Ultimate Guide to Japanese Language Schools in Tokyo
Picking the right Japanese language school in Tokyo can seem impossible, especially with new "schools" popping up left and right, looking to make quick money. We've done the research for you and found the top Japanese language schools in Tokyo, and they're all right here at your fingertips.
This article is part of our section on finding the right Japanese language school in Tokyo. The article below focuses on choosing the right school and you can find our directory and reviews of actual schools at the link above.
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This article is about full-time Japanese language schools. Students with tourist visas, major time constraints, or small budgets should consider part-time schooling instead. If you are looking for a part-time school we recommend you check out our partner schools: Japan Switch offers low-cost weekly sessions for beginning to intermediate students and Coto Language Academy teaches intermediate to advanced students.
We’ve included a more detailed explanation of language levels later in this article if you’re confused.
Why attend a Japanese language school?
The main reasons students give for attending a full-time language school is to either satisfy their student visa or to learn Japanese as fast as possible. If this is your situation, then full-time schooling is probably for you.
As you begin looking for your language school in Tokyo, please take the time to go through each section of this article carefully. We don't want you to be part of the 25% of westerners who regret attending a full-time Japanese language school. People join schools under misconceptions that ruin their experience. Before you sign any contracts, learn all the details.
We have a whole section on misconceptions in this article so you’ll be well-prepared!
Attending a Japanese language school makes you eligible for a student visa
If you want to stay in Japan for more than three months and are from a country (such as the US) that does not have a working holiday program with Japan, then a Japanese language school will help you enormously.
If you want to stay in Japan for more than three months, you basically have one option. Unless you can obtain a visa like a working holiday visa or spousal visa, you need to attend a full-time Japanese language school and enroll for a minimum of six months to receive a Japanese student visa. This will cost you ¥300,000 - ¥400,000 in lesson tuition and ¥50,000 - ¥100,000 in enrollment fees and living expenses.
Note: It's possible to stay in Japan for longer than three months if you use the tourist visa multiple times, but please remember there is a limit to doing so, and overdoing it could result in you being denied re-entry into Japan.
Check out our article on planning a working holiday in Japan!
Japanese languages schools boost your resume
Languages schools are also perfect for anyone who wants to live in Japan and wants to be able to work in a profession outside of English teaching or programming. Many businesses are now hiring foreigners with a daily/conversational N3 level of Japanese, so attending a school for about one year full-time is a good way to get your proficiency level high enough to find a job.
Gaining at least a basic proficiency in Japanese will widen your job opportunities. Studying with a Japanese language school will give you a paper record of your dedication and progress. Employers may consider hiring you since you’ve demonstrated you’re actively improving yourself. Even if you’re working at an English-speaking company, attending classes will widen your social circle and help you interact more with the country you’re living in.
Check out our series on finding a job in Japan for more job-searching tips!
Learning Japanese is easier with a teacher
For those already residing in Japan, a Japanese language school is a great way to start learning Japanese, especially if you have a hard time studying on your own. An intensive one-month program is a good way to boost your proficiency level between jobs.
Time and research have shown that studying full-time is the fastest way to learn the Japanese language. The more time you invest in your learning, the more your Japanese ability will grow. Enrolling full-time is a serious financial decision and will involve a large amount of dedication. You may not always be able to learn at your own pace, and you will need to dedicate more than the class time to learning the language.
Japanese language schools are academic stepping stones
If you’re interested in furthering your education, Japanese language schools set you up for success at the university level. These schools are designed not only around gaining fluency, but also around helping their students pass the exams that universities and companies require. Japanese language schools are practiced in preparing their students for both those daunting tests and the rigor of high-level education.
The EJU exam
The EJU is a part of the entrance examination for international students who wish to study at universities or higher educational institutions in Japan. This exam is held in Japan twice annually in June and November. It’s held in about seventeen cities outside Japan, mainly in Asia. The examination topics are Japanese as a Foreign Language, Science, Japan and the World, and Mathematics. Questions are available in Japanese and English.
The JLPT exam
The Japanese-Language Proficiency Test is a standardized criterion-referenced test to evaluate and certify Japanese language proficiency for non-native speakers, covering language knowledge, reading ability, and listening ability. The tests are generally held in July and December in cities around the world.
The JLPT has five levels: N1, N2, N3, N4, and N5. The easiest level is N5 and the most difficult level is N1. N4 and N5 measure the level of understanding of basic Japanese learned in class. N1 and N2 measure the level of understanding of Japanese used in a broad range of scenes in actual everyday life. The test usually measures skills through testing reading and writing comprehension.
Note that due to COVID-19, dates for the JLPT have been adjusted and/or canceled.
Applying to a Japanese university
In Japan, the academic year begins in April and ends in March. Students generally enroll in April, however, some universities allow entry in October. Japanese universities require an entrance examination for privately financed foreign students.
Here are some of the requirements for general eligibility for an undergraduate degree program for international students:
- Completed 12 years of school education in your home country. Your transcript is required
- No immigration issues that interfere with your entry into Japan or with your study in Japanese university
- Examination for Japanese University Admission for International Students (EJU)
|University of Tsukuba||Waseda University|
|Hitosubashi University||Keio University|
|Tokyo Metropolitan University||Meiji University|
|Tokyo University of Foreign Studies||Sophia University|
|The University of Tokyo||Waseda University|
|Hitosubashi University||Keio University|
|Tokyo Metropolitan University||Meiji University|
|Tokyo University of Foreign Studies||Doshisha University|
Applying to a Japanese university
Not ready for a full-on university course? These schools focus on specific areas of occupational study. Entrance requirements vary, but Japanese language schools are aware of these institutions and can help you prepare.
Here are a few vocational schools that stand out in their industries:
- Bunka Fashion College
- Tokyo Mode Gakuen
- HAL Tokyo
- Tsuji Culinary Institute
- Hattori Nutrition College
- Toho Gakuen Media Training College
There are many different types of vocational schools so do some research and you’ll find a school that fits your passion!
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Studying Japanese on your own
There is always the extremely cheap option of learning Japanese on your own, but it’s a daunting process. Remember that you need to study one to three hours each day to make progress. Learning Japanese is not a sprint but a marathon. Consistent study for several hours a day over multiple years is the only way to learn Japanese (at least until some Matrix-like invention allows us to download language abilities). If after reading this article you still want to try it solo for a while, we have some tips for you.
If after reading this article you still want to try it solo, check out our ultimate guide on how to self-study Japanese for more tips!
Common Misconceptions About Japanese Language Schools
|You need a student visa to study at a Japanese language school||You only need a visa for a long-term study period, which is three or more months|
|Only kids can become fully bilingual||Adult language learners can become native-like speakers of their target language|
|Japanese language schools teachers are strict and mean||Many Japanese teachers are wonderful, patient, and very kind to their students|
|Japanese is the hardest language to learn||All languages have difficult areas. Japanese comes easier to some students than others, and some students may know Chinese or Korean which have similar parts. Many of the sounds in Japanese also exist in English. However, as long as you're passionate about learning, you can definitely master the language!|
|You won't need to do homework||Homework is very real at a Japanese language school|
|Japanese language schools will only teach me to speak||Depending on which school you visit you’ll most likely be doing university entry test prep|
How do you know which Japanese language school is right for you?
The first thing you need to know is that there is no one best Japanese language school. Every language school offers different methods of teaching and coursework, and a school that appeals to one person may not appeal to another. Some schools provide support for job seekers while others focus their curriculum and support on students who want to enter a Japanese university. Other schools provide Japanese speaking courses, while the majority focus purely on reading, writing, and kanji.
It’s important to find a good school for many reasons. You don't want to be sent home because the school doesn't meet your needs and you stop attending. If the school violates immigration requirements for student management, they could have their ability to sponsor a student visa revoked, which hurts you. The rules are also stricter if you are working over the twenty-eight-hour limit, or doing night work such as bartending or hosting.
Know your learning priorities
We recommend that you clearly set out your goals for attending a school and then look for reviews from former students which include major details about the school. You should not trust any site that only provides rankings; try to understand what type of curriculum the school provides and what type of students they cater to.
Here are some key questions to answer to make the right decision:
- Is there an entrance fee?
- How much are textbooks and materials?
- How many months do I have to pay for in advance?
- How many lessons can I take in one week?
- Will I learn to read and write kanji?
- How many students are in the class?
- Will I study with the same teacher each week?
- Does the school have a dorm?
- Is the school aimed at students who share my goals?
Making sure your Japanese language school works with your schedule
Plan your time in Japan carefully; class schedules vary from school to school. If you want to spend your time more focused on exploring, it’s better to find a part-time Japanese language school or a casual full-time school. If your main focus is learning Japanese, the best option may be a more intensive program.
Depending on the language school, you'll have the option for either a morning class or an afternoon class. Sometimes, you may not get to choose. For a typical Japanese language school, you attend five days a week for 3-4 hours, which ends up being 15-20 hours a week.
Class size and group lessons
It’s important to double-check on how many students are in each group lesson. Some schools have classes with 15-20 students while others offer smaller sizes from 4-8 students.
You should also find out where the majority of their students come from. It can be tough to make friends with classmates who do not understand your native language, especially when all of you are beginning Japanese students.
Finding an affordable school
Some schools charge an entrance fee from around ¥10,000 - ¥30,000, which is standard when enrolling in a membership plan. Make note of any facility fees and lesson material fees.
You must pay an application fee of ¥20,000 - ¥35,000 just to apply to a school. This amount is non-refundable regardless of whether you get a student visa or not.
You must pay an additional cost of ¥50,000 - ¥100,000 to enter a school. These fees come under the categories of an entrance or registration fee, facility fee, and student insurance.
You normally have to pay around ¥6,000 - ¥12,000 in textbook fees for every two quarters. The required materials come in the form of course textbooks, test preparation textbooks, and vocabulary and kanji textbooks.
Each school year has four quarters, and you will pay ¥140,000 - ¥200,000 for each quarter, depending on the school. You will study five days a week, 3-4 hours a day. Schools that charge higher lesson fees usually have more experienced and qualified teachers, somewhat smaller class sizes, and/or a good reputation that justifies the higher tuition fees.
Are all these fees intimidating you? Check out our list of the top 5 affordable schools in Tokyo!
Japanese language school rules
Different schools have different restrictions and requirements for their students. They may ask students to limit their work hours. Check with a school before you sign up to make sure their rules are ones you can follow.
Here is a link to a well-known Japanese school in Tokyo that gives some examples of the types of school rules you will encounter.
Japanese language class content
Of course, the first thing you need to learn about a potential school is what they teach. Is the course focused on JLPT preparation? Does the school offer different difficulty levels? Will they teach you technical or industry terminology? Make sure your school aligns with your goals for studying!
Some schools cater to English-speaking employees who’ve come to Japan on business and need to learn enough to navigate both work and their daily lives. Teachers know their students lead busy lives and can also help with navigating cultural work differences.
Find top tier business courses to give you a head start for your Japanese career on our Top 5 Business Japanese Language Courses in Tokyo
Difficulty levels in Japanese language schools
As you progress, the level you’re learning at will change, and so will the coursework. These three vague levels can be confusing when you’re trying to figure out if your year of Japanese in high school puts you at a beginner or intermediate level, so we’ve helpful laid them out for you.
Beginning level Japanese
At this level, you'll start to understand and use everyday familiar expressions and phrases, as well as be able to introduce yourself to others and answer basic personal questions. You'll have the capability to interact in a simple way if the other person talks slowly and is willing to help.
|Number of Kanji You'll Learn||428 Kanji|
|Number of Words You'll Learn||415 Words|
|Sentence & Paragraph Length||up to 900 Characters|
Intermediate level Japanese
At the intermediate level, you're able to understand the main points on the subjects you'll regularly come across at work, school, and similar places. You're capable of understanding most conversations. You have the ability to produce simple connected text on familiar topics and personal interest. You can describe experiences, events, and dreams, and give reasons and explanations for opinions and plans.
|Number of Kanji You'll Learn||668 Kanji|
|Number of Words You'll Learn||3,375 Words|
|Sentence & Paragraph Length||up to 1,300 Characters|
Advanced level Japanese
At an advanced level, you can understand longer and demanding text. You can express ideas on specific topics without searching for phrases, use the language in both social, academic, and professional areas, and produce clear, well-structured, and detailed text on complex subjects.
We interviewed a student who took an advanced course at a Japanese language school in Tokyo, and he stated that it took him around nine months to jump from an N2 level of Japanese to an N1 level. He studied around four hours of Japanese every day in addition to taking four hours of lessons each day because that was the only way he could keep up with his Korean and Chinese classmates.
|Number of Kanji You'll Learn||1,000 Kanji|
|Number of Words You'll Learn||6,380 Words|
|Sentence & Paragraph Length||up to 6,000 Characters|
Student experiences at Japanese language schools
Is all this too abstract for you? We have some reviews here from both satisfied and unhappy students, so you can see what people liked or hated about the school they chose. Keep these reviews in mind as you evaluate what type of school would work best for you!
“I studied at this school for three months and then came back two years later for more. I liked the diverse student population, the large variety of electives, and the teachers who were passionate about their jobs. I felt encouraged to do my best.”
“Everyone was very professional and the curriculum was well-planned. We never spent too much time on one topic, but the teacher would include parts of previous lessons on the tests so we had an incentive to remember things.”
“After taking this course, I was able to pass the N3 which I’d been nervous about with no problems. The school focused on conversation but we also learned enough writing for me to improve my kanji.”
“The activities we did prepared me for real-life situations so I didn’t feel as nervous when I tried to talk to strangers. We did a lot of role-plays like buying an item at a convenience store, asking for directions, and introducing a friend to your family.”
“The staff helped students find jobs and prepare for interviews. It was super helpful! They were strict with us so I learned a lot.”
“The classes were comprehensive and organized. I loved the textbook, which always had funny examples and clear explanations. We learned reading and speaking in equal amounts.”
“Whenever I needed help, there was someone I could ask. I enjoyed the folktales we read in class and I learned a lot of culture as well as language.”
“The teachers were super nice and helpful. They always explained things in English if I asked. I had trouble with the textbook but I was able to study with my classmates and we learned a lot together.”
“The location was convenient for me and the staff were all passionate and friendly. Every time I pass that station now, I smile. They were also very understanding when I had trouble and everyone was patient with me.”
“Everyone was putting so much effort into it, I felt encouraged. My fellow students were all from English-speaking countries so it was easy to study together.”
“I made so many friends that I’m still in touch with now! The teachers were really hands-off which worked well for me since I had a busy schedule.”
“I really felt the teachers wanted to help me. They always answered my questions and explained sentences when I was confused.”
“It was the most affordable school I could find. They also helped me find a cheap place to live in. They didn’t assign much homework so I could use my study time how I liked.”
“The school organized events for students to meet each other and hang out. I had a lot of fun!”
“The school helped me join a conversation club where I could talk with native speakers regularly. My Japanese improved so quickly, I almost couldn’t believe it!”
“The students were all from different countries, so not only did I learn about Japanese culture but I also learned about everyone else’s cultures! It was nice because some students had more background in kanji or grammar and they shared their study tricks.”
“We had a different teacher every day and it was hard to adjust to all the different teaching styles. I couldn’t remember who’d assigned what readings or what their grading requirements were. I wish the school had either kept me with one teacher or had some standards for their teaching methods.”
“The pace was too fast for me and it was super stressful. The teachers moved on even if the students weren’t understanding the lesson. When I asked questions they told me we have to get through the content so in the end, I didn’t learn anything.”
“My teacher ignored me and only paid attention to the high-performing students. I wasn’t sure how to improve on my own and we weren’t given enough direction on studying at home.”
“I didn’t like the mandatory social activities, which felt forced. We didn’t learn as many grammatical patterns as I’d thought we would. I wanted a more intensive program.”
“The textbook the school used was aimed at Chinese students and didn’t help with kanji at all. All the Chinese students did well but I couldn't keep up with them. I should’ve chosen a school where the students were more on my level. It was really discouraging.”
“The curriculum focused too much on reading and writing. I didn’t get enough conversation practice. I can read a newspaper just fine but I still can’t carry a conversation.”
“When I asked for help finding housing, the staff never got back to me and I ended up living on a friend’s couch. Then they found out and threatened to revoke my visa, which luckily I knew they couldn’t do. I wish I’d chosen a school that took better care of its students.”
“My job has weird hours so I couldn’t attend frequently enough and I had to drop the class. It’d be nice if they’d offered different or flexible times.”
“I got sick for a week and I couldn’t catch up with the rest of the class. I wish the teacher had helped me catch up instead of just telling me to read the textbook chapter.”
Know anyone who has passed N1?
Want to escape the teaching trap?
Masterlist of Japanese Language Schools
Finally, the section you’ve been waiting for! We’ve helpfully compiled for you a list of our favorite full-time Japanese language schools in the Tokyo metropolitan area!
Japanese language schools in Shinjuku and Shibuya
Academy of Language Arts (ALA)
Closest train station: Iidabashi
Focuses: conversation, teacher training
Closest train station: Shinjuku-Nishiguchi, Seibu-Shinjuku
Focuses: standard, business, graduate school prep
Japan Tokyo International School
Closest train station: Nishi-Shinjuku
Focuses: standard, business
KAI Japanese Language School
Closest train station: Shin-Okubo
Focuses: standard, conversation, test prep
International Study Institute (ISI)
Closest train station: Takadanobaba
Shinjuku Japanese Language Institute
Closest train station: Nishi-Waseda, Takadanobaba
Focuses: standard, tourism industry, business, teaching
Nihon Kougaku Gakuen
Closest train station: Shinjuku
Shibuya Gaigo Gakuen
Closest train station: Shibuya
Japanese language schools in central Tokyo
Akamonkai Language School
Closest train station: Nippori
Focuses: standard, university prep, business
Intercultural Institute of Japan
Closest train station: Akihabara
Focuses: standard, teaching
JCLI Japanese Language School
Closest train station: Oji-Kamiya
Focuses: conversation, university prep, graduate school prep, trade school prep
Tokyo Galaxy Japanese Language School
Closest train station: Kayabacho, Hacchobori
Focuses: standard, business, test prep
Toyo Language School
Closest train station: Kasai, Kasai-Rinkai-Koen
Focuses: trade school prep, university prep, graduate school prep, business
Using an Introduction Agency to Find a Japanese Language School
There are many companies out there who can help you find the right school and also provide you support while you are in Japan with finding an apartment and dealing with the landlord. You normally do not have to pay for the agency. Instead, they receive payment from the school - you are not charged extra. The only downside to using an introduction agency is on the school’s side, as they have to pay extra. However, the schools still appreciate these businesses because they help students thrive.
Why use an agency?
Not only are agencies cheap to use, but they also provide support outside of school. They can assist you in getting a visa, navigating housing, and other essential concerns. Many hold events where you can meet others who are learning and living in Japan. These agencies understand the challenges foreigners face and are well-versed at addressing them. If you find yourself having difficulties for any reason they will probably be able to help you.
Agencies we recommend
This agency will handle school and visa applications for you, as well as helping with health insurance. Their employees used to be language learners themselves so they understand the problems you may face.
Go! Go! Nihon
This agency has staff who’ll assist you in loads of languages, holds regular events for their students, and has a nice FAQ section on common problems in Japan.
Know what to avoid
Avoid any agency that tries to charge you money. Be wary of any offering you a job; most of these are low-salary, low-quality jobs. You can easily find better ones since Japan’s declining birthrate has opened up positions in many industries.
For more on finding a good job in Japan, scroll down to our section on living in Japan!
How to Enter a Japanese Language School
If you’re not using an introduction agency, the application process can be a lot of work. Here’s a good idea of what to expect so you can properly prepare.
|Step 2||Placement Test|
|Step 3||Application and Payment of Tuition Fees|
|Step 4||Receipt of Certificate of Eligibilty|
|Step 5||Application for student visa at Japanese embassy or consulate in your home country|
|Step 6||Arrival in Japan and begin classes|
Japanese language school application deadlines
A key element for a full-time Japanese language school is the timing of your enrollment. You cannot join a class mid-term; you'll have to wait for the next term to begin studying. This ensures that all the students are on the same Japanese level and are on the same page academically. Additionally, the visa process can be unpredictable. Even if you wanted to join mid-term, you could miss the whole term if you had any visa issues.
A typical Japanese language school year includes the following:
Winter Term - Jan. - Mar.
Spring Term - Apr. - Jun.
Summer Term - Jul. - Sept.
Autumn Term - Oct. - Dec.
Semester lengths and breaks change from school to school, but this is a basic outline to help you get familiar with the time constraints of Japanese language schools.
|Independent Administrative Institution Japan Student Services Organization||Application Period: April /Monthly Sum: ¥48,000 Requirements: Must hold a student visa /Must maintain 100% attendance /Must continue studies at SNG until end of March the following year|
|Takayama International Education Foundation (for Asian students only)||Application Period: January Monthly /Sum: ¥50,000 Requirements: Must hold a student visa /Must maintain 100% attendance /Must study at SNG for over a year /Must continue on to university|
|Kyoritsu International Foundation (for Asian students only)||Application Period: April /Monthly Sum: ¥60,000 Requirements: Must hold a student visa /Must maintain 100% attendance /Must study at SNG for over a year|
|Tokyo Galaxy Scholarship||Must graduate from Tokyo Galaxy /Attend Tokyo Galaxy for more than a year’s term /4 students annual recipients Awarded ¥100,000 /Evaluation based on: Grades, In-class performance, Essay|
|Honors Scholarship for Privately Financed International Student||Awarded while attending Tokyo Galaxy /Attendance must be over 90% /Monthly stipend of ¥48,000 /Evaluation based on: Attendance, Grades, In-class performance, Essay|
|Honors Scholarship for Privately Financed International Student Reservation Program||Must go to University after /High grade on the Examination for Japanese University /Admission for International Students /Monthly stipend of ¥48,000 /Head of school’s nomination /Evaluation based on: Attendance, Grades, In-class performance, Essay|
|LSH Asia Scholarship||Awarded in October /1 recipient, chosen by school/ ¥100,000|
Learn Japanese for Free
Our newsletter for beginner to low intermediate Japanese students will get you on the right track to learning Japanese and saving money.
Living in Japan While Attending a Japanese Language School
Now that you’re all set-up to study, you’ll need to take care of everything else you’ll need to live in Japan. Ensuring you have a proper living environment and decreasing your financial stressors makes you a better student too!
Getting a visa
To do a long-term study course (6 mo. - 2 yrs.) you must acquire a student visa. To acquire a student visa, you will have to do a lot of paperwork with the school, Japanese immigration, and the consulate in your home country.
You'll have to apply to the school of your choice and pay in advance for a minimum of six months of tuition before you can even begin the visa process. If you enroll and pay in advance for eighteen to twenty-four months, you may receive a small discount on your tuition. You should apply for your student visa 4-5 months before your expected enrollment date. Waiting until three months or fewer in advance is risky because of potential visa issues. Your tuition fee will be refunded if your certificate of eligibility or visa is denied, but you will not have your application or enrollment fee refund.
If you need more help, here is our complete guide to getting a visa in Japan!
Getting a school to verify your student status
The first step is to find a licensed and authorized school and pay the tuition upfront. Please note that an unlicensed or unauthorized school cannot sponsor your visa. Next, the school will send you an application and the additional paperwork required by the Japanese immigration authorities to apply for a student visa. Once you receive all the paperwork, you need to go to the nearest Japanese embassy and submit the documents to get your student visa. Then you can start your big adventure in Japan!
You will receive a six to twenty-four-month visa, depending on the school and how long you paid for in advance. Some students receive a twelve to twenty-four-month visa even though they only paid for six months, while others who paid for twenty-four months will sometimes have to renew their Japanese student visa after twelve months. The variables are numerous, so check with your school before applying.
The minimum period of study at a Japanese language school in Tokyo and Japan is for six months for students on a student visa. Be aware that not all Japanese schools are licensed schools, and only licensed schools can sponsor visas. You can check if your desired school is licensed in Japan or not with this index.
Quitting a school
If you receive a visa for longer than the schooling you paid for and decide to quit the institution after the term you paid for ends, the school will inform immigration that you are no longer a student; the government may require you to leave the country at that time. The opposite is also possible: you could be asked to leave the country if your visa expires before your school term ends.
If you paid for a term longer than your student visa, you and the school will have to apply for renewal around two months (at maximum) before the expiration of your current visa. Don't worry; the visa renewal process is much easier and faster than obtaining the initial visa. Just make sure your lesson attendance is good because that could affect your visa renewal status.
Maximum student visa term
The maximum length you can attend a Japanese language school is two years. This is a visa issue and not a school issue, so changing Japanese language schools will not extend your visa. This measure is to prevent visa-hunters from gaming the system. If you want to stay longer and/or want more education, you could enroll in a university or trade school.
The first step of the enrollment process is to make an application to the school. Once all of those details are organized, you will receive a certificate of eligibility and with that certificate, you can apply for a visa at the Japanese embassy in your home country.
Please note that almost all Japanese language schools want to do the entire enrollment process online. If you need a Japanese student visa, they most likely will not accept walk-in appointments because you need to do the visa process in your home country. Chances are that the visa process in your home country is much easier than in Japan. If you wanted to check out the school, you could probably go there and look around while you are in Japan, but they probably will not have specialty sales staff to guide you or allow you to take a trial lesson. However, if you are here already, it may be worth asking!
School attendance requirements
Another requirement for student visa holders is that you have to attend over 70-80% of the classes you signed up for. Different schools have differing numbers for the minimum attendance, but there is a legal minimum to maintain your student visa. If your attendance falls under this minimum, your Japanese language school will not renew your student visa.
Be cautious with meeting the attendance requirements because you cannot change Japanese language schools if your attendance is low. This applies even if you strongly dislike your current Japanese language school. Your new, potential school will request your attendance records from your original Japanese language school and, based on your records, accept or deny you. If you stop attending your current lessons while looking for a new school, your current school attendance still matters. If you decide to stop going to lessons because you are searching for another school, you can be denied entry to the new school due to poor attendance at the current school.
The reason these rules are required by Immigration is that your stated purpose for coming to Japan is to study. If you do not uphold your stated purpose, your visa could be (and likely will be) revoked.
Student visa paperwork
The following school entry requirements are sourced from the Shinjuku Japanese Language Institute. Please note that these can be submitted in English.
- School application
- Personal history
- Statement of purpose to study abroad
- Statement of relatives and their health
- four photos（4x3cm, taken within the last six months）
- Last diploma copy (original documents may be required)
- Last academic transcript copy
- Certificate of Japanese learning (optional)
- Copy of passport
- Health certificate
- Health check (varies from school to school)
First and foremost, you need to pay for your lessons. You also need to prove that you or your sponsor has the funds to support you as a student. This is determined by showing that you have a minimum amount of income in a bank account. The number is around ¥500,000, not counting tuition payments.
Your financial sponsor is usually a family member or spouse who will support you while you study if you are unable to support yourself. This person will need to submit the following, as provided by Tokyo Central Japanese Language School:
- Statement of financial support
- Certificate of employment
- Proof of income
- Bank certificate of deposit
- Copy of bankbook
- Copy of identification
- Family credentials
- Written oath (optional)
If you currently have a residence visa that allows you to stay in Japan, you don’t need to pay six months (two terms) in advance, like some schools otherwise require. Many schools will allow you to enroll for three months (one term) because you do not need a visa from them. Another awesome benefit of having a residence visa is that you do not need to meet the strict Japanese lesson attendance numbers, which are 70-80%, to maintain a student visa.
For someone with a valid Japan residence visa, schools will have one staff member available to help you with the enrollment process in person, including a level check. It's possible to enroll in a Japanese language school program mere weeks before lessons start when you already reside in Japan. All you need to do is fill in the application and pay the money in advance; you don't need a sponsor. The whole process generally takes one to two hours to complete.
Finding housing in Japan
Some Japanese language schools offer housing options such as dorms. For other schools, you’ll need to find your own housing. Here we’ll differentiate the pros and cons of these options.
|Cheap||Strict Rules||Option to Live Alone||Could be Expensive|
|Integrated Experience||Lack of Personal Space||Chose how you Commute||Commute Time|
|Security||Noise Problems||Gain Idenpendence||Less Security|
|Less Chores||Keeping the Space Clean for Others||Create your own Personal Space||More Space to Clean|
Low budget housing options
Your best option for an apartment would still be a sharehouse, but getting a smaller room that may not have a shower included. Not having a shower can suck, but the good news is that they do have a shower room like a university dorm or a shared shower. You would need to take a shower out of your own place of residence. The cool thing about shared houses is that if you choose a place like Oakhouse which provides enormous residences of over fifty people, some of them have karaoke rooms, movie rooms with projectors, ovens, and other cool amenities.
Your other option would be to live around forty minutes from central Tokyo or Osaka and have your own private place. The good news is that for $600 a month, you can actually get a two-room or larger apartment if you live on a train line that connects to a central location like Shinjuku but is around thirty minutes or more away.
Most Japanese language schools in Tokyo provide a dormitory around the ¥50,000 - ¥70,000 per month range.
Housing options below ¥100,000 a month
You have a lot more flexibility in your options of where to stay in a big city if you can afford more than ¥60,000 per month. You could choose a tiny apartment in a super central location or a big apartment thirty to forty-five minutes outside. You can also get a nice sized apartment in a shared house if you are looking for a community.
I would recommend staying in a shared house if you are looking for a community and people to intermingle with. It would be ideal for someone who is introverted but feels lonely living on their own. The shared house would give you a nice foundation so you could meet other students who are attending a Japanese language school. Interestingly, most people I know who change Japanese schools usually live in shared houses, and they compare information about their schools.
I would also recommend staying in a shared house if you are not sure you will live in Japan for more than six months or even one year. The main reason for this is that the initial costs are much lower and you do not need to buy appliances and furniture. They also have internet and provide basically everything else you need except a smartphone from day one.
Learn more at our guide to Tokyo shared houses!
Living in a Tokyo apartment
There are several types of housing available for foreigners. As mentioned, some Japanese language schools provide an apartment to stay in a building they own or have an agreement with the owner. Other options include finding an apartment on your own or living together with other people in a shared house or renting a private room in a shared house. Based on the size of the room, amenities provided, and location, the prices can change drastically.
If being around other people and having to greet them every day or having other people seeing you coming in and out would drive you crazy, I would recommend a private apartment. Those are some of the complaints that people who have a private room in a shared apartment mention. Other complaints include having to share the microwave and refrigerator and sometimes having to wait in line to use the appliances.
To learn more about finding a place in Tokyo, check out our article on cheap apartments!
The major downside of living in a private apartment is the cost. Outside of paying the rent, you normally have to pay:
- one-month rent for gift money to the landlord (non-refundable)
- 1-2 months rent for deposit (sometimes refundable)
- one-month rent to the real estate agent for the introduction
- one-month initial rent
- ¥9,000 a year for fire insurance
- ¥23,000 to change the keys
Depending on the apartment, you may be spending ¥200,000 - ¥250,000 a month just to move into an apartment that rents at ¥50,000 monthly, and spend an additional ¥40,000 - ¥150,000 for furniture, utensils, and appliances as most apartments are not furnished. My recommendation is to find a furnished apartment and apartments that do not require the gift money.
Check out KIMI WILL be apartment services for apartments with low moving costs, and here’s another guide that has more information on the terminology in Japanese that you need to be aware of for renting an apartment. If you are looking for some higher price locations in Japan, we recommend the site Tokyo Apartments.
You should live in a dorm if you want the conveniences of a private apartment without having the enormous move-in costs mentioned above. The school normally rents it out to incoming students, so you probably would not have to pay the gift money or some of the other fees. The other good feature is that it would be somewhat furnished; it would be more expensive for the school to throw things away than leave them in the apartment for the next person.
Teach English Part-Time at One Coin English
In addition to awesome articles, we also run an English school with more than 100 teachers and 7000 students in 10 locations in Tokyo.
Supporting yourself while studying in Japan
Working more than twenty hours a week while studying Japanese is really tough. You'll run the risk of having to take a course over again because you are not learning well enough. If you will need to work, we recommend studying in advance as much as possible to successfully make the transition to studying full-time while working.
We’ve listed a few good options below if you’re looking for a part-time job.
Visa limitations on work
Students in Tokyo can only work twenty-eight hours a week, and it’s not permitted to work a full-time job. Working more than twenty-eight hours is a violation of your work permit and could cause you to lose your student visa.
In order to work in Japan, you must have a designated stamp on your foreign residence card or zairyu card. If you don’t have this stamp, you will have to go back to immigration to get the stamp that grants you permission to work as a student. Without this stamp, it is technically illegal for you to work and companies cannot hire you.
One Coin English
If you’re interested in using your Japanese language in the workforce, a great option is becoming an English teacher for Japanese students. One Coin’s mission is to increase the number of bilingual speakers in Japan. They teach through lesson plans, games, flashcards, and support materials. Teachers at One Coin English also get to learn Japanese at a lower rate! One Coin English has teachers from over twenty countries and five continents. They have nine schools, eight in Tokyo and one in Yokohama. They include paid twelve-hour training for new teachers and cover travel costs.
Requirements to work at One Coin English:
- Valid work visa or permission to work
- Available to work a minimum of fifteen weeks
- Desire to help students improve their English
- Enjoy speaking with people
Typical Salary: ¥1,200 - ¥1,500 an hour
Legoland Japan Playmaker
If you’re looking for an amusement park job, check out Legoland Discovery Center Playmaker. The Legoland Japan team hires foreigners to work in the Japan Resort theme park in Nagoya, or the Lego discovery centers in Osaka and Tokyo.
Typical Salary: ¥1,300 an hour
Part-time restaurant jobs
A better way to interact with the local people and serve them food. Many restaurants are searching for employees to help them manage their restaurants. This is the most common part-time job in Tokyo and you could work for almost any restaurant. Part-time jobs in Tokyo that involve dealing with Japanese customers in the food business will require daily conversational skills of Japanese.
Typical Salary: ¥900 - ¥1,100 an hour
Part-time jobs at bars
When you work in a bar, you get to communicate with the customers, observe the bar life, and meet new people every shift. This is a perfect job for anyone that does not mind being in a loud and fast-paced environment. Working as a bartender in a host club or hostess club, or any other red-light district types of businesses are not allowed for those on a student visa or working holiday visa.
Typical Salary: ¥1,100 - ¥1,300 an hour
Part-time interpreting and translation work
After you’ve reached a certain level of fluency, becoming an interpreter or translator will not be difficult. Both the Japanese enterprise and foreign enterprise should understand each other and your priority is to make sure that the conversation goes smoothly.
Requirements: Valid visa and N2 Japanese
Typical Salary: ¥1,500 - ¥3,100 an hour
For more information, check our article on part-time jobs in Tokyo for foreigners!
Getting the Most out of Your Japanese Language School
One class per week with no practice between lessons will not give you language proficiency. Study well and often for maximum results. If you truly want to master the Japanese language, you’re going to have to learn effective study habits.
Keeping up with your classmates
You cannot keep up with all your classmates if you dedicate the same amount of study hours they use. Chinese students can already read Kanji and will always out-read you, and the Korean students have a headstart on grammar and vocabulary.
A student we interviewed mentioned that westerners need to spend around ninety minutes more each day than their Chinese classmates because of the need to learn kanji. You'd have to be a whiz-kid for learning languages or spend more than three additional hours a day to keep up with Korean classmates! He also said that he used to type his written assignments to save time and to use the same time cramming vocabulary and grammar.
In his experience, you'll have to study and review the reading section for class discussions in advance because you probably won't be able to read the text as quickly as your Chinese or Korean classmates. The teacher will give you a set amount of time and your Korean and Chinese classmates will be ready to go before the time is up. You, on the other hand, will likely want an extension of time!
Basic Format: In Japanese language schools, the teachers move between classes while the students stay in the same room. Each day of the week, you'll typically have a different teacher over the course of three and a half hours of total class time, with 10-minute breaks every 50 minutes.
Your First Day: Before you start, you’ll probably have a self-introduction with the class before moving into the lesson.
Lesson Focus: Beginners learn three new kanji per day. They'll be guided to write each kanji ten times and learn 3-5 words associated with that kanji. Each new word is pronounced by the teacher, and students are asked to repeat the word aloud. The new kanji are tested the day after they’re taught.
Generally, the tests are a sheet with both hiragana and kanji characters. Words written in hiragana must be rewritten in kanji and words written in kanji must be rewritten in hiragana. Two weeks after learning the kanji, students take a larger kanji test.
Beginners generally spend a full two hours studying grammar and sentence patterns. Alongside studying grammar, beginners practice speaking by partnering up and running through a speaking exercise using the grammar they just learned.
Beginners will spend time practicing listening and occasional reading-only exercises. Listening exercises for beginners involve hearing a short dialog and then answering some true or false questions. The teacher will ask students to read a sentence from the test and repeat it so all students end up reading the same dialog three to four times.
Beginners will be asked to do kanji homework as well as any associated sentence pattern homework for the day. To maximize your success at a Japanese language school, expect to study at least 1-2 hours a night. Beginning students usually complete a worksheet every night.
The course work for an advanced student changes based on the season of the year. The three months before the JLPT test are often solely dedicated to test preparation. The rest of the year focuses a lot on discussions, reading, and learning useful Japanese expressions.
During the JLPT preparation season, which is between September and November, all your classes will center on preparing you for the four sections of the test. You'll have four classes a day, and each hour is focused on a different section. You'll take a vocabulary/kanji course, a listening course, a reading course, and a grammar course. You will also spend several days taking mock exams using previous-year tests to simulate the actual test-taking experience.
During the non-JLPT test preparation season, you will have a more well-rounded and practical Japanese education. At the school he attended, our friend was given written assignments several times a week where he had to write about a page on a topic. Other assignments included reading a 3-4 page story in Japanese that used many natural expressions and applying it to both written and spoken Japanese exercises. The stories usually focused on Japanese culture and current issues to help students understand Japanese culture better. The teacher helped students practice pronunciation by making them read the text; students could then ask questions related to the story.
Know anyone who has passed N1?
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Practice, practice, practice!
The most surefire guaranteed way to excel in your studies is to devote time every day to go through all your material. Practice flashcards while you’re on the train, listen to audio tracks while you wash the dishes, and write out kanji until you can do it perfectly from memory. Make sure you’re refreshing yourself on old vocabulary too; if you throw out your flashcard set after every test you won’t remember any of them in a month.
Tips for studying kanji
Kanji intimidate a lot of western students when they start learning Japanese. There are so many of them, they’re so complicated, and they have so many different readings and meanings! But if you study hard they’ll stop being such a mystery and start being your friends.
Flashcards and apps
Many students find daily flashcard use helpful in learning kanji. Some focus on learning all the readings and meanings of each character while others focus on learning the combinations that form common words.
Here are some apps to maximize your studying:
- Memrise - Language app
- Anki - Mobile flashcards
- Quizlet - Create your flashcards and use others, learn the language through games
We’ve also compiled a list of even more helpful apps if these ones don’t work for you!
Breaking kanji down to their components
Have you noticed that as you get further in your studies, the kanji start to combine to form new characters? You probably have, and you’ll know these are called radicals. While it might be a waste of time to memorize every radical, learning a few can help you tell similar kanji apart. For example, take 待つ (matsu; to wait) and 持つ (motsu; to hold). Not only do they sound similar, but they look almost identical! They both share the radical 寺 (tera; temple) but the left side of the kanji differ. The kanji for matsu has the gyōninben radical which refers to stopping or going, while motsu uses 手 (te; hand). If you notice a particular radical showing up frequently in your studies, look it up and it may come in handy.
Tips for studying Japanese vocabulary
Most Japanese words are, luckily or unluckily, written in kanji. That means the more kanji and combinations thereof you memorize, the more words you’ll know! The same tips that work for kanji work for vocabulary. Flashcards, learning word components, and frequent use are common techniques. We also recommend finding something you love, whether it’s a video game, a tv show, or a favorite book, and finding the Japanese version. Even if it’s slow going, pausing and looking up words as you happen upon them can teach you a surprising number of new terms. It’s easier if you’re using a text-based thing but you can find transcripts online of shows too.
Studying tips for reading in Japanese
Once you’ve got kanji and vocabulary down, look towards your reading skills. Can you fluidly read a sentence out loud, without awkward pauses while you try to remember a word? Can you engage with a text and comprehend not only the exact definitions but also what tone the author is trying to convey? This is hard stuff, but it’s essential.
It’s important to find something you can practice reading daily. Newspapers are great for this, as they often include furigana for complicated kanji. Books aimed at middle school and below will also include furigana, and you can pick up relatively engaging books at the local library if you go looking.
Studying tips for Japanese conversation fluency
Conversation is complicated and there are a lot of components to learn before you can chat with a native speaker, the most important of which is the confidence to muddle through and the humility to ask for help. It’s tricky because you need to be able to properly listen to your partner, understand what they’re saying, formulate a response, and then deliver said response - all in Japanese, of course.
Practicing your listening skills
Real-life people don’t come with subtitles, so you’ve got to learn to process rapid-fire Japanese without leaving your partner hanging. Practice your listening skills with easy Japanese news podcasts (or podcasts aimed at native speakers if you’re an advanced student). Most Japanese textbooks come with CDs full of audio tracks meant for this purpose. Remember, if you’re having trouble understanding someone you can always ask that person to talk slower or define a word!
Practicing your speaking skills
Throw any embarrassment or apprehension over making mistakes out the window. You’re never going to improve if you don’t talk to people! A student who studies books every day can be overtaken by a student who talks with people every day, even if the latter student began at a lower proficiency level. Need help with pronunciation? Try singing some Japanese karaoke! It sounds silly, but it improves your reading and speaking speed. Studies have shown that music can drastically improve language pronunciation.
Most importantly, find people to talk to. Whether it’s a fellow Japanese student or the clerk at the convenience store, use what you’re learning!
Finding a good study group
To that end, you should get yourself a study group. There are loads of ways to find people to practice with. Reach out to your classmates before or after class and make a group chat. Ask your teacher if they know of any conversation clubs. There’s a whole world online too, with huge Japanese study groups forming on Facebook, Reddit, and other social media platforms. You can even find communities focused around a particular hobby in Japanese! Seek out something that will motivate you and pull you along.
If you can’t find the perfect group, why not make your own? Create an online discussion area and invite your friends and their friends. Alternatively, make some Japanese friends who can be patient with you. Chatting with native speakers is, after all, the number one way to improve language fluency!
Looking for more tips? Our series on learning Japanese has more tips in all of these areas and more!
Staying Focused on Your Education
Remember, you have goals that brought you this far. Language learning will be a struggle; it always is even in the best Japanese language school. If you’re feeling defeated or considering just giving up, reflect on your situation. Would your goals be better served if you were spending this time on other pursuits? Do you have a support system that will encourage you through hardship? Are you financially able to dedicate your time to learning? If this is not the right time, there’s no shame in trying again in the future. Education is a long road and you need to prioritize your well-being.
However, you should know you’re never alone. Your school likely has resources to help struggling students, but even beyond them, there are countless people who are learning Japanese alongside you. Find a community, either in-person or online, and share your experiences with your fellow students.
Finding a good Japanese language school can really accelerate your education and professional outlook. It’s important to find one that suits your needs and commitment level so you have every opportunity to thrive and grow. We’re wishing you good luck on your journeys!
From Beginner to Pro
Our bi-weekly emails for beginners to low intermediate students will give you the tips and motivation to self-study Japanese your way to Japanese fluency.