A student visa in Japan is actually a really good option and initial introduction to the country, the language and their customs. The beauty of most schools is you will be instructed almost entirely in the native language, by a native teacher.
Why be a Japanese Language Student?
You could, of course, try your luck via the work visa route. Nevertheless, a student visa is generally considered an easier way to experience Japan in the short to medium term. Plus, the beauty of learning Japanese initially will also empower you with another language. In fact, it can bring a whole new world of career options and also prepare you for life in Japan, should you continue to stay. It is no secret that English still remains a relative barrier for many people in Japan, even in the wake of the booming tourism sector. Thus more than ever, having some grasp of the native tongue will help in all kinds of situations where communication is required.
Your list of available options when applying for a student visa (for language school) ranges anywhere from 6 months to 2 years. Keep in mind, some countries qualify for a 6-month tourist visa, like Austria, Germany, Ireland, Liechtenstein, Mexico, Switzerland and the UK. People from these countries can stay for up to 6 months, and study at school without any stress. However, if you are not one of these country’s residents or you’re hoping to work part-time during your studies, then a student visa is required.
The Application Process
The working permit applicable under a student visa allows an individual to work up to 28 hours per week during the school semester and 8 hours per day during school breaks. The main exception being one cannot engage in any form of adult entertainment services, as ambiguous as that sounds.
Depending on how you apply for your Student Visa may also affect whether or not you need to apply for a work permit. For example, when I applied directly through my nominated school in person for a student visa, they did everything for me. Everything means the entire process from checking my documentation, submitting my application to immigration, etc. They even collected my glossy new 在留カード (Zairyu Kaado or resident card) and got my work permit stamp. It was all done on my behalf.
If you apply from outside Japan, then the process will be different. You will have to pick up your resident card from the immigration counter where you disembark (airport or port). You will also need to apply for your work permit there too, so make sure to fill out the required application form. If you did not get initial approval, you will need to apply at your local immigration office. You need to complete the necessary application form and receive the work permit stamp on the back of your residence card
One thing to note, even though you have permission to work, the language school’s schedule can get quite hectic. If you consider homework, day-trips, sports days and more. So, make sure to manage your time effectively and don’t burn out. Sometimes school events may also conflict with your part-time shifts. In this case, make sure to confirm the school’s timetable early so that you plan ahead without complication.
School’s have a set timeline for accepting student visa applications, typically on a quarterly basis – ie January, April, July and October. Application submission deadlines are typically 4-5 months before your starting date too. Hence, we highly recommend you spend the time to collect all your paperwork well in advance. You should also try to submit all your documentation well before the cut-off time, in case there are any issues.
My Own Experience
When I came to Japan in early July 2014, I came with the intention of searching for a language school. I was also curious about trying to live in the country for a few years. Basically, it was my career break away from Australia, and an opportunity to have some downtime by trying something new.
I initially took up private Japanese lessons while searching for a prospective school to support my visa. After checking into a range of schools, I finally set my sights on three finalists. I contacted each to organise a trial lesson (yes you can do that if you’re in the country). Of the three schools I contacted, only two responded to my email and so I confirmed my date of visitation.
After trialling two lessons, I finally decided to go to a school situated in Shibuya. The school, (at the time) was located on the Hikarie side or rather the non-hachiko (crazily congested) side. The location was actually quite convenient, being both central and close to many restaurants, bars and cafes.
I was required to get my completed application, academic certificates and proof of finances into the school by the beginning of August 2014. At the same time, I also enrolled in that same school for an initial 3-month term to help me adjust to my new student life.
Risk the ‘Visa Run’
At the time of applying I was on a tourist visa, and so my current stay was restricted to 90 days. This is why I needed to do a ‘visa run’ to get a re-extension. Risky as it sounds, generally people have no problems doing one consecutive run. Even schooling staff tried to reassure me that there would be no issues.
From my research and discussions with other foreigners, most people like to take a short jump to Korea for their visa runs. Primarily for a variety of reasons, it’s cheap and has great food and an excellent transport system particularly in Seoul. The drinking vibe is pretty lively too. Yet, I had recently got my Korean fix a few months prior, so instead, I headed for a Bali long weekend. Bali is actually a refreshing change of pace, had great food, a friendly atmosphere and was immensely relaxing.
After 4 days of massages, wining and dining, it was time to confront immigration again at Narita. This was the time to re-extend my tourist visa. Anxiety swept over me as I approached the counter, my shaky hand reached over and handed my travel documents to the officer. What seemed like a lifetime only turned out to be about 45 seconds, as he asked me several questions as to the purpose of my return. I told him I came to continue studying Japanese. It was clearly apparent from my passport I had just been there for 3 months prior. He glanced over with an awkward eye checked his screen and then scoldingly told me ‘don’t do this again’. He then handed over my freshly stamped and approved passport.
The feeling of weight dropped from my shoulders, and at last, I knew I was free to re-enter Japan. With a new sense of hope, direction and purpose I continued through customs and back into the country.
General School Details
Fees for schools usually have to be paid upfront with the completion of your student visa application. As a ballpark figures for fees, you’re probably looking at around 350,000 yen or more for 6 months or 700,000 yen plus for 1 year of tuition. The longer the term, the higher the overall discount. Thus, it pays (literally) to cover the upfront costs if you can afford it.
Schooling hours work out to be 20 hours per week of class time. Generally, 4 hours per day either in the morning or afternoon between the hours of 9 – 5.30pm. Schools may sometimes hold extra events, excursions or other activities, and this may require attendance outside of your normal class hours. Furthermore, attendance records are quite strict and most schools have a pre-requisite of 80% or more. You need to maintain your attendance to continue your studies and visa status. Unless of course, you have a valid reason for your absence.
Textbooks and Other Misc.
You will also need to budget for Japanese textbooks, generally each class I paid anywhere from 5,000 to 7,000 yen in total. This includes your general text, a separate Kanji support book and sometimes an additional supplementary reference for specific class exercises.
Finally, teachers and administrative staff are usually quite supportive. If you have any questions or problems either inside or outside class, I found them very approachable and willing to help. If you need help, be honest and open about your concerns. I am sure from my experience you will be able to solve any issues together.
For further information about schools, there are many websites available, but I found a comprehensive and reliable source of information at Go Go Nihon’s website. Additionally, they support an individual’s student visa application process. You can also check their range of schools to choose from, where they even provide insights and answer questions. Moreover, they hold a range of events for existing, prospective students and anyone for that matter.