So, you want to study Japanese at a language school in Japan? We know it can be overwhelming; there are so many schools and courses to choose from, and many of them kinda seem like they offer the same deal!
As student placement coordinators for GaijinPot Study, we’re experienced with helping students find the right school as part of a free service we provide to our users. In fact (soz, humblebrag incoming…) we’ve helped place hundreds of international learners in schools across the country since we first launched the GaijinPot Study placement program in 2016.
Based on what we’ve learned, here’s what we think are the most important things to consider when choosing your language school in Japan. Hopefully, this will help you at least start to narrow down your selection as you begin the application process to study here.
Apply to study in Japan with GaijinPot Study
The deadline for starting in the April 2020 term for long-term (more than three months) study is coming up fast: December 13, 2019! If you’re interested in studying in Japan or simply just want to learn more, get in touch with us via the application form. For short-term study (less than three months) you can start at any time—just drop us a line via the inquiry form here.
Both forms will put you directly in touch with us so that we can guide you one-on-one through the process. We’re looking forward to hearing from you!
What should you consider when choosing your Japanese language school?
You probably have a pretty good idea of where you want to live in Japan. We’d suggest starting from a city, where schools are typically situated, and looking at your options there. GaijinPot Study has partner schools in Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Ueda in Nagano, and Naha in Okinawa.
Think about the kind of environment you’d be happy living in. For many people thinking about studying in Japan, Tokyo comes to mind first, but the hectic urban environment and the high average cost of rent is not for everyone.
Osaka has a lower cost of living compared to Tokyo but is still a bustling and vibrant Japanese city. The stereotype is that Osakans (and people from the Kansai region in general) are friendlier than Tokyoites, so you might find it a little easier to make local friends.
Kyoto is a good compromise between the two, being a major city with all the attached conveniences, but with picturesque pockets of historical architecture, and easy access to the surrounding mountains. Osaka and Kobe, too, are just a train ride away.
2. Area or neighborhood
Even inside of a city there may be several options. This is particularly the case for Tokyo thanks to a large demand for schools. Some schools are right in the major centers like Shibuya, while others may be located in more suburban areas.
You’re going to want to live somewhat close to your school, and you should be aware that the big entertainment and business districts will be more expensive to live in. Going to a school in a more residential area will thus give you better options for your budget.
It also depends on what kind of person you are. Some will love the idea of being able to enjoy shopping and eating out right after finishing class, while others would prefer to be in a quieter neighborhood that has the basics, and if they want to visit the major districts they can just take a train there.
When you apply through GaijinPot Study, we’ll give you as much insight as we can into the school’s location as well as provide support with finding accommodation through the GaijinPot Housing Service—also free.
3. Lesson pace and intensity
In terms of curriculum, Japanese language schools are generally pretty intense and fast-moving. But there can be variance, especially among language schools in Tokyo.
Some schools will blitz through content, raising your Japanese level quickly but demanding a lot of work for it. There will be a ton of homework, self-study, and prep and planning on a daily basis. Other schools are a bit more casual, moving at a slower speed and dedicating more time in class for communication practice, and with fewer commitments outside of class.
Be honest with yourself! Many students like the idea of moving fast but then quickly become overwhelmed by the amount of work needed to keep up. Or they feel like they need to be cautious and go to a slower-paced school and then become frustrated at the more casual atmosphere.
Either way, all schools will have content 100% in Japanese, so no matter where you go, it’ll still be a serious environment and likely more hardcore than what you may be used to back home.
4. Teaching methodology
Most schools conduct a fairly Japanese-style system of teaching, with lots of drilling and following the teacher’s examples and prompts. This system is pretty effective at raising your level but may not be the most fun learning experience.
In some schools, there will be more of a priority on reading, writing, and listening, with a bit of conversation practice. If your goal is to learn kanji or pass the JLPT these will be excellent options.
Others may focus more on communication ability, with lots of speaking practice in class at the expense of the other skills (although of course they will also be covered). Some may also try a unique method to appeal to western students, breaking down concepts and vocabulary to make it easier to understand, as well as using technology in the classroom.
It’s best to think about how you learn and what you hope to get out of the class. Through the GaijinPot Study application form and regular correspondence, we’ll help you work out what school has the most suitable courses for you depending on your needs and goals.
5. Availability of specialized courses
All of the schools will have a “general” course, so if you only care about learning academic Japanese then you’ll be fine almost anywhere. However, some schools may also have special elective courses, usually available once a student reaches an intermediate level of Japanese (around JLPT N3-N2 ability).
Specialized classes may focus on things like going to university in Japan (and include assistance with applications and admissions); business Japanese which might involve help with job hunting; passing the highest levels of the JLPT, and even being able to read and talk about current news events.
Once you narrow down your objectives for learning the language, you’ll be able to narrow down the schools which offer the relevant courses for you.
6. Class schedule
If you’re coming here to study on a student visa this will not be very relevant as your class time will be set in such a way that you complete the requirements for the visa and there will be no way to change it.
However, if you live in Japan and have a normal work schedule during the day, or want to take a short-term class as a tourist but would prefer to have the days free, you may be interested in evening classes, seasonal courses or private courses that can be designed around your schedule.
Some schools offer such classes, but not very many so if this is a priority for you then you’ll definitely want to confirm it right away.
Things that you shouldn’t care so much about
There may be a few things that you might expect to be on this list but aren’t—intentionally! Here are the factors which should be a lower priority when choosing a school and why.
The majority of language schools in Japan have a large population of Asian students because Japan is, well, an Asian country. There are some which focus more towards westerners, but they’re in the minority and also have more limited courses available.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, however. You don’t want to be the kind of person who studies abroad but only socializes with people from your own country! If your classmates are from non-English speaking countries, your common language will be Japanese and you’ll be forced to use it more often. See it as an advantage and not a detriment.
Cost of studying
You probably thought that the cost of tuition would be near the top of the list! In all honesty, most of the schools are pretty similarly priced. Tuition price points should be a minor factor considering the bigger picture of how much money it will take to move to and live in Japan overall. Your priority should be the points above. Find the right school for your goals rather than just picking the cheapest one—it may not be the best fit.
For more on learning Japanese
- Learn Japanese with our original study materials on GaijinPot Study
- Questions about studying Japanese in Japan? Take a look at the Japan 101 section on Higher Education and Studying Japanese
- Join our GaijinPot Study Facebook group to connect with fellow learners
- Learn more about the GaijinPot Study Placement Program