is a vegetable market at “Onna-no Eki”, which is a nearby group of craft and food shops. There are supermarkets at Ishikawa serviced by the OIST shuttle bus. A pool of OIST cars is available for residents of the Village to use for chores like grocery and other shopping.


At Onna-no Eki and many other places in the Onna Village and Yomitan areas a variety of food is served, including Okinawa local cuisine and fast food such as MacDonalds, as well as pizza, pasta, steak, and seafood.

Will the market also be English language?

Most Japanese people living in Okinawa speak sufficient English to help with everyday transactions.  The convenience store has staff who have reasonable English proficiency.

Will there be group trips organized to the supermarkets with Japanese speakers/readers to help out?

After your arrival at OIST, Student Support staff support students in their daily life, for example by accompanying them to shopping centers, post office etc. until they can operate independently.


Students may use a regular bus service between the University and the local market, fish shop, bakery, or the larger supermarket at Ishikawa.


OIST also maintains a fleet of small cars for residents to borrow (including several electric vehicles) for shopping and other local purposes.

Are the beaches swimmable?

Yes, they are.


Water temperature in Okinawa ranges from 20 degrees in winter, to about 26 degrees Celsius in summer. Conditions inside the reef are generally protected, but large swells may occasionally be experienced in less protected areas. Surfing is possible at some locations, but usually over reef.


There are some dangerous animals in the water to be aware of, such as box jellyfish (not usually life-threatening) in the late summer months, or stonefish all year round which may be inadvertently trodden on, but injuries due to these are very rare.  Netted and patrolled beaches also exist at some of the resort hotels or public or private beaches around the island.

Is there somewhere to get a bicycle?

Yes, there is. Cycling is popular in Okinawa, and there are several bike shops in neighboring villages and towns. Okinawan drivers are generally very courteous to bicycles, and pass with sufficient space. Abundant vending machines are available roadside for drinks while riding.


If you decide to buy a new bicycle, registration fee is necessary (500 JPY per bicycle).

It is recommended to register a bicycle (if received from a friend or bought at a flea market) otherwise it may be regarded as stolen.

Will there be a place to lock bikes in the village zone?

Visitors may use bike racks in the car park, while residents have ground floor storage spaces which may be used for secure bike storage.  Alternatively, one of the elevators in the Axis building is large enough for a bicycle and you may choose to store the bicycle in your room.  There is a covered bike lock-up area outside the level B entrance to Lab 2, close to lockers and showers.

Is there roommate matching for the apartments if I want to share an apartment but don't know other students well?

The graduate school will assist with finding matches for sharing 2 and 3 bedroom apartments.

Are the adjunct professors at OIST for significant amount of time? Or do they just come once in a while?

It depends on the particular arrangements for the professor. Some adjunct professors are at OIST about 50% of the time, others only about 20%. An adjunct professor cannot be the primary supervisor for this reason, but can be a co-supervisor.

If a professor has a lab at a different location, can we do research at those site if it is necessary?

Yes, if there are good scientific and academic reasons. This is determined on a case-by-case basis. Some consideration must given to compulsory course requirements. It depends on the duration of the absence. Many universities place a limit (e.g. 1 year in 3). Our policy on this is flexible to ensure the best scientific and academic outcomes for you.

If professor is collaborating with another lab at a different location, can we visit those labs to learn technique and carry out research?

Yes. This is allowed, and is supported from their research budget.

On second year, we are supposed to come up with a proposal but during that time, are we carrying out research under a mentor that we choose?

That is correct.

Is it possible for me to have access to the Teaching Labs?

Access may be granted for uses related to teaching and learning, for a pre-determined amount of time, contingent on acknowledgement of the Teaching Labs User Policy, which can be found at the Graduate School Forms page.  Contact academic@oist.jp with the details of your request. 

I would like to borrow [equipment, resources]. Is it possible?

Resources can in some cases be borrowed for uses related to teaching and learning outside official Grad School courses and workshops.  Please make a detailed request using this form.  and send to academic@oist.jp.  Grad School personnel will evaluate your request and follow up with you. 

I would like the Graduate School to purchase [equipment/ teaching resources] for my course/ workshop/ project.

With advanced planning, resources can be purchased for use related to teaching and learning in Grad School courses and workshops.  Details on purchasing are available in the Teaching Labs Policy.  In the case of workshops, the Workshops section (part of CPR Division) will provide budget for some workshop-related consumables.  Please make a detailed request using the form provided on the Graduate School Forms page.  Contact academic@oist.jp  with the details of your request.  Grad School personnel will evaluate your request and follow up with you.  

I would like to use liquid nitrogen in the teaching lab. What do I need to do?

Contact academic@oist.jp with the details of your request.  I will arrange for training/ clearance for liquid nitrogen use by Facilities and support your planning.

How do get my budget approved/order equipment for my PD1 group project?

Students should download the PD1 budget request form from Sakai or the Graduate School website and submit it to Rachael Brennan at rachael.brennan@oist.jp, or the Graduate School counter.

Can I make an individual Careers Advice Appointment?

Yes, please email rachael.brennan@oist.jp to arrange a time.

When does the new term start?

Please access the Academic Year Dates (https://groups.oist.jp/grad/academic-year-dates ) in the Graduate School Group site.

How can I enroll/ withdraw the course?

Please submit the “Course Change Request” which can be downloaded from the “Forms” tab in the Graduate School Group site. (https://groups.oist.jp/grad/forms )

Is there any relocation assistance with setting up a Japanese bank account and getting utilities/internet/heating/air conditioning in the apartments?

Yes, student support staff assist students with relocation-related matters.


We have a small team of bilingual staff to support relocation issues, from assignment of an apartment, to helping with all the start-up and trouble-shooting issues for accounts and billing. The student support section is committed to assist students to adapt smoothly to life in Okinawa.

Health Insurance - How much does it actually cost?

Students must join (by law) the National Health Insurance scheme. The cost is related to your income, and is on the order of 120,000 yen per year.


Medical charges attract a 30% co-payment, but the level of payments is particularly low and is subsidized by the national government (no US-style pricing in Japan!).  There is effectively a ceiling on costs associated with hospitalization with a reimbursement available over a certain sum.


Your insurance card needs to be renewed every year by March 31.  If you move to another Japanese town or leave Japan, you must return the insurance card to the town office where your insurance card was issued (and get a new one in the new place).


In addition to Health Insurance, OIST will provide at no cost to the student a comprehensive student insurance package that will provide 24-hour accident, damage, and disaster insurance as well as comprehensive overseas travel insurance (while on OIST business, including conferences and home visits).


OIST has a Campus Clinic service available during working hours.  If necessary, the clinic refers students to local health services.  Annual health checks are also provided by OIST.  Excellent hospitals and clinics are available in Okinawa; assistance in English and other languages is available from OIST support staff if necessary.

Does the insurance cover for international trips outside of Japan such as visiting home or conference around the world?

Yes on both counts, see above.