Are you a current student of Japanese looking to finally put your language skills to use and see the rapid kind of improvement you know is only possible through living and experiencing the language and its culture in-country? Have you always wanted to study Japanese in Japan but don’t know where to start?
Your first step in taking the plunge and deciding to study in Japan, even before you decide which school you will study at, is deciding what kind of learning environment is right for you. This will determine both what school and what city or region you should consider among all the possible options out there and will help you begin to narrow down your search.
If you thrive in large cities and the city life is your best classroom, megacities like Tokyo and Osaka may be perfect for you. Certainly, these cities have many benefits such as a relatively central geographic location and well-connected international and domestic transportation, as well as a plethora of cultural gems.
But there are many reasons why a smaller city might be right for you, particularly as a student. The problem with smaller, lesser known cities is that we do not know exactly what to expect, and this lack of familiarity can certainly lead to hesitation when choosing where to study. Therefore today I would like to share the reasons why I chose to study not once, not twice, but three times in Fukuoka, a medium-sized city on the southernmost main island of Kyuushuu. Each time it has been the perfect study environment for my needs and personality, and just might be for you, too!
- Perfect size
Fukuoka is home to roughly 1.5 million residents, placing it in that sweet-spot between the hustle and bustle of the big city and that small town feel. When in the center of the city there is always something fun to do, something delicious to eat, interesting neighborhoods to explore, and a variety of shops. Social opportunities abound, meaning if you are bored here it is probably because you want to be! If you like a quieter, more relaxed feel, the residential neighborhoods surrounding the city center are only a short metro, train or bus ride away, and in fact choosing to live in these neighborhoods can save you some additional money.
Bottom line: Best of both worlds – big enough that you will never get bored, small enough to run into someone you know when walking around downtown!
- Quality of life
Related to city size is quality of life. Not only is Fukuoka’s size manageable even to those new to Japan, but Fukuoka’s top-notch public transportation system and public safety combined with a comparatively low cost of living make day-to-day life in Fukuoka much easier than in cities like Tokyo or Osaka.
Bottom line: Go ahead, start thinking about what you are going to do with that extra hour every day that you don’t spend commuting to and from school!
- Cost of living
While the cost of transportation and meals does not differ too significantly from that of Tokyo or Osaka, the cost of housing, on the other hand, does. Depending on where you choose to live, it is not uncommon to pay just half the rent you would be paying in Tokyo to live in Fukuoka. And since we don’t get paid to be students (wouldn’t that be nice!), this is one of the reasons why Fukuoka is home to the third largest international student population in all of Japan!
Bottom line: Go ahead, start thinking about what you are going to do with that extra rent money you saved!
- Friendly locals and better immersion in the Japanese language
This is a plus you will only see in smaller regional cities like Fukuoka. Although Fukuoka is a relatively popular student destination, city residents here are still comparatively unaccustomed to seeing and interacting with foreigners in their daily lives. This means they will not only be friendly, but also more interested in you, your culture and language than you might experience in Tokyo. This will also mean more opportunities to practice Japanese, as most locals are less keen to speak to anyone who looks foreign in English right away.
Bottom line: Want to make Japanese friends genuinely eager to learn about you, your culture and language? This is the place!
- Delicious foods
This one isn’t specific to students but cannot go without mention, as Fukuoka is known for its culinary virtues even within Japan. Home to famous local dishes such as tonkotsu ramen (pork bone broth ramen), motsunabe and mizutaki (local hotpot dishes), mentaiko (spicy cod roe), as well as the many yatai (food stalls) found throughout the city streets. And of course, the freshest, most delicious fish! I have basically loved every food I have ever tried here, and considering how famous Fukuoka is for its food, I have a hunch it’s not just me!
Bottom line: In order to enjoy all the great foods the city has to offer, you might (definitely) need a longer stay!
There you have it – these are a few of the main reasons that kept me coming back to Fukuoka to study time and again. If you think Fukuoka might be right for you, then congratulations! You have made an excellent choice. There are also a number of quality educational options to study Japanese here, ranging from universities to small language schools, depending on your needs.
Kay Cuffari is currently studying Japanese in Fukuoka for the third year in a row while working part-time at Wahaha Japanese Language School (For information on the Japanese courses available at Wahaha, please visit http://wahahanihongo.com/)