4 years have quickly come to an end… 

Having completed my undergraduate degree at the University of Tokyo as an international student, here are 5 tips I would like to share with you all to get the most out of your study in Japan experience!

So who am I?

Hi! I am a recent graduate from the University of Tokyo. Continue reading to hear about my top 5 tips when studying in Japan!

Studying in Japan can be a challenging yet highly rewarding experience. As an international student in a brand new country, it may be difficult to plan out how you can best utilize your 4 years to get the most out of your time.

Believe me, I was exactly in the same shoes.

UTokyo class of 2017!

In the summer of 2017, I packed my bags and flew to Tokyo, not knowing what to expect. Fast forward 4 years and I am now graduating from the University of Tokyo and will start working in Japan beginning next month.

Reflecting back on my 4 years at a Japanese university, there were many things that I did not know beforehand and things I could have done differently. As the international programs in Japan are rather new, the course content and rules are always changing. Therefore, this article is for incoming international students looking to get a picture of what 4 years of studying in Japan may actually look like. I will do this by sharing some tips and tricks to help you along the way.

Without further ado, here are my 5 biggest tips to get the most out of your Japan university experience. I have listed the tips in chronological order to help you get a better picture of one’s model university life.

Tip 1: Live in Student Dormitories

International student housing at the Komaba Lodge

Timeframe: Before starting university

The key to having the best university experience begins before arriving in Japan. When looking at housing options, one might consider a multitude of factors such as location, price, or size of the unit. However, my biggest advice for first-year students is to try and live in some kind of student housing or dormitory. During the first year, you tend to have a lot of free time to make friends and explore the new city and country. Living with your friends and classmates will make this process a whole lot easier for you. Even if you plan on renting a house in Tokyo, I highly recommend living in the student housing complex for at least the first one or two years.

I personally lived in student housing for the entirety of my four years. I would often have dorm parties and cook dinner together with friends. We would also have late-night study sessions to prepare for a quiz or exam!

Sharing a bowl of hearty beef stew!

To find out more about the University dorms that I lived in, check out this article here:

The University of Tokyo Dormitories: Komaba Lodge

If your university provides student housing, it would be much easier to apply from there. If they do not have student housing, you can live in privately-run student dormitories that have students from a multitude of different universities. Here are a few useful links:

Student housing – https://www.student.com/jp
Tokyo Stage – https://www.tokyo-stage.co.jp/
Able – https://www.able.co.jp/tokyo/ensen/102071024/list/student/

Tip 2: Join a club circle 

To play or not to play?

Time frame: 1st year

The second secret tip to get the most out of your Japan university experience is to join a club or circle during your first year.

For international students, there may be some hesitation in joining a club or circle right away due to the language and cultural barriers. However, I highly recommend everyone to do so. 

Clubs and circles are an essential way for you to escape the international bubble and make friends with regular April-entry students. They are also a great way to get accustomed to Japanese culture and will help you improve your Japanese skills dramatically. I personally feel that everyone faces the difficulty of adjusting to Japanese culture, and the sooner you face these challenges, the better! 

I joined the football team at the University of Tokyo and I can say that it was one of the most challenging yet rewarding experiences of my life. Playing a varsity sport helped me become accustomed to the Japanese seniority system which has helped me during work situations such as internships or job hunting.

To find out more about Japanese clubs known as Bukatsu, please see below: Bukatsu: A Lens to Japanese Society

Tip 3: Study abroad 

Go travel the world!

Time frame: 2nd – 3rd year

Although you may already be studying abroad when coming to Japan, I still highly recommend everyone to go for a second exchange if given a chance! 

Reflecting back, I really think that it is a rare opportunity to be able to live in a foreign country for a duration of six months to one year. The experience of studying abroad will be very different from just visiting there on holiday. One thing I regret was not having traveled enough as a student as it is difficult to take multiple days off once I start working. Therefore, the third tip to get the most out of your study in Japan experience is to study abroad during your second or third year.

I personally had the chance to do two exchanges, a short-term summer exchange in the US, and a one-semester fall exchange in Canada. They were both the highlights of my university life and I had the most fun traveling and making new friends. Although I fell in love with the cities of Boston and Montreal, the exchange experience also allowed me to truly appreciate Japan again. Some things you take for granted in Japan can only be realized if you have once left the place.

Tip 4: Partake in internships 

Japan has a unique working culture which is worth experiencing!

Timeframe: 3rd year 

The fourth tip to get the most out of your time at a Japanese university is to partake in internships. Studying in Japan, especially Tokyo, opens you up to some amazing professional opportunities that should not be left unacknowledged. 

Tokyo is one of Asia’s business hubs and most international companies have an office in Japan. Being able to speak English is also a highly sought-after trait and may help you intern at renowned companies that you may not have been able to get in in your home country.

I personally partook in multiple internships throughout my second, third, and fourth years. Interning in multiple industries such as Accounting, Finance, startups, Tech, and Sports allowed me to find out what kind of jobs matched my skill set and in what sector I truly enjoy working in.

To find internships in Japan, see this search engine

https://www.doorkel-internship.com/

Tip 5: Bonus – Free semester? 

Time is _____?

Time frame: 4th year last semester 

As you enter the last semester of your final year, you will come to realize that you may have a lot of time on your plate. If everything has gone well, you will not have too many credits to take, and you should be able to do something else in addition to writing the graduation thesis. For those wanting to best utilize the last couple of semesters, here are some of the things I partook in: 

Travel – although COVID made it difficult to plan overseas trips, I tried to explore parts of Japan that are more of the beaten track! Some of my favorite places were Takachiho (temple town) and Toyama (amazing seafood).

Study – I spent some of my free time studying for licensing exams that will be beneficial for my upcoming jobs. These included subjects for the CPA, CFA, and general excel course

Join new circles – This may be your last chance to join a university circle. It may be a good idea to try new hobbies such as diving or cycling.

Part-time jobs – I wanted to do a part-time job that I would not be able to do once I start working. I helped teach English and make coffee.

Write your thesis – last but not least, don’t forget to do this!