When I first arrived in Japan, my Japanese language skill was completely zero. ‘Konnichiwa’ and ‘arigatou’ were the only Japanese words I knew at that time (I’m still surprised on how I survived my first 2 weeks). My research advisor was very kind to allow me to enroll in the intensive Japanese course. So I spent the first half year here as a Japanese language student at the Institute for Liberal Arts in Tokyo Tech.

Sakura blossom on Ookayama Campus

As it is an intensive course, students who take it will have to spend 3 hours in the morning from Monday to Friday for about 4 months in the class. There are 2 levels; A and B. Before you begin the study, you will have to do an interview to test your language skill. Don’t worry about it. I didn’t understand anything as well so I was put in the A class. The students in class B are expected to know Hiragana and Katakana, able to greet, make a sentence and could explain their daily life beforehand.

In class A, the sensei walked us all through basic Japanese. At the end of the course, students can continue to the Intermediate 1 class if they wish to learn more. The class started with learning the two Japanese syllabaries (Hiragana and Katakana). Then move on to lessons on greetings, simple conversation, grammars, as well as vocabulary. There were only 6 students in my class, so we were able to practice speaking to one another intensively.  

What I really liked about the class was that it was not only a language class but also a cultural one. The course included several class outings. I remembered the first one we went to Todoroki Valley in the autumn. You may never have heard of it before but Todoroki Valley is a nice hidden walking trail along a small river with a temple and a bridge inside the small forest. It’s located near to our university.

Another interesting one is a one-day trip to Kamakura, the old capital of Japan. There we were accompanied by a volunteer guide who introduced us to a long history of the city, tales and beliefs about the temples we visited.

Class outing in Kamakura

In addition, as most of the students who took this course are very new to Japan, in one of our class meetings, they brought us to the Life Safety Learning Center in Ikebukuro for us to learn more about the natural disaster. Since Japan is situated in the ring of fire, earthquakes occur frequently. And it was very important to the new comers (me for example! as I never experienced earthquakes before coming to Japan) to learn how to prepare ourselves in that kind of situation. The visit included trying a simulated earthquake experience which was very exciting.

Proudly showing off our works during the Japanese calligraphy day (That’s me at the back row, third from the right)

Apart from the outings, there were some cultural activities as well. We learned Japanese calligraphy and origami (paper folding art), that was really quite an enjoyable day. As a Thai person, I had never done calligraphy before. My handwriting was very bad (see below picture for reference). I chose to write 永(ei/eternity) because it was the easiest one.

In the origami class, we did Kusudama origami which is a paper model that is created by combining several units of small pieces of origami together. It was the coolest origami I have ever made!

Origami Class (If you want to create this at home, follow this instruction

One of the most amazing days was the day we visited the Japanese elementary school near Tokyo Tech. We attended the class with the students, played games and joined the lunch hour with them. I felt like I traveled back in time to when I was 11 but this time attending a Japanese school. I remembered we were really excited to meet the students and it was absolutely a great experience. We were exchanging cultures and languages. The students tried to talk to us in English and we tried to talk to them in Japanese.

Visiting nearby elementary school

 Before the end of the course, there was a Poster Presentation Day  where we were able to meet the students from the elementary school again in our campus. This time they came to listen to our end-of-class poster presentations in Japanese and asked us questions.

Me on the Poster Presentation day

I never regret taking the intensive Japanese course at Tokyo Tech. I was amazed with how my Japanese skills had developed through the course of 4 months. At the end of the course, all of us could read hiragana, katakana and about 100 Kanjis. We are able to explain our daily life, and make conversation in Japanese. Moreover, the series of  activities we attended in the course was a great introduction to Japanese culture and a life in Japan. It makes me enjoy Japan more than ever before. I strongly recommend this course to those who are new to Japan and the Japanese language if you want to ramp up your Japanese skills in a short time. 

Additional note : For those who are interested to join the course, find more information on http://js.ila.titech.ac.jp/~web/intensive.html.