Basically, I've decided I want to get back to chasing my dream after a few years of searching for boring part time jobs and undergoing serveral quarter-life crises. I don't really have the money to play around with school any longer, so I've realized I've gotta just jump in and do what I've wanted to do since elementary school. No more making decisions to please my parents; this is my life now!
I took Japanese each year in High School, and of course we've got Jpod101, but I'm not quite at the JLPT N2 level yet so I want to go to a Japanese language school to further study with the added benefit of total immersion. After that, I've got my sights set on a few vocational schools where I want to study game graphics and character design. Before the debbie-downers chime in to tell me that the art industry in Japan is a living hell, it's the same basically anywhere to be honest if you're serious about it! I'm not worried about that at all!
Unfortunately, I'm pretty much flat broke, and while I might be able to get another job in the months between now and next April (though it'd probably be sooner than that), this stuff is pretty expensive and I'm pretty sure without financial aid I'm stuck. I know about the MEXT scholarships, but of course they wouldn't cover all of it. I wonder how plausible it is to try and get tuition paid for for the most part (I am planning on getting a part time job while studying, but I'd rather not live so dangerously). Has anyone done this before? I'm totally willing to walk a thousand miles barefoot if I'm able to do this! Does anyone know about scholarships that are offered for artistic merit?
Also, about the EJU... am I going to have to take that before entering a Japanese language school? And if so, is there any sort of financial assistance I could receive for travel expenses (as it's aparently never held anywhere near the states)? Or is it possible to take the JLPT instead (they're holding one about an hour away from where I live in December)?
There's just so much information here and I'm extremely overwhelmed. I wish I hadn't dismissed the idea when I was in high school, but I was pretty convinced that I wouldn't be able to go anywhere. Now I'm more confident; much more confident!
I've been wanting to do something very similar and have the same issue (lack of adequate funds), but still have yet to make it to Japan, let alone a language school or vocational school. However, I have done tons of research on that path and while I am positive I don't know everything, I may be able to help a little.
The criteria for getting into vocational schools as a foreigner are pretty much all the same or similar. Here is an excellent website detailing that information: http://www.tsk.or.jp/ryuugaku-en/3_study.html I would recommend taking the JLPT; however you do not have to take it in order to go to a Japanese language school. Some schools (NOT language schools) will require you to take the EJU regardless, or if you haven't taken the JLPT, I think, but that may be just universities.
As for financial aid, MEXT will only help you if you are within the age limit (for example, I just barely missed application dates for the 2014 Specialized Training College app and couldn't apply for 2015 because I had already turned 22) and I don't think you have as much control over the school you go to. JASSO seems to be the one that's easier to get, but tends to be for students coming for university students (for exchanges and such). There are some other options, but you have to spend a lot of time digging through the internet to find them. I have some links saved, so let me know if you want those. Some language and vocational schools will have some kind of financial aid/scholarship you can apply for. That largely depends on the school, of course. They usually apply to current students who have good grades and attendance, though I think a few are specifically for international students.
For artists, a lot of what I (also an artist) have found is grants and residencies rather than scholarships, so I think your best bet (and mine, lol) for art-related funding would be contests. There is a manga contest I know of, and also a couple of essay contests that you could try. You could also try fundraising.
My plan for now is to keep improving my art, language skills, and connections here in the U.S., and God-willing, take the step to Japan once I have enough saved up and I'm ready!
What schools were you wanting to go to, by the way?