Studying Abroad in Japan: 10 Tips for an Unforgettable Experience

Are you getting ready to study abroad in Japan? Or maybe just considering it?

Lucky you! The country is known for its rich culture, excellent educational system, safety and so much more

The following 10 tips will help you make the necessary arrangements for your study abroad trip and prepare you for what to expect once you’re there.

From housing and financial aid to Japanese etiquette and street signs, you’ll be ready for an amazing experience after reading this guide! 


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. There’s also the option to go with a private company that will help you arrange your trip. Here are some options:

  • The University Study Abroad Consortium collaborates with 800 universities worldwide, including ones in Japan. This will help you get your credits transferred, so it’s well worth a look.
  • Non-Profit Study Abroad is a great budget option that’s designed to help students with low funds study in Japan. It includes programs in Tokyo, Kobe, Fukuoka and Sapporo.
  • CIS Abroad has study abroad programs for the month of January, a whole semester or the summer. They offer scholarships and grants to make their programs more affordable.
  • IES Abroad has programs in Nagoya and Tokyo, where you can spend time a semester, a full academic year or just a summer. 

Whichever route you take, you need to make sure that your credits will be accepted by your home institution and will count towards your program or degree. 

2. Prepare the Proper Admission Materials


If you plan to attend a university in Japan, you’ll need to take the “Examination for Japanese University Admission for International Students” (EJU). It’s a standardized test for foreign students that covers science, mathematics, Japanese as a foreign language and “Japan and the world.” The majority of universities in Japan will require it.

It’s 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 Financial Assistance


Many programs offer scholarships both through your own school and the host school—but don’t fret if yours doesn’t. You can find scholarships through other resources as well. One excellent resource to check out is Japan Study Support. It has a list of scholarships for students looking to study abroad in Japan.

Don’t be shy about reaching out to a university you’re looking at to talk about scholarship options. Direct your query to the office that handles study abroad students so you get the most accurate information about what’s available to you.

You can also appeal to the relevant associations directly with your queries:

4. Get to Know the Laws and Regulations


Like anywhere, Japan has its own laws and rules that you’ll need to abide by while studying there.

  • You can learn the basics of Japanese law here. There are 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.
  • If you plan to study in Japan for more than three months, you’ll need a student visa. To get one, you need to visit a Japanese embassy or consulate with the required documents.
  • If you want to work while you’re studying abroad in Japan, you’ll also need to apply for special permission. 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 8 hours a day when they’re not. 

Before you embark on your study abroad adventure, make sure you have a valid passport and comply with any other travel rules. You should also check the CDC’s requirements and recommendations for vaccines and other health-related issues before traveling to Japan.

5. Secure a Place to Stay


Many programs help you find housing or include it in your package. If you’re directly attending a Japanese university, they may have housing for non-local students or can set you up with a subletting service for students. Some even offer homestay options where you 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’re 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. You can use a service like MetroResidences (mostly services Tokyo), Housing Japan or Sakura House to find short-term housing. 

6. Research Flights


There are some things you can do to help reduce your costs when flying to Japan. First of all, don’t 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 to a different airport and then travel via land the rest of the way.

Your flight time can also make a difference: You should consider flying on weekends when most business travelers aren’t flying. Also, avoid traveling on or around major holidays in your home country and in Japan in order to avoid holiday premiums.

You can use sites such as Kayak, Orbitz or your airline of choice’s booking website to do a bit of comparison shopping before you book your flight. 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, electronic devices and personal care 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 doesn’t 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 and banking cards (debit/credit card)
  • Any prescriptions that you take, along with the medical information on them and a card with your medical history, in case of an emergency
  • 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

If you plan to ship anything to Japan or someone wants to send you a care package while you’re there, check the prohibited items list to make sure it’s permitted. Items over a certain value will also require you to pay a fee before they’re released to you.

8. Consider Your Transportation Options


Once you’re actually in Japan, you’ll need to get around somehow! Here are some suggestions to make it easier: 

  • Get a good map. Map My Walk and Tofugu are two good sources of maps and tips for walking in Japan. You should also get a map of your campus so that you can find your way around to your classes.
  • Stay alert on Japanese streets. Signage is important, and these signals will help you to get the most out of your walk safely and simply. It may be worth your time to learn some of the road signs of Japan.
  • Use public transportation. Japanese public transportation is known for being clean, efficient and timely. Trains are one of the best ways to get around in Japan. There are bullet trains (Shinkansen), Night Trains and local trains.
  • Read up before you travel. 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. You should also read up on using buses, domestic ferries and taxis in case you need an alternate mode of transportation.

9. Find the Best Restaurants and Shops in the Area


No matter who you are, eventually you’ll need to eat. And trying new cuisine is one of the best parts of studying abroad! 

  • Get local recommendations. 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 into English.
  • Check out Japanese grocery stores. They usually have a surprisingly large selection of items, including pre-cooked foods. The three big chains are Ito Yokado, AEON and the Tokyu Store. If you’re on a tight budget, check out this list of the cheapest supermarkets in Tokyo curated using information from locals.
  • Find the best deals. Dollar stores (sometimes called 100 yen stores) offer a wide array of goods in Japan. They’re great places to buy stationery supplies, kitchen tools, simple dishes and other basic everyday items. Finding one isn’t hard, but they do sometimes vary in quality. This list from Time Out will help you to find the best dollar stores in Tokyo.

10. Mind Your Manners


In Japan, manners matter. Although it’s okay to make some mistakes in your first weeks in Japan, it’s best to avoid accidentally offending anyone. Remember some of these basic rules:

  • Don’t be late for anything. In Japan, this is considered extremely rude.
  • Use phrases like “please,” “thank you” and “I’m sorry” frequently. It’s better to overuse these expressions than to skip them accidentally.
  • Don’t eat or drink while you’re walking. If you buy something at a vending machine, you should consume it there and throw out the waste.
  • Don’t talk loudly in public, and don’t use your phone on the train.
  • Don’t get in a bath without showering. The bath is for relaxing, not for cleaning yourself, and is generally shared if you don’t have a private bathroom of your own. Also, the Japanese tend to shower pretty frequently (at least once a day). 
  • Take your shoes off when you enter a building. You’ll sometimes see guest slippers to use in private homes, but you should have socks with/on you to be safe. It’s not acceptable to walk around barefoot in Japanese buildings.
  • Observe local customs for handling cash. In many public places, there’s a tray to use for your cash. You put the money down, and then the server/cashier picks it up and brings back the change to the same place. This is considered a matter of hygiene in Japan.

While this isn’t 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 act in public during your study abroad experience.

Is Studying Abroad in Japan Right for You?

As appealing as the idea of studying abroad in Japan is, it’s not right for everyone. There are a number of factors to consider when making this decision:

  • 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’ll have enough money to get by while you’re 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’re in high school or 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).
  • You’ll 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 for an advanced math background. You may have to study Japanese on your own before you head out, perhaps by mimicking immersion with a program like FluentU.

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Your study abroad experience 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, it can become the trip of a lifetime!

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