Studying abroad in Japan can be an amazing, life-changing experience.
But it can also be daunting. How do you get ready? What steps do you need to take? Did you pack everything you will need!?
You can keep questions like these from overwhelming and paralyzing you with some careful planning and preparation.
Of course, there are many factors to consider and a lot of rules that you will need to abide by in order to make your study abroad in Japan successful.
This guide is designed to help you make the necessary arrangements for your study abroad trip as well as prepare you for what to expect once you are there. Think of this as your road-map for getting to—and surviving in—Japan.
Studying abroad in Japan can have a lot of great upsides. You get to experience another culture, be immersed in the language and meet a ton of new people.
So let’s dive right into details of planning your study abroad trip.
Is a Study Abroad Experience in Japan Right for You?
As appealing as the idea of studying abroad in Japan is, it is not right for everyone. There are a number of factors to consider when making this decision:
- First and foremost, you need to be a student. Yes, that seems obvious, but it is worth mentioning. Generally speaking, you should be a high school, university or graduate student if you are going to study abroad in Japan.
- You should have the necessary budget to make the trip. There are limitations on how much foreign students in Japan can work, so be sure that you will have enough money to get by while you are in the country.
- You need to be mature enough to take your schooling seriously. Schools in Japan are extremely rigorous and students are expected to take their studies very seriously. If your primary goal in visiting Japan is not to study, there are other options that you should consider first.
- Whether you are a high school student or an undergraduate in college, most programs require you to have some background in the Japanese language, either through formal instruction in a school or the Japanese-Language Proficiency Test (JLPT).
- Your country of origin can play a role in determining your success, as some countries have travel restrictions. Before you set your sights on Japan, make sure you will be allowed to make the study trip in the first place.
- You will need to meet the requirements for whatever program you apply for. For instance, a literature program may require you to speak multiple languages while an engineering program might ask you for an advanced math background.
- Needless to say, you will also need to commit an entire semester in a different country, so you should have the freedom to travel for a prolonged period of time without issues at home (like family or pets that need you there!).
If you meet all these criteria, you are all set to go on the trip of a lifetime! Let’s see how to make that happen and how to make the experience enjoyable once you are actually there.
10 Japan Study Abroad Tips to Prepare You for an Amazing Experience
It is worth noting that in this post, we are talking primarily about academic study abroad, not private language schools. Most private language schools either run short courses or have dedicated staff who will help you with getting visas, a place to stay and get your other needs met before you come into the country.
Even if you are doing a study abroad through a private school, though, many of the points in this article will still be useful to you.
Something else to note is that, as we mentioned earlier, you will need to know some Japanese in order to apply for certain programs and even to just get around in the country without a problem. That is why, before you start packing your bags, we strongly recommend that you familiarize yourself with the language.
One excellent way to immerse yourself in Japanese and learn quickly and effectively is FluentU. FluentU takes real-world Japanese videos—like music videos, movie trailers, documentaries, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
It naturally and gradually eases you into learning Japanese language and culture. You’ll learn real Japanese as it’s spoken in real life.
Just take a look at the wide variety of authentic video content available in the program. Here’s a small sample:
You’ll discover tons of new Japanese vocabulary through these great clips.
Don’t worry about your skill level being an issue when it comes to understanding the language. FluentU makes native Japanese videos approachable through interactive transcripts.
Tap on any word to look it up instantly.
You’ll see definitions, in-context usage examples and helpful illustrations. Simply tap “add” to send interesting vocabulary words to your personal vocab list for later review.
FluentU even uses a learning program which adapts to your specific needs, to turn every video into a language learning lesson and get you to actively practice your newly-learned language.
1. Select the Best Program for You
The first major hurdle in your planning is to make a decision. Are you going to use a pre-existing study abroad program or will you design one of your own? Some colleges have pre-built programs. Others will help students set up their own custom programs. You may find that your high school or college can help set you up with a study abroad company or even manage the program themselves.
If you prefer to go without the aid of your school, then there are several private companies that can help you arrange your trip. They can be a little bit costly, but services like cis abroad or IES Abroad can be immensely helpful in taking care of the details.
There is, of course, a third option: You could arrange your study abroad in Japan by yourself. Yes, you will have to jump through some hoops, but it is well worth it if you want to be there longer than a semester, or if you want to have the freedom to do it all your way.
No matter which route you take, you need to be sure to contact your home institution and make sure that your credits will be accepted and that they will be valid for whatever program/degree you wish to achieve. Going to college in Japan only to find out that the classes you took will transfer as electives may be fine for a semester (depending on where you are with your degree program) but not for a year.
Of course, if you are looking for a program that will get you up and going with less fuss, here are some excellent options:
- The University Study Abroad Consortium has programs with a lot of different universities, including ones in Japan, which will help you get your credits transferred. It collaborates with 800 colleges worldwide, so it is well worth a look for any student.
- The Center for Study Abroad is a great budget option that is designed to help students with low funds study in Japan. It includes programs in Tokyo, Kobe, Fukuoka and Sapporo.
- If you are looking for a summer option, cis abroad has a great program that can get you there for a few months. They work in collaboration with Seisen University and offer scholarships.
2. Prepare the Proper Admission Materials
If you plan to attend university in Japan, you will need to do some special prepping beforehand. Rather than submitting a GPA or other assessment grades like the SATs in order to get into college, all students who apply to a Japanese university are required to take an entrance examination. The scores you get on those exams will determine whether you will be admitted to a Japanese university.
If you live outside of Japan, then the test you will need to take is the “Examination for Japanese University Admission for International Students” (EJU). It is a standardized test for foreign students that covers areas such as science, mathematics and “Japan and the world.” The majority of universities in Japan will require it.
It is important to note that test-takers have just one chance to pass each academic year. Finding a test center can be a challenge if you live outside of Asia, so you may have to make a special trip to Japan to take the exam.
If, on the other hand, you wish to study abroad through your school, the admission process will differ based on your location and where you plan to study. Some programs require an essay while others have their own special admission tests. Speak to officials in your institution for assistance.
3. Seek Monetary Assistance
Many programs offer scholarships both through your own school and the host school but do not fret if yours does not. You can find scholarships through other resources, as well.
Just remember: Do not be shy about reaching out to a university you are looking at to talk about scholarship options. Be sure to be very polite, and direct your query to the office that handles study abroad students so you get the most accurate information about what is available to you.
You can also appeal to the relevant associations directly with your queries:
- The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT)
- The Japan Association of National Universities
- The Association of Private Universities of Japan (Japanese-only website)
4. Get to Know the Laws and Regulations
Like anywhere, Japan has its own laws and rules that you will need to abide by when you are studying abroad. You can learn the basics of Japanese law at Guidable and even read about some of the stranger laws at Time Out.
There also some specific rules for foreign students that you should get to know, as they apply to issues like visiting home, customs inspections and extending your stay.
One of the most important laws you will need to address before you even leave home regards student visas. If you plan to study in Japan for more than three months, you will need a student visa. To get one, you need to visit a Japanese embassy or consulate with a valid passport, the completed application form, a recent passport-sized photograph and a Certificate of Eligibility, which will be applied for on your behalf by the Japanese institution you plan to attend.
If you want to work while you are studying aboard in Japan, you will also need to apply for a “Permission to Engage in Activity Other than that Permitted by the Status of Residence Previously Granted.” You can get this at an immigration bureau once you arrive in Japan.
Generally, these limit you to working 28 hours a week when your classes are in session and eight hours a day when you are not in class. It is important to note that this is not permission to work full time after your schooling is over.
You may also have to know the rules and laws before you even leave your own country. Most places will require you to have a valid passport before you can travel to a different country. If you do not have a passport, or yours is expired, you will need to act well ahead of time to get it, as you cannot apply for your visa without it.
Some countries may also require you to get specific immunizations in order to travel abroad safely. These vary from country to country, so it is best to do your own research on this matter.
5. Secure a Place to Stay
Many programs help you find housing or include it in your package. You may find that your university has housing for non-local students, or they may be able to set you up with a service that sublets apartments specifically to students. Some even offer homestay options, which allow you to stay with a local family. Ask before you shop around for your own housing.
As anyone who has found their own housing in Japan can tell you, there are some complications to getting your own place in Japan. Be sure to get everything set up before you get ready to move if this is the option you choose.
If you are only staying for a few months, then a short-term monthly apartment rental with a specialist provider may be the simplest option for your study abroad in Japan. MetroResidences is one option, though it mostly services Tokyo. You can also use Housing Japan or Sakura House to find short term housing. You may have to look around or contact your Japanese school’s foreign student office to find a similar agency near you.
6. Research Flights
Booking an international flight can be a bit of a challenge and generally comes at no small expense. But there are some things you can do to help reduce your costs when flying to Japan.
First of all, do not ignore airports outside of Tokyo. Flights to other airports are far less expensive than those going directly into Tokyo so it might be cheaper to fly into a different airport then travel via land the rest of the way.
Your flight time can also make a difference: If you travel at off-hours, or on days when the majority of travelers are not flying, then you can save money. This means that you should consider flying on weekends, when most business travelers are not flying. Also, avoid traveling on or around major holidays in your home country and in Japan in order to avoid holiday premiums.
It would also be ideal to do a bit of comparison shopping before you book your flight. You can use online sites such as Kayak, Orbitz or your airline of choice’s booking website to comparison shop. Depending on your country, you may also want to visit a travel agent or AAA agency to find more deals.
7. Pack Appropriately
What you pack is, of course, personal. But there are some common items that all of us need. In addition to the things that you may have thought of (like your clothing and daily grooming/hygiene items) you should consider packing the following items:
- Your passport, visa and Certificate of Eligibility
- Adapters for your electronics if you come from a nation that does not use the same standard outlets as Japan
- Information about your housing accommodation like confirmation numbers
- The policy information for your travel insurance policy
- Your IDs
- Any prescriptions that you take, along with the medical information on them and a card with your medical history, in case of an emergency
- Your debit/credit card so you can access your funds, as well as bank book or checks, if you have them
- Photocopies, or pictures saved in a secure, accessible file of all the important documents mentioned above, just in case you lose something
- The address and contact information of the closest embassy for your home country in Japan
- The portable device (laptop, tablet, etc.) that you plan to do your school work from, if you have one
Once you have an address, you may want to consider shipping some of the bigger items that you do not need right away, but that would make your life simpler. Again, these are personal choices, but you should know that anything you ship will take some time, as it has to go through customs.
You should also note that some items cannot be shipped to Japan. Check the prohibited items list to make sure your goods are not restricted or prohibited. Items over a certain value will also require you to pay a fee before they are released to you.
8. Examine Your Transportation Options
Once you are actually in Japan, you will need to get around somehow! In time, you will learn to get around easily, but some good maps should get you started until you are confident.
Of course, you should also get a map of your campus so that you can find your way around to your studies. You can usually get these on your college website or on campus at most major universities, depending on the school.
While maps will be helpful, you should also be alert on Japanese streets. Signage is important, and these signals will help you to get the most of your walk safely and simply. It may also be worth your time to learn some of the walking manners of Japan, as well.
Japanese public transportation is well known for being clean, efficient and timely. Trains are some of your best resources for getting around in Japan. Whether you are taking a bullet train (Shinkansen) a Night Train or just a local train, there are things you need to know. Thankfully, there is plenty of information about taking the train in Japan. You can find instructions on topics like how to take the train, how to get rail passes and even get a price estimate with the Rail Pass Calculator.
9. Take Care of the Essentials: Food and Shopping in Japan
No matter who you are, eventually you will need to eat. Whether you are going out for food or bringing it home to cook, you will need to find a store.
The best way to find a good place to eat is to ask the locals. You can also find recommendations online, on websites like Tabelog and Gurunavi. The latter option offers you an app for your phone and helps you find menus translated to English.
Most stores will have both regular grocery items and pre-cooked foods to purchase, which generally come in larger portions than than what you could get in a convenience store. If you are on a tight budget, then you may want to check out lists of cheap supermarkets found online and curated using information from locals.
Dollar stores (sometimes called 100 yen stores) also offer a wide array of goods in Japan. They are great places to buy stationery supplies, basic kitchen tools, simple dishes and other basic everyday items. Finding one is not hard, but they do sometimes vary in quality. This list from Time Out Tokyo will help you to find the best dollar stores in Japan.
10. Mind Your Manners
In Japan, manners matter. Although it is okay to make some mistakes in your first weeks in Japan, it is better to avoid accidentally offending anyone.
Remember some of these simple basic rules:
- Do not be late for anything. In Japan, this is considered extremely rude.
- Use phrases like “please,” “thank you” and “I’m sorry” frequently. It is better to overuse these expressions than to skip them accidentally.
- Do not eat or drink while you are walking. If you buy something at a vending machine, you should consume it there and throw out the waste.
- Do not talk loudly in public, and do not use your phone on the train.
- Bathe frequently. In Japan, it is common to shower at least once a day.
- Do not get in a bath without showering. The bath is for relaxing, not for cleaning yourself, and is generally shared if you do not have a private bathroom of your own.
- Take your shoes off when you enter a building. You will sometimes see guest slippers to use in private homes, but you should have socks with/on you to be safe. It is not acceptable to walk around in bare feet in Japanese buildings.
- Observe local customs for handling cash. In many public places, there is a tray to use for your cash. You put the money down, then the server/cashier picks it up and brings back change to the same place. This is considered a matter of hygiene in Japan.
While this is not a comprehensive list of manners in Japan, it will be a good start for your first week. When in doubt, observe the people around you. Local Japanese people will be your best guide for how you should be acting in public during your study abroad in Japan.
In the end, your study abroad in Japan will introduce you to a new culture firsthand. Try to balance your time studying, working (if you choose to) and experiencing the country.
With proper planning and a positive attitude, you can have a great experience!
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