Are you thinking about studying abroad in Japan? Well, there are many fabulous and unique things that you will experience in the country. I’m Japanese, but I have met and made friends with many international students in Japan. I also worked for a Japanese language school to support international students. I have studied abroad twice in Europe myself. Thus, from my own experience and observation, I’d like to tell you what is so fantastic about studying abroad in Japan!
Unfortunately, Japanese students learning English in an English-speaking country cannot easily catch the local people’s attention. There are already a lot of Asian people living, working, and studying there which means that most of the locals remain indifferent to Japanese students. On the other hand, there are still very few international (especially, non-Asian) students residing in Japan. Japanese governments, universities, and language schools are, therefore, always keen to attract more international students.
Moreover, Japanese people tend to be quite generous to non-Japanese nationals who love Japan. If you introduce yourself to a Japanese person stating your name, where you’re from, and express that you are interested in Japanese culture or you are here to learn Japanese, they will feel flattered and do their best to accommodate you in Japan.
It’s not rare for Japanese people to take their international friends sightseeing and even buy them lunch. There is a strong sense of hospitality towards guests and temporary visitors in Japan. I had never watched sumo (相撲) matches in person until I decided to do so with some international studentsーI was not generous enough to buy their lunch, though.
Furthermore, if you can speak English, it’s even better. There is some sort of respect paid to (native or non-native) English speakers in Japan, probably because Japanese people tend not to be confident in their English language skills. Even if you don’t speak good Japanese, people will not underestimate your intelligence. Plus, whether you like it or not, a certain number of Japanese people want to speak English in order to improve or maintain their English.
It’s not difficult to find Japanese friends if you don’t mind speaking with them in English. However, if you want to practice Japanese, avoid hanging out with those English-speaking friends and join local communities, clubs, and societies!
Admittedly, Japanese people’s attitudes towards international people can also cause problems. Some non-Japanese nationals feel that the Japanese can be busybodies or too curious about foreigners. However, don’t forget that the best way to absorb a new language and culture is to mix with the locals! Feeling frustrated or annoyed at locals’ behavior or attitude is just a part of the process of learning about a new culture. So, maybe it’s not too bad if you think of this in terms of cultural learning!
Food in Japan is cheap and delicious! For example, you can get a nice lunch for 500 yen to 1,000 yen. I know an Irish student who started enjoying eating for the first time in his life after moving to Japan (of course, not to insult the Irish cuisine!) He said to me, “Before I came to Japan, I had no interest in food.”
Izakaya (居酒屋) or Japanese pubs also seem to catch the hearts of international people. Many of the franchised izakaya offer a set of dinner and free (both alcohol and soft drink) refills for 3,000 yen or so. One Canadian student said to me, “Izakaya are great! I can drink a lot and it’s so cheap!”
Every year, Japan holds many cultural events and festivals. Famous ones include natsu matsuri (夏祭り; summer festivals), hanami (花見; cherry blossom viewing), and oshogatsu (お正月; new year). In addition to these public events, there are many other family-based events and celebrations. For example, setsubun (節分), which takes place every February 3rd, is a festival in which families stand at the house porch and throw soybeans to repel evil and invite happiness.
Hinamatsuri (ひな祭り) is on March 3rd, which is a festival for making a wish for the happiness and health of girls. Families with female children celebrate hinamatsuri by displaying a set of a bride, a groom, and several servant dolls in their houses.
Don’t be disappointed if you don’t get invited along to one of these special occasions by a Japanese friend as visitors are often welcome at these events by shrines, schools, and other local communities.
Whether you can find a job in Japan or not heavily depends on your language skills. If you are a native English speaker with a university degree, you won’t have much difficulty in finding a job as an English teacher. Even though you do not quite fit this categoryーfor example, if you are a non-native English speaker with a degree but you have native-like fluency in Englishーit’s worth trying.
If you are not confident with your English skills but good in Japanese, there are still many part-time job opportunities. The major employers of international students include franchised convenience stores and gyudon (牛丼) stores. For example, Lawson (ローソン), 7-Eleven (セブンイレブン), and Sukiya (すき家) are known for actively hiring non-Japanese people.
Even if you are not good at either English or Japanese, do not give up yet! International restaurants (Chinese, Indian, French, Thai, and so on) are inclined to hire their own nationals. Some extremely lucky and good-looking people might even find jobs as models! But basically, do not count on it.
There are many more positive things I could say about being an international student in Japan. For example, Japan is a safe place. It’s unlikely that you’ll encounter any crime while in Japan and people even sleep soundly on the train without worrying about having anything stolen. Also, transportation is convenient, punctual, and high-tech. Any research into Japan will give you an insight into the many wonderful things that the country has to offer. So, have I tempted you to be daring and try out a study abroad experience in Japan?