I have been at Yamasa in AIJP for 3 months now, and have completed the first of a planned 4 quarters here, so I figured it was time to write a review of this school. If you are only planning on being in AIJP for 3 months, this would be it.
Short summary: If you want to study Japanese, study here for as long as you can afford.
Yamasa has several different programs, the 2 largest being AIJP and SILAC. I didn’t do anything in SILAC, so I have no idea what that is like, aside from the students saying that SILAC has an emphasis on conversation and less written stuff.
Yamasa being in Okazaki is fairly significant, since it has a large influence on the experience here. For daily living, everything you need is right at hand. I live in one of the closest apartments owned by Yamasa (Villa I), so my daily commute is under 10 minutes if I walk and hit the light at the right time. Yes, one traffic light between me and school, no trains, subways, suicides or anything to make it exciting. There are about 6 supermarkets within 10 minutes biking of my apartment, so it is possible to get a variety of foods, but the prices might be different from what you are used to. (My diet has switched from a lot of beef to almost no beef and lots of pork, since that is what is cheap.)
The downside to all of that convenience and boringness is that when you want to have fun, there isn’t a whole lot of stuff. The fact that the school has a bar pretty much sums that up. Saturday morning lots of students take the train to Nagoya (名古屋), which with 3 million people has a variety of stuff, but either you make the last train back (0:20), or take the first train (5:30) the next morning back to Okazaki.
The central location of Okazaki means that traveling to most of Japan is pretty convenient. If you you want to go to Osaka, Kyoto, Nara, and Tokyo on successive weekends, your travel time is going to be pretty similar for each of the locations.
AIJP is Academic Intensive Japanese Program, and is a more university style course. Writing and grammar are emphasized, slightly at the expense of speaking. Classes move really fast, so if you don’t keep up with study you are going to have problems.
At 4-6 hours of class a day, this is a very intensive program. When I took Japanese during the summer at CU, that was 3 hours of class a day with instruction partially in English, and I was having problems with that. Here, the teachers only speak Japanese, or pretend such. My class is half Taiwanese, and they don’t necessarily understand English. It is a rule that only Japanese is used in the classroom. That might be an issue in the beginning level classes, so it might be a good idea to take some Japanese classes before coming here.
Class is at least 4 hours every day, with some extra classes sprinkled in that can make a day have up to 6 hours of class in it. You get to choose some of your extra classes, most of which meet once a week for a total of 8 class sessions. I chose Kanji and writing for my first extra classes. I found the Kanji class to be worthless because I have to study on my own anyways, so I prefer to just use 大人の漢字練習 on my DS instead of anything with paper or flash cards.
The level and number of classes offered each quarter depends on the abilities of the students. For example, if none of the students needs to start at 0, but can start later, there will be no beginner courses. That breaks down a little bit at the very top end due to the long tail of ability, but in general people are put in a class matching their ability when possible.
If your level is high enough, you can choose some culture classes, like karate, tea ceremony, or cooking.
These guys are so awesome they get their own section. Yamasa has enough apartment/dorm rooms for most of the students, and handles as much as possible to make things painless. You can pay your rent, tuition, pay for a school trip, get your bills and mail without walking from the counter. Since people spend so much time in school, they recommend that people get mail sent to the school, where the customer service people sign for it and then give you a notice in the hall that you have mail. They also drove me to city hall to get my Alien Registration Card.
If you are looking for a place to study Japanese, Yamasa is a good school that is incredibly flexible. I don’t have experience at another language school to compare Yamasa to, but I don’t regret my choice to study here at all.
(Side note: getting a job as a English teacher in Japan is a way to be paid to be here, but unless you make a very specific effort, is a horrible way to learn Japanese. I had applied to various 英会話 (ECC, GEOS, NOVA about 2 months before they went bankrupt!!) and JET, and the people who I see who have done that for a while only have a fairly limited Japanese ability)