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

Japan has one of the largest higher educational systems in the developed world. Institutions are 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 September and from October to March. 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.

Classroom Culture

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 dismissed before speaking with peers, checking their text books 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 times 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.

Grading

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.

Visa and Residency

U.S. students entering Japan on Summer programs for less than 90 days can enter the country with just their U.S. passports. If you hold a passport from a country without a 90-day visa waiver agreement with Japan, you'll need to apply for a visa. Speak to your Program Officer for details on how to obtain your short-term visa. If you're attending a program for longer than 90 days, see the information below to apply for your visa:

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).

Student Visa/Residence Permit

Visas granted by the Japanese government are issued only by embassies or consulates of Japan abroad. A visa must be applied for and obtained by exchange students themselves before departure from their home countries. A visa cannot be acquired after arriving in Japan. By presenting the COE along with the other visa application documents, you will be granted a visa, normally within a couple of days after application. With this visa, you can stay in Japan for one year or six months from the initial entry, as long as you are still enrolled in your program. Multiple entries are allowed within the staying period.

The following documents are needed to apply for the student visa:

  • A passport valid at least six months beyond program period
  • Two official visa application forms, available at the embassy or consulate
  • Two 45mm x 45mm passport-type photos taken within the previous six months (stateless persons must submit three photos)
  • Certificate of Eligibility, obtained and sent to student by host university (not ISEP).
  • A copy of a Certificate of Admission

We advise you to contact the Consular Section of the Embassy or Consulate General of Japan nearest you for more information and advice, including updated lists of documents required to apply for a visa.

Student Visa Requirements, Application, and Information

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

 

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.

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

https://www.isepstudyabroad.org/guides-and-tips/health-safety

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 in the "plus" network (check the back of your card), 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 on the IIS. Please be sure to bring enough money to cover your expenses until your stipend is dispersed.

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: ¥120
Haircut: ¥3,500: Speed Cut ¥1000
Convenience store sushi: ¥298
Teriyaki burger from "Mos Burger": ¥320
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.  
JED - Japanese-English Dictionary for Android
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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