Living and Studying in the Japanese Countryside
Nov 23, 2022
4 mins read
💼 Exchange student
⏳ Sep 2019 — Feb 2020
✅ Student Visa
🤓 11,000 Students
🌏 3% International
In 2019, I spent six months in rural Japan studying at Shinshu University as part of my Bachelor’s degree. While many students aim to live in Tokyo, living in the Japanese countryside definitely has its benefits, especially when it comes to language studies and connecting with the local community.
About Shinshu University
Shinshu University was founded in 1873 and has eight faculties spread throughout Nagano prefecture. The school has around 300 students from abroad every year. These are exchange students as well as undergraduate and graduate school students.
Why Rural Japan?
My bachelor’s degree mainly focused on Japanese language studies, therefore I decided to find a university where I had to use Japanese as much as possible. At first, I was considering going to university in Tokyo. However, in Tokyo I would probably end up using English most of the time. Therefore my options became limited to the partner universities of my bachelor’s program located in the countryside. I had three main reasons to do this:
1. Language studies
In the first week of my arrival, I noticed already that no one addressed me in English (unlike my experience in Tokyo). Shop owners and public transport staff just went with Japanese and hoped that I would be able to communicate with them. Besides my international friends at the dormitory, my university life was almost fully in Japanese. In addition to my Japanese language classes, I took Human Resource Management and Intercultural Communication in Japanese. The majority of Japanese students I met during these classes preferred to speak Japanese. In my opinion, in the countryside, you will simply find more opportunities to improve your language skills.
Living in the countryside will in most cases be good for your wallet. I was lucky enough to have secured a spot in the international student dormitory. The rent was only around 5000 yen per month and the utility cost around 8000 yen. This meant that I was able to travel often and even save up some money. I’m not up-to-date on current accommodation prices in Tokyo, but some of my peers told me that the rent varied between 50.000 to 80.000 yen.
Shinshu University is known for its education department and owns several schools near the Matsumoto campus. They often organized language and culture-related activities at their institutions. For one of our exams, we had to present our home country to high school students. My Human Resource Management professor also invited us to talk to middle school students about Japanese movies in English and Japanese. Through these activities, I really got to engage with local life and step outside of the university bubble. Furthermore, I volunteered as an English teacher at an elderly home. It was really fun to chat with people and get to know what their daily life looked like.
Finance and Scholarships
How to finance your study abroad is probably the most important question to ask yourself beforehand. Especially Japan, a country that can be rather expensive, requires some solid financial planning beforehand.
Luckily, because my exchange was part of my undergraduate program I was not required to pay tuition fees (except to my home university). In Japan, tuition fees vary between 600,000 to 800,000 yen. However, the Japanese government offers fully funded and partially funded scholarships for international students. The most prestigious one is MEXT which fully supports your academic studies as an undergraduate or graduate student. On top of that, there is also JASSO which often partially funds six months to one-year exchange studies.
Making the Most out of Your Study Abroad
How to strategically make the most out of your study abroad is not often discussed on blogs and social media. Of course, you should have a good time, but make sure to grab this fantastic opportunity to work on your future. Here are four ways you can improve your study abroad experience:
1. Establish your purpose
How you want to spend your time depends on your reasons for studying abroad. I am currently doing my master's in Asian Studies at Lund University in Sweden. I focus mainly on my coursework and spend time with my international friends. However, my main motivation for studying in Japan was to learn the language. Therefore, I tried to design my life in a way that I was surrounded by Japanese all the time. I personally think it is important to establish your study abroad goals beforehand.
If you are interested in working or doing an internship in your study-abroad country after you graduate make sure to grab opportunities for networking. Universities sometimes organize job fairs for future graduates. Also, if your visa and university schedule allow, getting some work experience can also be great for your resume. From what I remember you need around N2 or N1 to do a part-time job in Japan.
3. Language studies
I always feel like language studies are somewhat of a debatable topic. I have met many international students in Sweden that do not know any Swedish. However, when it comes to Asia, the majority of students go there in order to attain proficiency in one of these languages. Living in Japan without knowing at least some Japanese can be complicated, especially when living in the countryside. So make sure to leverage this amazing chance to learn a new language.
Even though Nagano’s countryside life might not be as vibrant as Tokyo’s metropolitan one, it is definitely worth considering, especially if you focus on Japanese language studies. There are many opportunities to integrate within the local community and gain a good understanding of the culture. Until this day I am incredibly happy with my decision to swap out the big city life for the one in Nagano prefecture.
Read more about Shinshu University's exchange student program.
Want to know more about studying abroad? You can follow my journey here!