Guide to studying and living in Japan.
With so many schools available in Japan, picking the right Japanese language school can feel overwhelming. The good news is that schools must follow the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Justice’s requirements to be allowed to submit student visa applications.
These guidelines ensure a relatively uniform learning environment and teaching program.
Whatever school you choose, you will have the same amount of study hours, basic support and class environment. Let’s look at the differences that may help you choose your school.
City or Rural Life?
The majority of Japanese language schools are located in the Kanto, Kansai and Aichi areas, containing more than half of the Japanese language teaching facilities in the country. Generally speaking, schools tend to be located in urban areas, where students can easily find housing, part-time work, do university campus tours and won’t struggle with commuting.
Of course, you can also find schools in other parts of Japan, such smaller urban centers and more rural areas, which are perfect for a slower, quieter pace of life. The only downside is that you may need to travel for in-person job interviews and touring higher education institutions.
Organization, Schedule and Course Guidelines
From an organizational point of view, Japanese language schools must meet the government’s requirements. They must own their facilities, guarantee a specific ratio of certified teachers on staff (and the ratio of staff per volume of students) and respect the 20-student per class limitation.
Schools offer the same volume of hours. So, class scheduling and organization don’t vary much from one institution to the next. You will have classes in the morning or afternoon, from Monday to Friday. You can learn more about a day at a Japanese language school here.
When it comes to course content, they also need to follow the Ministry of Education’s program, guidelines and level milestones. They must ensure students meet language requirements for higher education and employment in Japan by the end of the maximum allowed study duration, which is two years.
Hence, the majority of students go through one of the few officially recommended textbooks:
Beginner: Genki, Minna No Nihongo and Marugoto
Intermediate: Tobira Gateway
Advanced: Weekly J
There are more textbooks on the market, though, and schools introduce more variations in upper levels. The official guidelines partially explain why Japanese Immigration looks closely at students’ monthly attendance and grade reports— to check if the school is doing its job well.
While the content is mostly the same from one school to another, they can be different in how they teach. Typically, the majority of schools do follow the Japanese teaching style, which is heavy on memorization.
They all teach in full immersion—so no English or any other language in class. But some schools use more active participation in class, original ways of teaching kanji or grammar and sometimes digital support.
Some will go through the program at an intensive, fast pace, so students can pass the JLPT as soon as possible, while others will try to offer a more practical approach, with more conversation in class, and less test cramming.
Depending on their capacity and size, schools can offer specialized classes on top of the standard program. These classes further prepare you for the JLPT, the EJU (Examination for Japanese Universities) or employment in Japan. While still following the guidelines, they tend to focus on specific areas of the language.
Cultural Activities Can Vary Greatly
As part of their function, schools are encouraged to introduce Japanese culture to foreign students. All year round, they organize social and cultural events such as calligraphy classes, excursions to farms, hiking nearby mountains or park tours (mandatory Tokyo Disney trips!). Overall, the event calendar doesn’t differ much from one school to the next, but some will make an effort to offer original experiences.
Another duty on their list is to support students in figuring out their next step in Japan. Schools must offer support regarding higher education (university application calendars, entrance requirements, etc.) and employment opportunities.
This is another area in which you can find some schools that will be better than others. Some Japanese language schools really focus on students looking to enter the workforce and partner with potential employers, while others on helping students move to higher education, and plan campus tours and counseling.
You can read more on what to look for when choosing a Japanese language school to get started. Our GaijinPot Study team is also here to help you make the right decision.
If you have any questions about studying in Japan, contact us at the GaijinPot Student Placement Program.
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