Finding the Best Japanese Language School for You
Welcome to our article on the best Japanese language school in Tokyo. There are many Japanese schools in Tokyo to choose from and you need to make the right choice from day one. Here is the inside report into studying at a Japanese language school in Tokyo.
Please note that our goal is to keep the information presented here as accurate as possible. If errors are brought to our attention, we will try to correct them. However, we accept no responsibility nor liability whatsoever with regard to the information on this site.
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Japanese Schools vs Self-Studying
You may only get one chance to choose, so choose right!
There are way too many foreigners who spend over $15,000 on a full-time Japanese language school, only to regret their decision later. Why does this happen to more than 25% of foreign students? It’s due to the fact that there is an insufficient amount of information to help you make the right choice or that you really need to do some hardcore research all over the internet to find accurate information.
The hard part is there is no one best Japanese language school in Tokyo. You really need to know what you are looking for and then find the best school that meets your need. Your first response is probably that I just want to learn the Japanese language and learn to speak and read and stuff like that, but you really need to be more specific about your learning needs.
Every school has a different learning philosophy and serves a different audience and our goal is to help you choose the right Japanese language school for you based on your needs.
Choosing the best Japanese Language School in Tokyo for you is like picking a university.
The best way for me to describe this is like choosing a university for your bachelor or graduate degree. Every university has different specialties and rather than going to a university just for the sake of going (something which I did), you should choose university A if you want to learn business and university B if you want to learn finance.
Want to self-study Japanese instead?
Don’t want to join a Japanese language school and plan on studying on your own? Our recommendation is that you read this article first because you may change your mind, but if you decide to Han Solo your Japanese studies, come check out our definitive guide on how to self study Japanese on our sister site BFF Tokyo!
Do you meet school requirements?
Based on how long you want to stay and study, your options for a Japanese language school in Tokyo will change.
I want to stay in Japan for more than 3 months.
You would need to attend a full-time Japanese language school if you would like to stay for more than 3 months. The exception would be for those who are able to acquire another long-term visa like a working holiday visa or spousal visa, etc.
To receive a Japanese student visa you need to enroll into a full-time Japanese language school program which involves a minimum of a six month commitment and around $3000 dollars. We share some of our full-time Japanese language school recommendations below.
I will come on a tourist visa
You will need to attend a part-time Japanese language school or attend an intensive short-term program at a full-time Japanese language school.
One misunderstanding many foreigners have is that you need a student visa to study at a Japanese language school but this is not the case. You only need the visa for a long-term study period, which is 3 or more months for most people. There are quite a few Japanese language schools in Tokyo that will accept tourists for a short-term casual or intensive Japanese language course.
We provide the most affordable Japanese lessons in Tokyo at Japan Switch if you are looking for a casual school where you can study from 1 hour to around 8 hours a week. If you are looking for something more intensive like 15 hours a week, we recommend checking out Coto Language Academy.
I already have a visa to stay in Japan long-term
Congratulations, you can choose both a full-time or part-time Japanese language school in Tokyo. You could attend a part-time casual course or even join a long-term intensive course for 12 months or more at a full-time Japanese language school as long as your visa remains valid. I personally studied for 9 months while on a 3 year work visa to boost up my Japanese.
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How to Choose a Japanese Language School in Tokyo
I am leaning towards attending a Japanese language school in Tokyo full-time
This is the fastest way to learn the language because the more time you invest in learning, the more your Japanese ability will grow, at least in theory. We will be covering more about how to choose a full-time language school below and some of the dangers and information you need to know to make an informed decision.
I am leaning towards studying part-time or doing a short-term intensive program.
Please note that some schools that are primarily full-time Japanese language schools may have a part-time Japanese study program as well. Three examples of that include Valiant Japanese Language School in Tokyo, Tokyo International Japanese Language School, and Tokyo Central Japanese Language School.
However, if you are looking for something less intensive or you would like to save money by combining lessons with self-study, we recommend taking lessons with us at Japan Switch. We also do not spend lesson content on doing things like writing because we feel you can do this during your free time and lesson time should focus on speaking. Our group lesson class sizes are 7 students and under and we do not charge an entrance or facility fees and the textbooks are sold at bookstore prices.
The key thing you need to know about doing part-time Japanese lessons is knowing how many lessons you will want to be taking total, what does the curriculum focus on, and what are the additional fees included like an entrance fee, facility fee, and lesson material fees. You should also double check with the school to see how many students there are per group lesson because studying with 15 - 20 people may not be your cup of tea.
I am leaning towards intensive in person course because I cannot focus at home!
If you are the type who cannot study on your own and need to be in the classroom to learn the Japanese language, we would recommend taking an intensive course at some of the schools mentioned above or at Coto Language Academy.
Japanese Language Schools : Minimum Requirements
What is the minimum requirement if I already have a visa?
You do not need to pay for six months (two terms) in advance and many schools will allow you to enroll for one term which is 3 months long. I had this option when I went to a Japanese language school on a work visa. The other awesome benefit if you do not need the visa is that you do not need to meet the strict attendance numbers, which I believe are over 90% now to maintain a student visa.
What is the minimum requirement to get a student visa?
To receive a student visa from a full-time Japanese language school, you will need to enroll and pay in advance for a minimum of six months of tuition. The maximum you can enroll in a Japanese language school is for 2 years in general and after that you would need to find a job or enroll in a university or another form of higher education outside of Japanese language studies.
How does the student visa process work?
The first step is to find a licensed and authorized school and pay for a minimum of six months of tuition in advance. The Japanese language school will then send you the paperwork through postal international mail and the school will make an application to the Japanese immigration authorities to get you a student visa to come to Tokyo. Once that process goes through and you receive all the paperwork, you will need to go to your nearest Japanese embassy and submit the documents to get your student visa. Now you can finally come to Japan.
You will receive either a 6 month to 24 month visa to stay in Japan depending on the school and how long you paid in advance for. Some people receive 12 - 24 month visas even though they only paid for 6 months, while other who paid for 24 months, sometimes have to renew their Japanese student visa after 12 months. If you receive a visa longer than what you paid for and decide to quit after the term you paid for is over, the school can inform immigration that you are no longer a student and the government may require you to leave the country.
In summary, the minimum period of study at a Japanese language school in Tokyo and in Japan is for six months for students on a student visa. However, be aware that not all Japanese schools are licensed schools and only licensed schools can sponsor visas. You can check if your school is registered here:
What are the minimum attendance rules for student visa holders?
Another minimum requirement is you have to attend over 70 - 80% of classes, not sure what the new minimum legal requirement is. Some schools give differing numbers for minimum class attendance, but I am sure there is a legal minimum in order to maintain the student visa. If your attendance goes under this minimum, your Japanese language school will not renew your visa.
Based on what I have seen, you will also have a hard time changing Japanese language schools schools if your attendance is low. The new potential school will request your attendance records from your original Japanese language school and will deny you if you do not meet their attendance requirements even if you are not a student there. We have known people who did not like their current school and decide to stop going to lessons while searching for another school and was denied entry due to poor attendance.
These rules are a requirement from Immigration because your purpose for coming to Japan on a student visa is to study and not for work and schools who continually violate these rules could have their ability to sponsor a student visa revoked. They are also quite strict if you are working over the 28 hour limit or doing night work like bartending and hosting.
A well-known Japanese school in Tokyo gives some examples of types of school rules you will encounter for attendance.
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Japanese Language Schools : The Price
Attending a full-time Japanese language school in Tokyo is a big investment and here is a breakdown of the expenses of what your average full-time school will charge. Your school may charge more or less for individual areas.
School fees for six months - 2 terms
Application fee 20,000
Entrance fee 50,000
Textbook fee 6,000
Lesson fee per term 140,000 X 2
Total (minimum) 680,000
Application fee :
You must pay an application fee of around 20,000 – 35,000 yen just to apply to a school. This amount is non-refundable regardless if you get the student visa or not.
Entrance fees :
You must pay an additional cost of around 50,000 – 100,000 yen in the form of an entrance fee to enter a school. These fees come in the form of an entrance or registration fee, facility fee, and student insurance.
Textbook fees :
You normally have to pay around 6,000 - 12,000 yen in textbook fees for every two quarters. These materials come in the form of textbooks, test preparation textbooks, and vocabulary and kanji textbooks
Lesson fees :
A school year is separated into 4 quarters and you would pay between 140,000 yen – 200,000 yen for each quarter depending on the school. You would be studying 5 days a week and 3 or 4 hours a day. Schools that charge higher lesson fees usually have more veteran teachers, somewhat smaller class sizes, or a good reputation that justifies the higher tuition fees.
Total lesson fees for the year :
On average you would be paying around 680,000 – 900,000 for one year of schooling and this does not even include room and board. Living in Tokyo can be expensive and you will probably need to spend around 80,000 - 120,000 yen a month to cover living expenses. If paying for the full-year is not possible, some schools offer a split payment plan where you make payments in portions.
Japanese Language Schools : Classroom Atmosphere
The advantage of going to a full-time Japanese language school for six months is that the courses are very intensive. You will take four hours of lessons a day and you would probably need to study between 2 to 6 hours a day to do your homework. Expect to study 4 to 6 hours a day if you are studying with people from China and Korea because Chinese students can already read the kanji and Koreans understand the grammar structure. The only minor advantage, that English speakers have is that they can understand 50% of Japanese katakana intuitively.
What is the best Japanese language school for me?
The best language school for you in Tokyo would be one that matches what you want from a school. Here are the two main factors to consider in choosing a school.
1 : Has the demographics that matches your purpose.
You can study with Westerners if you want to go at a slow pace. Study with Koreans and Chinese if you want to move fast.
2 : Teaches lessons that match what you want to learn.
Most schools focus on test preparation and everything from reading, writing, listening, and kanji. Some schools focus more on speaking.
What are the classes like?
Japanese lessons in a full-time intensive course have around 10 - 20 students per class. Most schools organize their students into set classes, meaning that you would study with the same classmates for all of your lessons for the quarter, and have one set homeroom teacher who does the morning attendance and checks up with how everyone is doing for each class.
After homeroom and one lesson with your homeroom teacher, you will have different teachers for other Japanese language sections. You may have some great classmates and make lifetime friends or some unwanted disruptive classmates, either way you stuck with them for the quarter.
Full-time Japanese language schools only have lessons on weekday mornings and afternoons. There are no lessons in the evenings and on weekends.The days are separated into two groups, the morning session and the afternoon session and you will be assigned to one of them.
In most cases, you will not have a choice for which session to join because the times are based on your level. For example, they may only have beginner lessons in the morning. Morning sessions are usually between 8:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. and the afternoon sessions are from 1:00 p.m. to around 5:30 p.m.
What are the courses like?
These types of lessons are similar to the lessons you experienced in high school and university where you have your professor at the top of the room leading the class and you follow their instructions. There is some interaction with the teacher, but you are mainly reading texts, doing tests, and asking and answering questions as a class to the teacher. Lessons at full-time intensive courses are cheaper than lessons at a part-time language school because class sizes are bigger.
One downside to large group lessons is that you may not have many opportunities to ask questions about culture and daily life in Japan. The focus is on improving your Japanese skills to prepare you for the tests rather than having a solid understanding of Japanese culture. Japanese language schools in Tokyo that cater to asian students focus on test preparation and university entrance exams. Japanese language school that cater to westerners focus on cultural activities and a slower pace of study.
How long does it take to learn Japanese?
It will take you about one year of full-time study to reach a daily conversation and intermediate level of Japanese. It will take you about two years to reach a high intermediate level of Japanese. The main reason it takes more time to learn Japanese is because you have to spend a lot of time learning kanji and vocabulary. English and Japanese have few words in common, so you will have to learn most from scratch unlike Spanish, Italian, etc.
If you are very serious about learning the Japanese language and have the money to afford taking full-time lessons at a school, you should definitely consider going this route. If you are more interested in going to Japan short term, you can consider coming on a tourist visa and taking a short-term part-time lesson course. We actually offer the most affordable part-time Japanese language lessons in Tokyo at Japan Switch.
If you are looking for flexible schedule or lessons in the evening or on weekends, we recommend our friend's Coto Language Academy.
Japanese Language Schools : Getting a Visa
The student visa is for people who are studying at recognized educational institutes. These include official Japanese language schools, trade schools, and universities.
If you decide to come on a Japanese language student visa, you can enroll for a minimum of six months and up to a maximum of 24 months. After those 24 months you would either have to find a work visa sponsor,go to a university or trade school, or get married. Simply attending a Japanese language school again will not allow you to renew your student visa
You may receive a student visa that is longer than the period you enrolled. However, if you are paying for the 1 year period in installments as opposed to one lump sum, you will most likely only receive a visa for the 6 months you paid for.
What documents do you need to apply to a Japanese language school?
You would need the following documents to apply to a language school
- High school diploma or university transcripts
- Photocopy of your passport
- Health Check certificate
- Photocopy of your bank account balance
- Photograph of yourself (30mm x 40mm)
Note: Some schools may require you to send your birth certificate or a letter of recommendation.
What is the process for receiving a student visa?
Step 1 : Apply for a Certificate of Eligibility for Students
- Apply for a registered education institution and pay the application fee
- School applies for a Certificate of Eligibility on your behalf to Immigration
- School notifies you of the result of the application. If approved, you must pay the lesson fee and school entrance fee (most schools charge an entrance fee)
- School will mail you the Certificate of Eligibility and a School Entry Permission Form.
Step 2 : Apply for a student visa at the nearest Japanese embassy in your home country
- You must submit your passport, visa application form, one photograph, and the original + a photocopy of your certificate of eligibility
Important Visa Tips
1 : Your visa can be cancelled if you do not pay tuition despite having time left on your visa.
2 : You will need to get permission to work with a student visa. You can get the stamp at the Immigration Office and the limit for working hours are 28 hours weekly.
3 : Schools recommend you study 6 months or more because it is easier to renew a student visa than changing from a tourist visa to a student visa.
4 : You are unable to legally work for a company in Japan while on a tourist visa, unless you are a freelancer or are working for a company overseas while you are here.
5 : Check in advance whether your school will handle the procedures for your visa or if you will have to do them on your own.
Here is the official immigration link to the visa requirements.
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Japanese Language Schools : Common Complaints
I co-founded a company that hires many Japanese language students as part-time English teachers. I have gathered many of the common complaints they had about their Japanese school to help you in your search for the best Japanese language school to fit your needs.
- The other students take away from the lesson
- They did not learn everyday Japanese
- The pace of the lessons
Common complaint 1 : The other students take away from the lesson
The main issue most people had with the other students were their lack of motivation. Many of our part-time employees made large financial and time sacrifices to learn Japanese and were very determined to learn, but they found classrooms of classmates who did not share that same level of determination. I had experienced the same when I attended a Japanese language school, but I was lucky because I was about 27 years old and was the only westerner in the advanced levels, so my Korean classmates respected me and I was lucky they empathized with how hard it is for a westerner to learn.
This allowed me to scold my classmates when they weren’t focusing and taking away from the lesson in the few classes where the teachers did not scold those students. I do not think that is something that everyone can do and I appreciate that the other students supported me.
Here are what some students had to say :
“Students talk during class and it is a distraction because I can't hear the teacher.”
“Other students don't pay attention so they slow down the class because they fall behind and can't keep up.”
“Other students have a bad/lethargic attitude and don't care about the class.”
The main issue in these cases are the students who are slacking around are usually younger students who come from families who pay for the lessons for them. Since they aren’t paying their own money, they usually do not take the lessons as seriously as someone who has worked, saved money, and are now studying. You will have teachers who call them out on their behavior, but some teachers will try to avoid conflict and just let them be.
Common complaint 2 : They did not learn everyday Japanese
“I didn't really learn everyday Japanese. My school was too focused on preparing us for the JLPT”
“All we did was learn Kanji and use the textbook all day. We did not even have speaking lessons”
This is probably the most common complaint I hear from current and former japanese language school students. Their complaint is that the school focuses 95% -100% on test preparation and going through the textbook. What they also mean to say is that they had no lessons preparing them for daily Japanese conversations with the people outside of the school and no lessons helping them adjust to life in Japan.
Many students may not even have someone Japanese who is responsible for helping them understand what they receive in the postal mail or other housing challenges. Some schools outsource this service to companies like GoGo Nihon who introduces students to a school and receive a kickback from the school. The company then offers and answers questions about living in Japan, hosts events to help you meet other foreigners and Japanese, and may also help you with your housing as well.
Many Japanese language schools are in a rush to get you to JLPT Level 1 in two years because that is the service they are selling to the mainly Asian students who want to go into higher education or enter the workforce after 18 - 24 months of students. Western students who only want to study for one year or are looking for a visa is not the target market for these schools. Many of the students who post low reviews for their school unfortunately chose the wrong school and I can’t blame them because we are the first to provide this type of information.
Common complaint 3 : The pace of the school was too fast
This complaint stems from the same reason as the one above.
Japanese is more time intensive than other languages for Western learners and we all know this. However, we often underestimate how much more time it takes to learn Japanese fluently. Learning Japanese is like
learning two languages at once because you have the learning both the language and kanji. The US government even rates learning Chinese, Korean, and Japanese as a level 4 super hard language
For those who want to learn at a more relaxed pace, you need to be really careful about what school you choose. We have some recommendations below on schools that go at a slower pace. The Japanese language schools in Tokyo who students complain about unfortunately cannot slow down their pace because that would prevent them from meeting their promise to their other students.
I also think we are the first to explain how hard it is for students to both work and study Japanese. Maintaining a part-time job and working 20 hours a week is doable as a beginner-level student up to an N3-level student. However, once you try to make the jump from N3 to N2 though, you really need to start diverting time from work to study.
You only need around 250 kanji up to N3 but on the path to N2 you need to quadruple what you know to 800 kanji. The gap from N2 to N1 is even greater where you have to learn about 1000 more kanji and get up to the standard 1800 something regular use kanji list.
Running my English school, I have seen this happen to our teachers over and over again. Someone will understandably want to work as many hours as possible because life is expensive in Japan and once they reach an intermediate level, they can no longer manage working 18+ hours a week. Based on what I have seen, I recommended studying as much Kanji as you can during the beginning stages so you can reduce the amount you need to learn in the later stages.
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Full-Time Japanese Schools : Making Your Decision
There are two main types of licensed Japanese language schools.
University Managed Japanese Language Schools
They provide some short-term Japanese courses, but these courses are for students who are enrolled in their university or sister school program. All of the students in these courses are university students who are studying on exchange as opposed to Japanese language students.
The other students in these courses are government supported scholarship students - monbugakusho scholarship recipients who study at their university. The two main examples are Keio and Waseda University, which are Ivy League-level universities in Tokyo, Japan.
Privately-Managed Japanese Language Schools
More than 95% of Japanese language schools are privately managed language schools. Most are run by for-profit companies and a few are run by non-profit organizations like the YMCA. Check the url of the school to determine what type of school it is. For-profit schools do not have .edu or .org endings, but rather .com websites.
Most privately managed Japanese language schools in Tokyo tend to focus on recruiting students from southeast Asian countries, east Asian countries, or all countries in general. The curriculum, the speed and pace you learn at, and additional support varies greatly depending on who the school caters to.
The best Japanese language schools for me focus on east Asian students - aka Korean, Chinese, and Taiwanese - because they learn quickly and you will have to focus to keep up with them. Schools that cater to Western students tend to move at a slower pace and have more cultural activities because their focus is for you to enjoy Japan as opposed to learning as quickly as possible. My assumption is that schools that cater to south east students are not exactly in between east Asian and westerners, but probably leaning more towards schools catering to east Asians but with a slightly slower learning pace.
All language schools have some staff members who speak English and the language of the country where they have many students from. In the past, the main countries were Chinese and Korea, but nowadays it is much more diverse and there are students from all over the world. There are also some Japanese language schools that have many students from western countries.
I personally would not recommend them if your goal is to learn as quickly as possible because you will have too much temptation to speak Japanese. If you would like to work while studying, than going to a school that caters to western students might be the best Japanese language school for you in Tokyo.
Choosing the Curriculum Right for You
Majority of Japanese language schools in Tokyo have a curriculum based around reading, writing, listening, vocabulary, and grammar knowledge. Learning how to speak Japanese and knowledge of Japanese culture do not appear on the Japanese Language Proficiency Test nor university exams and are therefore not covered in the curriculum. Writing is not necessary for the JLPT but appears in higher level Japanese courses because writing skills are a prerequisite for the junior college and university entrance exams.
My Goal is to Speak Japanese
There is one Japanese language school that repeatedly gets mentioned by our teachers and that is Shibuya Gaigo Gakuen. They prefer this school over their first schools because Shibuya Gaigo Gakuen puts more emphasis on communication and moves at a slower pace. If you are looking to improve your Japanese speaking or want to study at a pace that most westerners can handle, this school would probably be your best bet.
Most schools spend less than 4 hours a week on learning to speak Japanese and some schools may not offer any classes on speaking. Based on one student who studied at Shibuya Gaigo in 2018, the student mentioned that 10.5 hours weekly were dedicated to speaking and about 4.5 were dedicated to reading and writing.
The main reason for this difference is that most schools focus on preparing you for the JLPT and for entrance exams and many foreign students mistakenly choose these schools because they do not have the information to make the right decision for them. But if you do want to prepare for the JLPT, Shibuya Gaigo Gakuen also offers separate courses (that you have to pay for separately since that is not their main focus).
Several sources also mentioned that this school focuses its recruiting on Western students and has a much higher ratio of students from western countries than other schools. For this reason, the school goes at a slower pace and more achievable than schools with a predominantly Asian base. Many Asian students want to continue higher education and work in Japan, and are therefore more in rush to improve their skills to get the job and into higher education.
On the other hand, many western students want to learn the language and meet and communicate with Japanese people as their main goal. If speaking is your main goal, the best Japanese language school in Tokyo for you will probably be Shibuya Gaigo.
My Goal is to Find a Job in Japan
Based on my discussions with most foreigners who attended a Japanese language school, most seem to be dissatisfied with the job hunting support that their school provided. Most foreigners expected the school to put a lot of resources into guaranteeing them a job, but that was not the case. The schools had staff available to check your resume or give you a general idea of interview questions and what to do and not do, but not specialists. It was normally just a teacher who has been assigned that position and can share general knowledge.
Depending on the school, they can help you find a part-time job because a lot of companies are looking for part-timers and have long relationships with these companies. However, they do often not have this network for full-time positions. Additionally, if you do not have any special skills that are in high demand like HR, marketing, programming, or design where Japanese language skills are not as needed, you will really need to have good Japanese skills if you are doing something that a Japanese person would normally have been doing.
Since Japanese language schools are focused on getting you to JLPT 1 and into university, they allocate a minimum amount to job hunting support and this is not one of the selling points for schools. Unfortunately, if you are looking for a job you are pretty much on your own except for getting someone to check your resume and cover letters.
The only Japanese school that I know has a special program for job hunting is Akamonkai Japanese Language School in Tokyo. The only challenge is that you have to be a strong N2 level and higher to be able to enroll into the six month language course. You can enroll for six months to one year, but nothing shorter than that.
I know one person who has gone through their program and got a job at a Japanese company. They mentioned that the course did not seem useful when they were a student, but many of the things they learned like polite business Japanese ended up helping them succeed at their company. I would recommend checking their site and maybe finding someone who took their program.
If you would like more information about finding a full-time job in Tokyo, check out one of the following articles at our sister website BFF Tokyo!
My goal is to improve my Japanese as fast as possible
The general advice for learning Japanese as fast as possible is to attend a school with a predominantly Chinese and Korean student base that is focused on preparing students from zero Japanese to University level in 18 - 24 months. My other advice would be to not work more than 20 hours a week.
The one school I often hear good things about is Naganuma Japanese Language School in Shibuya. Naganuma is infamous for their strict Japanese language program and if you check out their reviews on Facebook, former western students will mention how tough it is. The school is known to get results and caters to a Chinese and Korean student base.
Be warned that the teachers are strict and they will not wait for the westerner student to catch up. The school is different than other schools because there is not as much focus on cultural activities and will be the best Japanese language school in Tokyo for students who want to get as fluent in Japanese in short of time as possible.
Do you have more school recommendations?
We plan to add more schools on our recommended list after we talk to more people. We do not want to give recommendations that we do not feel confident about.
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