You've been studying Japanese for a while and you're ready to take the plunge: you're planning to move to Japan as a student. Maybe at a university for study abroad, maybe at a Japanese language school for a semester or two – whichever it is, you need to plan adequately. Moving to Japan is not difficult per se, but you do need to plan for a few key things, which we'll help you break down in this article.
The key to not being too stressed out about your adventure pre-move is to approach it with optimism and a logical strategy. You need a place to live, a financial plan, and a study plan to get the most out of living in Japan as a student.
If you haven't already, check out our article on how to choose the right Japanese language school for yourself. This will get you started towards the application process so you know where you'll be studying at least.
You're about to move to Japan as a student
You packed your bags last night.
Hold up! You can't leave it to this moment to start planning! If you have, and you're reading this just now, best of luck. Hope you have a long layover to do some internet booking and make a few calls before you land in Japan.
Ideally, you're about a month out and you have some time to start planning, because the very first thing you need to do is understand your accommodation situation. Your living arrangements. Where you plan to lay your head at night and leave your stuff during the day.
Where to live as a student in Japan?
Share Houses (シェアハウス)
Maybe you've read our article on Japanese share houses? That would be a great place to start. From personal experience, I recommend choosing a share house somewhere on your train line to the school you'll be studying at. There's nothing worse than waking up each day knowing you have a 3 train change and an hour long journey ahead of you just to get to class.
These share houses are relatively easy to find online for anyone that knows how to use a computer. This is why you never see old people living in them. You'll want to choose something that has a nice balance between budget friendliness and access to amenities (and of course, the actual quality of the accommodations). Studying in Japan doesn't need to kill your budget, and these share houses often fit the bill for student lifestyles.
Homestay Programs (ホームステイ)
Another option, which people seem to have a love-hate relationship with, is a homestay program.
Oftentimes, homestay programs are relatively short, something like three weeks, or a month long, but some are available for longer periods of time for those who are looking for the real experience. Now I can’t really say whether it’s a good idea to try a homestay or not, but I will say that it’s not for everyone, and you should think long and hard about whether you want to spend six months to a year living with a potentially very traditional Japanese family who doesn’t speak your language and probably won’t even cook you your favorite meal from back home, because the mother of the house doesn’t think it’s healthy.
On the plus side, if you end up not liking your homestay experience, and if you do happen to want to move into a share house, or if you want to get a tiny 1K apartment with your new Japanese boyfriend that you’re just so sure you’re going to love forever and forever, you may have the option to leave the homestay. Just remember, your home stay family is probably going to be gutted.
Maybe they hated you.
Finally, you can of course try to get your own apartment. Particularly in Tokyo, the aforementioned share house companies also tend to offer single apartments in addition to the share houses. If that's not your jam, you can try to land a legit apartment on your own through a real estate company.
Be aware that you might need a sponsor (which your school may be able to provide), and you might have to pay an unnecessarily hefty move-in fee. Once you’re in though, you’re good to go.
Keep in mind that if you choose to go with a real apartment, you'll likely be locked into a 2 year lease, and in fact they may not rent to you at all if your student visa is for a year or less. In fact, you're likely to run into a ton of issues overall trying to get into a real apartment, so unless you plan on staying after your studies, it's not highly recommended.
I will give you one piece of advice though, regardless of what type of accommodations you want: whatever you do, try to find someplace relatively close to your university or Japanese language school. The further away you live, the more likely you are to skip class.
Something else to consider when planning to study abroad…
Now, if you're going to be studying at a Japanese university, you may have the option to live in their dormitory. There's not a lot to say about dorms in Japan that would be different from dorms elsewhere in the world, except...
Some Japanese university dorms are strict. Like, stricter than your homeroom teacher in grade 7.
The best of them will restrict your curfew time to a slightly unreasonable 10 or 11pm, while the worst of the bunch will have you coming "home" for dinner 5 nights a week unless you have a written commitment like university clubs/circles or a job.
So, you go ahead and decide what type of life you want to live when you move to Japan as a student. Who am I to judge if that is the type of structure you need in your life to be successful?
Funding your studies in Japan doesn't have to be terrible, but you do need a plan
How much do you have saved up? Have you thought about all the costs that come with moving to Japan as a student? It's not just accommodations and tuition, my friend. You need to eat, too. And you might want to go out with new friends every once in a while. You could find yourself burning through savings quite quickly if you don't know what you'll do when you get to Japan...
To バイト, or not to バイト
Not everyone will have the opportunity or ability to pick up a sweet part-time（アルバイト, commonly just shortened to バイト) gig while in school in Japan, but for those that can, it’s certainly something to consider.
There’s a few reasons why you should strongly consider it, actually.
Unless your parents (or a wealthy lover) are funding not only your tuition, but also your study abroad experience, you’re going to need some cash.
Though cheap, those cans of Strong Zero aren’t going to pay for themselves, so you need to find a way to fund your studies and going out on the town.
Enter: the part-time job.
It allows you to make a little money on the side so you can avoid being the person that nobody wants to hang out with because they keep mooching off of everyone. Again, you don’t want to be that guy or gal. It’s not a good look.
Another reason for getting on that side hustle is to meet people, particularly those from Japan. I mean, I … assume you are here to learn about the language and the culture, otherwise why are you even here?
Now I’m sure you’re making a lot of Japanese friends in your Japanese 101 class, surrounded by all of those foreigners, but even if there was some random Japanese kid in your Japanese class, you’re not going to develop the same kind of bond with people in your class as you will with your fellow coworkers.
There’s really something about the mutual hatred of customers and bosses that brings people closer together.
You’ll also be able to make some good friends, and you’ll pick up a lot of useful Japanese in the process.
One thing to be careful of when considering whether or not to get a job is the rules.
I know, I hate the word too.
But rules are rules, and they must be followed (usually), but especially in Japan.
Some schools don’t allow their students to work part time jobs, but generally you’ll be able to work up to 28 whole hours a week of part time goodness if… you fill out this form with a name so long I don’t even want to write it out.
I will though, because I’m such a nice person.
It’s called the “Application for Permission to Engage in Activity Other Than That Permitted Under the Status of Residence Previously Granted” (資格外活動許可申請書).
A mouthful of the worst kind.
Essentially what it boils down to is a visa issue. When you get here, your visa (status of residence) will probably be a basic student visa, and due to legality issues, that doesn’t allow you to work a part time job. However, if you fill out this bad boy once you get to Japan and find a job opportunity, take it to your local immigration office and you should be able to join the Japanese work force as a part-timer.
Just be sure to print it on A4 sized paper. They’re sticklers for the wrong paper size here.
Here's the document because I know you're going to put off actually looking for it until it's too late.
It's a whole new world
Remember that Japan is…
Yes, that’s right, a different country from yours, and as such will have many things that may surprise you. These things may lead to real culture shock, which is something else to watch out for.
What I’m saying is that Japan is different from many places you’ve probably been, so it would behoove you to study up on what those differences are. Having even a cursory knowledge is going to be one of those things that helps people think of you less as just a foreigner, and more as part of the international community that is growing in Japan.
These things include but are not limited to: realizing that things are going to be smaller in Japan. Yes, that means you will have to eat less. It’s probably a good thing.
Manners are different here. This means you really shouldn’t eat while you walk, even though some people do. You can’t smoke on the street, but you can inside.
It’s not all bad though! You are allowed to slurp your noodles here without fear of your mother reaching for her wooden spoon.
Speaking of manners while eating – though you can slurp your ramen all day long, it doesn’t mean that you can get away with everything in Japan that you wouldn’t be able to back home. There are even things that you shouldn’t do here that you could back home. Stabbing food with your chopsticks, for one.
You should also be ready for the fact that as much as you try to fit in, it’s just not going to happen immediately. Or ever, in many cases. And that's ok!
Among your friend group you might be seen as just another one of the group, but to most people, you’re going to be the foreign person. This means people might speak to you in English at the cash register right from the get-go, regardless of how good or terrible your Japanese is.
It also means people might stop you on the street for a “free English lesson,” because yeah... Still not sure why that's socially acceptable. Don’t be afraid to just ignore them and walk away if you’re having a particularly bad day, but do keep in mind that we are all ambassadors for our country, as cheesy as it sounds. The way we act may one day have a large effect on how we are perceived by Japanese people in general.
Anyway, the faster you get used to these things, and adapt to them, the better of you’ll be.
This is all just a part of living in another country though!
Enjoy the cultural differences for what they are: a learning experience. Moving to Japan as a student is so much more than just studying Japanese in the land of the language. It's the ultimate way to understand the language, the people, and in many cases, yourself.
We're excited to be partnering with Japanese schools across Japan next year.
COVID-19 has sucked. We get it. If you wanted to get to Japan for vacation, work, or study in 2020, odds are those plans got cancelled.
That's why we are partnering with major Japanese schools throughout the country in 2021 to be able to provide the connections you need to succeed.
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