May 21, 2012

University life in Japan

Kansai University
I post a lot about eating, drinking, shopping, sightseeing and partying in Japan, but barely anything about studying, as my parents have not-so-subtly pointed out on numerous occasions ('that all sounds lovely, but when do you have time to do your homework?'). I think I speak for most exchange students when I say, the actual 'study' part of the deal is not exactly the highest priority. And it shouldn't be. When I was figuring out my workload for this semester, even my course adviser said, 'you don't want to be spending all your time overseas stuck in the library.'

But there is no escaping the fact that classes and homework are a part of daily life while on exchange. And although I would rather spend my days visiting temples, castles and Sailor Moon cafes, university life in Japan still has its interesting points, and says something about Japan's education system.

At first I was worried university would be really difficult and strict here, because classes go for an hour and a half (as opposed to 50 minutes back home), and there are even classes on Saturdays. Then I got my timetable, and realised it wasn't going to be so bad after all. I have class Monday to Thursday, with just one class on Monday, and two on all the other days. You only need 7 credits (5 classes) to maintain your exchange student visa status, so I'm just doing the bare minimum.

I'm taking two advanced Japanese language classes - oral communication and literacy. The way these classes are taught is so different to the way I was taught Japanese back home. For one thing, instead of computers and PowerPoint, they still use blackboards and chalk here - in the land of electronics and gadgets, that was a big surprise. Also, there's a huge emphasis on rote learning. Every week we get tested on kanji and vocabulary that we're probably never going to use again (at least, I hope I'm not going to need to use 'cerebral apoplexy' again...). It all seems aimed at teaching us how to pass the Japanese Language Proficiency Test, which I'm not a big fan of. I just don't see how cramming a lot of pointless vocab measures proficiency.
Writing kanji over and over and over again...
Something else that's really different to back home is that you are graded on your attendance. For each of my classes, at least 30% of the final marks are based on attendance. Some classes make it a little bit more difficult by adding 'participation' into the mix, in order to target the students who come to class and sleep the whole way through it.. so essentially, 'participation' just means sitting up and looking perky.

The content of the lessons is always sort of strange, too. In Japanese class back home, our lecturer would always try and make each lesson topical and relevant, by teaching us about current issues in Japanese society. In Japanese class here, one of our reading topics was, 'are dolphins smart?' Hm.
Are dolphins smart? Am I smart enough to be learning about dolphins?
One good thing, though, is that the Japanese classes are actually taught entirely in Japanese, and you are expected to speak only in Japanese to the teacher and your classmates. This has been quite challenging, but it's been good to be immersed entirely in Japanese for at least an hour and a half a day. Being surrounded by English-speaking exchange students doesn't exactly encourage you to speak Japanese 24/7...

In addition to Japanese, I have 3 culture classes, which are taught in English (Politics, History, and Geisha culture) and are designed especially for exchange students. Again, the expectations for these classes don't seem to be that high. We have to do a presentation and a revision quiz for History, a presentation, 1500 word essay, and final exam for Politics, and just one final exam for Geisha culture.

Overall I think that university classes here are quite old fashioned in teaching style, and (dare I say?) much easier than back home. I think Japanese education puts too much emphasis on tests and exams, and not enough on critical, creative and independent thinking. From what I've seen/read/heard, in Japan, the high school years are actually more stressful and difficult than university - the complete opposite to New Zealand. Students spend their whole high school lives preparing to sit university entrance exams, particularly those for Japan's most prestigious universities. But once you've gotten into university, you're safe. Grades don't seem to matter to employers so much; just the fact that you got into that university is enough. So for a lot of university students in Japan, these years are a time to party and have fun.

Oh yeah, this post is dedicated to Matt, who wanted to know how academia in Japan differs to NZ. You nerd, you. =P


  1. I was kind of wondering too. I remember an earlier post about university fashion. I know that for Japanese, university is all about building social relationships that will continue once you become a shakaijin (responsible adult - very loose translation). All that fashion stuff is part of being part of building those relationships/fitting in. Studying and learning and challenging yourself has almost no place in university in Japan.
    So I was wondering what they made exchange students do. Now that you've told me, I say enjoy all your free time! PARTY!!
    Also, I noted it looks like you need those kanji practice books full of squares to keep your kanji neat. You know, those green ones with the picture of a flower or animal on it. I think they're called Japonica Gakushucho.

    1. Ah, that's really interesting. Cheers for explaining that! I will add shakaijin to my 'new vocab' notebook. =)
      Yeah, my kanji is awful at the best of times, probably should invest in one of those books to reign it in, haha.

  2. Thank you so much for the mention!
    I actually found that interesting... I think any comparisons between NZ and Japland are interesting!

    Like the fact that NZ schools don't prepare you for university at all.

    1. Thank you for the idea!
      You're right, I don't think high school prepares you for university. That said, I'm probably one of the few people who actually liked NCEA. I prefer it to percentages, at least.

  3. Hiii,I've been reading through your blog posts all day lol It's always fun to read about other bloggers in Osaka :)

    Good luck with your studies! Memorizing kanji is really hard D':

    I'll definitely be checking back! :D

    1. Hi! Nice to meet you, and thanks for the lovely comment. =)
      I love reading other Osaka blogs too, and I'm glad I've found yours now! =) Following, and looking forward to reading!

  4. I also enjoyed the comparison! I was talking to Ryo (Mum's Japanese student) and was asking him how NZ life compared to Japan. He said that High school is more relaxed here and in particular, our maths is very easy.

    Totally agree with you and Matt that high school does -not- prepare you for university. That said, it's tough making 17/18 year olds decide what they want to do for a career and punish them (by putting caps on student allowances or loans, etc) if they decide a certain field is not for them.

  5. The attendance mark and participation is about the same over here in Canada. Minus the fact that we do not sit exams to get into colleges and universities, minus some unique higher up programs, the school systems seems the exact same here as it does in Japan, with the heavy emphasis on the exams and tests.

  6. Hi there!! I've been reading your posts recently, and I found this one quite clear :D!! If everything goes the right way, I will be there in Kansai university in September, and I'm very happy to find people who enjoy it there :)

    1. Hi! Thanks for reading! =) Where are you from? I'm going home in August unfortunately, but I hope you have an amazing time here! Everyone is really nice. =)

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