Studying abroad is such a unique experience, and I feel like I was able to get the most out of my time by studying through IES. The program staff in Japan were fantastic, and they held regular events to help us explore the local area and culture. These included trips to nearby cultural or historical landmarks, such as the big Buddha statue in Kamakura or the shrines in Asakusa, as well as kabuki theater and a glass-blowing shop where we made our own Japanese-style wind chimes. I definitely recommend participating in as many of these and similar events as you can.
The school I attended, Kanda University of International studies (KUIS) or 神田外語大学, was also special and helped my time in Japan be as amazing as it was. As a foreign language school, everyone at KUIS is required to study English. While the majority of students are of course not yet fluent, this meant that they were overall more comfortable in speaking English and, more importantly, more eager to interact with overseas students and make international friends. I came in with several years of Japanese study already under my belt, and improving my language skills was probably the biggest reason I decided to study in Japan. I was very glad to attend a school where everyone was excited to talk to me and would be more than happy to help me with my Japanese when requested. I was easily able to make many close friends who I still keep in touch with.
In terms of housing options, we could either do homestay or live in a dorm or an apartment. Students were on average probably 45-60 minutes away from the school via train and walking or biking; this commute was a little tiring every day, but that's not too bad for Japan, and you get used to it. I personally lived in the apartments, and I really enjoyed it. It gave me more freedom than the dorms or homestay (I didn't have a curfew, for instance), and it gave me the chance to cook more and explore the local cuisine rather than being on a meal plan in a dorm. I had a single, with two other people (local Japanese people) living in the same apartment, but they mostly kept to themselves so it honestly felt like I was living alone sometimes. This was nice at times, but I had also hoped to be able to talk with them more and become friends. From talking to my other friends living in the apartments, this seemed to be a somewhat common experience.
My main complaint about the program would be the classes; in particular, the three-hour lecture-based classes were often tedious, and I felt like most of the classes didn't cover their topics as deeply as I would have liked. The required Japanese language course was an exception - I improved my language skills a lot, and the teacher was extremely helpful. I wish we had learned a bit more kanji, but the class focused on mostly grammar, vocab, and speaking, which, in my opinion, are probably the most important aspects of learning Japanese. Other classes could be boring at times, but the workload was very manageable and left plenty of time to enjoy the local culture.
Overall, my study abroad experience in Japan was definitely the best time I have ever had in my life, and I would recommend it to anyone.