In my experience, attending a Japanese language schools provided me with the perfect environment to immerse myself in a strict ‘Japanese only’ environment. The intensity and long study-hours, as well as the fact that you are studying in a group, helps to keep language learners accountable in their goals, and helped me personally kick-off my life in Japan.
Choosing to study at a Japanese language school means choosing to dive head-first into life in Japan.
The initial move to Japan can be pretty intimidating journey because, unfortunately, the time when you have the least amount of experience (when you get off the plane) is also the time in every expat’s life where they will need to go through the most amount of setup, frustration , and confusion. Most people who make their way out to Japan start off as English teachers, typically through the Jet program. I have from a lot of friends who did this that they tend to end up in a bit of an English-speaking bubble. After all, it is their job to spend 8 hours a day speaking English is front of non-eager Japanese students. I think in contrast to this, starting at a language school was the perfect way to kickoff my life in Japan, because it enabled me to dive into not just life in Japan, but life in Japanese from the get-go.
How much is tuition?
Most of these schools are based in Tokyo or Osaka, but I thought I would compile a table of information so dutiful readers can get a general idea of how much a year of tuition at a Japanese language school costs.
|Language school||First year total tuition (can vary by location) *2021 data|
|International Study Institute (ISI)||¥849,000 (around $8,500 US)|
|KCP International ＊Tokyo based||$9,000 (prices were only listed in US currency…strange)|
|Human Academy (Where I attended) *Multiple locations||¥987,250 (around $9,870 US) *For 1 year 3 months course|
|Kai Japanese Language School||¥942,000 (around $9,420 US)|
|Akamonkai Japanese Language School||¥778,000 (around $7,780 US)|
|Arc Academy||¥820,000 JPY (around $ 8,200 US)|
I arrived in Japan and entered my language school in early January, 2015. The first thing I noticed was that the website’s marketing had lied to me! How could they do that? As I stumbled my way through Osaka’s subway system to find the venue that my school booked for the new student entrance ceremony, I had a realization when I stepped through the doors; I might be the only English speaker here. The truth of Japanese language schools (and what they don’t show you on their websites) is that probably 90-95% of the students studying Japanese in Japan are from neighboring Asian countries. My school had a strict Japanese-only rule at the school, but walking around the subways and outside of the ceremony building, everything was fair game. As the ceremony starts, I stumbled over to my seat ignoring the fact that everyone was staring at my shiny white face. If you don’t move they can’t see you. Its like that thing in that one movie!…anyways…
Everyone in the room in unison bows 90 degrees, and then looks up for further instruction.
Everyone returns to their seats, and the speech from our school president begins. With that speech and my adherence to 2 simple commands, my slow transition into some semblance of routine began.
Of the roughly 1000 students attending my school, I was maybe the only native English speaker.
And I think that was for the best. While it was a pretty lonely experience for the first few months at that school, it did do a great job of motivating me to learn Japanese. I didn’t have the option to switch to English when there was just that one word that I didn’t know in Japanese. If I didn’t know how to say something in Japanese, I couldn’t say it. Period. I think that this is the best possible environment one could ask for when learning another language. Speaking another language can be pretty brutal sometimes. You don’t get points for effort when you’re trying to tell a funny story but you butcher the punchline. People don’t give you the benefit of the doubt when you lack confidence in an interview. If you don’t know how to explain something in Japanese, people tend to assume that you just don’t know it.
As a way to mentally prepare myself for the long journey that is Japanese language learning, entering a language school was a great decision.
It hardened me, and it was also a lot of fun too. Having the opportunity to come in contact with so many different cultures and languages was a much more enriching experience than I ever could have gotten from seeing a private tutor or self-studying. That being said, the demographic of these schools is something to keep in mind, because things can get pretty intense when you initially lack that safety net. Plus, the lessons are often catered to their biggest demographic, that being Chinese students. So you can expect to spend a lot less time studying kanji (which are often similar to their parent Chinese), and a lot more time going over Japanese-English loan words than you may need. You do need to become somewhat of a loan wolf if you are going to enter one of these schools as an English speaker, because the things that will be difficult to you about Japanese as a language will be entirely different than everyone else.
What classes were like.
My school had classes that would run for about 8 hours per day. These classes would be split up into 90- minute chunks. We would study for 90 minutes, get a 15 minute break, rinse and repeat. This would typically involve a lecture-style lesson, but there were plenty where we would participate in conversations and exercises. The fact that the class is composed of multiple nationalities and multiple native-languages meant that any conversations we had as a class would be in Japanese. Also, our school issued out their own specific textbook, so our lessons would typically conform around the layout of this book. Typically, we take turns reading sentences from an assigned passage out loud, and then pick-apart every word, grammar point, and bit of Japanese cultural nuance from the passage. I think it was a good method that mimicked the kind of practical linguistic analysis you will need to do in the real world, and what I would eventually have to train myself to master at university in Japan.
The Quest for the ‘Examination for Japanese University Admission’ (日本留学試験)
I had mentioned earlier that most students at language schools in Japan are from neighboring Asian countries. Most students are enrolled in language school in Japan so they can get a qualification that allows them to enter a university in Japan, or enroll in a university back home that requires a Japanese language qualification. This means that most students in these schools are cramming day and night to achieve a good school on one of the following exams:
The Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT): Link to JLPT website https://www.jlpt.jp/e/
Examination for Japanese University Admission (EJU) Link to EJU website https://www.jasso.go.jp/en/eju/index.html
It’s worth mentioning that I had never heard of the English name for the EJU (日本留学試験) before this. It’s a much lesser known test than the JLPT, and does not have nearly as much international presence. That being said, the material covered on the EJU is much more practical, and more difficult in an academic sense. For this reason, university admission offices often favor the EJU over the JLPT in application processes.
I was unsure of my future plans when I first enrolled in language school in Japan, but seeing the drive that other students had to study for the EJU gave me the motivation to try to place on it myself. Before I knew it, I was one of them, sitting in the tiny school library until 11PM every night with my face shoved into a textbook. I liked it though. It was that same kind of masochistic satisfaction you can get from running a marathon, or downing 5 whole 500 ml cans of strong zero (I’ll get to talking about strong zero another time.)
About my language school and the surrounding area
For anyone interesting in attending the same language school as me, which I can recommend, I thought I would post some links to the school website, and show off some photos of the surrounding area. It was a great experience leaving the school every night and exploring the surrounding area, so if you end up entering my school you can enjoy walking around these areas every day as well.
It was located just a 10-minute walk away from Osaka’s famous dotonbori area.