Why I’m Not Attending Doshisha University’s Center for Japanese Language

A new semester of classes begins this month at the Doshisha University Center for Japanese Language. I can speak Japanese fairly well, but it's all self-taught so I could certainly benefit from some formal study. I thought I'd take Japanese classes at Doshisha, since it has a good reputation.

But I won't be attending classes because the paperwork to apply was just too daunting. It's not that it was bordering on the ridiculous, but way past ridiculous.

As one might expect, the application includes basics such as:

  • Name, address, place and date of birth.

  • If currently in Japan, visa status.

  • My “home country address” (okay, I don't know what that might be, since my home country is Japan).

  • A 20,000 yen (about $190) application fee.

  • Information about any previous Japanese-language study, if any.

  • Info about my educational background.

  • Self-assessed Japanese and English abilities.

  • “Declaration of Japanese-language Proficiency”

  • 3-minute audio cassette or MD, in Japanese, on why I'm applying.

  • Written essay on why I'm applying.

  • Written essay on what you plan to do after attending Japanese-language school.

  • How I plan to come up with the funds.

I can understand most of that, but some of the stuff they require is just, well, ridiculous:

  • My entire educational background, starting with my elementary school (which I finished 30 years ago, mind you).

  • The name, age, and address of all family members (“including married brothers and sisters”). How is this at all relevant?

  • List of all previous visits to Japan, with copies of my passports. Uh, I've entered Japan at least 40 times in the last 20 years, and had to have pages added to my previous-previous passport. If I have the old passports, and if I can find them, it would take me hours to compile the list of dates that I was in Japan. Why is this relevant, and why to this level of detail?

  • A certificate of health filled out by a physician, including chest X-ray results and eyesight. This is just silly.

  • Occupational experience & military service. I washed dishes for Casey's Restaurant 25 years ago — will that help my application?

  • Since I'd be paying myself, I'd need to produce copies of my bankbooks, a “Certificate of Employment” (whatever that is, it'll be tough because I'm self employed), and all Japanese tax records for the previous year (which would also be tough, because I've not had to file taxes in Japan since 1996).

    Uh, why can't I just produce the money to pay for the year? I have a few bank accounts here, but most of our money is in The States. One bank account here that's in my name (as opposed to Fumie's name; Japan doesn't allow joint ownership) has about $25,000 in it — more than 5× the yearly tuition — yet I was told that might not be enough to make them feel happy, and so I should produce proof about whatever money I have in The States. Wow.

  • A “Letter of Guarantee,” filled out by my parents in Ohio, assuming both financial and moral responsibility for me while I'm in Japan. (I'm 40 years old, don't forget.)

  • My high-school and college diplomas. Not copies, mind you, but the original diplomas. I know that I have my college and grad-school diplomas in storage somewhere in The States, but I have no idea whether my high-school diploma (from 22 years ago) even exists.

  • Full transcripts from my grad school. How are transcripts for classes in computer science completed 19 years ago really relevant to my study of Japanese today? I'm 40 freaking years old!

  • Five identical photographs. I can't fathom why they need even one. Is beauty a pre-requisite? (If so, it's just as well I didn't apply.)

  • The “Declaration of Japanese-language Proficiency” mentioned above is something that would cause me trouble, since it must be filled out by an instructor of Japanese or a diplomatic or consular official of the Japanese government. I've never studied formally, so who would I get to fill it out? It's silly, anyway, because it's so very vague, using a “Poor, Fair, Good, Excellent” rating system that's completely dependent upon the writer's frame of mind. I chatted for half an hour with someone in the school's office, in Japanese, who said that my Japanese was excellent — why can't she “declare” my ability?

I suppose I could scrounge up most of what's required if I really wanted to, but the ridiculousness of the whole thing really turned me off.

Can anyone suggest good Japanese-language classes in Kyoto at a school that wouldn't treat me like a child and would be willing to accept my money?

All 6 comments so far, oldest first...

What are your goals for learning Japanese? Figuring that out will go a long way in helping you decided what kind of course — and therefore *which school* — you should choose. Kyoto really does have quite a few, but each one seems to have slightly different focus.

I have first-hand experience with the “Japanese Class for Students from Non-Kanji Background” course at the YMCA (Sanjo building), and recommend it highly. Our instructor was phenomenal. It’s primarily designed for getting your kanji up to speed for the Japanese Language Proficiency Test in December (the application deadline for this test on Sept. 5, BTW). From what I’ve heard, the YMCA’s ‘daily’ classes are targeted toward students looking to matriculate at Japanese universities.

When I was looking for classes, I originally visited the Kyoto Japanese Language School (www.kjls.or.jp) since it’s right near my house. It’s a five-minute walk from the Doshisha’s Imadegawa campus (I assume that the kindergarten is located there). While I haven’t heard any really negative comments about the school, when I visited there, I was quite turned off by the drab atmosphere (think: very typical Japanese school) and the difficultly I experienced trying to get the staff to supply me with a good reason why they would be the best choice. I’ve talked to a few other people who believe that my experience was an isolated incident — the result of a lackluster staff member. I’ve heard other comments from acquaintances that the curriculum seems to ramp up too quickly from the beginner-to-intermediate level. The last comment I’ve heard is that much of the assigned work is reading/memorization-based, which makes the classroom/instructor presence seem moot. The same person wished that there were more opportunities for discussion and strengthening of verbal conversation skills. Like I said, I have no first-hand classroom experience there, and all of my information is hearsay, so take it all with a large grain of salt.

While I don’t have the time to be taking lessons every day, if I did, I’d choose the Kyoto Japanese Language School, and that’s given all of what I’ve just written. Even after my previous experience, I think that they are probably quite professional.

You’re at a little bit of a tricky time — it seems that most schools are starting in about a week. You might have to move on this faster than you feel comfortable.

Side note: Standford’s Kyoto Center for Japanese Studies has been restructured/moved/merged into Columbia’s Kyoto Consortium for Japanese Studies. Their campus has been moved to Doshisha Univ.. I’m not sure how/ if it’s related to the Doshisha program you’ve mentioned above.

— comment by dan (also in kyoto) on September 3rd, 2006 at 9:17pm JST (16 years, 3 months ago) comment permalink

What? They left out the critical Navel Lint Inventory, certified under notary by a Licensed NLI officer, and posthumously signed by your Great Grandmother on your mother’s side. Shheesh. Talk about loosening standards and letting just any schmoe who has enough money to pay for lessons learn!

— comment by Marcina on September 6th, 2006 at 12:19am JST (16 years, 3 months ago) comment permalink

My first thought was to wonder if all the paperwork has something to do with the number of Chinese “students” who enrol and then dissapear into the work force, never attending classes and overstaying their visa. But then I realized this sort to paperwork fetish is quite typical in Japan.

The certificate of health, including x-ray results, is pretty much standard I thought. I have had to do one each time I changed jobs in Japan. I guess that, being self-employed, you don’t have to do the mandatory yearly health check. Every year us salary-men are subjected to the blood/urine/chest xray/cardiogram, etc checks. And the old buggers past their mid 30’s get optional extra checks, like a camera down your throat.

— comment by Peter on September 14th, 2006 at 7:23am JST (16 years, 3 months ago) comment permalink

I would call that “traditional Japanese paperwork”. I had the same nightmare to go through when I was filling out my monbukagakusho scholarship application. It actually took a significant amount of time to track down all the irrelevant data they needed (and pay for expensive blood tests so they could know what type I am; apparently that’s not a normal test anymore because it’s so meaningless). After that, I was kindly informed that the deadline had been moved back a month (with no notice to anyone, “blame Tokyo”). *sigh* beauracracy.

Personally I would suggest writing to them mentioning that you have cash, a visa, and that you’re over the age of 30. They will probably be able to handwave some of the paperwork (or you could do it yourself, how are they going to check).

Anyway, interesting article 🙂

— comment by Jonathan Rockway on September 14th, 2006 at 7:38am JST (16 years, 3 months ago) comment permalink

I recently finished collecting a very similar collection of documents for Keio University’s language program. Chest X-Rays, AIDS tests, and academic records back before I can remember. Here is the kicker, there is only one week in October when they will accept the registration documents. I will be in Europe for the entire month of October. I called to ask if I could send the documents early, its not like they have to do any extra work just let it sit there until they are ready to review it. Nope not acceptable! So I have to bring all the crap to Europe and then find a DHL office while I am in a small Belgian town with less than 4000 people. I am expecting this will require a drive to Luxembourg or Brussels. I tried to explain this to Keio, and they said people who don’t follow the application procedures properly will have their applications discarded. So wish me luck…

— comment by Michael Menichetti on September 16th, 2007 at 9:43am JST (15 years, 2 months ago) comment permalink

hmm. interesting article.
anyway i was offered by my instructor to be an exchange student in doshisha. the application form that necessary i think make sense, but they need a proof that my parent have bank account about US10,000 as my guarantor. besides i was told that was a scholarship program.. do you think its normal? to who was in scholarship program that must have such amount of bank account?
actually my parent not complain about that, but after i heard from the one who has experience other ryuugakusei program which not as much as dodai required..

anyway i really glad if i can go to kyoto, the place that i wishing to go 😀

I think they want to make sure you’ll be financially self-sufficient while in Japan, so that taxpayers don’t have to support your. But that’s just a guess. Good luck! —Jeffrey

— comment by inna on October 23rd, 2009 at 2:20pm JST (13 years, 1 month ago) comment permalink
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