Getting to Japan

Dropping through the clouds outside of Osaka, little fishing boats dotted a forbidding ocean. Going lower and lower into the sea, we hit the hidden concrete runway and dragged to a stop. I hadn't slept in almost two days, I was in a foreign country, thousands of miles away from anyone I ever knew, and I was alone. Getting through immigration I became painfully aware of how little Japanese I knew, I understood nothing of what the agent said to me and had to request he say it again in English. When I got into the main airport area I realized I did not know enough Japanese to get my money changed, bags shipped to the school, or even the faintest idea on how to ride the trains. This website is a response to that initial experience, of not knowing ahead of time what I was going to face. I will try to outline the process I took of getting to Japan, things to do in Japan and finally going home. This is aimed mostly at those looking to study abroad, and as I didn't study in Tokyo your experience may vary.

Your first stop will be the Study Abroad Office. These offices are well connected and can provide you a range of options such as summer, semester, or academic year programs with the occasional short-course thrown in. The staff are often very helpful and can provide you with information on scholarship opportunities as well as make sure things go smoothly between your study abroad institution and your college. In order to go to Japan you will need to:

Getting a passport

The best advice comes straight from the source: The U.S. Department of State The basic gist of the process is:

  • Fill in form DS-11.
  • Provide proof of Citizenship with your application (oddly enough, my birth certificate, issued in Germany, proves I'm an American citizen)
  • Proof of identity (Driver's License, etc.)
  • Two passport photos (2x2 inches in size, you can get these at Wal-mart for around $40).
  • Pay the fee (around $100).

If you are in a major city with a Passport Agency then your application process should be easier, otherwise you may have to ship a package containing your application, pictures, and birth certificate to a some bureaucrat far, far away. Remember not to sign the DS-11 form until you see the "Passport Acceptance Agent" who happen to work at most post offices (call ahead first).

Getting accepted to a study abroad program

There are many language schools in Japan, and it is best to ask your study abroad adviser for advice, and also ask your teachers if they know of any good schools in Japan. After doing a lot of research I decided on the Japan Center for Michigan Universities in Hikone, Shiga prefecture. I did so because JCMU is located just an hour away from Kyoto, it is right next to Lake Biwa, and tuition is relatively cheap (about $8000 a semester when I went). Hikone has many things going for it: friendly people, wonderful climate, and prices for things are generally pretty cheap. Keep in mind however, that people generally speak Kansai-ben (a dialect of Japanese) there, and it can be a bit hard to understand at times. Another thing to keep in mind: the JCMU program is intensive, you will be expected to memorize large amounts of material very quickly, which requires quite a bit of studying. If you want a more moderately paced school remember to tell your study abroad adviser you do not want an intensive program and see what they can find.

Once you have decided on a school, you will need to apply, generally this is pretty simple, involving some basic information, a transcript or two, an application fee, and a couple of essays. Typical essay questions involve explaining why you want to go to Japan and what you hope to accomplish there. Keep a copy of these essay answers, as you may be able to use them as source material for scholarship essays later on, or perhaps a website at some point. Most schools also charge an application fee, as of 2007 the application fee for JCMU is $100. There was another school in Tokyo I had been thinking of applying to, but it had an application fee of around $700, so remember to read the fine print before you do to much work on these applications.

Remember to check dates, there is generally a cut-off date on how late you can put in an application, so get it mailed in as soon as possible (like five-six months beforehand). It can take months to get paperwork sorted out between your school at home, your school in Japan, and the Japanese consulate. In my case I sent in all my paperwork in early and it was still late July before I got my visa, and I was set to leave in August.

  • Find which school fits your needs.
  • Check application fees and tuition.
  • Check the cut-off date, apply early.

Getting a Plane Ticket

Through most airlines a plane ticket to Japan can run in excess of $2000, I used and spent around $1300. My itinerary consisted of: Killeen Gray Army Airfield to Dallas Fort-Worth Airport, then to Los Angeles International, then to Seoul South Korea, then to Kansai Airport in Osaka, total time was around 22 hours. The more expensive flights typically make the trip within 12 to 14 hours, so you may consider paying the extra $700 to get there within a reasonable amount of time. A good resource for students is Student Universe, I found a flight to Japan for around $800. Keep in mind that if you are staying for an academic year, neither nor Student Universe (as of 2007) mail tickets outside of the United States, and Student Universe requires a departure point from within the U.S. If you do go with Student Universe remember to get a round-trip ticket, otherwise you may be at the mercy of Japanese travel agencies, which are not the quickest or most technologically savvy organizations in the world.


This is something you should talk to your study abroad office about. You are required to get insurance in case you get sick and/or die. The dying part of the insurance makes sure that your remains get shipped back to your loved ones in the event of an accident, riot or random Godzilla attack.

Getting a Visa

The Visa portion can be the most maddening, as it requires all of the previous steps to completed before you can apply. You will need proof of insurance, a passport number, flight number, port of departure, a physical with chest x-ray and a few passport quality photos. They may also ask for your actual passport as well, if you live near a Japanese Embassy that might not be a problem, otherwise you may have to send it through the mail which can be a stressful ordeal. Generally you can try for two kinds of visas, a student visa or a cultural visa. Cultural visas expire within about three or four months, if you choose to stay for a year and go on a Cultural visa you may need to visit Korea for a couple of days and apply for another cultural visa. Student visas are generally for the full year, and will expire as soon as you leave the country (unless you fill out the proper paperwork).

  • Proof of Insurance
  • Passport Number
  • Flight Number
  • Port of Departure
  • Physical with Chest X-Ray
  • Passport-Quality Photos