From ritual tea ceremonies and graceful gardens to the world’s first high-speed train and modern skyscrapers, Japan is an innovative society steeped in ancient culture. The Japanese people work hard but keep active and entertained, participating in activities like kendo (Japanese fencing), kabuki (theatre), and even baseball. No wonder Japan is one of the most popular study abroad programs.
As an AFSer, you’ll have an unparalleled opportunity to dive into Japanese culture and live with a host family while attending a local high school. Japanese society places high value on education, so your academic experience will be rigorous. You will probably wear a school uniform, which AFS will help you purchase second hand if possible. Be ready to get peddling, as most students commute to school on bike, often several kilometres a day.
Your local chapter may organize activities throughout the course of your study, which may include parties or excursions to other cities or regions in Japan. Also, over the course of your program, AFS staff and volunteers will meet with you at orientations to evaluate your experience and help with your cultural adjustment.
Japanese is the official language of Japan. The ability to speak Japanese is not a prerequisite for the program, but a year or more of formal study is strongly suggested. We highly recommend that you learn as much Japanese as possible prior to departure.
Host Family & Community
You can be placed anywhere in Japan, yet most placements are located in suburban and rural areas. About 50% of placements are in rural areas, 40% are suburban placements, and the remaining 10% are urban.
Host families in Japan, like all AFS host families worldwide, are not paid. They open their homes to students in order to share their community and culture as well as to enrich their own family lives.
Japanese people do not call attention to themselves; they try to blend in and are notably polite. Teamwork, cooperation, industriousness, loyalty and consensus are core Japanese values.
Family is the foundation of Japanese society, bound by a strong sense of position, obligation and responsibility. Early on, Japanese children learn to forgo personal gain for the benefit of the group as a whole, and to value group harmony. Seniority is respected, and Japanese children are taught to hold their elders in the highest regard. Parents tend to keep a close eye on their children’s behaviour, and high school students are rarely allowed to go out after the evening meal.
Because the country’s major cities are among the most crowded in the world, living space is limited. Even in tight quarters, though, Japanese homes manage to blend ancient customs with contemporary conveniences. Some families sleep on futons, sit on cushions and eat at low tables. When one enters a Japanese house, they leave their shoes at the doorway and will wear slippers provided by the host. Only socks or bare feet are allowed in the rooms with tatami floors (straw mats). There are even special slippers just for using the bathroom.
Japanese teens devote themselves almost entirely to schoolwork and extracurricular clubs that fall into two general categories: sports (baseball, soccer, judo, kendo, track, tennis, swimming, softball, volleyball, rugby, etc.) and culture (English, broadcasting, calligraphy, science, mathematics, yearbook planning, etc.). Clubs meet nearly every day for about two hours. Japanese teens also enjoy going to movies or shopping as a group on weekends.
Food is art in Japan, and your host family will most likely prepare some amazing meals. The Japanese diet consists largely of rice, noodles, fresh vegetables, fruit, meat (mostly pork and chicken) and seafood. Meals are eaten with chopsticks. Rice and green tea are part of almost every meal. Nowadays, Western style dishes are also served.
Those who request special foods, prepare separate food for themselves, or raid the refrigerator are frowned upon.
AFS Japan doesn’t accept strict vegetarians, so please be flexible in your dietary restrictions; acceptance to the program will depend on the availability of families willing to host students with dietary restrictions.
It is illegal for people under 20 years of age to drink or smoke in Japan.
In Japan, the school year begins in April and ends in March. This means that if your program departs in spring, you will arrive in Japan in the middle of the school year and you will be enrolled in the second term of the year. If you depart in autumn, you will begin the first term of a new school year.
Most public schools have classes five days a week. Schools start 8:30am and end at 3-3:30pm. Each class averages 35-45 students. Some private schools also have classes on Saturday mornings. Schools have mid-term and final exams.
School uniforms are required and the volunteers in your host community will try to help you find a second hand uniform from a local “uniform bank.” If you are not able to find one second hand, please budget RM500-RM1000 to purchase a new uniform.
Coloured or dyed hair is not allowed at school. Boys must keep their hair cut short and be clean shaven. Tattoos and piercings are unacceptable in the school setting.
The most common way to commute to school is by bicycle, so be prepared to ride several kilometres each day if necessary.
Orientations & Activities
In addition to the orientations that you will participate in domestically, you and your fellow AFSers will have several orientations while abroad.
These required orientations are intended to help you maximise your AFS experience, prevent culture shock and to gain knowledge, skills and a global understanding.
In addition to the orientations, many local chapters organise activities for students and host families throughout the year. These will vary from chapter to chapter but may include get-togethers or excursions to other cities or regions in Japan. Unlike the orientations, these activities are optional and are not included in the program fee.