Japan is known as one of the most innovative and modern countries in the world for its economic and technological advances, but this island nation still upholds many of its ancient traditions and customs. Visit Harajuku Street in Tokyo to check out the lastest teen fashions, or hike the Hakone Mountains surrounding the quiet town of Mishima at the foot of Mount Fuji.



Languages Spoken:

Japanese

Education System

HIGHER EDUCATION OVERVIEW 

Japan has an extensive higher educational systems. Institutions can be national, public or private. Japanese universities offer four-year bachelor's degrees and six-year medical degrees. Junior colleges offer two- and three-year programs in the humanities that can be used as credit towards a bachelor's degree. Special training schools and technical colleges provide vocational training and advanced college-level courses. 

Universities are divided into faculties or schools that are further divided into departments. Japanese universities require at least 124 credits for graduation. A student's major is chosen based on the type of entrance examination taken when he or she applied to the institution. 

The Japanese academic calendar runs from April to March, dividing the year into two semesters lasting from April to July/August and from September to January/February. There are a total of 35 weeks in the academic year, and three major vacation periods (winter, spring and summer). 

Lecture courses and most language courses meet for 90 minutes one or two times a week – with the exception of some programs where Japanese language courses meet three to five times a week for 50 minutes. International exchange/visiting students must attend in-class lectures for a minimum of 10 hours a week to maintain their student visa status.

Japanese students are typically very quiet during class. Rather than interrupting the professor to ask questions, Japanese students may be more inclined to wait until class has been dismissed before speaking with peers, checking their textbooks or meeting with professors to ask specific questions. 

Open questions presented for anyone to answer within the classroom may receive little feedback from Japanese students. Professors in Japan often call students by name when seeking classroom participation. 

Japanese students sometimes refrain from using eye contact when speaking with their professors. This does not mean that these students are insincere, nor does it suggest that the student is being disrespectful. 

 

STUDYING IN JAPAN 

Courses 

Courses are offered in various disciplines at the undergraduate and graduate levels across the different Japanese universities in English, as well as Japanese for those with proficiency. Some institutions may require previous study of Japanese. Japanese language courses are available to language learners at all levels.

Registration 

Check with your host institution for policies and procedures regarding registering for classes.  

Course Load 

The number of courses you take per week will vary based on institution, though you can expect to spend at least 15-20 hours per week in class. Terms last 15 weeks.  

Exams & Grading 

The grading scale at Japanese universities is as follows: S=100-90%, A=89-80%, B=79-70%, C=69-60%, D=59% and below. The highest possible grade is 100 and lowest passing point is 60. 

Attendance plays an important role in the final grade for students, especially for Japanese speaking class. Speaking examinations are given periodically to students to test their language comprehension abilities. 

Transcripts 

In most cases, a copy of your official transcript will be sent to ISEP Global. If you have no outstanding issues of payment, etc., the transcript will then be forwarded to the home institution. Check with your host institution coordinator to make sure no action is required on your part to ensure the transcript is sent out.  

Visa and Residency

Visa regulations can change at any time and without notice. Students should always consult their local Consulate or Embassy to verify the most up to date visa information. Visa requirements can vary depending on the country your passport is issued in.

You should consult the visa application guidelines below to carefully review all requirements and begin collecting the necessary paperwork so that you are ready to submit the required materials. Please contact your Student Services Officer with any questions you may have.

Visa Requirements

Japanese Student Visa: For all students going on exchange programs to Japan, regardless of country of origin.

Eligibility: Students who will be attending programs at Japanese institutions for semester-long or year-long programs.

Visa Fee: Approximately $50 USD (Note: This fee is currently waived for US citizens and citizens of several European countries. Please check your local Consulate's website to check if you need to pay this fee.)

When to apply: Students should apply at least 3 weeks prior to departure. Students will be sent information for their Certificate of Eligibility (CoE) approximately 3 months before their program start date. Please see more information about the certificate of eligibility below.

Processing time: 5-10 Business Days

Application process: Please see the following documents to understand the Japanese visa procedure:

View the application here

Japanese embassy in the United States consular services

Outline for visa procedure

The Certificate of Eligibility

Before applying for your visa, you must first fill out an application for your Certificate of Eligibility (COE) and send it to the host institution along with a recent 4 cm x 3 cm passport style photo of yourself. The host institution will submit the COE application to the Immigration Bureau of Japan on your behalf. Note that the process of obtaining the COE can be slow. It is not uncommon to receive the Certificate one month prior to your departure. Upon receiving the COE, they will send it to you to include in your application package for your visa (see below).

Application Requirements:

  • A passport valid at least six months beyond program period
  • One official visa application form, available at the embassy or consulate website
  • One 45mm x 45mm passport-type photos taken within the previous six months
  • Certificate of Eligibility, obtained and sent to student by host university (not ISEP)
  • A copy of a Letter of Admission

For more information, check out the MOFA Guide to Living in Japan

ISEP students are responsible for understanding the visa application process and costs associated with this visa application process. If you have any questions or concerns, please reach out to your ISEP Student Services Officer right away.

Culture

CULTURAL ADJUSTMENT

Japanese are polite and courteous, yet can be reserved towards strangers and usually will not take the initiative in introducing themselves outside of a group environment. Therefore, it will be up to you to make an initiative. Once the ice is broken, Japanese will be very eager to get to know you and will ask many questions. Be prepared for questions about the politics and current events of your home country.

Even after introductions, it takes time to form close bonds with Japanese friends. One way to get to know Japanese and make close friends is to join a club or circle of interest to you. Clubs (especially sports clubs) are stricter than circles and require members to meet several times a week. Skipping meetings is usually not an option, even if meetings conflict with course times. Circles are flexible with meeting times and are the best option for students. Many Japanese students form their most intimate friendship groups in circles, so they are a great way to form meaningful bonds while your'e studying in Japan.

Being a "Gaijin" in Japan

Compared to what you are used to, Japan may be a much more homogeneous society. Even in larger cities, many Japanese citizens don't have much contact with foreigners – "gaijin" or "gaikokujin" - outside of the occasional chance encounters. Due to societal reservations, as well as hesitancy to use their English language skills, some Japanese may avoid contact with you. Others may be fascinated by the chance to interact with a new culture. Be prepared for stares on the subway and; if you venture to the countryside, the attention of curious residents.
Some helpful tips to be a better "Gaijin":

1. "When in Rome, do as the Romans do." (Assimilate a little.)
2. Don't default back to "gaijin" status. Learn and be humble.
3. Greet people you see everyday.
4. Share your culture.
5. Embrace Omiyage culture and social gift giving.
6. Try to leave your bubble by spending time with Japanese peers or friends.
7. Restrain your drinking habits. It's easy to get carried away in the Japanese drinking culture. Pace yourself and don't go overboard.
8. Learn to balance relying on others and being independent.
9. Avoid the "Gaijin Smash" - Using your foreign status as an excuse to ignore Japanese rules and customs.

Social Hierarchy

Social hierarchy remains present in Japanese society, even among friends. One of the first questions a Japanese will ask is "How old are you?" in an attempt to establish this hierarchy. The sempai, or senior member, becomes like a mentor to the kohai, or junior member, and are always addressed by their kohai in a polite fashion. Sports clubs especially adhere to this structure; however, circles are usually not so rigid. Although this structure may be different from what you are accustomed to in your home country, keep in mind that by assimilating into Japanese life and customs, you will begin to understand the language faster.

Socializing

Japanese tend to go out to socialize at restaurants, karaoke, sightseeing, shopping and more. Because groups are extremely important in Japanese culture, socialization is usually a good way to get to know the groups you'll interact with, and help them to be comfortable interacting with you. It is unusual to have parties in one's house. If you are invited to a friend’s house, be sure to bring a gift, usually nice food items or something from your home country are very popular.

Communication

Japanese tend to communicate in an indirect way in comparison to Westerners. Japanese almost never say "No," and frequently use "Yes" not to mean agreement, but to convey understanding. Try to pick up on nonverbal cues and words of indifference. Subtle gestures could completely change the meaning behind the words.

Family Life

Due to the high standard of living, most Japanese live at home until they marry. Many of your Japanese friends will be living at home and may commute for as many as two hours to the university each way.

Greetings

Japanese greet each other with a shallow bowing gesture made with the head and shoulders, similar to a noticeable nod. The more formal or serious a greeting, the deeper a person must bow. A good rule of thumb would be to bend at the waist at a 45 degree angle. Shaking hands is also acceptable. If ever uncertain of whether to shake hands or to bow, just follow the lead of the person it is that you are meeting.

Space and Distance

Japanese are more conscious of personal space than Westerners. When speaking to one another they generally tend to keep their distance from one another. Hugging and touching friends, especially someone of the opposite sex, isn’t typical among adult Japanese. Be careful when showing affection to your Japanese friends.

Food

Rice is considered a staple food in traditional Japanese meals, meaning the portion of other non-rice side dishes may be smaller in comparison to other countries where rice is not considered to be eaten as a main dish. This can be a big shift for many international visitors.

High-fat foods such as fish and meat are main ingredients in many dishes. Additionally, cartilage and other parts of animals that might be considered "offal" in other cultures are not wasted, but may be grilled/fried to be served as a side dish. Many native residents will eat high-fat proteins and rice regularly, and balance their intake through other aspects in their lifestyle (i.e. many people in Japan end up walking a lot as a regular part of their commute, or be active through sports or other means).

Daily Life

CULTURAL ADJUSTMENT

Japanese are polite and courteous, yet can be reserved towards strangers and usually will not take the initiative in introducing themselves outside of a group environment. Therefore, it will be up to you to make an initiative. Once the ice is broken, Japanese will be very eager to get to know you and will ask many questions. Be prepared for questions about the politics and current events of your home country.

Even after introductions, it takes time to form close bonds with Japanese friends. One way to get to know Japanese and make close friends is to join a club or circle of interest to you. Clubs (especially sports clubs) are stricter than circles and require members to meet several times a week. Skipping meetings is usually not an option, even if meetings conflict with course times. Circles are flexible with meeting times and are the best option for students. Many Japanese students form their most intimate friendship groups in circles, so they are a great way to form meaningful bonds while your'e studying in Japan.

Being a "Gaijin" in Japan

Compared to what you are used to, Japan may be a much more homogeneous society. Even in larger cities, many Japanese citizens don't have much contact with foreigners – "gaijin" or "gaikokujin" - outside of the occasional chance encounters. Due to societal reservations, as well as hesitancy to use their English language skills, some Japanese may avoid contact with you. Others may be fascinated by the chance to interact with a new culture. Be prepared for stares on the subway and; if you venture to the countryside, the attention of curious residents.
Some helpful tips to be a better "Gaijin":

1. "When in Rome, do as the Romans do." (Assimilate a little.)
2. Don't default back to "gaijin" status. Learn and be humble.
3. Greet people you see everyday.
4. Share your culture.
5. Embrace Omiyage culture and social gift giving.
6. Try to leave your bubble by spending time with Japanese peers or friends.
7. Restrain your drinking habits. It's easy to get carried away in the Japanese drinking culture. Pace yourself and don't go overboard.
8. Learn to balance relying on others and being independent.
9. Avoid the "Gaijin Smash" - Using your foreign status as an excuse to ignore Japanese rules and customs.

Social Hierarchy

Social hierarchy remains present in Japanese society, even among friends. One of the first questions a Japanese will ask is "How old are you?" in an attempt to establish this hierarchy. The sempai, or senior member, becomes like a mentor to the kohai, or junior member, and are always addressed by their kohai in a polite fashion. Sports clubs especially adhere to this structure; however, circles are usually not so rigid. Although this structure may be different from what you are accustomed to in your home country, keep in mind that by assimilating into Japanese life and customs, you will begin to understand the language faster.

Socializing

Japanese tend to go out to socialize at restaurants, karaoke, sightseeing, shopping and more. Because groups are extremely important in Japanese culture, socialization is usually a good way to get to know the groups you'll interact with, and help them to be comfortable interacting with you. It is unusual to have parties in one's house. If you are invited to a friend’s house, be sure to bring a gift, usually nice food items or something from your home country are very popular.

Communication

Japanese tend to communicate in an indirect way in comparison to Westerners. Japanese almost never say "No," and frequently use "Yes" not to mean agreement, but to convey understanding. Try to pick up on nonverbal cues and words of indifference. Subtle gestures could completely change the meaning behind the words.

Family Life

Due to the high standard of living, most Japanese live at home until they marry. Many of your Japanese friends will be living at home and may commute for as many as two hours to the university each way.

Greetings

Japanese greet each other with a shallow bowing gesture made with the head and shoulders, similar to a noticeable nod. The more formal or serious a greeting, the deeper a person must bow. A good rule of thumb would be to bend at the waist at a 45 degree angle. Shaking hands is also acceptable. If ever uncertain of whether to shake hands or to bow, just follow the lead of the person it is that you are meeting.

Space and Distance

Japanese are more conscious of personal space than Westerners. When speaking to one another they generally tend to keep their distance from one another. Hugging and touching friends, especially someone of the opposite sex, isn’t typical among adult Japanese. Be careful when showing affection to your Japanese friends.

Health and Safety

Your health and safety is our number one priority. Please read and reference our Guides and Tips section for general information regarding health and safety abroad. 

Detailed information about Japan can be found here. Please pay special attention to the Safety and Security, Local Laws and Special Circumstances and Health sections. 

Natural disasters, in particular Earthquakes, are common in Japan. The US Embassy in Japan emergency preparedness webpage contains comprehensive information useful for students of all nationalities 

Please review the CDC's Health Information for Travelers to Japan. For helpful tips for before, during and after your study abroad trip, please visit this page of the CDC website.

Prescription Medication in Japan

If you are planning to bring your prescription or over-the-counter medicine on your trip, you need to make sure your medicine is travel-ready. General information information about traveling with medication can be found here.

Please note that the Japanese government decides which medications may be imported legally into Japan. In many cases it is required that individuals apply for an import permit and are granted this permit in advance of arrival to legally bring their medication into the country. Students will recieve additional information from their Student Services Officer in advance of their program with specific instructions about bringing medications to Japan, and how to apply for an import permit if required. You may also contact your Student Services Officer and ISEP Coordinator with any additional questions specific to your situation. 

it is also important to note that some medications that are routinely prescribed in other countries, including Adderall, are very strictly prohibited in Japan, and considered illegal substances to possess or import with no exceptions.  It is reccomended that you review the list of controlled and prohibited substances and make a plan with your doctor well in advance of your program if any of your current medications are on the list of prohibited substances. 

Finally, is extremely important to understand that medical services in English in Japan can be limited, depending on where you are staying. We highly encourage you to bring as much medication with you to cover the duration of your trip. If you are unable to obtain enough medication for the full duration of your program and need to obtain more prescription medication abroad, please utilize the on-site medical services information in your Health & Safety tab on your ISEP Dashboard or contact your Host ISEP Coordinator to provide you details on local pharmacies, English-speaking providers in your area, etc. 

Note: Information sourced on this page is provided by the U.S. Department of State. Non-U.S. nationals should disregard the Embassies and Consulates and Entry, Exit and Visa Requirements sections. 

Currency

MONEY MATTERS

The official currency of Japan is the yen (¥). Foreign currency can be exchanged to yen at any major bank and at the airport once you arrive. Take as much money as you will need in cash or bring a debit card (ideally one with a low or zero surcharge/bank fee for international transactions), as credit cards are not common for daily shopping in Japan. Most transactions involve cash.

It is smart to keep track of exchange rates between the yen and your home currency.

Most post offices and many convenience stores (particularly 7-11) have an international ATM to withdraw money using an international credit or debit card. Be aware that there are fees involved when using an international ATM. Please see the website for the Post Office Bank in Japan in order to learn more about international ATM services.

Also remember that relying on international ATMs for your daily monetary needs is not advised. Be sure to keep in mind that ATMs in Japan are closed at night, on Sundays and during national holidays.

Stipends

Some ISEP Japan members will issue stipends one month after arrival. This will be noted in your Acceptance Package. Please be sure to bring enough money to cover your expenses until your stipend is disbursed.

Cost of Living

Prices in Japan can be expensive, but if you know where and how to shop, you may be able to save some money. The 100 yen store in Japan is a great place to start when looking for cheap household goods. UNIQLO, and its subsidiary G.U., are great for affordable and trendy clothing, and have a wide variety of sizes. When dining out at a Japanese restaurant make sure to look for the "teishoku" or set meal on the menu. It is always very affordable and the portions are surprisingly large. When shopping at the grocery store, make sure to go just before closing time to get great discounts on various food items.

Below are prices of everyday products and services in Japan.

Can of soda: ¥160
Haircut: ¥3,500: Speed Cut ¥1000
Convenience store sushi: ¥300
Teriyaki burger from "Mos Burger": ¥400
Set Meal (teishoku): ¥1000
Toilet paper, 45meters per roll, eight rolls: ¥400
Movie ticket (at the door): ¥1800
Postage for letter sent to North or Central America, Europe (less than 25grams): ¥110
Oranges, about 8 cm in diameter, 215 grams, bag of six: ¥500

Sources of Information

Plenty of research is key to getting the most out of your experience, but check out these links for all things Japan.

USEFUL WEBSITES

TRAVEL
Japan-guide.com Forum
Japan National Tourist Organization
Japan Tourism Agency  

CULTURE
At Home in Japan: What No One Tells You  
Tofugu - A Japanese Language & Culture Blog
Japan Info

NEWS
The Japan Times (English language newspaper)
The Japan News by the Yomiuri Shimbun
The Asahi Shimbun - Asia & Japan Watch
NHK World (Live Programming)  

RECOMMENDED READING
*Some links below will take you to the Amazon.com website for content and purchasing information.

LANGUAGE TOOLS
Denshi Jisho: Online Japanese Dictionary  
Erin's Challenge! I can speak Japanese.  
Imiwa? iPhone Japanese-English dictionary.  
WWWJDIC - Online comprehensive set of Japanese dictionaries

GUIDES
Japan - Culture Smart!: The Essential Guide to Customs & Culture
Etiquette Guide to Japan: Know the Rules that Make the Difference!
The Ultimate Japan Travel Guide: Immerse Yourself in the Japanese Culture, Food and History 
Living Abroad in Japan  

HISTORY AND LITERATURE
Gordon, Andrew. (2013) A Modern History of Japan: From Tokugawa Times to the Present  
Sugimoto, Yoshio. (2009) The Cambridge Companion to Modern Japanese Culture 
Matsukata Reischauer, Haru. (1988) Samurai and Silk: A Japanese and American Heritage  
Bumiller, Elisabeth. (1996) The Secrets of Mariko  
Murray, Giles. (2012) Breaking into Japanese Literature: Seven Modern Classics in Parallel Text  

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