This post introduces key Japanese words and idioms you should know to better understand university life in Japan!
留年 (りゅうねん, ryūnen)
In Japan, if you fail many exams at university and cannot meet certain requirements, you have to do 留年 and repeat the same year, e.g. take first-year classes again in your second year. This is called 留年 (ryūnen) in Japanese, which literally means “stay (留) year (年)” and figuratively “to repeat the same year at school”. Instead of “留年する” you can also say “ダブる (daburu)” in a casual conversation, which is loaned from “double” in English.
The conditions of 留年 depend on each university, but a lot of universities set the minimum number of units to earn for each year, and if you fail to meet the requirement, you have to spend one extra year. This means that if you run short of only a few units, it’s gonna be a monumental waste of time (although you can register as many subjects offered in your year as you wish). Some universities also specify certain subjects as a prerequisite for advancing to the next year, and if you fail these subjects, you end up doing 留年 no matter how much units you obtain in total.
Some students are lazy enough to do 留年 multiple times, and that’s called N留, where N denotes the number of times they do 留年 (e.g. ２留, ３留). Many universities set the maximum number of times you’re allowed to do 留年, and if you go beyond that limit, you are made to leave the university without a degree, which is often called 放校 (ほうこう), meaning “be thrown away（放） from school（校）” .
I repeated a year and caused lots trouble to my parents (because of the extra tuition fees)
２留 (にりゅう) したから大学(だいがく)に合計(ごうけい)６年いた
Because I repeated the same year twice, I was at uni for 6 years in total.
留学 (りゅうがく, ryūgaku)
留学 (りゅうがく) means “study abroad” in Japanese. It looks like 留年, but they are different like chalk and cheese (月とスッポン). Here, 留学 means “to stay (留) in a foreign country and study (学)”, whereas 留年 means “to stay (留) in the same year (年) at uni”. However, if you want to do 留学 while you are studying at university in Japan, you usually need to either apply for a leave of absence or do 留年 in your university; this is because many universities in Japan are not willing to transfer units across universities in Japan and a foreign country, and even if you go on an exchange programme offered by your university, you may have to spend one extra year to finish your degree.
Types of 留学
- 短期(たんき)留学: ‘short-period 留学’ (~1, 2 months)
- 長期(ちょうき)留学: ‘long-period 留学’ (6 month~)
- 交換(こうかん)留学: ‘exchange programme’
- 語学(ごがく)留学: ‘study abroad at language school’
- 正規(せいき)留学: “official study-abroad”, i.e. “get enrolled in a university overseas as a full-time international student”
I want to study in Australia.
Many Japanese people mistakenly believe that you’d be able to speak English fluently once you study abroad.
* ペラペラ: speak a (foreign) language very fluently
サークル means “(university) club” and comes from the English word “circle”. As its name suggests, “circles” at university in Japan are usually very cliquey, i.e. people belong to the club rather than join it*. Therefore, most university students in Japan join new “circles” only when they are in their 1st year, and keep hanging out with the other members in the same club (you can think of it as a small village or something).
* This is one of the biggest differences I’ve found between universities in Japan and Australia (and probably other English-speaking countries, too)
On the other hand, 部活 (ぶかつ) also means “a club at school” but it is usually much more serious and competitive than “circles”. For instance, if you join a sports 部活 at university in Japan, it’s likely that you must participate in trainings almost everyday.
I belong to three uni clubs at the moment.
* 掛け持ち: Play multiple roles/Join multiple groups (e.g. club acts, part-time jobs) simultaneously
You need some courage to join a new uni club in your 2nd year.
赤点（あかてん, aka ten）
赤点 (akaten) literally means “red scores” and figuratively indicates any scores that are less than a minimum score required to pass an exam. For instance, if the borderline is 50, any scores less than 50 is regarded as 赤点. Although this term may sound a bit old-fashioned now, it is still well-known among Japanese people.
I told you not to get “red scores” (to fail)
I managed to avoid “red scores”
≒ I was barely able to pass the exam.
年生 (nensei), 回生 (kaisei)
As you may know, N年生 means “N-th year student”, where N denotes the year/grade at school, e.g. 一年生 (いちねんせい) means “first year/grade students”. At universities in Kansai, however, 回生(かいせい) is more commonly used than 年生, e.g. “一年生” becomes “一回生 (いっかいせい)” in Kansai.
I hope I can make 100 friends when I become a 1st year student.
(This is a famous lyric of a Japanese song about 1st graders at primary school)
I haven’t been to the club oftentimes since I became a 4th year student.
* 回生 is used only at university (not at other schools) in Kansai
* へん means “ない” in the Kansai dialect
See also: Essential Grammar in Kansai Dialect (関西弁, Kansai ben)
大学 (だいがく): university
大学院 (だいがくいん): graduate school
学士 (がくし): Bachelor
修士 (しゅうし): Master
博士 (はかせ, はくし): PhD
学部 (がくぶ): department
- 工学部 (こうがくぶ): department of engineering
- 文学部 (ぶんがくぶ): department of literature
単位 (たんい): unit
単位パン (“unit bread”)
A cream bun sold at some universities in Japan for students who are in dire need of help to pass the exams and avoid 留年.