Is Tokyo even real?

The application process for a student visa for Japan is quite long, so if I want to move over in October, I need to have all my applications and paperwork in by April or May. This means I only have a few months left to prevaricate over a decision on a school, and apply and pay.

There’s a lot of Japanese language schools in Japan, but the vast majority focus on short-term teaching, say 10 weeks or so, for study-holiday-type experiences.

This also opens up the difficult question of “Where do I actually want to study?”. I had been defaulting to Tokyo and nearby, e.g. Yokohama, because due to the nature of Japanese media I’ve been exposed to, Japan means “Tokyo, Kyoto (high school trip), and unnamed miscellaneous cities and home towns”.

This probably reflects poorly on the type of manga I read, though.

It doesn’t help that every Japanese school in Tokyo is based in Shinjuku, given that again thanks to video game exposure, Tokyo means “Shinjuku (Kamurochō) plus urban sprawl”.

There’s a few language-school search sites, such as Language International, but even then it’s hard to filter on what I want, and LI in particular mixes in private tutoring without any way to filter it out; I suspect that’s part of how they fund the site.

So, the criteria I have are:

  • Structured 12-month course (progression, evaluation and tests, etc)
  • Student Visa support (as it happens, this implies tests anyway)
  • Accommodation support (at least to start with, this worked well for me in Hanoi)
    • Ideally walking distance or a short train ride from the school

Student visas turn out to be the hard one, because that requires a six-month minimum accredited course, and most schools, including ones offering long-term courses, turn out to not support that.

Doing some searching on Google, I came across GenkiJACS’ one-year course, however it’s only offered in Fukuoka and Nagoya. They have schools in Tokyo and Kyoto as well, but they do not appear to be accredited for student visas or offer the long-term course there.

This opened up my thinking wider; for a little while, I was considering Fukuoka, and a friend of mine did her study period near there, and was quite positive about it. Also, the best ramen I’ve ever had was in Kagoshima, although the particular branch I went to has closed since.

However, it was pointed out to me by another friend that Fukuoka is actually a really long way away, and since I have friends in Tokyo, and the friend making the point is moving to Osaka, being on the same island as a good ramen place isn’t really a good basis to choose a school compared to better access to my friends.

Even if it is a particularly good ramen place.

I already kind-of had this feeling, and so was mildly leaning towards Nagoya over Fukuoka already.

To be frank, my sense of distance was mislead because I went to Kagoshima by shinkansen on a holiday in 2019 in and out of Tokyo, and had forgotten just how many stops I made on the way. Nagoya was one of those stops, coincidentally. There’s a fun train museum in Nagoya, but that’s besides the point here.

That same train trip is how I ruled out Sapporo; big positive is their beer, but I wouldn’t want to live there until they finish connecting the shinkansen tunnel in 2030.

As well as pointing out that Fukuoka is a long way away, my friend helped me rubber-duck a bunch of my thoughts about schools, and in the end, I have currently narrowed down my options to two choices: GenkiJACS’ one-year or 18-month course at I.C. Nagoya, or the ISI Language School Long-Term Course, which is available in two locations in Tokyo (Shinjuku and not-Shinjuku, of course), Nagano, or Kyoto.

Up until this discussion, Kyoto had not really been on my list. I’d been there overnight once on the way to Kagoshima and visited the imperial palace gardens, but not really checked out much else. I did try the local ramen of course.

My friend moving to Osaka gave me the full spiel on why they have chosen there, and also pointed out Kyoto was a strong contender for them, but it was hard to find a place to purchase that has good commuter connections.

And now Kyoto is actually a really strong entry on my list, basically out of nowhere.

I had previous done some research on my work computer, which I’ll look at this week, but my recollection is that I had chosen the same ISI Long-Term course during that investigation too.

Comparing GenkiJACS and ISI, the former seems more “cultural”, and the latter seems more “studious”, but that’s merely a website impression. ISI definitely has a strong emphasis on university entry for their long-term courses.

So unless something else comes up, I’m now going to contact both schools (I already contacted GenkiJACS, but accidentally filled in the form for Fukuoka) and work out if there’s anything that rules either of them out. If I’m lucky, one won’t be able to take me, and that’ll be an easy decision.

Because I’m bad at decision-making, I often set myself arbitrary criteria to narrow down a long list. I’m not sure when, but “Not in Tokyo” somehow added itself to my list. And then, once looking at schools, “In Tokyo” is now allowed again, but only from those schools which came up via the “Not in Tokyo” process. It’s not a great decision making process, really, but in the end, if I get a good result, then arbitrary criteria is better than analysis paralysis leading to no result.

Of course, even the October 2022 idea is a bit arbitrary. It ties in to some reasonable things, as I’m hoping this lines up with a project deliverable at work, and it’s mid-year intake for the Japanese school system; but it’s also me picking a point where I hope Japan will be allowing student visa entry again, but not so far away that I just give up on the whole thing, given that I effectively kicked off this plan in 2019, and I’m really just sick of waiting.