Hitting the Books in Hikone

You have questions, we have answers… Sort of. In the spirit of Halloween, here’s a post designed to trick and treat you! There’s a lot of fake and real advice written below – see if you can tell the good from the bad.

After spending three hours in the classroom every morning learning Japanese, the next thing every student wants to do is find a place to sit and study for the rest of the day.  Forget eating out, traveling the country, or visiting local temples. It’s all about you and your textbook!

So where can you go to get your learning on? If you thought you could just sit down in the middle of the road and flip through some flashcards like you can back home, think again! Japanese society frowns on interrupting traffic for studying, even when you have a test the next day. It’s just one of those cultural adjustments you’ll have to get used to.

And it’s not just the street—here are some other places you shouldn’t go to study in Japan.

  • Inside a train
A mostly empty train, and the sunset viewed through two windows
Too much distracting scenery, for one

It may seem like the perfect place, since there are lots of native speakers around to help you out, but this one’s a no-go. It turns out that people don’t like being interrupted on their morning commutes before they’ve had time to properly wake up, or during the evening, when they’ve had too much time to go drinking all night. On top of that, Japanese trains are so well-made that there’s very little shaking inside the car to jostle your papers around. Recent studies have shown that students with the most disorganized study guides consistently score higher on tests, so you should find somewhere a little more jolting (like a taxi cab during rush hour) to get your studying done.

Trains aren’t a good place to study because they are often quite crowded and you can’t guarantee a place to sit. If you’re commuting in the middle of the day when the car’s not too crowded, however, feel free to bring out your textbook. Just don’t forget to pay attention to the station announcements!

  • Public libraries
A dragon plush leans against a shelf of "My Father's Dragon" books
Libraries are for books and books alone!

This is a no-brainer—it’s hard to concentrate on studying when people are enjoying books all around you. There’s something about all that excitement over literature that’s just too distracting. Instead, try a university library! No one goes there to actually read, so you’ll be able to practice pronunciation, rehearse a speech, and listen to conversation recordings in peace.

Studying is generally not allowed in public libraries, but university ones are fine with it. You do actually have to be silent, though, as most people are there for the same reason.

  • At the top of Isozaki Shrine

Any pros to this one are far outweighed by the cons. On one hand, you’ve got the sacred power of the god on top of the mountain to imbue you with determination and good luck. On the other hand, the strong winds, steady stream of pilgrims, and dizzying heights don’t add up to the most conducive of environments. Also, the days get shorter pretty fast in Japan, so you may find yourself without any light to read by earlier than you’d expect. And while the god in the shrine might wish you well, it may not be willing to help you practice your speaking skills! Try an onsen instead, where your textbook will be safe from the wind and the bathers are happy to help you conjugate your verbs.

Climbing mountains and visiting shrines are great ideas for a day off—not so much for a study session. And people are often willing to chat at the onsen, but don’t bring your books!

At this point it might seem like all of Japan is against you. Not allowed to study in a train? It’s like they don’t even care if you pass level 1 Japanese or not! But never fear. There are plenty of places where you’re allowed and even encouraged to study, and all of them are within biking distance to JCMU. Especially the first one.

  • JCMU dorm building lobby
“Studying” hard in the lobby

Ah, the lobby. Long tables, comfy chairs, a vending machine, and a microwave? It’s almost like home! And home is just upstairs. Tons of students do their studying together in the JCMU dorm lobby, which is just noisy and cold enough to bring out the best in everyone! Need a buddy to explain today’s reading to you? Need to interview a Japanese friend about their favorite teachers? Need to spend all your money on coffee and corn soup from the vending machine? The lobby’s the place for you! There’s no heating, though, so you might want to bring a blanket, a parka, a space heater, or a small campfire along to stay warm.

The lobby is seriously cold, but it’s also a popular place for students to get together and work on projects, chat, plan trips, and play games. So grab your books and a blanket and head downstairs.

  • Starbucks

Starbucks Japan is like a library, but cooler. Just remove all the books and add dozens of unique drinks, friendly baristas, ambient music playing, and comfy chairs to relax in. It’s a popular spot to camp out with a Japanese textbook. The one downside to Starbucks is that if they see you visit too often without buying anything, you might get pressed into working to pay off your debts! What exactly they’re charging you for is unclear, but every few years a student gets caught and has to spend a few weekends making coffee. They say it’s a great way to improve your language skills, though.

Starbucks is one of the few cafes that encourage studying in Japan, as most of them are too small or formal. With no danger of being forced into servitude, you’re welcome to study and sip on exclusive Japan-only beverages at your leisure. 

  • Beisia’s second floor
Looking out over a parking lot towards a lake on a cloudy day, with part of a store's light-up sign obscuring the view
Peek out from behind the sign for this beautiful view of Beisia’s parking lot

After filling your shopping basket with discount produce, instant miso soup, and Pokemon-themed bubble gum, head upstairs to the coolest loft in town. The second floor of the Beisia/Cainz supermarket is set up with tables and chairs lined up against a huge window facing the lake. There are massage chairs, too, but you’ll have to fight the ojiisan for those. There are vending machines for drinks and snacks, not to mention a claw toy machine, which can act as a reward between study sessions! There’s no wifi, but that just means that your loving family back home won’t be able to distract you while you cram for the big test. Small rags are available at every table, so if you (like this author) spill a cup of milk tea all over yourself, your homework, and your groceries, you’ll be able to mop it up under the watchful eyes of the other customers.

Spills aside, Beisia’s second floor is a little-known spot for studying, which means that it’s often quiet and undisturbed. It’s also got a great view and one of the cheapest vending machines in Hikone.

Now that you know where to go and where to avoid when it’s time to hit the books, you’re sure to ace every test! After all, it’s less about how you study than where you study. There are enough positive vibes in the dorm lobby that you could probably learn the whole book without even opening it! If you decide to test this theory, please let us know how it goes.


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