The MBA Diary

A global full-time MBA for $10,000? Yes it exists and it’s world-class.

Sharing a LinkedIn article on my MBA and why it rocks, written by my classmate Alexander James. I’ve been getting emails about my application and experience at Hitotsubashi and haven’t had the chance to sit down an answer everyone yet (sorry!) but if you’re interested to learn more about my school and read about experiences I have not yet blogged about just because there are too many, read about it, as experienced by Alex:

Hitotsubashi University – Graduate School of International Corporate Strategy (Hitotsubashi ICS) is a global business school offering a full time MBA program based in Tokyo costing less than $10,000USD for the 1-year program or a little over $10,000USD for the 2-year program mainly thanks to generous subsidies (cost of course delivery is many times higher so program runs at a huge loss).

Cost to students of less than US$10,000 for the 1-year program or a little over US$10,000 for the 2-year program.

That price is inclusive of overseas travel, access to amazing facilities in the heart of Tokyo, world class professors and the possibility of exchange at institutes such as Yale, London Business School, Kellogg, Darden, UCLAAnderson and more. Many (probably most) students receive scholarships that more than cover tuition fees! Unbelievable right?

Exchange at institutes such as Yale, London Business School…

Scholarships that more than cover tuition fees!

Sounds interesting? Then read on.

Formally called the Hitotsubashi ICS MBA in International Business Strategy (IBS) the program has both one and two year options. ICS aims to be the ‘best of two worlds’ and approaches the program as such by mixing the best elements of the West with the best of the East. These words may seem straight from the program’s mission vision and values but are genuinely practiced by the faculty and students.

The school, which constantly evolves, currently has several programs. They also offer Executive MBA (EMBA), which will be launched in 2017, and a Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) which are communicated in English. In addition, there are also master’s and doctoral programs run entirely in Japanese. ICS belongs to Hitotsubashi University which runs an additional Japanese MBA program at the main campus in Kunitachi which should not be confused with the global MBA ran by ICS in English at the Kanda campus in the heart of Tokyo.

Relationship with Michael Porter.

ICS has world class professors, as an example the Founding Dean, Hiro Takeuchi (Hiro), currently co-teaches Strategy at Harvard Business School with Michael Porter. Porter, perhaps the most famous business thinker, has a long relationship with Hitotsubashi and the Harvard theme runs through as most cases are from Harvard Business School (HBS), although there is a growing number of well written ICS cases. I should also mention Professor Ikujiro Nonaka (Jiro), who is the spiritual head of ICS, and considered one the worlds top business thinkers and influencers. Many of the professors are quite famous within Japanese business circles and many, if not most, sit on company boards.

The faculty is a mix of practitioners (ex McKinsey/Boston Consulting Group/AT Kearney partners, investment bank directors, venture capitalists and more), practitioner academics (academics focusing on executive education and consulting) and traditional academics (focused on management-related research). For an MBA course I thought they struck a great balance. It is my preference to learn subjects such as Corporate Finance and Operations Management from those who have lived it. In fact, ICS seems to have far more practitioners delivering their education than other MBA programs. The faculty is extremely well connected and this allows for interactions between students and people such as Yanai-san (Founder of Uniqlo) and Miyauchi-san (Visionary leader of Orix).

Interactions between students and people such as Yanai-san (Founder of Uniqlo) and Miyauchi-san (Visionary leader of Orix).

For the most part it is a normal MBA being taught mostly via the case method with much of class grade based on class contribution. So I will jot down the differences or key parts that may set ICS apart:

Orientation: The first two days of ICS is an overnight team building retreat (paid by the school). The professors have memorized all of the student’s names by the end of this day, which I think is amazing and is indicative of the school culture!!!

Zemi system: Each ICS student is teamed with a professor to form a mentor/mentee relationship which lasts well after graduation and sometimes for life. Due to low faculty to student ratio each professor may have 3~4 Zemi students per year.

YLP Scholarship: A scholarship is available for South East Asian students that covers all costs over the year, I suspect some students actual earn money in their MBA! Other scholarships also exist and most are not insignificant.

Only about ~50 students are admitted to ICS each year so this allows close relationships within the school.

Students, Professors and Staff all know each other by first name!

Class breakdown of MBA: Changes every year but I suspect something like:

  • Geographical
    • South East Asia 1/5
    • China 1/5
    • Japan 1/5
    • North Asia (except Japan) 1/10
    • Remainder from Europe, America, Australia, India, etc.
  • Ave age ~30
  • Female ~35%
  • Range of professional backgrounds

The faculty is also highly international (but please note most professors with started their careers in the USA).

The classroom is a very diverse place!

Overseas opportunities: These may change from year to year. In my case:

  • Two week study/project trip to Bangalore working with Sauder and IIMB students. (Fully paid for with accommodation at Ritz Carlton);
  • One week international trip to GNAM partner institutes, including Yale, INSEAD, London Business School, among many others (Generous scholarship to contribute to or cover costs); and
  • Opportunity for a 2 week Tokyo-Seoul-Beijing trip with students from partner universities (I didn’t attend unfortunately but heard it was fantastic. Most expenses were paid by the school).

Academically ICS is competitive and uses a forced grading curve. There is an award called The Dean’s Award that recognizes the top student in each year at ICS in terms of academic performance. But the competition is balanced by terrific cooperative spirit between the students. Again the ‘Best of Two Worlds’ is present.

‘Best of Two Worlds’

To summarize, Pro’s:

  • Education quality likely comparable to any top business school;
  • Cost likely below that of any comparable institute thanks to generous subsidies;
  • Small classes, all professors know all students by name;
  • Hitotsubashi brand name in Japan is very high;
  • Great platform for exploring a career in Japan;
  • 1-year or 2-year MBA options (first year is identical for both, and possibility for 1.5year also exists);
  • Many scholarships available;
  • Dual degree options with Peking University and Seoul National University thanks to the BEST alliance;
  • Hitotsubashi have some subsidized apartments that relieve the stress of finding a place in Tokyo;
  • You can personally meet the top business people in Japan;
  • Access to Japanese equivalent of Medicare (for free);
  • GNAM network member school;
  • Lifelong learning opportunities.

Many ICS advantages.


  • Not yet accredited (although process for AACSB under way);
  • Due to size and non accreditation unranked (but this will change if accreditation comes through);
  • Brand is relatively unknown outside of Japan except in certain circles;
  • Program is ~15 years old so Alumni network is still growing in size and strength;
  • An MBA is still not a well-recognized degree in Japan;
  • Limited opportunity for Japanese language learning in first year (or 1-year program);
  • Japan can be hard for non-Japanese speakers (although this depends on your industry);
  • Opportunities won’t suddenly present after graduation as they may in other countries. Although personally I found the value of the MBA to be in the learning not the certificate and am confident in my ability to have a stronger career as a result. However I should note that there are two fantastic full time career services staff and the faculty also have amazing connections, so despite Japan being tough for MBAs or non-Japanese speakers, ICS is a great option if you really want to relocate here (and Japan is a fantastic country to live in).

Japan can be hard for non-Japanese speakers… ICS is a great option if you want to relocate here.

In summary if you want to do an MBA in Japan, ICS is the obvious first choice (sorry Waseda MBA!). If you are interested in Asia ICS should also be on your list, especially due to exchange/dual degree options. And if you are interested in an MBA and location is not a concern, then ICS should also be on your list as there may be nothing better from a value for money perspective.

ICS should be on your list as there may be nowhere better, from a value for money perspective.

The EMBA and DBA program works quite differently, please contact me if you are interested as I can provide you with my take on those options. The global MBA program is, however, the heart of ICS.

Application period for the global MBA normally commences in December and school starts in September the following year. The process is not dissimilar to other business schools.

If you are interested in ICS (if you read this far you likely are!) then please contact me via LinkedIn, my personal email address (alex.s.james at You could also contact ICS directly.

Obviously I enjoyed my time at ICS — I certainly learnt a lot. I started writing this post to provide current unbiased information on ICS as a recent graduate, but in reviewing my article I see it is very glowing. It is simply that ICS is a great school and a great deal.

What may be the world’s cheapest business school may also be one of the world’s best.

One last note: Tokyo is an amazing city, and cost of living here is actually not so expensive (don’t believe the rumours!). For example you can get a decent lunch for under $5USD. For myself I have no immediate plans to leave Japan or Tokyo.

Thanks for reading

Alex James, Class of 2015.

Article shared with permission. Read the original post here.

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  • Reply
    Alexander James
    October 7, 2016 at 6:08 AM

    Thanks Mia


    • Reply
      October 7, 2016 at 8:23 PM

      My auto-generated profile pic is high heels?


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