A Review of the Yamasa Japanese Language School

Summary: The Yamasa Institute Aichi Center for Japanese Studies (hereafter 'Yamasa', which is what absolutely everyone here calls it) is a superb Japanese language school for people who are serious about learning the language. The teachers and academic facilities are very good, as is the support that the school gives its students outside the academic arena. Five stars out of five.


I have just completed my first three months of study at Yamasa, and this review is based primarily on my experiences, which are described in some detail in my Japan Diary. Although I've only had significant experience of six members of the teaching staff, my conversations with other students suggest that they are typical, so I think it is safe for me to make comments about the entire school.

Yamasa was my first experience of formal Japanese study, but I had studied by myself for several years, and thus went into C class in the AIJP, which was Intermediate level. Again, talking to other students makes me think that my experiences are fairly typical of the lower classes as well. There was only one higher class this term, and I didn't get to know any of its members well, so I can't be absolutely sure that my comments apply there. On the other hand, I see no reason to think they don't.


The most important aspect of a school is the tuition it provides. Fortunately for Yamasa, this is one of its strongest points. The teaching has ranged from good to excellent, depending less on the particular teacher than on the particular day, and on the one occasion when our scheduled teacher called in sick, the cover provided was remarkably good.

All instruction is given in Japanese. I gather than the introductory classes involve a substantial amount of pantomime and large numbers of pictures, as well as textbooks that have notes in other languages, but the intermediate classes are pure Japanese. As a result, my listening comprehension has improved dramatically over the last three months, and I don't think the value of working constantly in Japanese can be overestimated. I know a few people who knew no Japanese at all when they arrived three months ago, and they are now capable of using the language, so it clearly works at all levels.

Lessons are highly interactive; students are expected and encouraged to speak and contribute. In fact, our class was told to say more during lessons, and one of the teachers thanked me for being noisy. (OK, that isn't exactly what she said.) Class members are asked to produce example sentences using any new grammar, and most other exercises are the subject of class discussions. There are also lessons focusing entirely on conversation, often in the form of debates. My spoken Japanese has also improved dramatically, largely, I think, as a result of this format. The lessons also use a variety of media, from listening tapes to videos of Japanese television programmes, and cover a wide range of topics.

All of Yamasa's teachers are experienced teachers of Japanese, native speakers, and virtually all have studied abroad. I don't think I've heard a single serious complaint about any teacher. Of course, they are human beings, and thus not perfect, but they all seem to enjoy teaching, and to enjoy teaching at Yamasa. They also seem to be willing to answer questions, and lessons have generally seemed well planned on both the small scale (within the lesson), and large scale (over the quarter). The only real problem is that Yamasa's teachers are almost all female, which is an issue because men and women speak distinctly different forms of Japanese. There isn't, however, much that Yamasa can do about this; virtually all teachers of Japanese everywhere are women. They are aware of the problem, and take steps to stop male students speaking like schoolgirls.

There are small tests almost every morning, checking the previous day's grammar, vocabulary, or kanji, and a number of larger tests during the quarter. We had two, but the report card has space for seven. The tests, however, are probably the weakest point in Yamasa's academic offering. While the classes are highly interactive, the tests are much more constrained, particularly the test administered by the whole school at the end of every quarter. This mismatch means that my improvement, on which my teachers have also commented, has basically failed to show up in the tests at all. Fortunately, this is a minor problem, as Yamasa seems to treat the tests as one source of information among several, rather than as the make-or-break determiner of future placement. My recommendation would be to not worry too much about Yamasa's tests, and instead to concentrate on getting what you want out of the excellent lessons.

Yamasa claims to be the most intensive Japanese language school in Japan. After a quarter, I have to say that this is entirely plausible. At any rate, a more intense school would be very difficult to keep up with. This is a good thing; you pay by the quarter, not by the amount of Japanese learned, after all. However, it does mean that you should only apply to Yamasa if you are serious about studying. If you plan to skip school every other day, another school would probably suit you better.

Academic Facilities

The classrooms are a good size, so they don't feel cramped. If there were fifteen people in a class, the room would feel full, but not really crowded; the tables could be left in a horseshoe with a space in the middle. With ten or fewer, there is plenty of space to spread your papers around. The heating is good; the main problem I've had with it has been students from tropical countries setting it higher than I'm comfortable with. The furniture is fine, although my legs were a bit too long for some of it. (There are few 185cm Japanese.)

The main Yamasa II building (there is no Yamasa I building -- no, I don't know why) seems to be a good structure. Certainly it has all the necessary features -- the roof and windows keep wind and rain out, the toilets all work, the heating and lighting is all fine, and so on. It is also kept clean, although I wish the cleaner would do the toilets just after lessons start at 9am rather than just before.

The computing facilities are good. Some of the machines are showing their age, but there are plenty available, and there are spare ethernet points around to make it easy to plug your laptop into the network.

The network, however, is rather overloaded. You can expect connection speeds equal to a good modem, not broadband interent. Upgrading the network would, I think, be the biggest improvement the school could make here.

Information and Application

The Yamasa website is excellent, containing answers to just about any question you might have. It is also extremely accurate; Yamasa is as described there. The classes really do focus on communication and use, the sizes are as advertised, and the school really does have all the facilities listed on the page. If you are considering studying here, the website should be your first port of call (or possibly second, after this page).

The application process is also quite smooth. There were, as described in my diary, a couple of communication glitches at the tail end of my process, and the 'express' mail service the school uses is no faster than regular air mail, at least not to the USA, but apart from that the forms are clear, the staff in the International Office are responsive to questions, and the school deals with most of the complex immigration bureaucracy for you.

In addition, this year all of the candidates that Yamasa put forward were granted student visas. This is not a trivial point; it means that if Yamasa has accepted you, you can be pretty sure that you will be able to do the course. There can be no guarantee that this will continue, of course, as Yamasa isn't the Japanese Immigration Bureau, but it they do seem to have a good grasp on what the government will and won't allow.

Arrival, Orientation, and Support

The support provided to new students is described in some detail in my diary, but it is worth emphasising that it is very good. The value of being picked up at a railway station and driven to your accommodation cannot be overstated, and similarly the orientation session covers a lot of features of Japanese life that are not at all obvious to foreigners newly arrived in the country. The International Office and Student Services are very good at answering questions, although Student Services is better if you can ask in Japanese. Still, if communication breaks down, they call the International Office, which has native speakers of English, Korean, and Chinese available most of the time.


By far the best thing about Yamasa's accommodation is that it exists. The school owns enough accommodation for all its students, and rents are entirely reasonable. A quick survey suggests that they are certainly no higher than the prevailing market rate in Okazaki, and they may, in fact, be a little lower. However, the rent is not the main advantage. Finding accommodation in Japan is hard if you are a foreigner, and short-term accommodation can end up being very expensive indeed. The fact that Yamasa has its own accommodation means that you don't need to worry about that, and have somewhere to live as soon as you arrive in Japan.

The accommodation seems to be of generally high quality. I'm in Residence U, which is probably the furthest from campus, and the daily walk has been no problem. The provided facilities are good, and include a television, fridge/freezer, and washing machine, all fairly new and in good condition. Again, more details of my flat can be found in my diary.

The main problem with Residence U is that the kitchen facilities are extremely limited. There's a rice cooker, one hot plate, and nowhere to prepare food. (There is a sink, of course.) The single thing that would most improve the flats, in my opinion, is the installation of a work surface to the side of the sink. That could take the rice cooker and a double hot plate while still leaving preparation space, and would make life a lot easier. Nevertheless, I've survived three months in the flat as it is, and this is a minor flaw in an overwhelmingly positive feature of the school.


Okazaki was the birthplace of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the shogun who unified Japan at the start of the seventeenth century. One of the first things he did in life was leave Okazaki. This city is not a hot and happening center of anything.

From a student's perspective, this is largely a good thing. Okazaki is a much cheaper place to live than the Japanese metropolises, and there are fewer distractions from work. In addition, Nagoya is only about half an hour away by train, and the service is frequent and not too expensive, so students who come to desperately miss the big city can get an easy fix. Further, Okazaki is fairly central in Honshu, Japan's main island, making most tourist activities feasible on a weekend. I've done Tokyo and Kyoto already, without too much of an impact on my school work.

Nevertheless, if you want to spend every night clubbing, or want to sample dozens of different sushi restaurants, or live amid historical treasures, Okazaki is not the place for you. If you want to learn Japanese, it's almost ideal. I like it here, to the extent that I could imagine living here permanently -- not a feeling I got in either Tokyo or Kyoto.


Yamasa is great. I'm planning to spend at least another nine months studying here. If you want to improve your Japanese as much as possible as quickly as possible, I can highly recommend it. I would encourage you to study at least some Japanese before you come -- as a minimum, learn the hiragana and katakana -- but that's because you will be living in Japan from the beginning rather than because of any weakness in Yamasa's elementary instruction.

In short, I am very pleased with my choice of Japanese language school, and I have no hesitation in recommending Yamasa to anyone who seriously wants to study Japanese.

David Chart
26th December 2003

Update - April 2004

I've now spent two quarters at Yamasa, and my opinion of the school hasn't changed. The main substantive change is that Yamasa has now hired some male teachers, one of whom is responsible for my class this term, which removes one of the few problems with their teaching provision. I can now recommend the school even more enthusiastically.

David Chart
7th April 2004

Update - March 2005

Today, I graduated from Yamasa. That means that I spent six months longer at the school than I originally intended, largely because I was learning a great deal of Japanese (and enjoying myself). My opinion of the school is still unchanged. My Japanese has improved beyond all recognition, and I made a lot of friends.

One recommendation I would make: keep your attendance at class up as high as possible. If you actually manage 100% attendance for over a year, you get a prize, but the main point is that if you attend the lessons, you will learn a lot of Japanese, even if you do not get all the homework done (ahem...).

So, if you are serious about studying Japanese, I strongly recommend that you seriously consider studying at Yamasa.

David Chart
25th March 2005
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