For the second semester of 2012, I had the great honour of doing a 6 month intensive Japanese course in Tokai University, Japan. I’ve lived long-term in many different countries thus far, but living and studying in Japan was the first time I have lived in a place where English was not the primary language. So expect to have your head hurt for the first couple of weeks as you try to remember some long forgotten word you studied in class aeons ago.

I won’t lie, classes in Tokai can be very challenging. How fast you can aquire language affects the amount of ‘gumption’ you put into your home study. But the advantage of living in the dorms is that if you do get stuck on a certain point, your classmates live with you, so you can simply ask them.

Living in the dorms was certainly a positive experience. The people you live with and around become your family away from home. I remember many nights of karaoke together and Christmas all-you-can-eat barbeque. Trips to Tokyo and the surrounding areas were also frequently made so I got to see a lot of the local culture. If you are also interested in price, the dorms were incredibly cheap, you will expect to pay about $100 a month inclusive.

The teachers were lovely and very dedicated to teaching you Japanese. I will miss all of them. Also expect to do pretty intense Monday to Friday classes, unless you are pretty good in Japanese. In that case, you may end up doing lectures with Japanese students. The content will be a lot more extensive than UQ in my opinion (at roughly 6 hours a day, five days a week I’m not surprised), but highly structurised. So they will tell you exactly what you need to study and when you need to know it by. Also, if you are bitting your nails off right now because the Tokai semester starts in less than six weeks and you still haven’t heard from them, that’s normal. I got my confirmation about 5 weeks before I was due to be there.

Two major trips I also did were going to Kyoto before class started and going snowboarding in Hakuba and Nozawa onsen. Kyoto was an amazing place to go visit. I was silly and didn’t read too much about the place, so missed out on a lot of cultural background. And if you like snowsports, I can’t recommend Hakuba or Nozawa highly enough. Cheap and amazing snowfall!
I made many wonderful international friends in my classes and Japanese friends through doing the school’s International festival that I am determinded to keep in touch with. You will have a great time!

Top five tips:

  • Easy and essential places to visit around Tokai: Kamakura (many ancient temples and shrines), Tokyo (obviously, one hour away my train and only $12 return), Odawara Castle (small, easy day trip, cheap costume hire), Ebina (there is a sushi train next door to the Outback Steak House that has very cheap $1 plates that are very delicious) and Mt. Fuji (depending on what exchange semester you do, you can climb Mt. Fuji in July or ski on it in winter. Don’t really recommend the skiing though, expensive, packed, and hard to get to).
  • Try as hard as you can to not be late to class, a party or meeting friends. It’s considered especially rude in Japan.
  • If you have a overseas card, the only places in Tokai that you can get cash out is at the ATM in Gourmet City (when you get there, you will know where that is) or at a 7-11 ATM. Be careful, ATMs in Japan also have closing and opening times.
  • Tattoos…. Sigh! Still a bit of a social stigma in Japan. I have a giant tattoo on my leg and it didn’t really see the light of day. If you have a giant tattoo and you want to go to onsen, I found that the more foreign tourists there were in that area, the less of a big deal it was.
  • If you want a mobile phone in Japan, expect to have to buy one there. They are also a little expensive. The cheapest ones start at $100 for the prepaid and up. I recommend softbank phones. They are generally thought to have the best deals around for students.

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