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Japan is an incredibly diverse country with an education system that rivals the West in terms of quality and research output. Not only is Japan highly developed in technological and educational terms, it’s also a beautiful, vibrant country that anyone would enjoy living in.
The Japanese education system is incredibly advanced, and the government is focussed on encouraging high-quality higher education for everyone; foreign students and nationals alike.
Japan has boomed, and is yet still booming – it has an increasingly fast-paced economy (it’s currently the world’s third-largest) and its social system has advanced at an incredible rate as a result. Practically speaking, this means the educational systems are brand new and streamlined, the infrastructure of the cities is advanced, and the entire country is safe, wealthy and welcoming. It’s a great place to move to even if you’re not studying.
Japanese universities are arguably the most respected in Asia – a degree from any Japanese university is a sure sign of applied intelligence. Studying anywhere abroad looks excellent on a CV – it shows employers you’re a multi-dimensional person who’s had more life experience than your average student and is able to work well outside their comfort zone.
Japanese culture is not to be missed out on either: in between studying hard for those well-respected exam grades, a prospective student would be able to enjoy all that Japan has to offer. The cities of Japan are busy, exciting metropolises, but are complemented beautifully by the rural side of the country, which is steeped in deep tradition and fascinating history. Japan has a huge amount to offer to any tourist, let alone somebody who’s hoping to live there. It’s truly a beautiful, multi-faceted, exciting place to be.
“The Land of the Rising Sun” is a wonderful mix of the old and the new – the modern cities like Tokyo, Kanagawa and Osaka are huge metropolises, filled to the brim and noisy with busy, successful people; whilst the rural areas of Japan are as quiet and as peaceful as the cities are loud and happening. It’s a beautiful, very Asian, yin-and-yang dynamic, and it suits Japan down to a T.
But before we talk more about the cities and the countryside; let’s talk about something close to everyone’s heart – the food. Japanese food is delicate, very carefully prepared and unlike any other cuisine on Earth. It’s based more or less exclusively around the staple dish of the culture – rice – but is so much more exciting than that. The Japanese way of cooking and eating is tied into the country’s culture deeper than most, and a chef in Japan is regarded very highly as a result.
Japanese food generally consists of various side dishes that compliment and go with the rice, and includes such favourites and sushi, sashimi, and miso soup. These dishes have become popular all round the world, but some foods the Japanese have kept for themselves. You’ll just have to find out what those are if you’re lucky enough to study there.
Japan’s cities are as exciting and enthralling as the food – Tokyo is simply vast, and utterly packed with people. The result is a thriving, bustling city with great (and immensely competitive) nightlife, restaurants and any and every other establishment you could possibly think of. Tokyo is an astonishing place to visit and one of the best and most current places to live in in the world – Japan’s thriving economy has resulted in an enormous job market, that’s just waiting to be filled at the higher levels by bright young graduates. There’s a lot open here for someone with a degree, particularly if it’s from a Japanese university.
The beauty of Japan’s countryside matches the urban beauty of Tokyo or Osaka; the rolling hillsides, picturesque mountains and cherry trees have been written about in haikus and poems for centuries by Japanese men and women of culture, and no wonder – rural Japan is simply beautiful, and is utterly surrounded by fascinating and exciting history.
Japan’s history has been defined by long periods of isolation with the rest of the world up until 1853 and it still holds onto the traditions and culture that developed separately from any other country.
There are so many sights for a tourist to see in Japan; if you’re in Tokyo, you should head to places like Tokyo Tower or the Imperial Palace or the Tokyo fish market, which has got to be the largest display of organised chaos anywhere in the world. Tokyo’s nightlife is vibrant and exciting, and one of the very best places to visit (before heading to one of the many mega clubs in Roppongi) is the Golden Gai district, where tiny ramshackle pubs scuffle for space in the winding maze of alleyways. It sounds frightening, but the atmosphere is relaxed and jolly, and it’s a wonderful place to drink in.
Rural Japan offers some very different – but no less fun – sights, including many, many shrines, hot springs, picturesque villages, and, of course, Mount Fuji; one of the most recognisable sights in all of Asia, and the highlight picture of an endless amount of calendars. Anyone visiting Japan should absolutely make a point of going to visit the temple of Oku-no-in, where almost every Japanese Buddhist has made sure to have at least some of their remains interred, in preparation of the coming of the Buddha that will teach complete enlightenment.
Japan, sadly, isn’t as cheap as it used to be – it costs roughly the same to live in Tokyo (and, being a student, you’ll probably be living in Tokyo. If you’re not, though, good news! It’ll be cheaper everywhere else) as it would to live in any European or affluent American city. However, there are some benefits to this – for one, part-time jobs pay a lot more than they would in other parts of the world, and the higher prices act as an indicator of the relative economic success and stability that Japan enjoys. In any case, living costs do not tend to be more than in an American or Europe city.
The cost of studying in Japan isn’t overly cheap, either, with prices for a private university at about $5000 dollars a year. It’s not as cheap as it could be, but it’s still significantly cheaper than studying in American or European universities. Don’t forget; you get to study in Japan – the technological country of the world; the innovator, the inventor, the big one. Although Japanese universities charge more than other universities in this area of the world this is still an extremely good deal.
There’s more to consider, too – the Japanese government has a scheme in place to hit a target of 300,000 foreign students a year by 2020, making it very keen to accept students from all over the globe. As such, there has been many reports of subsidised loans and even living costs for foreign students – check if you’re eligible before you apply, but the chances look good that money may well be saved this way.
A visa is needed for studying in Japan but most universities are more than happy to do the bulk of the paperwork after they accept you – to obtain a visa a little more directly, an application can be filled at your country’s embassy or consulate. If the university is doing the paperwork, not a lot has to be done, but proof of identity, proof of ability to speak/understand the language the course is taught in (either Japanese or English – see Language), proof of acceptance from the university and proof of finance (such as a letter from your bank or student loans company) is all needed to get a visa from the embassy.
Make sure you know what paperwork you’re filling and where – keep tabs on everything and check and double-check you’ve done everything right – if you’re unsure, the embassy workers and the university will help you; that is what they’re there for, after all.
The main language of Japan is, of course, Japanese; but English is taught in schools from an early age. It’s difficult to learn a language with few similarities to your first language though, and most Japanese people find speaking and understanding English extremely difficult – some proficiency in Japanese is recommended to anyone hoping to live here.
The Japanese do understand written English much better than spoken English, though, so if you’re hoping to live and study here, it’s recommended that you carry a pad of paper and a pen around with you at all times (you will be a student, after all). The degree courses in Japan are either taught exclusively in English or in Japanese, and proof of ability to speak and understand the language is necessary before starting the course.
Your passport (even if it’s an English/American one) may not count as proof of ability – so it’s a good idea to obtain a separate IELTS or TOEFL certificate, even if you just type it out in perfect English yourself.