This week is exam week on my current Japanese course and so I should really be practising 漢字 (kanji) right now. After all there are 2000 to learn if I want to consider myself fluent. So far I’m on about 30…

'My first kanji'

For the last week I’ve spent each morning studying at the Arc Academy in Ikebukuro, a college that I signed up for straight after arriving in Tokyo, on the somewhat arbitrary basis that it’s main office is next door to where Mio works. Most afternoons I’ve spent ‘moonlighting’ at other colleges around Tokyo, attending free ‘trial lessons’ in a search for the ideal place to begin a full three month course in the New Year.

The teaching was great at Kai Academy but my class was about 90% Western and felt too much like a home away from home. It was also about ¥30,000 more expensive than equivalent courses.

Human Academy seemed better, with a good mixture of Asians and Westerners and a real buzz about it. Unfortunately though the classes at my level are in the afternoon, which would make finding a job difficult.

Both schools were also running 4 hour a day courses, with lots of homework, lots of students and a real classroom feel to them. So much so that during the trial lessons I really did feel like I was back in school, with attendent class jokers, a bit of ‘push and pull’ with the teacher and ‘break times’ spent going for fags or to the 7/11 for junk food. This could maybe be good for my social life but I dont’t think it would be much good for my Japanese.

This same type of atmosphere put me off the other more ‘intense’ courses that I trialled at Arc Academy.

So in the end I’ve made up my mind to stay where I am in Ikebukuro. The classes are shorter but they’re also smaller, which means more time to speak with the other students and to sensei – in Japanese. The teachers and other staff all seem really helpful and friendly. It’s quieter and feels a bit less ‘social’ than elsewhere but the students are for the most part on long-term visas and seem really keen to learn. It’s also cheaper and will allow me more flexibility when I start looking for work in the New Year.

All the searching wasn’t wasted time though. If nothing else, it got me some free ‘top-up’ lessons and a chance to explore some new areas of Tokyo including Takadanobaba, the ‘birth place’ of Astro Boy, where you can find him taking time out from his position as Japan’s envoy for overseas safety to do what seems to be some recycling awareness raising…




In the end, what I’ve really realised during my search for the perfect college is that there’s actually only so much that I’m going to learn in class, especially when it comes to kanji. Two hours of focussed study each morning should help keep me motivated and give me some structure. The rest is going to be up to me, a teach yourself kanji book and many hours spent in a near-meditative state squiggling shapes in a notebook. Sounds like fun.

On which note I should probably get back to my studying…