lifestyle

5 ways college life is different in Japan and U.S.

32 Comments
By Casey Baseel, RocketNews24

From fashion to extracurricular activities, the lives of an American colleges students are an ocean apart from their counterparts in Japan.

Most of the English-language RocketNews24 team spent a portion of our school days in Japan, but our Japanese-language sister site can also count a few writers with study abroad experience. We recently picked the brain of one of our Japanese writers who spent two years of college in Osaka before crossing the Pacific to the United States and finishing his higher education in Wisconsin. Below, in his words, is his personal take on the differences he experienced between college life in Japan and America.

1. Fashion

In Japan, almost all junior and senior high school students have to wear uniforms. Most people don’t get to choose what they wear every day until they get into college, and in response to that new freedom, many of them start spending a lot of money on clothes and accessories. So regardless of whether the end result is fashionable or not, many of the people you’ll see on a Japanese college campus have put a lot of thought into what they’re wearing.

On the other hand, at American universities it seems like the emphasis is on comfort and practicality. Every day I saw plenty of my classmates wearing the sweatshirts and T-shirts they sold in the student store. Because of this gap in the fashion environment, when I wore the same outfits I had when I was in Japan, people often mistakenly assumed I was gay.

2. Extracurricular club activities

This might be something that’s unique to Japan, but Japanese schools have two classes of extracurricular clubs: "bu" (teams) and "sakuru" (circles).

Compared to the "bu," the circles aren’t as serious-minded, and their focus is more on everyone just having fun as a group. For example, in one of the tennis circles at my school in Japan, the members only got together to practice two or three times a week. The rest of the time, they’d just go drinking together.

Because circles have such a strong social aspect, for Japanese students they’re the primary place where they make new friends, and the circle you join becomes a group with a very big influences on the rhythm and patterns of your lifestyle.

At American colleges, though, the clubs and sports teams are closer to Japanese bu than circles. The members have to practice and train hard every day, so very few students make the commitment of joining them, and instead it felt like more of them were focused on their studies.

3. Academic pressure

To get into a Japanese college, you have to pass rigorous, competitive entrance exams, which high school students spend a huge amount of time studying for. But once you get accepted by a college, you’re on easy street.

In general, as long as you attend class, you can get units in a Japanese college. Some courses don’t even require you to show up, and instead just ask you to write a report and turn it in at the end of the semester to pass the class. As a result a lot of students ditch class, and spend their time drinking with their friends from their circle or having marathon video gaming sessions.

But in America, every day we had to study our butts off! In my classes, I had a report to write every other week, on top of reading the textbook and other assigned materials, plus getting my term papers ready to submit. When finals time rolled around, sometimes the library was so packed with students studying that there was no place to sit. One of my American friends know how much Japanese high school kids have to study for entrance exams, and he told me “You could have had it easy if you stayed in Japan for college! You were crazy to come here.”

4. Living arrangements

Many Japanese college students live alone, and almost all of my friends when I was going to school in Japan lived in their own apartment. As a matter of fact, in Japan there’s an image that getting into college means you can have your own place, which is a dream that keeps many high school students going when they’re getting ready for entrance exams. Of course, it turns out some of them can’t cook for themselves or keep their apartments clean, and their lifestyles gradually deteriorate.

In contrast, most of the people at my American college lived in the dorms, together with a roommate. It’s a nice system if you’re both on the same wavelength, but if you’re not then it’s terrible.

Thankfully my roommates and I got along fine, but some of the people I knew complained about their roommates sneaking their boyfriend or girlfriend into their room or playing music that they hated, and a few of them even asked to switch rooms.

5. Class participation

In Japanese colleges, the students don’t really talk during the lecture. Actually, that goes for Japanese elementary, middle, and high schools too. The teacher does the talking, and the students just listen, without asking questions or debating what’s being said.

Even in the rare case that a Japanese class is set up in the format of a debate, the students won’t give their opinion until the teacher calls on them specifically. And in the event that Japanese students do want to ask the teacher something, they wait until after class and approach him individually, maybe in his office.

Things are completely different in the U.S. The students are always ready to speak up. If they don’t understand anything, they ask about it right away, and if there are conflicting opinions, everyone joins in on the debate.

For someone like me, who’d grown up in the Japanese education system, it was a shock, and getting used to that discussion-centric style took a very long time. Looking back, I think it’s safe to call the Japanese lesson style a passive one, and the American one an active one, but I learned a lot from each.

Read more stories from RocketNews24. -- What’s wrong with English education in Japan? Pull up a chair… -- Is Japan overworking its teachers? One exhausted educator says, “YES!” -- “Hate summer homework, kids? We’ll do it for you!” A disturbingly booming business in Japan

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32 Comments
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You do not sneak a girl or boy friend in, you just bring them in.

Studying is fun. It is nice to learn something by oneself then to sit there and just listen.

3 ( +5 / -2 )

A pretty good summary. Having studied in both western & Japanese systems, I'd add that the senpai / kohai system still carries over into university here. That I just couldn't get my head around. The whole 'bukatsu' system is messed up here, especially in elementary & high schools...

11 ( +13 / -2 )

There is lots of mileage still to be had in comparing Japan and America, it seems.

2 ( +5 / -3 )

You do not sneak a girl or boy friend in, you just bring them in.

You do if it's your roommates girl or boyfriend.

5 ( +7 / -2 )

When I studied at a university in the US in the late 90s, the main thing I noticed was that students had to study.

20 ( +20 / -0 )

Dead on article, the author knows what she's talking about. I went through both a very rigorous European technical university, and a very relaxed year in a Japanese one. Both systems have their pluses and minuses, and there's no "good" vs "bad" one here, just different. In Japan, students with obvious talent for their future jobs get all the chances they want to improve that by joining research labos and further education (master, PhD). It's much tougher (but still manageable) there...

1 ( +4 / -3 )

One thing I would add is that students in Japan are kept in a cocoon utterly lacking in real-world diversity, with very little exposure to alternative ways of approaching life.

Students must decide on their major from the beginning (no changes), and from that point forward for the next four years take all of their classes with the same group of classmates who are all the same age and pursuing the same major. They have very few opportunities to choose true electives/alternative classes that would enable them to explore interests outside their "set menu" course of study.

Consequently there is almost no diversity in terms of ethnicity, age or even academic focus. So, if you are an engineering major in Japan, every one of your classes is almost entirely male. Japanese university education offers very poor preparation for the 'real' world.

13 ( +14 / -1 )

University students don't use their brains

BEFORE YOU ATTACK ME ---- this is a direct quote, said to me an hour ago by a 20-year old student at a top private university in Tokyo. Even I wouldn't go that far.

8 ( +9 / -1 )

One thing I've noticed is that there is a lot more dating and, well, shagging going on at universities in the West compared to Japanese universities.

10 ( +11 / -1 )

  1. Academic pressure

To get into a Japanese college, you have to pass rigorous, competitive entrance exams, which high school students spend a huge amount of time studying for. But once you get accepted by a college, you’re on easy street.

But in America, every day we had to study our butts off! In my classes, I had a report to write every other week, on top of reading the textbook and other assigned materials, plus getting my term papers ready to submit.

In simple terms, one provides the student with an actual education, while the other is just four years getting ready to do the endless rounds of corporate interviews. And people in Japan actually wonder why their corporate "leaders" are failing so miserably in the increasingly-competitive world. Uh, duh!

5 ( +10 / -5 )

All I can say is thank goodness I didn't go to school in Japan!

6 ( +8 / -2 )

There are many more differences than this. A full list would occupy the space of a thickish book.

A shorter list would be the similarities between college life in the US and Japan.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

You do not sneak a girl or boy friend in, you just bring them in.

And put a sock on the door handle. And it's called being "sexiled." lol

(I got along with our "extra roommate," good thing too!)

Japan univs are hard to get in but easy to get out.

US univs are easy to get in but hard to get out.

Half the students change their majors halfway thru college.

Univs take pride in having a diversified student body, including attracting enough foreigners.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

So in other words, when Japan introduced western style education, they left out the whole bit about 'education'.

9 ( +13 / -4 )

@choiwaruoyaji

One thing I've noticed is that there is a lot more dating and, well, shagging going on at universities in the West compared to Japanese universities.

Yeah this applies to more than just university.

8 ( +8 / -0 )

US univs are easy to get in but hard to get out.

I've never cared for this saying. Do people really believe that getting into a good school in the U.S. is easy? I'd beg to disagree. I'm not even certain anymore how hard Japanese tests really actually are. What I have observed is a lot of poor study methods and overly tired kids. Sure, these cause trouble when you are trying to memorise, but is it really the test being difficult?

2 ( +5 / -3 )

No keggers in J unis.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

And put a sock on the door handle. And it's called being "sexiled." lol O tempore! O mores! A sock? in my day, it was a necktie. Let's be gentlemanly about our cad-like behaviour, after all!

1 ( +2 / -1 )

justbcuzisay

Sure, these cause trouble when you are trying to memorise, but is it really the test being difficult?

Yes, are J-uni tests actually challenging a students education or their memory in Japan? Now, no education system is perfect, but it seems that in Japan people equate incredible memory with intelligence. Are Todai university students really the 'smartest people', or are they the best at memorization.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

Japanese education sucks.

The irony is that, because of this, we gaijin can make a living here!

9 ( +10 / -1 )

igloobuyerDEC. 08, 2015 - 06:33PM JST So in other words, when Japan introduced western style education, they left out the whole bit about 'education'.

That would be the post-war reset. Prior to that time, Japanese universities were much more rigorous.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

@sensato

Japanese university education offers very poor preparation for the 'real' world.

It's ok. After they "graduate", all that is required of them is to live here in Japan and work. In the "real world" ;)

Didny worl.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

In Japanese colleges, the students don’t really talk during the lecture. Actually, that goes for Japanese elementary, middle, and high schools too. The teacher does the talking, and the students just listen, without asking questions or debating what’s being said.

. . . . bunch of robots. I've always found my inquisitive classmates to be among some of the most brightest.

Even in the rare case that a Japanese class is set up in the format of a debate, the students won’t give their opinion until the teacher calls on them specifically.

Debating is healthy but clashes with the Japanese culture of "Wa" . . . .

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I have graduated from both a Canadian and a Japanese university (post-grad) and I think these are generally fair observations.

The physical campuses are also a bit different - Japanese campuses are a lot more compact and (some) tend to be in more central locations in cities as opposed to way out in the suburbs. So everybody takes the subway or bikes to campus rather than driving.

The shokudo system is a bit different too - Japanese campuses have big cafeterias where most students eat, but at my uni back in Canada the cafeterias were mainly just used by people who lived in dorms and there were a ton of fast food outlets on campus that most people had lunch at. I like the Canadian style better in that regard, the monopoly that shokudos on most campuses in Japan have really limits the dining options for students who don`t want to have either ramen or a rice bowl for lunch.

And then there is drinking. My Canadian campus had two bars in it so beer was available any time day or night to students. Plus the presence of dorms which, in addition to having their own bars, also allowed students to drink in their rooms meant there was almost constantly an underlying party atmosphere. Japanese campuses in contrast are virtually dry - no bars and no dorms in which students are constantly drinking. This has its ups and downs, Canadian campuses I think are a lot funner but there are a lot of obvious drawbacks from having that atmosphere at the same time.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Having taught at many universities in Japan I believe the idea that Japanese universities are hard to get into is a myth. I'm sure some universities are hard to get into..Todai etc. but for many universities, if you can write your name you can get in.

Also of course there are other ways to get in other than the entrance exam, like by recommendation. I look at some of my students and it is hard to believe that they could pass any test.

I also agree that the idea that American universities are easy to get into is untrue. Of course some are easy but the high level ones certainly are not.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

How about comparing Japanese universities to European or British ones for a change? Why is it always America?

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

Who ever said getting in to US Universities are easy to get in must have went to a Non profit college!! UEI or Beauty college! Let me say this its hard as hell to get in a TOP TIER or Bottom Tier University and Hard as hell to get out in the US. Especially if its a Ivy League, UC, or Claremont!! Once you are in you are a zombie and when you get out you are a zombie!! It too me a while to realize I didn't have to study after studying for 5 years BSEE and 2 more years for a MSEE. I wouldn't wish that on no one!

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Thunderbird2DEC. 09, 2015 - 09:35PM JST How about comparing Japanese universities to European or British ones for a change? Why is it always America?

Fair point. It's probably because for every Japanese studying in Europe there are probably a thousand studying in the U.S. and this would be the case because not only do relatively few Japanese communicate well enough in English to gain admission to a school in the U.S (Canada, Oz, NZ or UK), almost no one in Japan speaks French, Italian, etc., etc. The average metropolitan school district in the U.S. probably has more kids learning Spanish or French, and now Mandarin, than do most Japanese universities.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

You do not sneak a girl or boy friend in, you just bring them in.

If it is not a coed dorm, you would have to sneak them in. :)

0 ( +0 / -0 )

About the difficulty of getting into university, it actually has gotten significantly easier for students in Japan over the past decade. This is because the number of 18 year olds is shrinking each year. This affects universities differently based on how prestigious they are. The pre-war Imperial universities like Todai, Kyodai, Meidai, Kyudai, etc, along with the top private schools (Waseda, etc) constitute the Ivy league and are only marginally affected because even now they get way more applicants than they have spots for. But below that level, standards for entry are getting lower since the schools have a smaller pool of applicants for the same number of spots. For the universities at the bottom of the rankings, especially in smaller prefectures, they have gotten to the point of basically taking almost anyone who applies. A lot of those universities are probably going to shut down in the coming years unless demographic trends reverse.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

I dunno..... even I got accepted into an Ivy League.......

1 ( +1 / -0 )

In Japanese colleges and universities, do students go from classroom to another for different classes or do they remain in one homeroom with different teachers coming in and out, like in the high schools?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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