If you’re planning to study in Japan, you may have been attracted by a culture that juggles Confucianism, Shinto, Buddhism, sumo and samurai on the one hand, and Hayao Miyazaki, Sony, vending machines, touchscreen restaurant menus, avant-garde fashion and anime on the other. Japan is a multifaceted country, with rich culture and traditions on the one hand and a technologically-modern society that’s always in flux on the other.
It’s a cherry on the cake that Japan has high educational standards. It’s the Asian country with the most number of Nobel laureates. Although there can be an unhealthy emphasis on testing and cramming for high school students preparing to get into college, after high school the majority of the population attends a college, university, trade school or some other institute of higher education.
If you’re clear about the subject you want to study in Japan, you probably know exactly what to do. But if you’re unsure about the best courses in Japan for international students, here’s a brief look at these.
Japanese Language Programs
It is usual for international students who want to pursue higher education in Japan to first take a six month to a two-year course in the Japanese language.
You need to have completed twelve years of school or equivalent to be able to apply for these Japanese language courses. Some programs may begin your language education in your home country and then carry on to Japan from there.
You can learn the language either at a private university catering to international students. Such universities follow a curriculum defined by the School Education Law or a junior college. If you continue to study at the institute after your language course is over, you may earn special waivers.
You could also check out Japanese language institutions, such as specialized training schools (senshu gakkou), Vocational colleges (senmon gakkou) or various other schools (kakushu gakkou.)
Short-term programs of less than a year are usually exchange programs. You don’t receive a degree from a Japanese university but from your home institution.
Into the bargain, you get to spend several months in a new culture and learn Japanese. You will typically study in Japan for a semester or a few semesters in the academic year. Classes could be held in Japanese or in English. You will receive credits or research guidance during the program.
Almost every Japanese university has an agreement with a foreign university for inter-university exchange. When you’ve chosen the Japanese university you want to go to, you’ll be screened at your home university, and your application will be sent to the university you want to apply to. You’ll usually pay tuition to the institute you’re originally enrolled in. National universities like Kyushu and Waseda are popular for their exchange programs.
You can find short-term programs of 6 months to a year, delivered in the English language in a variety of fields: Liberal Arts, Economics, Business, Humanities, Natural Sciences, Japanese Language, Science & Technology, etc. These programs typically accept between 20 and 40 students.
Your first preference may be the highest-ranked universities in Japan, such as Kyoto University (the oldest), the University of Tokyo (with 15 graduate schools), Tohoku University (with a number of English programs) and Kyushu University (with a large number of international students).
A course at Hokkaido University in Sapporo will come with plenty of travel opportunities and several English postgraduate degree programs. If you’re up for a challenge, take the tough Nagoya University entrance test and become one of the thousand-plus international students in this selective institute.
Note that some of these universities accept individual applications. Others only accept applications through an inter-university tie-up.
Cultural Exchange Programs
If your priority is travel and cultural experience in Japan, then you may want to enrol at university in one of the scenic destinations in Japan. The University of Ryukyus, for instance, offers short-term student exchange programs without the need for knowledge of Japanese. It will give you the chance to experience the unique Okinawan culture. You’ll also be taking intensive Japanese courses in the first semester to prepare you for daily life in Japan.
Dual Degrees in Masters
If you want to spend a year at your home university and another in Japan and earn a dual degree, you can do that at certain universities. Many universities in the United States and other western countries have ties with Japanese universities, such as the tie between Illinois State University and Nihon University in the foothills of Mount Fuji, Japan.
The program allows students to earn a Master’s in Anthropology from Illinois State and another in International Relations from the Japanese university.
Such a program will give you the chance to go beyond fieldwork when you’re in Japan. You’ll enjoy an immersive experience and learn the ideologies and language of another culture.
Other dual degree postgraduate programs are offered in the Japanese language, such as the tie-up between SOAS, London and Sophia University, Tokyo.
Trade School in Japan
It’s not taboo to study in institutes that specialize in industrial, agricultural or technical training. Once you have the requisite skills in Japanese and want to live and work in the country, you can apply to a trade school or polytechnic.
Kosen or colleges of technology offer 5-year programs to international students from the third year onwards. These courses are usually related to industrial or mercantile fields. At the end of your course, you earn an associate’s degree. If you take on the 2-year advanced course, you can earn a ‘bachelor’s degree.’
Professional Training Colleges
If you’re looking for specialized learning in fields like animation, producing, game creation, movie direction, architecture, interior design and so on, you can apply to specialized schools. These courses are typically 2 years, but 3 and 4-year programs are also available. You will need to have passed level N1 or N2 of the JLPT language test for many institutes or a minimum of 6-month language training.
Longer research programs and degree programs are also available to you, should you wish to pursue higher studies in Japan.
If you are undecided about your choice, your research should begin at the JASSO website, where international students will find more information about studying in Japan.