University Cheat Sheet

Please note that everything on this page was gathered in late 2020/early 2021 and applies to that year only. I’ve mirrored most of the brochures onto this site for (my own) easy viewing if they ever get taken offline. It might or might not help future people researching the Japanese universities, but I’d suggest verifying the accuracy of the information if you happen to stumble upon this page in the future.

To prevent repetition, here are some of the odder specific criteria that I am looking for when I do my research, though they are definitely not the only things I look for.

  • Info on the Liberal Arts/Culture Studies/International (or similar) faculty, that needs to be taught in English. While I do know some Japanese, I don’t have N2/N1 proficiency. Bonus if I can actually see a list of courses.
  • There should be good info on the Japanese courses available since immersion is part of the point of coming over. Some places have an intensive track and a non-intensive track and I’m not sure which one I’d take yet. I do want to study lots of Japanese, but I don’t want to go there just to take a Japanese program, as I want to do the humanities (culture, history, religion) angle too.
  • Housing options, and while I strongly considered a homestay program (and still might), if I am staying in a dorm, then my big 3 likes are wired internet access, a personal kitchenette, and no curfew, in that order. The first is because I’ve seen how terrible University wireless is at the University of Alberta and how little the administration cares about students’ needs, and also because Cov19 might necessitate that at least some of the year is remote. The second is because I like to cook random disasters, and also that I’d rather not share a kitchen during pandemic times. And the third is because I’m the type of person that will go take a short walk at night if bored, or visit interesting nearby festivals at night. I would also prefer a dorm that mixes international with local students, and one that is co-ed.
  • Info on student clubs, not necessarily because I will join one (though I will definitely look hard at them), but it’s a big tell to me if the University doesn’t care enough about student clubs to not feature them as a selling point of the institution.
  • The opinions of people around me (who have worked or lived in, or are from, Japan). This is sort of like a soft “branding” factor, I guess.
  • What previous UAlberta students have said about the University.
  • A campus tour in English, because this specifically shows they are catering to international students.
  • Location, though this isn’t exactly something a University can improve on, and is somewhat contingent on the housing anyway, but I like big and culturally-vibrant cities like Kyoto and Tokyo so everything else is going to be working at a disadvantage.

Sophia University (Jouchi)

Homepage: EN | JP | Exchange | UAlberta
Promo Videos: YouTube | PR Video | Campus Tour
Pamphlets: Exchange | Fact Sheet | 2020 Handbook | 2018 Guidebook
Relevant faculty/major/program: Faculty of Liberal Arts (FLA) (Brochure) with three majors to pick from – Comparative Culture (2019 course list), International Business and Economics (2019 course list), and Social Studies (2019 course list).
Japanese classes: Japanese Language Program (JLP) via the Center for Language Education and Research (CLER). Course info. Regular track: 400-500 minutes a week for 4 credits. Intensive track: 1000 minutes a week for 8 credits.
Previous UAlberta experiences: 2013 (1 mth)  | 2014 (4 mths)
Housing: List | Estimated Expenses
Clubs: List

Sophia came in at the top of the list for Universities that people around me recommend, edging out Waseda (though most people out of the 5-6 people I asked considered those two the best). Its online presence is pretty much excellent, and it is generally considered a small (numbers-wise), and prestigious/top-tier University. I don’t remember where I heard this, but I’ve heard it tends to have a higher number (proportion) of English-speaking Japanese students as well. The website reflects this — a lot of the University websites have an English subsection for international students under the umbrella of the Japanese one — Sophia has pretty much the entire website mirrored in both languages, even if there are some articles/sections that are Japanese-only.

The mnimums and maximums for Sophia’s FLA program are at least 10 hours/6 classes a week, and up to 20 credits a semester. I don’t understand why you’d use hours/courses for the minimum measure and credits for the maximum measure though… but apparently most courses are 2 credits, so at least that’s easy to math around. Each class is 100 minutes long here, as opposed to 90 minutes in Waseda, and that also doesn’t divide nicely into hours, so I’m starting to understand the insanity that caused the discrepancy in units used there.

The Fact Sheet also suggests that exchange students take the Regular Japanese Language Program track + 2-4 lecture classes, or the Intensive JLP track + 1-3 lecture classes. You also basically should “choose most courses” from the major that you select, whatever that means. Each regular course is worth 2 credits, so on the Regular track, using suggested course load, you can take a minimum of 6 classes/10 hours/8 credits a week, to a maximum of 9 classes/15 hours/12 credits a week, though whether your Japanese class is 4 or 5 classes a week depends on your level of proficiency. And on the Intensive track, you can take a minimum of 11 classes/18.33 hours/10 credits, to a maximum of 13 classes/21.67 hours/14 credits a week.

Neither of those options actually bump up against the maximum credits allowed though, and it looks like one can probably take Regular track + 8 additional courses to hit 13 classes/21.66 hours/20 credits a week, or Intensive track + 6 additional courses to hit 16 classes/26.66 hours/20 credits a week, if one wanted to spend all their time with their nose in a book while hiding inside a tuna can in a dormitory, instead of visiting local places and learning about culture firsthand or joining a club and making friends instead. And on the reverse side, it looks like one could also just take either the Regular JLP course plus one FLA course, or the Intensive JLP course and no other courses, and still meet the minimum requirement. It all depends on whether the “Standard Course Load” section of the Fact Sheet is a guideline or a rule, and what the heck “14 credits of lecture classes or more” means.

Still, the information that Sophia presents to international students is fantastic, especially compared to Waseda’s mess below. Things are much easier to find, explanations are much more relevant without having to dig through mounds of pdfs for one or two small lines, and even its club listing, while smaller, is far better presented.

Its location is also excellent, being a couple minutes away from a train station in the heart of Tokyo’s Chiyoda ward. In terms of housing.. Japan housing sure has a lot of rules as to what you can or cannot do, especially in regards to having guests over, though I guess I’ve never looked at the local dorms here in Edmonton and their terms and conditions as well. Azalea House looks to be one that provides both a private kitchen area and explicitly wired/cable internet, so that’s probably the one I’ll be trying to target, if I pick Sophia. The room and kitchenette are kinda small though, so it’s not really ideal anyway. But this isn’t a decision I have to make right away anyway, I think.

Waseda University (Soudai)

Homepage: EN | JP | Exchange | UAlberta
Promo Videos: YouTube | Campus Tour | Seasons of Waseda | Student Tour | VR Tour (Main campus) | VR Tour (Toyama campus)
Pamphlets: Exchange | LGBTQ Support Guide
Relevant faculty/major/program: School of International Liberal Studies (SILS/SP3) (Fall 2019 and Spring 2020 course lists and important requirements). Also click here, select SILS under School, English under Language, and it spits out a pretty great list. There’s also other majors like Global Studies in Japanese Cultures Program (JCulP) (2020 course list) or possibly School of Social Sciences (SSS/TAISI) (Fall 2020 course list).
Japanese classes: Course list by level and by theme. Min 6, max 7 credits of Centre for Japanese Language (CJL) courses required under the SILS/SP3 program. Basically 9 to 10.5h a week.
Previous UAlberta experiences: ない!
Housing: List | WISH Residence Videos | Waseda Apartments (1-2 years?)
Clubs: Main Site (JP) | List of Clubs (JP) | “International Students Welcome” Clubs (JP) | Short English list of clubs (2014)

One thing that Waseda really wins over Sophia for me is that they have an attached High School and Junior High School just close by — if you zoom in twice on the little Google Map there you’ll see it just to the south. Sure, Sophia has affiliated “sister schools” too, but they’re all the way in other prefectures and are sister schools in the same way that Hokkaido and Alberta are sister provinces (they really are! but it’s just a government promotion/cooperation thing.) Just a bit of cursory research for Waseda shows that they attend each other’s festivals, senpais from the University help out with clubs in the JH/SH, and so on. That sort of familial bond gives it a huge point boost in my books.

The school is that much larger than Sophia as well, which can be both a plus and a minus, and the website and amount of research you can do on it seems a lot larger as well, though it is somewhat disorganized. It claims to have the highest number (volume-wise) of international students in Japan. One fairly significant minus that Waseda has is that course registration is not first-come-first-serve, and there’s a bit of a complex lottery game system with multiple stages behind it, as though we need more stress added on top as international students. I am a gamer at heart so I’m not incredibly worried, but still.

What the heck, that list of Japanese language courses is really neat! But the “Comprehensive Japanese X” classes (they’re in the full list, but not the themed list) are already worth 5 credits each (from levels 1-4) or 3 credits each (levels 5-6), which is important because the “usual” path for international students, the SILS/SP3 program, has restrictions that limit me to a min 6, max 7 number of credits in Japanese classes per semester. So I’d only be able to take one or two of the other really interesting classes (they’re called Theme classes, 1 credit each for 1.5h/week) if I were to take the Comprehensive Japanese X class, and I’m not sure if it’s outright required or if it”s highly recommended over the individual piecemeal ones. Oh, and outside of the Japanese language classes, each 1.5 hour block course seems to grant TWO credits instead of one, if I’m not mistaken. So min 8 max 14 credits for SILS courses equates to 4-7 classes per week, or 6h to 10.5h, with a total of 17 hours (14 credits) to 21 hours (21 credits) a week when you lump in the Japanese language classes. That’s some efficiency/game theory there, if one cared about credits (which 1 year exchange students don’t since we aren’t graduatiog through their program).

JCuIP doesn’t seem to have such a restriction, but frankly, the JCuIP section is murky and makes my head ache and it’s rather unclear to me if I can even apply for that as a full-year exchange student (I think I can, and it requires a ~3.5 GPA, which is borderline for me, as opposed to a 3.0 for the others). SSS/TAISI doesn’t seem to have this restriction either, I think, but the courses there don’t seem to match up to what I’m looking for as well as JCuIP or SILS upon initial research. Sadly, the Japanese Language Program (JLP), the equivalent of the Japanese major there for international students, has the reverse issue, where I seem to be able to take up to 14 credits of Japanese courses a semester, but only 4 credits of everything else, AND it seems to have its own version of Comprehensive Japanese X that chews up 10 of the 14 credits, which entirely defeats the purpose of gnaaah why why is it like this.

JCuIP also seems to be “based” in the Toyama campus instead of the main campus, but they’re basically in the same place anyway. I’d probably be okay with either, though, but my GPA is right up against the 3.5 mark, which is required for JCuIP, and I’m not sure which side of 3.5 it will end up on. SILS has more interesting culture courses though, so I’d probably stick with that overall still.

Oddly, despite Sophia having two testimonials from former UAlberta students (albeit old ones), Waseda has none listed, nor do they have a Credit Transfer History section (well, they have one single course). Has no one from UAlberta ever gone there??? I do appreciate that they seem to have a strong LGBT presence too, though. they even have a manual/guide book! While I don’t exactly have a need for most of their services, I still probably will need to figure out where/how to get medicine and such.

Where Waseda falls short is Housing though. Compared to Sophia, there seem to be only three University-sponsored available choices (none of them with personal kitchens — the largest one, WISH, or Waseda International Student House, seems to have a staggering 96 people per floor from some math after looking at this and this, where every green square on the floor plan seems to represent a cohort of 4 people), with tiny personal rooms and shared kitchens and bathrooms and laundry for each floor. And the price still clocks in at 50k-60k yen per month, which is high for living in a sardine can. The potential interactions with other students are really tempting, though.

But yet what other options does Waseda offer? I can get apartments through some Waseda-branded real estate company as well, but the info is messy and not laid out in a helpful manner for international students, whereas Sophia was very much organized and to the point. Still, while I would lose the dormitory community thing, the apartments do look interesting. The problem with that is that most of them look like two year leases. The prices are fairly comparable to the dorms though, paying a little bit more but getting lots more room and private amenities in return, and they’re even comparable to prices I’m paying in Edmonton now too. And the contact form does have options for 1 year or less. So if I go to Waseda, this is probably the housing option I will try to pursue.

Location-wise, it seems to differ from Sophia in that Sophia seems to try to fit more into its neighbourhood, and even requests that students do not bike to the campus as that inconveniences local residents and such. Waseda, on the other hand, had the neighbourhood spring up around it and it apparently has a bit of a college town feel to it, with many shops that cater directly to the students there, and in neighbouring Takadanobaba.

Clubs/circles-wise, it was actually much, much harder to find info on the Waseda site about them, even though there are an immense number of clubs (they have about 500 active circles I think, as opposed to Sophia which has about 250.) There is a yearly clubs orientation thing that they have for International students in the fall, I think, but there’s usually only about 20ish that try to recruit from that from what I see of past year announcements. Nothing wrong with trying other clubs anyway, though!

Meiji University

Homepage: EN | JP | Exchange | UAlberta
Promo Videos: Official PV | Tour | Dokidoki Campus Life | Various other playlists
Pamphlets: 2020 BrochureFact Sheet | Language requirements for schools
Relevant faculty/major/program: School of Global Japanese Studies (course list). The only other majors that are English are Political Science and Economics, and Business Administration. Although, I think I do have JLPT N3 proficiency and it’s interesting that that does qualify me for things like the School of Arts and Letters (Japanese History) too, according to the Language Requirements doc above. Seems like a dangerous button to press, though. Also see list of all schools and branch out from there for more specific up-to-date info.
Japanese classes: Page 11 to 15 of this
Previous UAlberta experiences: 2012-13, 2013-14
Housing: See Fact Sheet above
Clubs: Hahaha.

i’m beginning to notice that all the UAlberta student feedback reports are old, and so the reason that Waseda doesn’t haves one may simply be because the program/agreement with UAlberta didn’t exist during that time period or something. I wish the Education Abroad Office was better at updating these because these are stupidly important when trying to decide on a school for me.

Anyway, Meiji is definitely a good school, it just kicked itself out of the running pretty quick for me because it doesn’t have what I need. Firstly, the Fact Sheet link notes that you need to be receptive to staying in any of the other dorm options if you apply for any of them, because you might not get the dorm you prefer and cannot refuse once they assign you to one. That coupled with the note in one of the previous student experiences that notes that other sources of housing are a bit difficult to navigate, gave it a negative point in my book. Some of the dorms have curfews, some have no wired internet, some have shared kitchens while others have personal stoves, etc, and not having any control over where I’ll end up is just not appealing to me.

On top of that, while the University looks to be a good school, I had a feeling just from browsing their content that their strengths seem to be in the Science/Technology and Commerce fields, and a cursory Wikipedia lookup agrees with me (adding Law to the list). These are not what I’m pursuing, so for this and other reasons above, this University isn’t for me.

That being said, the Fact Sheet document has great info on all the dorms and their facilities that they offer, and that’s excellent information to have all in one location. Like Sophia (and unlike Waseda), Meiji’s information all looks really well organized too, from top to bottom. It’s really, really well done and gave me a sort of gloriously happy feeling just from perusing it, after two days of fighting the Waseda website. I’d even rank it above Sophia in terms of presentation and ease of use for confused, prospective international students.

I also love how the Credit Information doc on the UAlberta page for Meiji says “The concept of full-time course load has no meaning at Meiji.” Exchange students need to take at least 6 classes per semester, with no maximum, and that’s cool. It technically doesn’t even seem to require that you take any language courses at all — you could go to Meiji and just do their English courses, and their course list in the English Track Program of the School of Global Japanese Studies isn’t the worst, although I think their literature and history courses are broken off to other schools, which is too bad.

And lastly, I’m not sure if it’s because Meiji University is split across 4 campuses, but their website barely has anything about clubs in general at all. There’s a short list in Japanese in this 2016 infographic if you click on the 370 以上 white box near the bottom right (which funnily enough is mirrored and translated into English in the 2020 Brochure link above — but with none of the numbers updated, so Meiji still has exactly 32890 students 4 years later). But I can’t actually find a list of those clubs anywhere, which is another huge minus to me.

Hokkaido University (Hokudai)

Homepage: EN | JP | Exchange | UAlberta
Promo Videos: YouTube
Pamphlets: International Student Prospectus (2020-2021)
Relevant faculty/major/program: Hokkaido University Short-Term Exchange Program (HUSTEP) (brochure + course list) or Japanese Language and Culture Studies Program (JLCSP) (brochure)
Japanese classes: Website | Course List | FAQ | Brochure
Previous UAlberta experiences: 2013-14
Housing: Here
Clubs: Here

Unlike the Tokyo-based university options, Hokkaido University has a lot more of a familiar layout, a bunch of buildings spread out over a larged shared area like a traditional University, very much like the U of A. The student report from 2013-2014 above even mentions that it’s more spread out than the U of A overall. And the weather in Sapporo is also comparable to that of Edmonton, both in summer and winter, I believe. And yes, there’s that Hokkaido-Alberta sister province relationship. Ultimately though, even though Hokkaido University is apparently a really good school, regularly outranking every other school except perhaps Waseda or Sophia depending on what charts you look at, I eliminated this early on because I just wasn’t looking for something that felt so similar to Edmonton/Alberta, and because it’s not on Honshu Island. I’m interested in travelling around a lot during my stay there, so the latter would drastically increase my expenses. Although I fully intend to visit the Sapporo Snow Festival if I can anyway, no matter where in Japan I end up going to.

Hokkaido University is a public school though, as opposed to private ones like Waseda and Sophia, and public school curriculum is supposedly harder than private school curriculum as well, which probably reflects well on the school, especially when compared to how it traditionally does really well in the University rankings.

There are two separate study tracks at Hokudai — HUSTEP is more of a general English study program with some optional/basic Japanese classes, and JLCSP has more of a focus on the language and culture. The websites and brochures for both are very well done and both easily located and laid out in English, except that there isn’t a ton of information on how much flexibility you have to choose your classes between the programs. From what I see, the guidelines are: For both HUSTEP and JLSCP, you need a minimum of 7 courses a week to hit the 10 hour minimum.

For HUSTEP, according to the Credit Information doc and the website, students are required to earn at least 10 credits per semester, 8 of which need to be from HUSTEP courses, of which each one is worth 2 credits. The Japanese classes are supposedly worth “1 or 2 credits each”, though I never found a place that specified how many credits each one was. In most cases it looks like the 7 classes/10.5 hours a week is the true minimum here, with no maximum and no required class composition other than 4+ HUSTEP courses and 7+ total classes, If that’s true, it’s really flexible. the HUSTEP courses aren’t all interesting to me but there’s enough that I could definitely fill up my time.

The JLCSP class composition is about identical, requiring 7 classes/10.5 hours a week, 10 credits from elective subjects through the year, and at least 20 credits per year. I could find no JLCSP course information online though, only a general blurb that “the program consists of two types of courses: courses in Japanese language and courses in Japanese linguistics, culture and society.” Now, that is what I am looking for anyway, and as an East Asian Studies major I should be going for this, but no information on the courses and choices is a huge minus when I have so many other choices to pick from anyway, and when the HUSTEP course selection wasn’t the strongest. Also, the JLPT N3 requirement is iffy — I might be able to pass N3, but I’m not sure, some aspects like my listening and speaking would be lagging behind a little. Plus JLPT was cancelled in Edmonton in 2020 so there was no chance for me to take it in December. Although the application form does state that listing the courses you’ve taken, the textbooks involved, and the number of hours, might serve as a replacement. It’s tempting still, and if I do end up at Hokudai I will probably do this route, but I do wish they showed me the available courses, and I worry that I will struggle.

Their website is excellent, a fully professional English website with a lot of content, especially course stuff, mirrored in both English and Japanese. This again shows how international-oriented they are, even a lot of the random course descriptions have English blurbs to them and that’s really appreciated. This is up there with Meiji’s website for sure, and could easily pass for the website of a western University. Our University’s, for example. The clubs page is pretty impressive too, and not only that, I also appreciated how clubs have their individual pages linked on the school website too. Some of them look pretty interesting, and I liked the energy that was on display on their various websites. I found myself really tempted by the Cafe Club. Aaanyway..

In terms of housing, woo, look at this. That’s every amenity I ever wanted, at half the cost of Tokyo… yeah, suddenly Sapporo seems a lot more tempting. But then I take a look at some of the other dorms and the snow pileup looks just like our goddamned Edmonton weather and then I remember why I didn’t want to go to Hokkaido to begin with. But still, I think the site presentation and information on display was good enough, with no major drawbacks, that I would rank Hokkaido #1 if it wasn’t located in Japanese Edmonton and so far away from Tokyo and Kyoto. As it is, I probably can’t leave it off the list entirely though so it will probably sit at a #3 behind Waseda and Sophia, at least for now. If nothing else, there’s always the niche case where mainland/Tokyo Universities aren’t recruiting exchange students this year but Hokkaido is because they’re way out north.

International Christian University (ICU)

Homepage: EN | JP | FAQ | Exchange | UAlberta
Promo Videos: YouTube
Relevant faculty/major/program: None (General course list/syllabi).
Japanese classes: Japanese Language Program (JLP) (course list)
Previous UAlberta experiences: Lots of Credit Transfer History, but no previous forms.
Housing: Here
Clubs: Ahhh that Japanese Dance Club.

Right off the bat, I scratched this University off my consideration list just due to its name alone. That’s probably a bit hypocritical of me, since Sophia is a private University with Christianity roots as well, and both Waseda and Sophia even have chapels on campus too — but it’s another thing entirely when it’s splashed over the name of the University and that’s something I have to put down on resumes in the future. I have no issue with people choosing to follow Christianity, but I do associate very bad connotations with the religion due to the USA, and while the school is a good and well-known school in Japan, this isn’t the case outside of Japan, and putting that on my resume would make it sound to employers like I went to a religious school, which I do not want. So yeah, no.

This school makes all its regular students take an Introduction to Christianity course (though exchange students are exempt — and actually I believe at least Sophia does this too). That being said, it is still described as a more or less non-denominational university, and outside of that, as far as I can see, ICU is actually a really good University, constantly ranked highly in most measures and listings. There are a few quirks, like how the campus is so big that many people apparently tend to use bicycles to get around, and how their classes operate by a trimester system instead of a two-semester system like many other Universities. They also seem to have a large volume of bilingual and trilingual students. But if this school was named something normal, I think I’d have been happy to go there as well.

I might be wrong, but I didn’t see a specific international student/exchange student program or list of requirements, it sort of looks like we can take whatever we want. In terms of Japan culture/history/literature and similar spheres, there aren’t a whole ton of classes that are taught in English though. And if you have to declare a major to take courses in it, then it cuts down on the available choices even more. For example, Japan Studies is an interesting major for me at first glance due to subject matter. But once I went to the Syllabi page, filtered by Japan Studies, and then by English, I’m left with 20 choices, half of which aren’t appealing to me. And at this point the trimester system that ICU uses works against it, if we are largely restricted to a major and there aren’t enough interesting major courses or general/open courses taught in English.

In terms of courseload, classes are 70 minutes long, and the minimum amount for the student visa is 10 hours per week. On the high end, exchange students cannot take more than 18 credits a semester, and it seems that for the most part, courses are either 2 or 3 credits and meet either 2 or 3 times a week respectively. The main exception to these are the Japanese classes, that are worth 5 credits and meet for either 10 or 8 times a week, depending on level. It seems that there aren’t any side options for those Japanese courses either. So assuming that a student is taking one of them, the minimum course load would be literally just J1, J2 or J3 Japanese for 1 course/10 classes/11h 40m a week, and the maximum (unless you were at a higher level of Japanese) would be J4, J5 or J6 Japanese and 5-6 other regular courses (2+2+3+3+3/6×2) for 6-7 courses/21 classes/24.5 hours a week, which would give 18 credits. If you didn’t take any Japanese classes at all, it would be 6-9 courses/18 classes/21 hours a week for 18 credits instead.

For housing, it looks like ICU has the same kind of setup as Waseda, where there’s an external real estate company owned by (and branded with the name of) the University that kind of assists you if you decide to choose off-campus housing. I really enjoy that each of the dormitories has a number of (English) introductions and photos from people who used to live there. It’s a good way to show community. I also like that there’s a Canada House, hah. Unfortunately, one look at the facilities and they immediately gain a black mark as I believe all of them seem to be wifi-only, not to mention shared kitchens and all that other stuff. Bad facilities in (or at the tail end of) a pandemic, since classes might be online for a significant portion of the year.

Shizuoka University (Shizudai)

Homepage: EN | JP | ExchangeUAlberta
Promo Videos: YouTube | PV | Campus Tour
Pamphlets: Exchange Program
Relevant faculty/major/program: None? (General course list/syllabi)
Japanese classes: Japanese Language Program (Fall 2020 course list) with options for an Intensive Japanese Course (Beginning or Intermediate)
Previous UAlberta experiences: ない! 
Housing: Here
Clubs: Here | PDF list (mostly Japanese)

Shizuoka University has two campuses — Hamamatsu Campus for Informatics/Engineering, and the main Shizuoka Campus for everything else. The latter also offers more Japanese classes than the former, and is probably what most international students are going for.

Shizuoka is marked on the UAlberta page as Language of Instruction: Japanese, and on their brochures, they say that “An advanced level of Japanese is required because most of the classes are offered in Japanese, but some of the introductory courses for General Education and several courses for International Japan Studies at the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences are offered in English”. You can see most of the courses on their course browser by filtering Folder to the [LA-S] (or LA-H for Hamamatsu campus) for General Studies, and [HS-B] for Humanities and Social Sciences, and then sorting by Language, but the actual English courses are few and far between. There are a few options in the other schools too, but again, very limited.

So the main reason to come here would be a crash course in the Japanese language itself, and less so the actual culture. I would worry about either taking classes in Japanese and missing a lot of what was being said even at my current level of understanding, or else taking classes in English and finding them really boring and basic, though. Shizuoka also seems to offer a Study & Exchange Program in Japan thing, but that seems to be one course that you take over the course of a full year rather than a full-blown program in itself.

Still, the lack of compulsary courses means that the program is pretty flexible, like all the other schools, you have to take a minimum of 7 classes/10.5 hours a week to hit the 10h minimum for the student visa, and there’s no maximum outside of the number of class slots there are. The regular Japanese courses mostly take 4 classes a week, whereas the intensive Japanese courses seem to have 15 classes a week. Wowsers!

Housing-wise, the dorms are as cheap as Hokkaido’s, with far less snow, and half the price of Tokyo’s. The main dormitory is again wi-fi only though, which is an immediate deal-breaker for me. Some of the others have no description on them, but they get cheaper and cheaper, which is great for some people but probably means it’s lacking in utilities or convenience or private facilities too.

The clubs list is pretty great, although they’re disadvantaged in that the student body is split across two campuses so far apart, which would definitely add inconvenience if the club you wanted to join only had a presence in the other campus. Still, the presence of the list and webpage shows that they do have support from the campus, and the PDF list, while mostly in Japanese, has nice information and breakdown of the number of students in each group and some choice photos for each, which is a lot more work than most other Universities put in to showcase their clubs.

Chiba University (Chibadai)

Homepage: EN | JP | ExchangeUAlberta
Promo Videos: YouTube | Campus Overview | PR Video | Campus Tour
Relevant faculty/major/program: Japan Program at Chiba (J-PAC), which contains International Liberal Arts Program and Japanese Studies Program.
Japanese classes: Click on the lines in Section 3
Previous UAlberta experiences: 2012-13
Housing: Here
Clubs: Here

Chiba University is split across four campuses, but unless you’re studying Medicine (not available to exchange students), Horticulture, or Environment/Field Sciences, you’ll probably be on the main Nishi-Chiba campus. The campus itself is about 45 minutes from the heart of Downtown Tokyo, which has its plusses and minuses. I’m not actually against that distance myself, as I like riding public transit and have no qualms with hopping onto a train whenever the mood strikes me, although it would definitely cut down on random whimsical wanderings that I would do if I were living in the heart of a neon-lit night city.

One negative thing about the University though, is the listed Student feedback form from the UAlberta site, although that one is dated all the way back to 2013. The person seems to have had a bad experience there, but there were non-standard factors involved, as well as it being so long ago, that it could well be all resolved by now. Even if I didn’t trust that the information was all correct or all up to date, however, it definitely still was a point that factored heavily against dropping Chiba from my 3rd spot down to 4th, although I don’t think it made a difference in the end. In fact, the largest drawback from that student feedback report is not all the weird things that happened, but rather the mention that most of the non-language classes were very simplistic, which I have also heard about other schools, especially private schools that are not in the very top echelon (Chibadai’s a public school, though).

if I were to end up at this school, I don’t quite qualify for N2 level Japanese so I think I’d end up being in the International Liberal Arts program despite being in the right major in my home institution that I should be in JSP instead. That’s another oddity with Chibadai and why I don’t quite fit in here at this time.

They do have a decent number of Japanese classes, or rather, they have options for you to brush up on side weaknesses, which I appreciate and which was one of the strong points of Waseda’s offerings as well. Based on the textbooks I’d see, I’d probably be in the late 300’s or early 400s in terms of knowledge level according to their course code levels. The courses are structured so there’s an X01 course that takes 3 classes a week and gives 3 credits, and and X02-X05 courses once a week that grant 1 credit each, and that all seem to require the X01 course as a prerequisite. But I can’t tell if they mean that you must be taking the class at the same time (ie, a “co-requisite”), or that you must have finished the class in a previous semester (ie, a real “prerequisite”), so there’s a bit lost in translation there. I do know you cannot take classes from different levels in the same semester though, so no 401 and then 304 and 305 together to brush up on weak points, but you can do 301 one semester and then 302-305 the next one, so that’s the confusing bit. I suspect they mean co-requisite, though.

Anyway, for the Liberal Arts program, that seems to require at least 10 credits a semester/6 classes per week, although 6 classes per week with a 1.5 hour class time isn’t enough to keep your student visa anyway, so it’s actually 7 classes a week. There isn’t a ton of information on the classes available, though I didn’t really see faculty restrictions on what could be taken, but the ease of use of the syllabus list could definitely be improved. In terms of English courses, there’s this list, but doing a search on the Syllabi page linked from there doesn’t actually show some of the courses being offered in 2020, or even 2019 in some cases. The list is already short enough without some of the info also being outdated! There’s also this 2015 link which is much more comprehensive, but a number of the ensuing outgoing links from there are broken. So yes, I consider the English course offering here weak, with that 2012-2013 student feedback report immediately coming to mind again.

Chibadai, like a couple of the entries before it, has no concept of a minimum or maximum course load outside of the minimum needed for the student visa, for J-PAC students. So 7 courses/10.5h a week would be the minimum and that’s about it. It sounds like this would range from about 3-5 Japanese classes (the base X01 Japanese course is 3 classes) and 2+ other classes a semester. I think. Their website isn’t bad but is extremely disorganized, and as you can see by the 2015 links above, there’s entire abandoned sections of the website that have been built over with newer stuff, giving it a patchwork feel with the number of dead links in places. Their YouTube channel is a bunch of videos without any playlists or anything either, further adding to the half-done sort of feeling. They have an excellent Campus Tour video, but it’s buried in obscurity in the dredges of their YouTube video list.

Compared to the other options, Chiba’s housing options are really weak too. There’s the International House, which will cost somewhere between 30 and 40k yen a month, and which even seems to have a personal kitchen in a little studio, which is a big plus. But they are vague about available Internet access, and they do say that there tend to be many more applicants than spots for the International House, so that seems iffy to me. A couple other housing residences are mentioned, but they are not for exchange students, and how much digging I had to do to find that reflects poorly on the website. Their clubs aren’t very strong either, with about 155 of them, a fully Japanese listing only, and no real indication as to whether international students are welcome outside of the Chiba University International Students Group (CISG).

So which school wins in the end? I’m not even sure right now, so here’s an attempt at sorting my thoughts. Right off the bat, Chiba, Shizuoka, ICU, and Meiji are off the list for me, due to not being or having what I am looking for. Hokkaido is 3rd, mostly due to its location (it’d probably challenge for 1st otherwise, as it scores well in everything else, and that Cafe Club is still really tempting..)

But anyway, Sophia and Waseda are the two I want to go to, and the two I have been flipping coins over for a long time. I would be honoured to go to either of them.

In terms of:

Japanese Courses – Waseda seems to win this one due to all the little extra classes they have as options. But it’s pretty close, because I don’t think I can actually take many of them though, due to how the exchange program is set up. Sophia has a really solid course list too though, just without options. However, Waseda offers 9h-10.5h a week of Japanese classes, whereas Sophia has two tracks — one is about 7h-8.5h a week and the other is 16.5h a week. I don’t want to study nothing but Japanese, though, but if I happen to change my mind at some point, then Sophia does offer that nuclear option as well. Actually, do I? Maybe I do, after reading some Reddit post that noted that the immersion is the one thing you can’t get elsewhere/back home.

Other Courses – This is a tie. I want to study about culture, literature and religion and both Sophia’s Comparative Culture major, as well as Waseda’s SILS major, have a lot of things I could take. Strictly speaking, Waseda seems to have a lot more courses, but at some point it’s an issue of University size. Waseda has the lottery system for courses, which is dumb, but that’s probably counteracted through the sheer number of classes they have. 

Housing – Sophia wins this. Both the Waseda and Sophia main student dorm are too big for me, but Sophia has a number of side dorms, and after going through the full list of Universities, they definitely aren’t too bad. But again it’s close, because I’d probably seriously consider a small apartment instead, and Waseda would win in that case because they seem to help with that.

Clubs – Neither one has a Cafe club, so they both lose. I’d probably be fine with either one. Waseda has a longer list, but they also have clubs that aren’t really clubs (like regional membership circles for students that come from X prefecture) which pad the numbers a little bit. They are a larger University too. I think I could find some good ones either way.

Others – Neighbourhood-wise, Waseda seems more interesting in a college town sort of way, with more amenities and such, but Sophia is nearer a station and feels more urban, which could also be better because I am not a party person. Waseda has satellite junior schools, which I really like. Both have excellent reviews from all sorts of alma mater online. At the end of the the day, it pretty much boils down to if I want to go to a larger school or a smaller school, huh.

I came in to this page with Sophia in the lead over Waseda. After writing up Sophia, and then Waseda, Waseda actually overtook Sophia for a time as my #1. But now I’m at the end of the writeup and they’re tied in a dead heat again.

This didn’t help at all!

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