Study Japanese in Japan: What are your Options?

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With the explosion of Japanese popular culture in the global market and the country’s continued position as the world’s third largest economy, knowledge of Japanese culture and language is of paramount importance. If you’re looking at this blog post, you no doubt agree and are searching for the best way to study Japanese in Japan—and begin one of the most fulfilling journeys of your life! But with so many options in terms of where and how to study, how do you even begin to choose? We hope this small list gives you some food for thought!

#1: Free Japanese Lessons Online, etc.

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Before taking the chance to go all the way to Japan to learn Japanese, you would be wise to consider options that are both cost effective and time-saving: You can always take lessons in your home country.  Not only would this save you the trouble of plane fare and other expenses over time, but if you already live in a bigger city you are likely to find a Japanese school near you that employees native Japanese teachers. Through the magic of Skype and online chat platforms, even those unable to physically go to a school can find a conversation partner and chat to their hearts’ content from the comfort of their living rooms for free. What’s more, there are many Japanese who want to talk with people in other countries but simply cannot leave Japan—if you can find people like that to talk to, it would feel almost like being in Japan!

Except that of course, it wouldn’t be. No matter how often you attend Japanese class in your home country, you will find that no amount of study is ever enough because you are unable to totally immerse yourself in things Japanese. Once you walk out the door, your home culture and language are there to greet you as always! The same goes for your imaginary Skype friend. While it’s true that that person wants sincerely to talk with you, it is most likely that language exchange is the goal. So you end up with a friend who you cannot actually meet, who most likely wants to speak English rather than Japanese with you. Even if that’s not the case, you are still separated by completely different time zones. While this may be an excellent first step, it is not the best way to immerse yourself in Japan.

#2: Becoming an English Teacher in Japan

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If you must go, then why not become an English teacher in Japan? It’s a thriving market that never dries up, and you have myriad choices ranging from lofty university posts (if you can get them!) to big “eikawa” (English conversation) schools and even tiny ma and pa establishments that will welcome you with open arms. Although you’ll be speaking English all day in your job, you will get the opportunity to meet Japanese people from a wide demographic, so at least you are learning about the culture as you go. On top of which, you are of course being paid for your work. With at least part of the  money you earn, you envision yourself going full-bore with Japanese lessons during your time off. You hear that most “eikaiwa” schedules are flexible, and that university instructors get spring, summer and major holidays off. All in all, this sounds like the perfect balance.

Unfortunately, the reality is not so clear-cut. “Eikaiwa” teachers, who make up the bulk of English instructors in Japan, do often have “flexible” schedules, but that comes with a price. Many of them are constantly “on call,” waiting for their company to send them into another English lesson at an often strange time of day. Even people who love that kind of schedule would have to admit that it leaves them no time to do things—the teachers who keep those hours are usually the first to say that they have no time to study Japanese despite living in Japan! As for being a  foreign university English instructor, many aspects are indeed as good as they sound. The pay is excellent, the students are usually lovely, and holidays are indeed “off”–although if they want to keep their jobs, most professors and instructors conduct research and write papers in the huge gap between semesters and years.

A university instructorship would seem to be the perfect venue for an intellectually curious person looking to explore Japanese culture and take on the language, but those things are both easier said than done. Aside from their personal research interests, instructors must also plan lessons and conduct exams, both of which take up enormous mental and physical energy. At the end of the day, most are left far too tired to think about studying Japanese! A final note on this: Today’s academic climate demands that foreign people who want to become university instructors need to have good Japanese skills coming into the job, which puts most people out of the running. If you want a job like this, you’ll need to improve your Japanese skills first.

#3: Universities in Japan for International Students

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Of course, a great way to brush up on language skills while experiencing Japan’s unique university culture is to go back to school rather than teaching in one! Many universities these days accept foreign students into their ranks, especially those who want to enroll in English-only programs. Many of these programs require little or no Japanese, allowing you to come here without extensive preparation. You are free to interact with students outside of your classes, and there is no reason to assume that every one of them would speak English well so you could certainly practice Japanese. You might even be able to take a Japanese class for credit!

However, the problem with entering into an English program is that it is still an English program! The quality of English education that you would receive would not likely be on par with that of your home country, yet you would be paying a great deal of money for the experience. If you are set on being surrounded by Japanese people while learning in an all-Japanese environment, matriculating into a regular all-Japanese university class is one possible route.  If you happen to have the skills to matriculate into a regular all-Japanese class, or simply want to know what that process would be like, please check out this article (insert hyperlink to NILS-Getting into a Japanese University).

#4: Scholarship to Study in Japan

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So what’s the alternative? Is there a program where you can immerse yourself in Japanese language and Japan as you intended, make lifelong friends, have time for yourself and your own interests, all while not breaking the bank? The answer is yes! At NILS, we have programs fitting several timeframes and Japanese levels, from a short summer program to more intensive programs running for a year, a year and a half, or two years. If any of those options seem at all daunting, we also offer a
scholarship coupled with very reasonable tuition that is often discounted.

After completing our courses, you’ll have a lifetime of memories culled from beautiful, scenic Fukuoka, not to mention the knowledge that you have completed the Japanese Proficiency Test N1 or N2, both regarded as essential for anyone wanting to do business in Japan. We can also help you tackle the EJU (Examination for Japanese University Admissions for International Students), which can help you to realize the above dream of being admitted into Japanese university if you so desire.  Whatever path to Japan you choose, we wish you the very best of luck!