If you are interested in learning Japanese, total immersion in the Japanese culture is the best way to improve your ability to understand and communicate in the language. This page is written for those people that are interested in attending a Japanese language school in Japan. While there are many schools to choose from, I happen to live in Tokyo so this page is limited to my experience at Japanese language schools in Tokyo.
If you are not already living in Japan, then you will need a visa in order to enter Japan for the purpose of studying Japanese. Some schools offer (for an additional charge) a service to provide you the necessary visa for study. [Since I entered the country with a work visa, I am not sure if you are allowed to use the typical 3-month tourist visa to attend a Japanese language school. So don't count on it.] If you need a student visa, plan far in advance of the date that you want to attend the school. The deadline for applying for a student visa is at least several months before the start of classes.
Also realize that learning Japanese is not easy; it takes a lot of work to master the language. [And I can't say that I'm anywhere near mastery of the language! :)] But it is not impossible. I just want to emphasize that there is more to the Japanese language than being able to understand what people are saying to you and being able to convey your meaning.
If you really want to understand Japanese, then you must be able to read and write Japanese, as well. In my opinion, this is the biggest obstacle to Japanese fluency for Westerners. But by learning to read and write the language, you'll find that you remember it better and gain a deeper understanding of both the language and the people. So I would not recommend a school that lets beginners start with Romaji (or "Western" characters).
When I was looking for a language school, I spent some time going to various schools and asking for information about their program and prices. Every school uses different books, has a different teaching style, and different prices. So it is very important to find a school that matches your personal requirements at the price that you can afford.
Below you will find a breakdown of the schools that I visited in the Tokyo area. This is not an exhaustive list in any sense but should give you an idea of the kind of schools that are available. Also, keep in mind that I was specifically looking for intensive courses that were between 1 to 3 months in duration, meeting every day for 2-3 hours each day. The following list only provides information on intensive courses but all of the schools in the list (as with most, if not all schools) offer other programs, including private lessons.
|The information on this page is in no way definitive. For exact details on a school; the program and services they offer; and pricing, always contact the school in question. Also note that the prices listed below did not include the cost of materials or room and board. [Don't be a dummy, you have to live you know! :) So don't kid yourself, it will be quite expensive to study Japanese in Japan.]|
The Meguro Language Center was the first school I visited and it was by far the most expensive. The office was in excellent condition, albeit it a bit small and their staff was very professional and friendly.
After taking a level test, I scheduled a free trial lesson. During the lesson, the teacher reviewed grammar that I had previously learned but was a little rusty. The instructor knew some English to explain the grammar and vocabulary that I didn't understand. However, the content basically followed the grammar listing in the Japanese for Busy People books which I felt I could have done at home.
The content of the class felt rather scripted and repetitive without enough free use of the language. However, I never liked the books that they use, so I am probably biased. Therefore, take my review with a grain of salt.
telephone: +81 03-3493-3727 fax: +81 03-3493-3540
|Directions:||The school is one stop from Ebisu on the Yamanote line. From Shibuya, take the Yamanoto line south towards Shinagawa two stops to Meguro; exit the Meguro station; and cross the street towards the fruit stand. The school will be located approximately one minute walk on the right hand side in the NT Building. The building is directly before a crosswalk over the street so if you pass the crosswalk you have gone too far.|
|Books:||Japanese for Busy People series|
|Course:||They offer an intensive course that meets 5 days a week, 3 hours each day. The class size never more than two people but even if you have a class by yourself, is class is always taught by two different teachers.|
|Price:||JPN 170,000 for 4 weeks, 60 hours of study|
When you arrive at the Hiroo Japanese Center, you wonder what you have gotten yourself into because the building and offices are old and dirty. But they have been in business since 1984 and even compiled the book The Complete Japanese Verb Guide which I highly recommend. So I was willing to give them a chance.
The real strength of this school is that they specialize in teaching Japanese to non-Asian (or "Western") people that haven't had the had exposure to the Chinese characters used in the Japanese writing system. In addition, their entire staff is fluent in English to help the students when needed. Moreover, unlike other schools, they include classes on learning kanji which is extremely important.
After an abbreviated level check, I sat in for the end of an intermediate class. The students were from various countries around the world but I was the only American in the group. The book used in the intermediate level contains a variety of situations and short stories that teaches new phrases and grammar. In addition, it requires the students to explain what is happening in the stories in their own words so that they become comfortable using the language.
I liked the size of the classes and the materials used. In addition, the teacher and students were very nice. However, after I visited the next school, I felt that they relied on English too much. I used the same books they use for their beginner classes in the United States but, while I developed a solid understanding of the grammar, I didn't develop my speaking and listening skills as I would have liked. And once you get to the level where you want to start really speaking to people, this can be frustrating.
The Hiroo Japanese Center's approach to teaching is ideally suited to beginner students from Westernized countries that need a solid basis in the grammar but are a little anxious about tackling Japanese. The fact that their staff is fluent in English really helps these students overcome their fears and start to learn the language.
telephone: +81 03-3444-3481 fax:+81 03-3444-3483
This school is one stop before Roppongi on the Hibiya line.
From Shibuya, take the Yamanote line one stop to Ebisu and
change trains to the Hibiya line. Then take the Hibiya line
towards Kita-Senju one station to Hiroo. The
on their web page is is pretty bad it should be sufficient.
Upon exiting the station, orient yourself by looking for the Mitsubishi Bank on the corner. Go down the street away from the bank -- you should see the entrance to a temple at the end of the street. Go to the end of the street; turn left; go to the next major intersection; turn right; and the Hiroo Japanese Center will be in a building on the left hand side. You'll see a small sign by the car entrance of this rather small building. The elevator is located towards the rear of the building.
Shin Nihongo no Kiso 1 & 2 for the beginner level|
Shizen na Nihongo for the intermediate level
|Course:||They offer an intensive course that meets 5 times a week, 2 hours a day. The class size is guaranteed to be no more than 5 people.|
JPN 22,000 for registration fee|
JPN 150,000 for 12 weeks, 120 hours of study
After visiting several Japanese language schools, I finally selected the Evergreen Language School. Besides the fact that they used the same books that I studied in the States, they also believe in total immersion in the language. The entire class is taught in Japanese -- even new vocabulary and new grammar is explained in Japanese! Even though the prospect of surviving with only Japanese scared the crap out of me, I figured that it would force me to really use the language and give me the best opportunity to improve.
As with all schools, this one has its pros and cons. Among its pluses are the convenient location, the excellent facilities, reasonable prices, and superb staff. Among its minuses are the class size and the fact that most of its students are from Asian countries. Therefore, Westerners may find it difficult to keep up with the kanji used that most of the students already know.
I entered at the end of the third term of a three month intensive program and, as of this writing (15 Mar 2002), have only been in the class for one week. And even though it's been difficult switching to using only Japanese for class I think that the instruction is top notch and I firmly believe that total immersion is the best way to learn.
|Contact:||telephone: +81 03-3713-4958 fax: +81 03-3719-4383|
|Location:||They have locations in Jiyugaoka, Aobadai, and Tama Plaza but their main office where they offer their intensive courses is in Yutenji.|
Their main office in Yutenji is three stops from Shibuya on
the Toyoko line. From Shibuya, take the Toyoko line towards
Yokohama. Be sure to take the local train or
you will likely miss the station completely because the express
and limited express trains do not stop at Yutenji. If
you are unsure about the difference between the local, express,
and limited express trains, look for the color of
the digital sign showing the destination of the train -- the
sign is on the side at the top of each car (green == local;
red == express; orange == limited express).
On the Toyoko line from Shibuya, get off at Yutenji and exit the ticket gate; turn right; and go out towards the rotary outside the station. Next, locate the KFC on the corner to your left. Follow that street along the train tracks for a few minutes. The school is located on the right side of the street right before it takes a hard right hand turn.
Shin Nihongo no Kiso 1 & 2 for the beginner level|
Nihongo Chukyu Dokkai Nyumon for the intermediate level
|Course:||The offer an intensive course that meets 5 times a week, 3 hours a day. The class size can range from 10 to 20 people and is taught by several different teachers.|
JPN 10,000 for registration fee|
JPN 60,000 for each term of 4 weeks, 60 hours of study
I mentioned the various pluses and minuses of specific schools but I would like to make an observation that I think applies in general to other schools. When entering a school, keep in mind that most of the students of Japanese language schools are young, college-aged kids that may not approach their studies with the same seriousness as you. Therefore, you may notice a fair amount of goofing off in class. However, I've noticed that most of the goofing off is done in Japanese so I approach it as another avenue of learning.
But if you're an older student (I'm 29 at this time) and don't want to waste time with younger students, then perhaps private lessons are better for you. But realize that these lessons are more expensive and you usually pay by the hour. Whether you pick a group class or private instruction, my advice is to get your company to pay for the lessons if you can. :)
Studying Japanese in Japan can be an extremely rewarding experience. There are a lot of Japanese language schools to choose from but I hope that my experiences looking for a school will help you on your way. Whichever school you choose, study hard and make the most of your time because you're paying for it.