My students admired me to have a chance to study in Japan and I used to have this dream of coming here to pursue an education in comics and animation. But after actually attending the Japanese language school here, I now know that dream and reality is totally different.
Japanese is essential
First of all, to study in any art university in Japan, most will require you to obtain a JLPT level 1 certificate. That's because many, if not all of the art professors, do not understand English well and can only speak Japanese. If you're really desperate and insist to come here, I would highly recommend that you enter into a Japanese school for 1-1.5 years to brush up your Japanese and then apply.
But wait, that's not all! There's the grand entrance exams!
To get into any renowned Japanese art university is definitely not easy. Typical university entrance exam are 3 steps: document screening (with essays), written exam and interview. But for art, it is more than that, you'll have to go through...
1) Document screening of all transcripts, certs, recommendation letters, written essays, etc. +
2) Portfolio submission.
3) If you pass the above, then you can receive the invitation to sit in their written exam that consists of short essay questions +
4) technical drawing/design test.
5) Then finally an interview.
Everything will be in Japanese only. So many steps and requirements for what???
Would I recommend coming to Japan for your art education?
No. Not just because of the language hurdle, but also many art professors insist their students to follow their direction and style. So I find that USA, UK or Aussie will be much better candidates. For those prestigious art universities located within/near Tokyo, lecturers tend to be more cocky and this is one thing I cannot stand, arrogant people. On top of that, they were all men. I could feel gender bias and being looked down upon, just because I am a foreign female student with weak Japanese.
So what will I be studying?
English MBA. I came to this decision after analyzing many art universities and attending their open houses. The art professors always tell me that I need to improve my Japanese and most of them were extremely cocky. So I studied Japanese very hard but at the end of day, do I need superb Japanese to be successful? I beg to differ. It is ultimately your work and how you market that will matter, aside from lots of luck.
Moreover, for comics, let's face it, I'll never be as good as their native speaker. So instead of wasting my time to churn out natural Japanese dialogues, I might as well study how the freelance comic artists here earn a living and build their brand to attract fans.
Getting into an English course would also mean higher chances that the Japanese professors, who conduct English classes, have vast overseas experience, hence more likely to be more open-minded than those cocky art professors with overseas degree.
But if you must risk your life to come, here are the recommendations
1) Tokyo University of the Arts, aka. Geidai: It is the most prestigious art university in Japan. However to get in is near impossible for foreigners. Your Japanese has better be damn damn good.
2) Tamabi: A school with okay-reputation, still well-known locally but not as much overseas. It is located at the outskirts of Tokyo. Another equivalent but better well-known school would be Musashino Art University.
3) Musashino Art University: All professors that I'd met were men and super cocky. If you're a guy, by all means, try this school. This university is well-known locally and overseas, hence the arrogance.
4) Joshibi Art University: I went to their campus outside Tokyo, in a countryside like setting. Their teachers were much more approachable than those universities above. But this school is not as well-known. Because of that, it may be easier to pass their entrance exams. Their undergrad department is only for girls and only the grad department is open for guys.
5) Keio University (KMD-Keio Media Design): My cousin studied PHD here and a few Singaporeans graduated from the masters program too. The school is included in the Global 30 program and so classes are conducted in English. One of their components includes the business aspect, so I had a hard time choosing between KMD or Waseda Business School. I chose Waseda in the end because I wanted to focus on marketing.
Although many foreigners had made it into art universities, I am one of those who see no point in studying Japanese so hard, just to get a further education here. You'll be better off in other countries to practice your art and design without the language hurdle. However if you insist to come, Japan has a lot of innovative products and beautiful package designs to drool at. But make sure you'll have an excellent command of Japanese and lots and lots of cash to burn here.