University Life in Japan

Helin Wang is one of the presidents of JRQ, who has studied in Japan for multiple years, both at an elementary and university level. Most recently, Helin studied at Keio University for the 2019-2020 school year. Although COVID-19 impacted the latter half of her studies, she was still able to have a full university experience.

While classes took place on campus, Helin lived in a student dormitory in Yokohama, a city away from Tokyo. It was an hour-long train ride to campus but was quite enjoyable due to the scenery and efficiency of Japanese public transportation. The biggest cultural change between countries was the occasional gender segregation and social rules, but this applies to Japan in general, and is not specific to Keio as a school.

Choosing the right courses

Keio University offers two programs for short-term university students: KIP and JLP. KIP, or Keio International Program, combines courses in both English and Japanese and include courses related to Japanese culture, society, politics, and history. JLP (Japanese Language Program) focuses solely on Japanese language learning, with no courses offered in English. Both international and domestic students take the same number of courses a semester, with a minimum of seven, although most students take eight. However, in order to be accepted to Keio, a student is expected to have a basic understanding of Japanese, even if they choose to not study Japanese while at Keio. Helin’s course load was four Japanese language courses, and four KIP courses. Although this may sound like a lot, most courses occur once a week, with no additional tutorials or seminars.

Clubs and social activities as an university student

In Japan, university is considered to be the most relaxing time of one’s life, and the workload is much lighter compared to Canadian universities. Many students prioritize club activities and socializing over academics, with Helin joining the origami club. This is because Japanese middle and high schools are very intense in their academics, and there is little freedom for students. After graduating university, you are expected to work long hours and dedicate yourself to your job, so university is the only time a person can live for themselves. For Helin, the origami club was a wonderful experience because she was one of the only international students in the club, so she was able to practice her Japanese. Clubs are also good ways to make friends, as they often go out for dinner after their meetings. Helin also joined KOSMIC, which is the Keio Organization of Student Members of the International Center. This club is organized by Japanese students with the purpose of helping international students engage with Japanese culture, and to help them integrate into the Keio community. During orientation, international students are given a booklet with a list of all the clubs offered at Keio, with a club for everyone, such as the Disneyland Club—every weekend, the club members visit Tokyo Disneyland. Aside from clubs, Keio also organizes various events and activities, such as field trips to landmarks, cultural events, and museum events.

Helin with other club members at Tokyo Disneyland
Helin with other club members at Tokyo Disneyland

Festivals and events for students

Helin’s favourite event was the Keio Cultural Festival. Every university in Japan holds its own cultural festival sometime in the fall semester, and these festivals are open to the public as a way for prospective students to experience student life. Keio is known for having one of the best festivals in Tokyo and is mainly student-run. Every club has either a performance or a showcase to promote their club, often including audience participation. The most popular ones were the food vendors since they were inexpensive and delicious. The origami club did a showcase of the various different origami folds, as well as a folding station for anyone who wanted to attempt their own.

Enjoying life with fellow students

Night out with fellow students
Night out with fellow students

On the social side, party culture in Japan involves lots of alcohol—however, instead of house parties, Japanese students prefer to drink as a group in izakaya’s, or Japanese style bars. These bars usually have an “all you can drink” special, which is perfect for students. Another popular option for students is karaoke bars, which still involves drinking, but with singing. A more peaceful Friday night involves eating dinner with friends or visiting fun places in the city. During free time, students enjoy shopping, cafes, and day trips to nearby towns. Helin’s favourite places to visit are Kamakura and Enoshima, small seaside towns with many historic sites dating back to feudal Japan. These towns are only an hour away from Tokyo by train and have so much to do including visiting famous shrines and temples or visiting botanical gardens and bamboo forests.

Trip to Hakone
Trip to Hakone

Student jobs are very common

Most Japanese students have part time jobs, and Helin worked as an English student assistant at Keio University Elementary School, which is the elementary school associated with Keio University, for three hours a week. Since many Japanese university students lack experience to work in a professional setting, many work part time in convenience stores, restaurants, cafes, and shopping centres. These workplaces usually prefer university students as their staff.

You want to know more about how working full time in Japan is? Read our Interview with Brigid, who moved to Japan!

Overall, Helin’s time at Keio University was a wonderful experience. The people all had interesting stories to tell, the food was delicious, and every day brought new adventures. If you are interested in studying at Keio or Japan, make sure to do research into Japanese culture and tradition, and keep an open mind to the new experiences you are sure to encounter. And don’t forget to take advantage of all the opportunities offered!

If you want to read about how a student from Japan experienced university in Austria , this Interview with Ayato might intrest you.

Your Petra Bauer from JRQ

About JRQ!

Japanese Relations at Queen’s (JRQ) is a university club within Queen’s university in Kingston, Ontario, Canada. The club focuses on promoting Japanese culture to both members and non-members and fostering a relationship with Japanese exchange students who come to Queen’s for a year. Events include cooking classes, language buddies (where non-Japanese speakers pair with Japanese speakers), and social events.

Follow us on our social media!


Instagram: @jrqueensu


Fotos: *All photos are credited to Helin Wang, taken during her exchange 😊

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