Japanese Language and Homestay Program

Having lived, worked and studied the language in Japan, I get asked about recommending a Japanese language and homestay program once in while.

One of my friends, Holger, has just returned from a three-week language study trip to Japan. He ended up in Fukuoka, not far from where I used to live in Kitakyushu (northern part of Kyushu). Here is what he had to say:

Fukuoka, with a population of 1.5 million, is the biggest city on Kyushu. The city combines history (Shinto shrines and Buddha temples) with modern life. Lots of skyscrapers determine the skyline. The city also offers big shopping centres, a varying nightlife with lots of bars and restaurants, as well as manga and anime culture such as cosplay events, maiden cafés, etc.

Three weeks I spent in Fukuoka, attending Japanese classes and living in a homestay place, both booked via Lisa Sprachreisen Berlin.

Accommodation was good and only a 20- minute walk away from Asahi Nihongo School (close to the city centre). Yet if you book a homestay place, be aware it can be up to 45 minutes by train or bus away from school. A homestay accommodation can include doing few or many activities with your host family. It depends on you and the family’s life style, of course. Normally, accommodation only comes with breakfast. Unfortunately in my case,  I was served western breakfast. It was okay though, yet I would have preferred  breakfast Japanese style.
My room was about 10 qm in size, with a western bed. There was a shower and a washing machine downstairs.
Opposite of my room, there was another German student. Our homestay father called him “night owl” since he like to party till  the morning, come home, have breakfast and then sleep until the late afternoon. But be aware, that’s probably not possible at all homestay places.

Before classes begin, students have to take a written and oral test to have one’s Japanese language skills assessed. It’s recommended that you already know Hiragana before registering for school. Without prior Hiragana knowledge, starting courses are limited to once a month. Otherwise, courses start every Monday.
In class, you study with the book Minna No Nihongo, and sometimes with the book Genki. The teachers are very nice,  and some know English. But like in every school, there are good teachers and not so skilled teachers. School starts in the morning at 9 am or later – depending on your course.

The school offers standard, intensive and cultural language courses. On offer are also cultural activities such as tea ceremony, movie club, manga courses, origami and special tours to a nearby volcano and onzen(温泉), or to the big temple Dazaifu. If you want to participate in martial arts training such as Kendo, Judo, Karate or Iado (of which I chose Iado), then feel free to ask for more information at the school reception desk. They are very nice and helpful and try to arrange anything possible for you. Of course, they also offer other activities such as yoga, windsurfing, sailing, kite surfing etc.

Internet is available at school, and with a bit of luck also at your homestay family’s place. Restaurants, eateries and supermarkets are near the school. Lunches, i.e,  can be had for as little as 500 yen – 1000 yen (euro 5- 10)

On the other hand, electronic goods and CDs are often more expensive.

Asahi Nihongo School, run by a German and a Japanese,  is a good school for learning Japanese. At the same time, they also run another school for Japanese to study English and  German. That’s extremely useful, if you want to get a Japanese tandem partner for exchanging language skills.
In addition, there is another language school called Genki – Jacs nearby. This school, run by a Scots man, I visited once and found this school’s facilities even better.

If you book via Lisa Sprachreisen, I think they only work with Asahi Nihongo School (at least for the moment).

At  both schools, there is an international flair  with students from Europe (France, Denmark, Germany, etc ) as well as others from abroad, such as Korea and Australia. If you book a three-week language course, you can get a fairly good insight into the Japanese life through school, language learning, and the city itself. Keep in mind though, it might take up to one week to become familiar with your surroundings, adjust to your new daily routine, and also to get rid off jet lag.

If you want to learn or see more, you would have to stay at least three months, I think.  At Asahi Nihongo School , they can also arrange internships in different working fields.

So, my three weeks in Fukuoka were splendid, I made a lot of new friends and I really enjoyed it.


Volunteering at a Library

At dinner time, my husband mentioned the opportunity to earn Creativity-Action-Service (CAS) points working at the international school’s library to our daughter Margo.

Every year, upper schoolers have to collect 20 points in each section and working at the library would supply her with enough points to cover her service requirement for the year.

She was not too enthusiastic about the idea, so we tried to persuade her a bit and I ended by telling her this personal story. If her father had not worked at a library in the U.S., her brother would not have been born in Japan.

My husband, then a college student, supplemented  our no-income status by working weekends at the college library. The year was 1990, and the recession would soon reach its peak.

As  a young wife, without a work permit yet, I was too bored to stay home on weekend nights and went to the library myself. Books are my best friends.

At the library, I met my very best Japanese friend, Nobuko. Through her, we learned more about Japan and its need for English teachers. She pointed out  an ad posted by the Japanese embassy in the library’s foyer, looking for teachers to join the Japanese Exchange Teaching (JET) program. With both of us intrigued by Nobuko’s tales about Japan, my husband applied and got accepted.

Off we went to Japan, specifically Kitakyushu on the most southern island of Kyushu in Japan, where we lived and worked for three years.

Hence,  her brother Thomas was born there.

Boshi techo - the Japanese maternity book

More about the boshi techo on Comprehensive Living Guide for Foreign Residents in Japan.

Anyway,  libraries are wonderful places of discovery for like-minded patrons, wonderful books, peace and quietness, making new friends, and straying off the beaten path.

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