Studying in a Japanese University

Studying in a Japanese university isn’t what I expected, but then again I didn’t know what to expect at all except for what I had heard about local Singapore universities. I wasn’t even planning to study in Japan, really, then it all somehow just happened.

When I entered my university the only thing I had to go on was the smiles on the brochure and comments from past graduates of other Japanese universities. “Don’t worry, you’ll be fine.” and then before we left, at lunch with other students bound for Japan, our nervous faces must have been obvious because I was told, “Well, to be honest, you won’t have to study so much. Even in (very prestigious university) they don’t study that much.” My mom’s eyes bulged slightly because pfft, what rubbish that  must be! You go to school to study! I thought so too.

So wide eyed and eager for university I started my first semester. Let’s take this course! And that one! And this one too!

My school’s system is 2 credits a module/course, with the exception for Japanese language, which I had 4 times a week. We need 124 to graduate and we’re only allowed to take a maximum of 24 each semester (28 in 3rd year).

So in my first year I took 22 credits each semester, which amounted to 10 classes (Japanese language + 9 others). Which sounds crazy, doesn’t it!!! In Singapore you take about 5 mods a sem and my friends tell me how much they ‘suffer’. Each semester I pretty much take just about 9 or 10 courses so as of now I’ve taken a total of about 60 courses. And I have maintained my spot in the top 5% of my cohort every single semester.

Insane!!!!! How is that possible!?!? It is. The workload is…well, very do-able. My courses are in English, thankfully, if they were all in Japanese then I would be worried. That also means I can’t judge courses taught in Japanese so maybe those courses are more difficult and Japanese students have a tougher time in those?

Let me tell you first upfront that I do not consider myself smart. PFFT BERNIE you went to VJ that’s the 3rd best JC in Singapore how are you not smart. I’m really not. I have so many peers who are so much smarter than me, so many people who have achieved so much more that I really amount to nothing. That is Singapore’s education system for you.

A typical course’s workload: 1 presentation (group or solo), midterm exam/report (or in class quizes) and final report or exam (~2000 to 3000 words). Attendance/class participation also counts towards your grades.

Which looks pretty standard, right? Here’s the best part. That’s considered one of the heavier workload courses. Some don’t have midterm exams. So it’s only a presentation and a final report or exam. Or it’s sometimes only a final report. I’ve had classes with NO finals and NO reports either. Weekly written assignments and a presentation or two. Done. Online quizes. Tests that are pure memorization. Easy.

I once had a class where the teacher would give us notes with blanks in them and all we did was fill in the blanks. When he wrote things on the board in English it was in 72pt font. The final and midterm was to fill in a blank copy of the notes with the correct term. Wow. We did have to write a final paper too, but I was sooooo bored in class every week. (Well I suppose it was a course tailored more for Japanese students without a good grasp of the English language….but still!!)

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That’s why you’ll see a lot of pix of me having fun on my FB timeline

Basically it’s been quite a walk in the park for me. I do the most minimal (read: negligible) amount of studying. Most of my ‘studying’ is just reading/taking notes, and going over the ppt slides before a test. I know how to write essays thanks to being a humanities/arts student in JC where we had to produce essay after essay and write till our hands hurt in exams. Presentations are a BREEZE. We’ve been taught how to give presentations so many times (and ugh, PW, but actually, thanks PW, you’ve come in so handy) it just comes as easily as drinking water (hah ok maybe I exaggerate) but I love presentations because it’s easier than a paper or an exam.

I’ve been prepared for mugging, cramming, stress, emotional turmoil etc etc you name it I’ve probably gone through it or know someone who has. University is much, much easier for me compared to JC. Obviously this probably isn’t the case for someone studying somewhere else but in Japan I’ve become able to appreciate and love classes and school. I don’t equate myself to the grade I produce any longer. But I take pride in getting all those As because I can easily do so.

I’m also quite frustrated towards some of the horribly rigid systems put in place or some very very inefficient silly set in stone rule put in place that cannot be changed. In third year, I was placed in Japanese class with other third year students not taking into account that there would be discrepancies in our language ability. Which meant being stuck in a class that was 2 levels too low for me and learning the exact same grammar I did a year ago. A complete waste of my time. Don’t get me started on how technologically backward school and Japan can be.

As for rumours about Japanese universities being difficult to get into but easy to graduate? I guess so? Most classes you can pass pretty easily if you do the final exam/report and turn up for class. Sometimes attendance counts for some 30% or 40%!? That’s FREE MARKS right there. I’ve had classes where half or more of the class is sleeping during lectures but the passing rate is high.

The typical failure count is perhaps 20% or less depending on the course. There were Japanese courses with suspiciously high numbers of failures (like 40 or so) which was perhaps failure to submit something or falling below the minimum attendance rate? But if you fail a course you can just retake it or take more courses to complete the credit requirements.

Are Japanese students slackers? Do all of them sleep in class or loaf around? No. I have friends who study very hard and work for their grades. Some friends are also just as passionate about their club activities or have their free time taken up by part time jobs.

They may not speak up in class or have difficulty writing analytical essays/reports but it’s more because they don’t know how as they weren’t taught to. Many exams in Japan adopt a multiple choice question format similar to the SATs.

I also can’t speak for what life is like in other Japanese universities. I have a junior who is in a top public university in Kansai and her schedule is very, very much different from mine. I complete my semester pretty early and have just about 2 months or more of holidays each semester while she only has maybe 2 weeks.

But ultimately that all doesn’t matter for me because coming to Japan has made my life much, much happier. I was in a dark place those two years in JC and for a lot of my life I struggled with my grades and feeling stupid. These posts cannot convey just how bad a state I was in. I wrote angst filled posts about wanting to kill myself, about wanting to destroy everything so I wouldn’t be bound any longer. So I could finally have some freedom to live. Haha. It sounds like such a distant memory now, like it didn’t exist. Everyone has their own problems so I shan’t burden you with mine.

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Life has been pretty damn awesome

 Sure, you may have uncertainties about studying in Japan. Will you get a good education? Will you like Japan? What if you get homesick? How do I make friends? Ask yourself this question: Given the opportunity to study in Japan, would you regret it if you said no? If you have the chance to, can afford it, and are prepared to face any troubles you may have here, then you should.

Ultimately, if you want to have a good time and make the most of your time in Japan (be it as a full time foreign student or just on exchange), you will make sure you have a good time. I’ve had friends who came to Japan on a whim, or with a completely different mindset of what it would be like (Anime and media coverage, I blame you) and ended up counting the days till they returned home. What a waste. Mentality and the will to fight for something you want is key.

I wanted this, I got myself here and I don’t regret it one bit.

If you have any questions you can comment on this post, tweet (@bloopbloooop) or email me at bernadette.lyf@gmail.com. 

11 comments

  1. Chaice says:

    Hi Bernie! Thank you so much for this blogpost, I appreciate it! :>

    Unfortunately I didn’t make it into any of the Japanese schools I applied to, but I’ll def be doing exchange when I can.

  2. Fay says:

    Omg, thanks for ur sharing. Can I ask is it difficult to get into a Japanese university through G30? I’m really keen to go to Japan.

    • Bernie Low says:

      It really depends so I can’t say how easy or difficult it is. Of course it will be more difficult if you are applying for scholarship as well, but if you meet their requirements and do a good interview (probably via Skype) the chances should not be too bad 🙂

  3. セブ留学費用 says:

    It’s perfect time to make some plans for the future and it’s time to be happy. I have read this post and if I could I want to suggest you some interesting things or advice. Maybe you could write next articles referring to this article. I desire to read more things about it!

  4. Anon says:

    Thanks for your superbly informative posts about Japan! I’ll be heading to KGU for an exchange soon, and if I may ask, do you have any module recommendations? My primary aim for exchange is to have fun tbh, so it would be nice if I can take courses that are more slack than others. Also, are the profs very strict with attendance? ‘Cos I foresee myself travelling quite a lot and so that probably means missing quite a few classes, and I was wondering if that will severely affect my grade or not (ie getting a fail grade). Thank you very much again for all your help!! 🙂

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