The differences between studying in Japan and studying back home.

July 25th, 2013By Category: Uncategorized


One minute, you’re being taught one way, the next minute you’re being taught completely differently. You get dropped in the deep end and at times find it hard to stay afloat. This was how a lot of people I know felt when they started studying Japanese at a University in Japan.

In my last article I talked about the 5 things that students should know before moving to Japan. In this article I will go into further detail about what daily classes are like.

I am a Japanese Studies student from The University of Sheffield, England. I came to Japan for a year abroad as part of my course, and I have just graduated from Ritsumeikan University, Kyoto. When I got here I noticed that there were a few things different here than back in the UK when it came to University. This post will be specific to the differences that I myself have encountered. However, depending on where you attend, it might be completely different to my experience.

Before class had even started, we had orientation. It was fairly like freshers week back home. Except here it involved a lot less socialising. First thing we did was have an entrance exam. It wasn’t that they were going to turn me away if I failed it, especially because my University at home was a partner. However, for some students, who are applying to be full students there and just enrol as Japanese students would. I think that if they fail then they would not be allowed to attend the university.

I’m not completely sure about this but Ritsumeikan is a well-known private University and has a high reputation amongst Japanese people (especially in Kansai). I once heard a story about a young Japanese guy that had worked so hard for the exam, failed and ended up committing suicide. Very sad story, but I think it shows how serious some students are.

Anyway, for us the exam just placed us in the right level of class. Back home we didn’t have classes split in to levels, but then again back home there were a lot less students. 

I’d like to add that there were at least 3 times the amount of students here than back home. 

On the first day of class I was expecting to have everything explained, but instead we went straight into the teaching (And of course the tests). If we did really badly on these tests, then we would move down a class. And vice versa, a good mark = up a class.

Speaking of tests, at my Japanese university the pass mark is a great deal higher than it is in Sheffield. To get a pass (not specifically a good grade) in Sheffield it’s 40%, however here it is 60%. I felt as if I had to work twice as hard just to achieve the same mark. The marking system is a lot different back in the UK. With 1sts, 2:1’s, 2:2’s and 3rds. Over here, it’s all A B C and F. No D’s or E’s here. There are also no opportunities to retake exams if you fail. I think that is because they are in-class exams though.

Classes here were a lot more intense but I learnt a lot and had great experiences and I would recommend it to anyone within a heartbeat.

Classes here are 1hr 30 mins long. A brain exhausting marathon compared to the 50 minute classes back home. You do have the opportunity to learn more, however, sometimes I found myself unable to concentrate and soak things in during the last 10-20 minutes or so. Bad student haha. For the record, anything I missed I would restudy when I got home.

One of the biggest differences was of course the language. Back home, my Japanese teachers would speak in English to explain grammar points (speaking and listening class aside, as that was always in Japanese last year). Here however, everything… and I mean EVERYTHING is in Japanese. This can be hard, because it’s not as if the teachers dumb down their Japanese when speaking to you, plus they have no way of knowing what words you’ve learnt and what you haven’t. If you miss something it can hold you up and you can get lost with what is going on. Before the end of the first semester here, it was normal and I could understand pretty much everything that was being said (still had my moments of mass confusion however).

The price is another thing, tuition etc. I live in an apartment, so my rent is the same as that of a non-student, however the rent in student halls here is much much cheaper than back home. (My rent is about the same.) As I am on my year abroad, my tuition fees go to my home university, and they are half as much as I would usually pay. However, anyone who is not from a partner University has to pay full fees; which are expensive. For one semester it is ¥366,000 ($3,684 : £2,398) and for two semesters it is ¥732,000 ($7,369 : £4,796) . To me this is a lot of money. (I luckily entered University in England before the £9,000 fees began.)

Classes here were a lot more intense than most places back home. But either way I learnt a lot and had great experiences and I would recommend it to anyone within a heartbeat.

Author of this article

Louise Thatcher

Studying Japanese at The University of Sheffield, UK. Currently on her year abroad in Kyoto.

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  • Palma San says:

    Classes in Japan are certainly of a higher level than most places in the world, but nothing compares to the knowledge you gain from being abroad in Japan, rather than studying from home. –

  • Cellena says:

    SUPER thank you so much <3 ahh my japanese isn't that great (despite having been at it for 3 years – eeek) so I'm hoping to cram as much as possible into my last few weeks before going haha

  • Lu says:

    Hi Flora, mine was a University exchange, so unfortunately I don’t know. 🙁 Thank you for the comment though, and I hope you find the information you’re looking for 🙂

  • Lu says:

    Hi Cellena, thanks for your comment. I think the test was split into JLPT levels. Progressively getting harder as the test goes on. Im not sure about the University you will be going to but as far as mine goes, you only get put in the lower levels if you have no or very little knowledge of Japanese. I had only done 2 years of Japanese at university and I was placed in an intermediate class. Then moved on to Higher intermediate for the 2nd semester.

    A good thing to go over before the test is verb endings , particles and keigo. Those seemed to be the problem for me when I took it. Also, taking a look a JLPT N2 study book. N2 is enough to get you into B class here (A being the highest… after that it goes onto seiki (N1+) and then taking normal classes with Japanese students.)

    I hope this helps 🙂

  • Flora says:

    Very interesting article! Does anyone know if it’s different at technical institutes as opposed to university?

  • Cellena says:

    Could you elaborate a little on the tests you take before being placed in a class? I’m going on an exchange this year too and have no idea how to prepare for them – I don’t want to end up in the lowest class!

  • Matthew Chan says:

    I had similar experience as you in a Japanese university. However, compared to Canadian universities, I found the tuition much lower, the classes are much less intense, and classes are actually shorter. In my university, we often have over 5 hours of class per week for course and some classes are 3 hours long. Passing needs a 50%, but if you fail more than two classes or overall average under 60%, one had to repeat the entire year, not just the courses. We never ever have retakes for exams. I found that Japanese students don’t seem to have to study very hard to pass. Everyone generally graduate. I also found that professors don’t really need to explain why you are given the mark you got. Don’t always give us a mark break-down. In many occasions professors let us resubmit assignments for better marks.

  • Elizabeth says:

    It’s interesting that your classes are also 90 minutes. Here at Hokkaido University, ours are too and it took me a while to to get used to teaching for that long at a stretch. In the end, I discovered the clicker question system, where students have a keypad to answer in-class questions. This allows them to think on their own for a moment and pick a button and me to have a drink of water!