As an exchange student in Japan, there are many easy ways to make friends and expand your social network. Based on my experiences, I’d like to share with you some of the best strategies that worked for me and others around me.
Find a part-time job (baito) –
Having a part-time job is not only a way to earn extra money, but also a great opportunity to make new friends in Japan. Convenience stores such as 7-11, Lawson and Family Mart, as well as food and beverage chains such as Sukiya, Tullys and Excelsior Cafe have a long track record of employing foreign exchange students. However, a certain level of Japanese language proficiency is required.
Another great place to look is at English language conversation schools or cafes. These are casual set-ups, where your job is to converse and socialize with the customers in English. Not only do you get to have extended conversations in a more personal, intimate setting, but these schools and cafes often host social events and parties where you can get to know people who are actively looking to make international friends.
Join a university/school club (bukatsu) –
At schools and universities extra-curricular club activities are an excellent way to enhance your overall experience of Japanese life and meet people on campus. These can range from sporting clubs to cultural and art clubs, as well as social activism and community service clubs.
When it comes to the sporting clubs, there are usually two types: the official ‘athletic association’ or taiiku kai, and the more casual ‘circle’ or ‘saakuru’.
The former has very strict rules and will have compulsory practice almost every day, whereas the latter is less demanding and will have a more flexible training schedule, usually once or twice a week.
You can find information about all the clubs your institution has to offer by checking online or asking for information at the student services office.
Join an academic seminar (zemi) –
In universities, each department will have different academic seminars or specialized study and research groups, run by professors. Not only is it an opportunity to further study a specific topic that interests you, but it is also an excellent way to socialize with and better get to know other students from your classes.
Again, you usually will require a certain level of Japanese proficiency, but depending on the institution and department, there may also be seminars carried out in English. There also tends to be an admissions test to enter these seminars, but it’s not unheard of for these to waivered for exchange students.
These are just a few of the ways to make friends as an exchange student in Japan, but I would say they are the easiest, as they are readily available and fit well into the lifestyle of an exchange student.
It’s important to create these opportunities yourself, as people in Japan are less likely to make the first move and start a conversation. Not only will you make more friends, but you will also gain a more authentic experience of student life in Japan.
By KR Svich