Whether you want to pursue interests (such as zen meditation, anime, or Japanese cooking), travel to Japan, improve your career prospects or simply eat real sushi or ramen, knowledge of Japanese will be very useful.
If you’re still on the fence about learning Japanese, read on to learn about this fascinating language and why it’s not as hard as it seems.
Fully Appreciate Japan’s Cultural Creations
Japan is a creative country, churning out anime, manga, j-pop, j-rock, novels, video games, and films like no other. Japanese arts like gardening, calligraphy, cooking, karate, and pottery are also famous around the world.
To experience this culture, most of us rely on translations. However, after a certain point, that simply is not enough. After all:
- Translations never fully capture the beauty of the original language.
- Translations take a long time to come out. So if you know Japanese, you can watch your favorite anime before it gets subbed (or worse, dubbed). Or if you’re into Japanese novels, you can learn to read in Japanese before they are translated (if that ever happens).
Learning the language would also let you understand the country behind all these cultural creations. For example:
- What about Japan made it possible for the likes of Murakami Haruki to write his internationally bestselling novels? Or for Akira Kurosawa to become one of the most influential filmmakers in cinematic history?
- Why do so many famous video games, like Pac-Man, Pokémon, and Final Fantasy, come from Japan?
- And what explains Marie Kondo, the expert on tidying up voted Time Magazine’s “100 Most Influential People”? What do Japanese people think about her?
Just think: How cool would it be to not only enjoy your favorite Japanese content in its purest form but also to understand the cultural circumstances that made it possible?
Travel to Japan
Whether you want to …:
- Relax in the serenity of a bamboo forest or a shrine nestled in a mountain
- Get a glimpse of life as a ninja, samurai, or the emperor
- Revel in the fleeting beauty of cherry blossoms
- Hike Mt. Fuji to see the sunrise or see a sumo wrestling competition
- Take a cooking class or experience a traditional tea ceremony
… speaking Japanese will help you make the most of your trip to Japan.
The language barrier can be a real problem when traveling to Japan. While many Japanese people speak English, they lack confidence and shy away from lost foreigners asking for directions.
And unfortunately, your translation app won’t be much help. (Just check out these horribly translated restaurant reviews.)
Learning Japanese will allow you to:
- Read restaurant menus and signs at tourist destinations explaining what you should and shouldn’t do.
- Book local transportation yourself. (Say goodbye to overpriced travel agencies!)
- Find the most authentic restaurants by searching online in Japanese.
And worst comes to worst, you’ll be able to ask a friendly Japanese person some questions without scaring them away!
Improve Your Career Prospects
While Chinese gets a lot of attention these days, Japanese is still one of the top languages to know for business.
Japan is the world’s 3rd largest economy and the largest investor in the world. And the continued impact of Japanese companies on the world is undeniable.
Just think of all the Japanese companies you know: Panasonic, Uniqlo, Toshiba, Sony, Toyota, Honda, Nikon are probably just a few.
Because of the few people who speak Japanese outside Japan, companies that wish to operate in Japan will welcome you with their arms wide open if you speak the language.
In addition, due to the relative lack of bilingual talent in Japan, you’ll also have a huge advantage in the Japanese job market, if you choose to “try your hand” there. It has also become easier for foreigners to find work in Japan due to the country’s labor shortage.
So whether you want to work for a company trying to expand to Japan, sell Japanese products abroad, or find employment in Japan itself, knowledge of Japanese will help your career.
It’s Not That Hard
Lastly, Japanese isn’t as hard as people say it is.
Learning any language is a long-term commitment, and motivation is the key to success. In other words, how much do you want to master this language?
As an old Japanese proverb puts it, suki koso mono no jozu nare (“you become good at what you like doing”).
So you’re better off learning a “harder” language that you actually like and have good reasons for studying. (Yes, “buying limited edition game consoles from Japanese websites” is a good reason.)
And there are actually many aspects of Japanese that make it easy to learn. These include:
- The presence of many English words. For example, hear how the Japanese call kitchens キッチン (ki-chin) and computers コンピューター (kom-pyū-tā).
- Simple grammar. Unlike European languages, which have a ton of tenses, Japanese only has two: a past tense and a tense for the present and the future. Also unlike European languages, Japanese grammar rules have very few exceptions.
- Easy pronunciation. Unlike in English, where the letter “a” can be pronounced seven different ways, each letter in Japanese only has one pronunciation! Japanese also has way fewer sounds than most other languages.
As a result, linguists believe that spoken Japanese is relatively easy to master.
Plus, Japanese is a gateway to other East Asian languages. Studying kanji (the characters in Japanese) makes Chinese much less painful, and Japanese grammar gives you a head start with Korean.