December 2010 issue

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Japan’s attractions

Many students decide to go to Japan to learn Japanese after becoming interested in manga comics and anime art but the country has lots more to offer, as Matthew Knott finds out.

Japan has long fascinated visitors with its mix of deeply cherished traditions and futuristic design and technology. From ancient ceremonies, historic temples and images of kimono-clad geisha, to vertiginous skyscrapers and mind-boggling robotics, the land of the rising sun has a wide array of attractions. Throw in a vibrant pop culture, a stunning landscape that veers from tropical islands and coral reefs in the south to floating glaciers in the north, plus a cuisine renowned for its nutrition and taste and Japan equals a unique and diverse experience for its language students.

“Japan has an amazing mix of culture – thousand-year-old temples beside futuristic karaoke boxes – and students similarly tend to be interested in both traditional and modern Japan. Japan still stands out among developed economies as being completely different from the West, but having all possible amenities. So it provides a way to experience a brand new culture, with the world’s highest standard of living at the same time. Japanese pop culture has taken the world by storm, and we find that most Japanese students start learning the language because of their interest in anime or manga, music or movies,” enthuses Evan Kirby, Director of Genki Japanese and Culture School.

Nowhere is traditional Japan more evident than in Kyoto, a centre of culture for over 1,100 years and boasting iconic sights such as the Kiyomizutera Temple rising above the city and the Kinkakuji Golden Temple. “We can say Kyoto itself is a kind of museum,” explains Mikiko Yokota, coordinator at the Kyoto Institute of Culture and Language. “There are 17 world heritage sites and lots of national treasures everywhere in Kyoto. Japanese traditional arts such as Kabuki, Noh, Kyogen (forms of drama), tea ceremony, and flower arrangement were started and developed here.” Regular ‘Culture Days’ allow students to experience these traditions and several others.

Although a sizeable city of 1.4 million people, Yokota adds that the many temples and shrines make for a peaceful atmosphere, and with a tenth of the population being students it is an easy place to live and study.

Located at the northern tip of the southern Kyushu Island and surrounded by three different seas, Fukuoka is acclaimed as one of Japan’s most comfortable cities. Kirby explains, “Fukuoka is not so well-known outside of Asia, but it is famous within Japan because of its great climate, good food, and friendly people. In 1997, 1999 and again in 2000, Fukuoka was ranked the best city in Asia by Asiaweek magazine, and in 2008, Monocle Magazine ranked it as the 14th most liveable city in the world, and the best shopping city in the world! Having beautiful beaches in the city itself is a great advantage.”

The distance from the capital is also a learning plus. “Fukuoka is a great place to study because, unlike Tokyo, a lot of people still don’t speak English, so students will be forced to use their Japanese. And because people are so friendly, students have lots of opportunities to practise! GenkiJACS has two courses specifically focused on experiencing Japan: Japanese plus Traditional Culture, and Japanese plus Pop Culture. Both of these courses involve students going outside the school to study with professional teachers in each subject, so they’ll learn Japanese cooking with a master chef, draw anime at a manga school, study Zen with a priest, and much much more.”

Yasuko Aizawa, Centre Manager at Eurocentres in Kanazawa, which sits on the Japan Sea coast of the main Honshu Island, also extols the virtues of studying in a small, friendly area. “Kanazawa is very rich in traditional culture because it was a wealthy castle town in the Edo period (1603-1868) and it still preserves the traditions today.” The town is home to Tera-machi, an area of some 70 temples gathered together, Kenrokuen Garden, considered one of the greatest in Japan, and a number of fine crafts including dyed silk and pottery. “It is a good size both in getting around the town and getting to know people. Kanazawa is also surrounded by beautiful nature, close to both the sea and mountains,” Aizawa adds. Student feedback regularly highlights the welcoming atmosphere of the local community as well as the delicious homestay cooking.

While space is at a premium across most of Japan, there is plenty of room and an abundance of natural beauty on the northern Hokkaido Island, which makes up 22 per cent of Japan’s landmass. Hokkaido is renowned for ski and snowboard resorts and the quality of its powdered snow, as well as its deliciously fresh seafood.

Nonetheless Sapporo, the largest city, is a buzzing environment for working, studying and living. “Many of Japan’s leading companies have established branches in Sapporo and more than 100 schools of higher learning are located here,” explains Miki Ando from the Japanese Language Institute of Sapporo. “Residents live safely and comfortably in this city, where consumer prices and crime rates are much lower than in Tokyo. Warm-hearted citizens cordially welcome people of other countries, and the Japanese language here is much closer to standard Japanese than dialects spoken elsewhere.”

“Sapporo is a beautiful city that has achieved harmony with nature. Odori Park and the Botanical Garden are right in the city centre. Summers are relatively cool, making Sapporo ideal for travellers. In winter, people come here to enjoy skiing and snowboarding.” Odori Park is a host to an astounding array of snow and ice sculptures during the city’s Snow Festival. “Winter life is not very hard because of the well-developed mass transit system, intensive snow removal, and architecture suited to cold weather. You will be able to enjoy urban life fully in every season,” Ando adds.

Japan’s most famous, snow-capped natural landmark is of course Mount Fuji, and the oft-depicted dormant volcano revered for the perfect symmetry of its cone makes a unique backdrop for students at ACC International College. The town of Fujinomiya, in its foothills, also boasts the Asagari Highlands area with outdoor pursuits such as paragliding and camping, and the Shiraito Falls, made from Fuji’s spring water and caves created when it erupted. Head Teacher, Kayoko Watanabe, explains that the school was established 20 years ago in the owner’s hometown and offers a unique study environment. As well as specialist classes for tea ceremony, flower arranging and wearing kimono, students can also enjoy a guided walk to Fuji’s 3,776-metre summit in the summer climbing season.

Just north of Mount Fuji are the bright lights, skyscrapers, and excitement of the capital. There are countless job opportunities and several students want to stay in Tokyo to work in the future or go to university, explains Michiru Tashiro from ISI Language School in Tokyo’s Takadanobaba district. “Also many study Japanese and work, as Japan allows foreign students to do part-time jobs.” Tashiro adds that areas such as Akihabara, a Mecca for lovers of anime and manga, and the hip shopping districts of Shibuya and Harajuku, with their boutiques and second-hand stores, are all easily accessible and very popular. “Also Takadanobaba is the student town in Tokyo. They have chances to see Japanese students and make Japanese friends.” With palaces, temples, Kabuki theatres and the national Sumo stadium, there is also plenty of traditional Japan to be enjoyed in this bustling metropolis.

Agent viewpoint

“Japan is geographically very close to Korea and is a safe country with a sense of public peace and high-level of security. Many Japanese universities offer top quality education and some offer a scholarship that is administered by the Japanese government and based on the strongly advocated ‘attracting 300,000 foreign students plan’. Students choose Japan with various purposes and reasons, not only for studying the Japanese language, but for experiencing Japanese culture, studying at a specialist technical school to acquire expertise, going on to a famous university, or getting a job in Japan. The biggest advantage of studying in Japan is that students can support their living costs and school fees by earning money with a part-time job. These unique and supportive circumstances, plus support from good partner institutions, make Japan an attractive study abroad venue for students.”
HyeSook Kim, Japan Manager, iae Edu Net, Korea

“There is a growing interest for the Japanese language, and we receive many enquiries. Students are often fascinated by the Japanese culture in general, and some are planning to live and work in Japan in the future. They particularly enjoy the cultural differences, kindness of the people, historical heritage, landscapes, without forgetting a worldwide renowned gastronomy! Most of our students are especially delighted with host families and the personalised attention they receive at the school.”
Elinor Zucchet, Student Support Manager, Language School Worldwide, Barcelona

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