In the past few years, a lot of people asked me about how to study in Japan, so here are the answers to some of the most common questions. If you have any doubts that I haven’t addressed below, leave a comment and let me know.
All prices are in yen and here you find an online converter for your reference.
How do I go to Japan to study? What do I need?
To study in Japan only for a short time you can enter the country on a tourist visa. Most passports allow you to stay up to 90 days, you can check the details on the JNTO website.
If you are planning on staying longer, you are going to need a student visa. First, you must get a Certificate of Eligibility, and then convert it into a visa at the Japanese Embassy or Consulate in your country.
You will have to provide are a copy of your passport, two passport-sized photos, a copy of a certificate for the studies you completed, and proof that you are (or your sponsor is) able to sustain yourself financially during your stay.
For assistance with the boring bureaucracy stuff, you can contact Go! Go! Nihon. They are an agency helping students to arrange their stay in Japan – from choosing a school to finding accommodation. Their services are free and I had a positive experience, so I would recommend them.
How much money do I need to study in Japan for one year?
The language course will cost you about ¥800,000 for one year. The cost of life in Japan is relatively high; here you can compare the cost of living in different countries and get an idea. If your accommodation is not too fancy your monthly expenses (including rent) will be at least ¥100,000 outside of Tokyo, and closer to ¥200,000 in the Tokyo area.
In which city should I study?
It depends on many factors, including your interests, your future plans, and your budget. Let’s have a look at some of the most popular choices, although you are not limited to this options.
Kyoto, the heart of traditional culture
I stayed in Kyoto and for me, it was the best possible choice. The city is beautiful, it is not too big, and the cost of living is cheaper than in Osaka or Tokyo. On top of that, you can easily ride your bike around town and save money on transportation.
Kyoto was the capital of Japan for about a thousand years, so it brims with culture. Wherever you go, you’ll find picturesque shrines and temples when you least expect it. If you like traditional Japan and don’t want to live in a huge city, you will like it there.
On the negative side, the most touristic spots can become overcrowded, especially during foliage and cherry blossoming seasons. In the past few years, mass tourism changed the city quite a bit, and it might be a very different place from what I remember.
Tokyo, the centre of it all
Tokyo is a huge metropolis, with all the resulting pros and cons. For sure, you can find pretty much everything there. It is an exciting place, and each area has its own personality: it feels like (and indeed is) many different towns put together.
The cost of living is way higher than anywhere else in the country. Tokyo is actually one of the most expensive cities in the world to live in. It also offers more opportunities to find a job after you finish your studies. That’s why if you plan to move to Japan permanently and your budget is not too tight it might be the right choice for you.
Osaka, a lively city
Osaka is somewhere in between the two: it is a big city, still quite expensive, but not as overwhelming as Tokyo can be. Moreover, it is less than one hour away from the cultural sites of Kyoto and Nara.
It offers more job opportunities than Kyoto, and people there are known to be more friendly and relaxed (and loud) than elsewhere in Japan.
Some less obvious options
Other options are Yokohama (close to Tokyo, lively and less expensive than the capital), Fukuoka (in Kyushu, close to the ocean, you will be able to have a more relaxed time compared to Osaka or Tokyo), Sapporo (in Hokkaido, the northernmost island of Japan, where winters are long and very snowy).
Still unsure on what city is best for you? You can write down a list of your priorities to find clarity about the right place for your stay.
Can you recommend a good language school?
I had a positive experience at Arc Academy in Kyoto, so I would recommend it. The study pace is medium: fast, but not super intensive. Therefore, while studying here, you’ll still have time for sightseeing or a part-time job.
Before choosing, have your priorities clear. Do you need to get fluent fast to find work or move on to university? Then you might want to pick an intensive study plan, like the ones at Akamonkai (Tokyo) or KICL (Kyoto).
Do you need to work while studying? In that case, a school that leaves you some free time is a better choice.
Do you want to avoid English speakers for a full immersion in the Japanese language? Look for a school where Europeans and Americans are not the majority of students.
Most schools offer a balanced program that will train you in all four language skills: reading, listening, writing, and speaking. A typical lesson can start with pronunciation exercises, then focus on learning a few kanji, grammar and vocabulary. Optional classes include, for example, JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test) preparation, Japanese for business, culture-related lessons.
Even for absolute beginners, the lessons are exclusively in Japanese. On top of that, you will be encouraged to talk to your classmates only in the language you are studying.
How long will it take me to get to an advanced level?
If you start from zero, it will likely take you about 2 years of full-time studies. After that, you should be able to pass the N2 level of JLPT. Of course, this is subjective and can vary depending on many factors.
For how long can I study in Japan?
The student visa you get from language schools allows you to stay in Japan for up to 2 years. If you later enrol at a university, you can extend it for 4 more years.
Some schools offer the opportunity to study for 3 months on a tourist visa, and you might also be able to attend lessons for a month in the summer. Please check with the schools to confirm if they offer short courses.
How do I look for accommodation?
If you are in contact with Go! Go! Nihon, they will discuss with you the different choices you have: share house, dormitory, apartment or homestay.
The rent would be more expensive than average, but you can look for a fully furnished house, as rented houses in Japan usually come unfurnished. You will also be exempt from paying the key money (礼金
Can I work on a student visa?
Yes, you will be able to work for up to 28 hours a week. The money will help with the bills, while immersion will do magic for your Japanese.
The minimum hourly wage is between ¥750-800. The most common jobs for foreigners who are not fluent yet are in hospitality or language teaching.
To find a job you can bring your CV (handwritten!) directly, contact the company by email or reply to ads on the internet. Here are some example keywords to use when looking for job offers aimed at foreigners: 外国人求人 gaikokujin kyuujin, 外国人募集 gaikokujin boshuu, 外国人歓迎アルバイト gaikokujin kangei arubaito.
Networking is vital, as people tend to trust you more if they get to know you through their acquaintances. Also, ask for advice from your school’s staff: they are often in contact with job agencies and can help you improve your resume.
Warning! Some jobs are not allowed for someone on a student visa, and you risk being deported if you break the law. These include any kind of job (even washing dishes or distributing flyers) for a pachinko or adult clubs, so be careful.
Important: 28 hours a week will hardly cover your monthly expenses, and will definitely not be enough if you include the school fees. If you arrive in Japan with no knowledge of the language, it can take a few months of study before you are able to work. Make sure you have enough savings for your stay and don’t count only on finding a part-time job once there.
A few more tips to study in Japan
Learn hiragana and katakana syllabaries, and a few basic expressions before leaving for Japan: it will save you a lot of headaches.
Write down your expenses. It’s easy to get carried away when all is new and exciting, so keeping track of the money you spend can be a lifesaver.
Write a list of all the things you want to see and do in Japan. You might not be able to do everything, but you’d be surprised at the way time flies while studying abroad.
Disclaimer: This information comes from my own experience between 2012-2015 in Kyoto and I don’t live in Japan anymore. The above is definitely not universal. If you have any questions, corrections, suggestions, additions, please do leave a comment and let me know.