IUC Series: The IUC Summer Program

The Inter-University Center for Japanese Language Studies has two programs, the intensive summer program and the intensive 10-month program (I use this word for both because there’s really no denying that the 10-month program is just as serious business as the summer one). Like the year program, the summer program aims to provide an environment well-suited to the study of advanced Japanese. But unlike the year program, there are not subject divisions by field or numerous electives to take. Rather, there is a heavy emphasis on reading comprehension, vocabulary, and practical spoken skills. In this article, I would like to address some important topics concerning the summer program, including whether or not the summer program is right for you and what the coursework itself is like.

Photo by Alissa Murray

Should I do the summer program? Is the summer program just for people who need extra work before the 10-month program?

When applying to the IUC, you’ll find the Center cautions students that although they may be admitted to the year program, some people could be required to attend the summer program prior to admittance because their Japanese is not quite up to speed. This leaves some questions about the proficiency of students and the suitability of the summer program for many who feel they may not need the extra work (or just want to take the summer program independently).

I was a first year MA student when my Japanese professor suggested I go to the Inter-University Center. I had four years of Japanese at undergrad (using the Yookoso textbooks for the first two), one year of intensive summer SPEAC (level 4) using JSL, and was enrolled in the Japanese fifth year independent study level. My professor told me that IUC was the next logical step in really improving my Japanese, especially for research. She suggested I apply for the year program, but told me that I didn’t need the summer program because my level was already high enough.

Of course, like most people, I was not that confident in my Japanese, and though I was flattered that she thought I was good enough to skip the summer program, I definitely wanted to apply anyway. Applying to both, I took the entrance exam required for the 10-month application and found that I was not required to take the summer program, but I had been accepted should I choose to go. In my case, I had also been awarded a Foreign Language Area Studies (FLAS) fellowship that would have funded my summer stay. There was no question that I wanted to go: I thought I needed the extra review, I would be able to get established in Japan long before the 10-month program started, I would have more time in Japan to travel or network,  and I knew I was going to be funded.  It was an all around win.

But what was the situation once I actually attended?

Although the IUC uses the summer program to help prepares students who need more study before the 10-month program, that is not its primary function. Many people take the summer session with no intention of going on right away to the 10-month program, if at all. Typically people either

1)      were required to take the summer program
2)      wanted to take the summer program independently for intensive study
3)      wanted to get a good refresher after having already done the 10-month program, perhaps several years ago

It was also the case that some students of the 10-month program stayed on during the summer after their time at the IUC to do extra research, but I can’t speak to the details of that or the process of applying to do that.

The classes were also split into different levels of proficiency. Although there is no official acknowledgment that classes are divided by how advanced your Japanese is, from my own observation during my time in the program there seemed to be about six classes divided into roughly three levels of proficiency.

One group of classes contained students who were required to take the summer program. These students started off their work with review of grammatical patterns like causative (使役), passive (受身), and causative-passive (使役受身). They got through a handful of chapters in the taigū hyōgen 待遇表現book on polite expressions (which we do all of during the 10-month program). So far as I know, they used different reading materials than the other classes, though this is likely subject to whatever professor runs your particular class.

I was placed in what I can only assume is the mid-level proficiency group. These classes included people who were doing the summer program independently as well as those like myself who had the option of not taking the summer session before entrance into the 10-month program, but chose to anyway. We worked from articles from the beginning, did lots of speeches and discussion activities, and completed the entire taigū hyōgen 待遇表現book.

Lastly, there were also classes more advanced than my own. They began using the same materials as my class did, and also completed the taigū hyōgen 待遇表現 book, but about halfway through the summer picked up the pace significantly and broke off into more advanced reading/grammar materials.

One feature of the summer program is that you don’t trade off classes/classmates like the 10-month program does on a quarterly basis. Because of this, you may not get to know people in the other classes well unless you’re particularly outgoing, and I therefore can’t give specifics about what others students did in their coursework. Though I can’t provide details, I do know from friends that there were definitely classes more and less advanced than myself in the summer course, which indicates that the summer program offers sufficient opportunities to improve for advanced-intermediate as well as advanced learners. Thinking your level is too high or too low shouldn’t deter you from applying; there’s something for everyone.


As I mentioned before, the summer program is different from the 10-month in that you don’t trade off or mix up classes with other students, and there are also no electives. Instead, you have a single class that ranges from 6-8 students that you see every day, with morning sessions from 9:30am – 12:30pm five days a week, and an afternoon session 1:30pm – 2:30pm, with Fridays off for afternoon field trips to museums, temples, gardens, archives, or other various locations. You also get ten minute breaks between your classes.

The English-language IUC website says the following about classes:

The morning sessions of the Inter-University Center’s summer program are focused on advanced spoken Japanese. The objective is to acquire the ability to naturally, correctly, and appropriately express thoughts and opinions. Written and computer-based text materials are used, as well as video documentaries, commentaries and movies.

The afternoon session is devoted to conversation, field trip classes, and kanji. Three times weekly, students engage in discussion focused on a variety of topics during a one-hour conversation class. The objective of the class is to improve fluency through free discussion on various topics. Teachers moderate and encourage participation, and introduce the use of appropriate expressions.

Obviously depending on what level class you’re in and who’s teaching it, the content will vary.

My daily experience was as follows:

Morning Session 1 (9:30 – 10:30)

–          One student gives a 5 minute speech, the class has 15 minutes of discussion
–          Spend 15-20 minutes discussion recent news (we were required to watch the first 20 minutes of NHK news every night and report on one or more of the topics in class)
–          Vocabulary quiz

Morning Session 2 (10:40 – 11:30)

–          Read articles
–          Review grammar items in articles
–          Review vocabulary in articles
–          Discuss article content

Morning Session 3 (11:40 – 12:30)

–          Taigū hyōgen 待遇表現 (Polite Expressions) textbook
–          Role playing exercises in formal/humble expressions

Afternoon Session (1:30 – 2:20)

–          (M, T, W) One student acts as discussion leader on a controversial topic (having sent discussion questions to the class the night before) – moderates discussion for the entire class
–          (Th) Review/discussion of kanji and vocabulary
–          (F) Fieldtrip

This is roughly how the summer program classes were run for me. In addition, you’re encouraged use your free time to practice SKIP (Special Kanji Intensive Program), a collection of all the daily use kanji broken up into 143 chapters with accompanying quizzes.

At the end of the summer program there is also an oral presentation. You prepare a 10 minute speech with the help of your professors and then the students of all the classes are (at last!) mixed up into several different classrooms. You give an oral presentation before your peers and professors and field any questions they might have.


The Inter-University Center recommends that summer students use monthly mansions for their brief stay (see Karen’s article on this), but it may be cheaper to find a homestay in the area (this is what I did; see my article on choosing an unaffiliated homsetay) or find someone subletting for the summer via the Tokyo area craigslist, GaijinPot, or any other number of options. If you’re also doing the year program, you might think about getting your own apartment or finding something else long-term.

For me, the summer program was a fantastic way to work on things that needed reviewing as well as learn new grammar points and tons of new vocabulary I might not normally encounter. Watching Japanese television regularly really helped me get familiar with the language and style of news media (which I probably wouldn’t have taken the time to get into otherwise while in the states) and the polite expressions textbook especially is something I consult all the time. Also, there’s enough flexibility in the schedule and from the teachers themselves that you can pursue research or networking on your own time as well. Being in Yokohama also gives you the benefit of a very multicultural area with a lot of international business and close proximity to a wealth of museums and other resources near Tokyo. If you do the summer program before the 10-month, you’ll also have a month’s vacation between the terms to travel, research, or do whatever else your heart desires.

Whether your proficiency is just below where you need to be to enter the 10-month program or you’re advanced enough to be working at a much faster pace, the Inter-University Center’s summer program will keep you on your toes and give you lots of opportunities to improve your Japanese during your stay. I highly recommend it! If you have any questions please leave a comment or shoot us an email at shinpai.deshou@gmail.com

About Paula

Paula lives in the vortex of academic life. She studies medieval Japanese history.
This entry was posted in applications, graduate school, housing, language schools, living abroad, main posts, program review, study abroad, summer program and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to IUC Series: The IUC Summer Program

  1. Pingback: IUC Series: 10-month program (Part 1) | What can I do with a B.A. in Japanese Studies?

  2. Pingback: IUC series (final!): Former students – Where are they now? | What can I do with a B.A. in Japanese Studies?

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  4. Alex says:

    Hello and sorry I am leaving comments and question all over the place. Do you know if you are required to take the summer program could you deny it and still be accepted into the 10 month program? The reason I ask this is because the dates for this summer’s program is between June and August which I assume will be similiar next year. Because I work on the JET program I would have to break contract two months early to do this. While it is possible I would really really prefer not to do this (and not leave a bad last impression on my co-workers after 3 great years). Do they take into consideration such cases? I would rather struggle through the first few months of the program then have to break contract with my schools.

    Again thank you for this blog. It is providing so much information for me to think about.

    • Paura says:

      This is actually a question about which I am unsure. My gut feeling is that they might be flexible, given that you are in Japan and probably working with/getting exposure to Japanese, but I cannot be sure what their policy is. If you contact the program and they get back to you with their policy, please let me know in case someone asks again! 🙂

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