Perhaps you have learned Japanese for a while and want to go over to Japan to experience life in a Japanese College or maybe you are looking to study abroad for a few months just to add experience to your résumé. Although more people are going overseas there is surprisingly little helpful advice on the web. Here are a few things to think about:
Where are you going?
Kyoto is great if you want to study old Japan
A lot of people automatically think they want to go to Tokyo but there is more to Japan than that! If you are looking to study traditional Japan, perhaps looking for colleges in Kyoto is a good idea. Fukuoka in Kyushu is also a nice alternative. If you are looking to build business connections then really you need to go to Tokyo. Despite what people say, do not go to Osaka if you want to learn business Japanese. The Osaka dialect (or Kansai-ben) is frowned upon in business circles. You will get a lot more respect if you learn to speak the Tokyo dialect.
Even if you know which city you want to study in, it is worth looking at a map and a guide-book to help you see where the University or college is. Going to Tokyo University is very different to going to Keio or Waseda as they in totally different parts of the city. Even the campuses can be in different city districts. For example the main Keio campus in Tokyo is near Roppongi (kind of central) but one of their other campuses, SFC is outside Yokohama, almost 3 hours away!
Where are you staying?
Japan is famous for high rents and being short on space so if you can get into a dormitory you can save a small fortune. Good dormitories will give you air conditioning (vital for the summer), internet access and even two meals a day all in the price of the rent. Be careful though as dormitories are very different there. In the dorm I was at, Curfews was at midnight and they insisted you signed in and out. Girls and boys were on separate floors and no guests were allowed beyond two hours. Why? In Japan the age of majority is 20, not 18 so when they go to college they are still children. This is very annoying, even for young Japanese. If you are applying for dorms, do a search and see what other people have said about them. Some dorms cater to foreign students only or do not have such tight rules. Here is one guy talk about his dorm in Japan.
What are you studying?
Different universities have different programs. For example Keio University has a Japanese Language Program as well as a Finance program which has lots of business classes in English but you can take language courses as well. Before you come to Japan it is important that you decide what classes you want to take because changing your enrolment can be very difficult. In many cases the International Students office is filled with people who can speak a little English so be ready to speak a lot of Japanese.
You may be used to exams and quizzes but the Japanese love to give them out. A lot. I remember one week where in 6 classes, there were 6 tests, and it wasn’t even the end of term. Bear in mind that if you fail your classes, you will have to retake the exams as many times as it takes. Normally in the west if you get a bad mark in a test that is it. In Japan however, they have certain minimum standards (50%+) and if you fail them they will force you to retake it again and again.
If you are on a Japanese language course expect to hit the books... hard! (source)
What are you doing?
For some students, coming to Japan is just one big party and they are just here to have fun. This is fine if you don’t have to worry about course credit. I went to Japan to develop my business connections so I deliberately met with salarymen in my free time outside of classes. This was great for understanding business culture. Some foreign students I met however, didn’t seem to know what they wanted to get out of coming to Japan and ended up hating the entire experience.
This happens a lot because living and studying abroad challenges a lot of what people think is the right way to do things. When things don’t go according to plan they end up becoming antisocial. This is a problem because when you are overseas your family normally can’t help you and at least initially you may not have a lot of friends who will care.
My advice: if you have an open mind and are willing to explore, going to college in Japanese can be a life-changing experience.