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Educational Feature: Inside A Japanese Game School

Educational Feature: Inside A Japanese Game School

July 1, 2008 | By Jill Duffy

Andrea Rubenstein had two recent goals in life: to become a fluent Japanese speaker and to find a game development school that would accept her somewhere in Japan. A few months ago, she wrote an article for, "My Search for a Japanese Game School." A follow-up to her story, about what it's like at the school where she has finally begun studying, has just been posted.

In this excerpt, Rubenstein shares some of the differences of the school system in Japan, and mentions a few barriers to being a non-native Japanese speaker in this environment:

"[T]here are some notable differences between this school and a North American university. The most obvious, of course, are the cultural ones, like how at the beginning and end of every class we have to stand, greet the teacher, and then bow. Also, we're divided into classes of about 40 students each with a tannin (sometimes translated as 'homeroom teacher,' but I think that 'main teacher' is more fitting in this case) in charge of us. In addition to teaching most of our classes, the tannin is there to answer our questions; and anything we hand in goes through him first before being collected by the teacher who gave the assignment. The final difference, but possibly most important one of all, is that attendance is important -- extremely important! If we fall below 80 percent on either attendance or assignments, we could be forced to repeat the class or even the entire year. ...

We have six different classes and one 45-minute homeroom period. One of the classes is to learn basic programming. Two of the classes are specifically devoted to studying for the basic certification exams that we'll be taking in October. The other three are what I think of as 'miscellaneous things that are helpful for us to know,' like HTML programming. Homeroom, or 'flex time' as the school calls it, is similar to study hall. After our
tannin tells us the subject of the one-page report due the next class, we're free to do whatever until the period is over. ...

My life now is not really different from what it was when I was at an English-speaking university, but it's not exactly the same, either. My routine hasn't changed, but I don't go out with friends nearly as often as I used to. Granted, part of that is probably because I'm still forming my social circle. It took me about six months to get a solid friend-group in university and it's only been about three months so far here at HAL.

There is also the language and cultural barriers to consider. I'm probably more social than the typical geek, but I'm no socialite. Small talk, which was never my strong suit, is even harder in Japanese. I can sit and listen to a lecture on ER diagrams and linear programming with little problem, but put me in a situation where I have to chat with my friends about minutia, and suddenly all the hard-won Japanese knowledge I've gathered over the past few years deserts me. Still, as with all language skills, the more I use them the better they will get, so I do my best to engage with my friends and classmates as much as I can."

To read more about Rubenstein's life as a Japanese game student, see her article "My Search for a Japanese Game School Part II: Inside" on

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