Aside from stowing away in a friend’s suitcase for Tokyo, getting to Japan is easy. It depends on your desire. Do you want to work, play, study, or tour?
If you’re looking to play in Japan or tour the sights, you could do it the old-fashioned way and buy a plane ticket. You’ll be shelling out around $1,000 for a round-trip ticket–a definite hole in some shallow pockets. The other way to get to Japan is by joining your city’s sister cities program. “My city has a sister city?” Most cities, even the small ones, have a sister city in a different country. I came to Japan for nearly half the cost because the City of Chula Vista did a summer sister city exchange program in Odawara. If you go this route, you’ll be a representative, which means you’ll have some obligations to fulfill before seeing sights. As a representative, you’ll get to see places and things that you wouldn’t see if you were just a tourist.
Bottom line: Try to go to Japan on someone else’s bill.
If you want to study in Japan, there are various programs to try. The first one to try is your own school. Many high schools and universities have a short-stay (two weeks to three months) exchange program or a long-stay (eight months to one year) exchange program. In universities with strong international programs, you could arrange to study for a year in a coordinating Japanese university paying the same tuition for your regular university. Aside from the universities, some places in Japan offer a chance for foreigners to come to Japan simply for studying manga techniques or the Japanese language. These programs, however, are usually limited space and short-stay programs, but they still give you a glimpse into Japanese culture. There are a few programs in schools intended for job placement in Japan, such as Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University. You can also check out my post on manga classes offered to foreigners.
Bottom line: Use the easiest route first and learn some Japanese.
If you want to work in Japan, you’ll have to do one of two things: come to Japan and find work within three months or apply through a program in your home country and get the job before coming to Japan. The latter is easier to do because programs like the Japan Exchange and Teaching Programme (J.E.T. Programme) and the Interact Network provide some assistance in getting your visa and plane tickets and helping you settle into your new home in Japan. Coming directly to Japan and looking for work on a visitor’s permit is more stressful because of the time restrictions. If you arrive after April, you miss the hiring season, lowering the chances of finding a job. If you arrive between January and April, the chances of finding a job is higher since most work contracts end in April.
Bottom line: Apply before coming Japan or arrive before April for the hiring season.
If you want to “accomplish your dreams”, remember that dreams require work. Most young people want to be a manga artist. As Jamie Lano of Jamieism.com suggested, read Bakuman. It’s not as glamorous as most people might think, but if you’re willing to shed some sweat and tears–and maybe blood–you’ll find yourself gaining wholesome experiences.
Bottom line: Look before you leap, and work for your dreams.