The Japanese language is very closely tied to Japanese culture in its traditions, customs, and social norms. Those who take the time to invest in learning Japanese will find it extremely valuable for business with Japan’s strong presence in the global economy. Though less than five percent of the world speaks Japanese natively, Japanese is ranked as the ninth most popular language in the world and there are somewhere between 125 and 130 million speakers you can practice with! Don’t let the foreign characters scare you away from learning this powerful, peaceful, and very structured language in its birthplace.
From language schools to private tutoring to classroom environments at universities, there are many places to study Japanese in Japan. Some of the most popular cities for studying Japanese in Japan are Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka. These larger cities can be particularly appealing to beginning language learners as there are more Japanese people with English abilities to help with the language learning process.
Tokyo. As Japan’s capital and largest city (also one of the world’s largest), Tokyo houses several hundred colleges and universities, many of which offer Japanese language courses. If a bustling metropolitan environment is the experience you’re looking for, there’s no better city to study Japanese abroad. The variety of businesses, subcultures, and sheer amount of people in Tokyo allow language learners a wide scope of activities to practice their Japanese language skills, as well as hear different dialects from the many Japanese natives passing through (though Tokyo’s dialect is considered to be the “standard”).
Kyoto. Considered the cultural capital of Japan, Kyoto offers language study abroad in a more traditional environment. Studying Japanese in Kyoto enables language students with the chance to visit many well-known historical and cultural sites in the Kansai region. Kyoto itself has over 2,000 religious sites, between all the temples, shrines, and palaces! Another benefit of studying Japanese in Kyoto is that it can be slightly more inexpensive than Tokyo, and even nearby Osaka. Kyoto is also home to some of Japan’s top ranked universities.
Osaka. Known to be the economical hub of Japan, studying in Osaka offers up opportunities to experience more of the language of business, and features some of Japan’s most famous food specialities. The “Kansai” dialect of Japanese in this area is a bit more direct, and speech in Osaka typifies this dialect. Kansai-ben is spoken in Kyoto as well, however Osaka is also much more metropolitan than its nearby neighbor Kyoto.
Courses & Programs
The primary language foreigners study in Japan is Japanese. The Okinawan or Ryukyuan dialect is the next most spoken “language” in Japan, however it is mostly spoken and taught on the island of Okinawa. In northern Japan, you can also expose yourself to the Ainu language (although it’s endangered), so finding places to study outside of Hokkaido University can be difficult. Studying English is a huge market for Japanese nationals. There are many language companies, schools, and even government programs that promote studying English. So, if English is not your native language, you could easily find English language programs in Japan too.
Base your program selection on your language level and aspirations. Through immersion, you can make a lot of progress with language proficiency and have endless places to practice. For those wanting a lighter version of language study abroad, non-institution based programming may be the better fit based on structure, requirements, and the activities that can accompany learning. Many of the Japanese language programs in Japan will also make sure to include lessons about the history and culture of Japan as the they’re so closely tied.
The most common environments for studying Japanese in Japan are at universities and colleges, language schools, and private classes. The benefit to institutions is that credit can be more easily transferred back to your home university. However, if you want individual attention and lessons that match your exact language level, private lessons are great. These will cost a bit more, but they can also be used to complement a formal class if you are looking to progress leaps and bounds in your Japanese. A balance of both comes in group classes, which contain structure and some customization with a lower cost.
The structure and expectations for Japanese language programs in Japan vary depending on the type of institution or organization you choose. Within a university or college, the culture may actually be less structured than in the U.S., as the Japanese education system is extremely competitive and rigorous up until college. From that point on, schooling is relaxed as students have studied intensely to make it to that point and now want to enjoy themselves. This can sometimes transfer to Japanese language classes for foreigners. However, at lower language proficiency levels many instructors are well-versed in English and the expectations may be similar to a U.S. language course.
There can be additional requirements necessary to be admitted to higher levels Japanese language courses in Japan or more competitive programs. The Japanese Language Proficiency test is an exam that evaluates your proficiency level. It’s typically required for graduate school study.
Scholarships & Costs
The price of Japanese language programs in Japan can range depending on if you’re a part of a university exchange, taking group classes, or working with a private tutor. Additionally, program length and what it includes will greatly affect the cost. For example, a four week program can range from $1,500 to $4,000 depending on what’s included. In general, Japan’s cost of living is high, with Tokyo and Osaka leading the nation. Conversely, the academic costs tend to be less than in the U.S. in regards to tuition. Luckily transportation in Japan, especially via train, is very affordable and efficient. Some language programs in Japan will even include airport pick-up, a transportation pass, excursions, and housing within program costs.
Luckily, there are also a variety of scholarships available for studying Japanese in Japan. The Japanese government offers several via the Monbukagakusho program, and the Japanese Student Services Organization (JASSO) also has honors based scholarships. For a full list of over 200 different funding options available for study in Japan utilize the GoAbroad Scholarship Directory.
Accommodations & Visas
Depending on the type of language study program in Japan you join, living arrangements can range from a homestay (great for more immersive programs) or a dorm, to a shared apartment. If you’re arranging your own Japanese language courses in Japan or working with a private tutor you may have to find your own housing.
Many apartments in Japan are very small and quite expensive, so it can save you money if you go through a vetted program that’s able to provide housing within program fees, or at least slightly cheaper. It’s important to note that though some of the more popular locations for language study in Japan are big cities, these locations are more expensive.
The visas necessary to study in Japan will be different depending on how long you plan to stay. If you’re arranging your own private Japanese language courses and will be in Japan a short time, you may be able to get by without a visa. However, if you are studying in Japan at a formal institution, you will want to make sure and apply for a student visa which allows for a stay beyond 90 days.
A temporary visitor visa can be used to enter Japan and take language fluency exams if your program requires. For this type of visa you will need a note from the school hosting the exam to present. A temporary visa allows you to stay 15, 30, or 90 days. Overall, the visa process in Japan is fairly straight forward, but do plan ahead.
Benefits & Challenges
- Simplicity. The structure and sounds in Japanese are organized, easy to understand, and follow a pattern.
- Immersion. No other country has Japanese as the official language. It’s the best place to practice and fully immerse yourself. In many smaller towns there isn’t exposure to English, so you’ll be forced to utilize the language!
- Valuable. Since Japanese isn’t as common as Mandarin, Spanish, or English, Japanese language fluency is highly valued, especially for international business.
- Formalities. Using honorific language, politeness, and indirect communication are all apart of formalities of speech often expected when speaking Japanese. If you’re not careful you could offend someone.