I hate to be the one to break it to you, but majoring in Japanese might just be the worst thing you can do for your career. Sure you love Japanese and majoring in the language seems like the perfect way to spend your years in college, but is it really worth it? Do you know what you’re getting yourself into? Maybe it could work for you, but it’s certainly not going to work for everyone.

1. You Might be Better Off Studying on Your Own

self-learner“I’m… I’m learning!”

I think many would assume that if you major in a language, you’ll be pretty awesome at that language after four years of study. This is completely false. I had four years of Japanese language study at college, and even spent 10 weeks abroad studying in Kobe, Japan. However, by the time I graduated, my Japanese skill was about that of a preschooler, maybe worse.

This is not due to poor study habits or anything like that. I was a pretty good student, and I actually enjoyed my Japanese classes so I really tried hard and also tried to make the most out of them. But the thing is, most classroom Japanese just goes too slow and you really don’t learn all that much considering how long you study it. Of course this depends on the school and the curriculum, but I feel this to be true on the whole. I think I learned the most when I was actually in Japan just talking to people – not in the classroom doing lessons.


Therefore, as far as learning Japanese goes, you might just be better off studying on your own, going at your own pace, and learning Japanese the way you want to, learning the Japanese that is helpful, interesting, and useful to you. At the very least, you should be supplementing your classroom Japanese with your own self-study. Use WaniKani, or Textfugu, or Anki, or just anything that works for you. You need to supplement. Do not expect to become fluent in Japanese just because you major in it.

Some people need the Japanese classes just to have that motivation and a definitive schedule for learning, and I can understand that. But if you’re really going to learn the language and have it be beneficial and worth it, you’re going to need to put in plenty of study time on your own, outside of the classroom.

To be honest, you really don’t need the classes at all and could be spending that class time learning something more valuable instead. But if you do find yourself in a Japanese classroom, make sure you make the most of it. Remember, your Japanese fluency is up to you and you alone.

2. Other Languages are More Useful, for Business Anyway


Photo by think0

In the 1980s and 1990s, learning Japanese was a great thing to do for business. Japan was starting its worldwide takeover, and knowing Japanese made you super-duper employable for the business. These days French, Chinese, Spanish, Arabic, and even Russian and Portuguese are all languages that rank higher than Japanese as far as being useful in the business world. Japanese just isn’t as valuable as it used to be.

Japanese is still very popular though, because, well, Japan is awesome. Some people want to learn Japanese because of all the cool anime, manga, and video games that come out of Japan. Other people just love the language and the culture and some even want to live there. I don’t blame them. But if you want to learn a language to be successful in the business world, you can certainly do better than Japanese.


Now, I’m not trying to say that Japanese is worthless for finding a business job – not at all. There are plenty of jobs to be found at Japanese companies such as Honda and the like, I’m just saying that you might have better success with one of the other languages given the competitive job market these days. Plus languages like French and Spanish are easier to learn than Japanese, but more on that later.

3. Limited or No Jobs

unemployment“Did you guys major in Japanese too?”

Speaking of finding jobs, the job market really sucks for Japanese majors these days. Sure you can teach English in Japan (which is BS, btw) through a program like JET or something, but where are the advancement opportunities there? Plus, you don’t even need to know Japanese for most of those teaching programs!

You could also teach Japanese, but you’re not going to be able to teach past your skill level, and as we covered in #1, the skill level of the average Japanese graduate probably isn’t that high. And since it’s not that high, you’re not going to be able to get jobs like being an interpreter, translator, or anything cool like that. Also, there really aren’t too many job opportunities for you if your Japanese is your only marketable skill, but again, more on that later.

4. Debt

student-debtStudent debt is a huge, rotten issue. Depending on your parents, your school, and if you have any scholarships or work during undergrad, you can graduate with no debt, or a lot of debt. If you graduate with a lot of debt, you’d be best off landing a job that will pay you a lot of money. Most likely, whatever job you get with your sub-par Japanese (as per #1) isn’t going to be all that great or pay that well.


Photo by David Horsey

Being in debt sucks. Life and everything in general is just so much more stress-free and easy when you don’t have to worry about debt. I don’t know about you, but if I was in debt, I’d want to get out of it as soon as possible. Now, I’m not saying that you should do something you hate but pays well just to get out of debt – it’s just something to think about. Think of your future and plan accordingly.

5. It’s Hard

broken-brain“Japanese gone done broke my brain!”

I’m sure you’ve heard it before and I’m sure you’ll hear it again. Despite what some may say, Japanese is still pretty hard comparatively. I’ve studied both French and Spanish before, and let me tell you – it’s so much easier to get the hang of than Japanese, especially for a native English speaker. The biggest part for me is just the writing system. If it was just the speaking part, I don’t think it would be that bad. It’s the written Japanese that’s the killer.

Learning Japanese isn’t for everyone. If you’re going to try and conquer the problem mentioned in #1, you’re going to have to tough out how hard Japanese is to master and work hard on your own to become fluent. If you want a job, and a job that pays well, expect to work really hard at mastering Japanese. Unless you’re a language savant, it’s going to be a rough journey. Probably.

Times When Majoring in Japanese Would be Okay

approvedIn my opinion, there are at least two cases when majoring in Japanese would make sense and be okay for someone to do. Those two things are: you’re really good at it, or you major in something else too. First, let’s explore why being really good at Japanese would make majoring in it acceptable.

You’re Like, Super Good at It

really-goodIf you’re really good at Japanese and you love it so much that you study your brains out on your own time and really devote yourself to the language, there’s a good chance you’ll be super good at it by the time you graduate. Maybe you’ll even be so good you won’t have to deal with the intermediate plateau. Maybe you won’t even have to do anything. Good job.

Since you’re fluent, or near fluent in the language now, you’re much more employable. You can teach at a higher level, get jobs in the government, be a translator, an interpreter, or anything else of the sort.

Since most people aren’t at this level when they graduate, you’ll be head and shoulders above the rest, and that’s great. The only problem is – you don’t know if you’re going to be good at Japanese or have what it takes to really study your brains out for those four years before you actually start doing it. So like I said before, if you’re planning on going this route and you want to succeed and make money, be prepared to stick it out and really dedicate yourself to the language.

You Have Other Useful Skills

Mastery-CalculatorThe other reason why you might consider majoring in Japanese is if you already have another marketable skill, or if you’re majoring in something else (that’s useful) as well. This way, even if your Japanese isn’t that great when you graduate (like mine) you’ll still be able to find a job and get dat money, son.

My undergraduate journey was kind of a wild one (six years long with many major and minor changes), but by the end of it, I graduated with a double major in Japanese and Economics with a minor in Engineering. If I had just majored in Japanese, I would probably have a terrible job right now, but I don’t. I get to help out with all this Tofugu stuff, and for my day job I work as a Chemical Information Specialist. It’s pretty great.


Majoring in economics gave me tons of writing practice, and I’m sure all that practice helped me land this position with Tofugu. Plus, I worked IT for three years in undergrad and I love computers, so it was really easy for me to get the hang of WordPress and all the other tech stuff going on behind the scenes here on Tofugu/Textfugu/WaniKani. If Japanese was all I was really good with, I probably wouldn’t be here.

Same goes for my other job. My computer skills and engineering mindset helped me land this position, and I don’t even use any Japanese at all. If all I knew was Japanese, I would most definitely not be where I am today. Plus, for most jobs I interviewed for after I graduated that had a Japanese requirement, my Japanese wasn’t good enough. Take Honda for example.


After I graduated, I applied for a position with Honda at a large research and development facility. The position was an IT position, but this was no problem since I had three years of IT experience under my belt from working at my university. However, they also needed someone who could help troubleshoot the machines of the Japanese employees who would be more comfortable talking things out in their native tongue.

Everything went great until the Japanese part. It was actually really embarrassing. While I never really felt super confident in my Japanese ability, this really made it crystal clear that my Japanese just wasn’t up to snuff and that my college courses really didn’t prepare me for landing a job where Japanese competency was needed. Needless to say, I didn’t get the job. They even cited my lack of Japanese competency as the reason why.

In Conclusion

be-preparedSo the bottom line is: be prepared. If you’re not really, really good at Japanese and you don’t have any other useful skills, life after graduation might just be abysmal for you. So don’t put all your eggs into the Japanese basket unless you’re confident that you’re going to be the most bestest Japanese speaker that there ever was.

If you know you’re not going to be that awesome at Japanese by the time you graduate, do yourself a favor and develop some other employable skills as well, or double major, or at least make Japanese a minor and choose a more lucrative major. But that’s just my two cents. Everyone is different and opportunities and lucky breaks are bound to happen, so things might work out for you even if you don’t agree with how I feel. You never know!


And just to be sure, I am in no way trying to put anyone down or make anyone feel bad and I’m certainly not trying to tell people to not follow their dreams. I’m just trying to get you to think about the best way to achieve them. I have some friends who really regret majoring in Japanese, so I’m just trying to get you thinking about things so the same thing doesn’t happen to you if you’re considering it. I want you all to succeed and be happy!

So tell me, are you majoring in/thinking of majoring in Japanese or have you graduated with a degree in Japanese already? How was finding a job? Share your stories, tips, and advice in the comments below and maybe you can help someone else out on their journey! Thanks!

  • Jon

    Woo! Go engineering! I’m trying to become an aerospace/aeronautical engineer myself.

    I think you should consider writing an article on normal employment in Japan for foreigners. Perhaps something about the main occupations that attract foreigners (besides teaching foreign language and being in the US military). I’m sure some of the engineering companies desire a few native English speakers, as long as their Japanese skills are good enough.

  • Nityananda-rama Dasa

    I have found a way to major in linguistics, minor in anthropology and still have time to fit in all of the Japanese classes my school has to offer. I am too lazy to study on my own TT-TT

  • MrsSpooky

    I’m studying on my own. It’s my hobby and I love it and it keeps me mentally active plus it’s a rush when I understand the anime I’m watching or I can actually read what’s written in Japanese. Granted, I’m not at all fluent and my reading is pretty basic, I can tell when I’m making progress and that’s FUN! Plus, I noted on a couple online resumes in the hobbies and leisure activities section that I’m learning Japanese. So far I’ve gotten two job inquiries because of that. Neither one paid anywhere CLOSE to what I’m making now, and at the time (this was a couple years ago), my Japanese would not have been good enough.

    I like this article. It’s always good to be realistic about these things.

  • Flora

    Learning Japanese isn’t THAT hard – I learned the grammar in about six months, all the kana in one month, and I’ve been studying kanji for almost a year now. And that was all through self-study.

    That being said, I’d love to take classes if I could; you might learn faster through self-study, but group study can help smooth out the rough edges of your progress & point out mistakes you missed.

  • Paladin341

    Do you think double majoring in Japanese and Anthropology would be bad? I’m also considering minoring in Computer Science because I lack 1 class. I’m always worried about something like this John, what would be your advice? I’m close to graduation though. I’ve taken Chinese course last semester and considering studying abroad in Taiwan as well.

  • Amy

    Wow this really gave me a wake up call although I’ve read some similar things on the internet. At the moment I’m 15 and I’m just tired of studying the compulsory subjects at school. Japanese is the only thing I enjoy studying and I wanted to continue it at university. My other strength is ICT. I’m learning Spanish too but I don’t really enjoy it. I know that I probably won’t be fluent enough to become an interpreter or translator in a company or something. Lately I’ve been thinking of other jobs that I could do but I can’t seem to think of anything else but teaching english. Even that I don’t want to do. So now I’m just stuck.

  • Rikke

    I’m currently 2nd year student of Japanese, but I haven’t really learned THAT much more of the language, than I believe I could have taught myself anyways. I’m still improving way more by my own studies, than those I get from school. School also kills my motivation to improve and study Japanese, because it’s made into lousy mandatory work.

    Also, uni has some Japan-related subjects that I have absolutely ZERO interest in, but HAVE to take and even write reports in.
    I’m seriously thinking of dropping out – my only problem is that I wouldn’t know what else to do.

    Really, all I wanna do is speak Japanese. I don’t wanna be a Japan-specialist.

    Good Lord, I’m so tempted to drop out… Take a year off (or drop out entirely), WWOOFing, finding out what I want with life, go back to school. Perhaps.

  • Michael Warren McDonald

    I think you’re missing one major point–when majoring in anything you will always have draw backs. Example, I am a non-religious person majoring in religion, but that doesn’t mean that I am limited in only religious knowledge. When majoring in Japanese, I am sure there are more skills being developed other than just the Japanese language. To be in such a major, you have to have dedication, time management skills, and other marketable traits. Most Americans change their careers multiple times in their life. With that in mind, college students develop more skills than what is on the surface of their major.

  • Koichinist

    Chemical Information Specialist? From that minor in Engineering? Really? :)
    Very insightful post, John! :)

  • Jupiter Bullet

    yep. Some people just drown their passion in anime or manga and think they can make it through the language too. Well, reality hits hard when your pronunciation is weird and you can’t bring yourself to love the kanji and the language. Some people I know graduated after 4 years in University with no love for the language and their Japanese isn’t being helpful in job searching, not even in raw manga reading.
    Love your no.1 article. I had the same thoughts. I quit my university too when I was studying English because I found that the pace is too slow and the words taught didn’t seem useful, not even to waste time with. Language is not something you learn, it’s something you need to be passionate about to keep yourself amused to dive in deeper and deeper as you grow.

  • Fina Pon

    Yes, Tofugu-staff, please write an article on “normal” employments, like IT or engineering postions. Whenever I try to find anything related to job offers in Japan for foreigners, all there is are English-teacher positions.

  • PianoFish

    If you a) really love Japanese and can’t think of anything else you would want to devote 4 years of your life to and b) really want to go to university then go for it. See if you can find a double major course in Japanese and computing, that would be awesome! (I know at least one exists in the UK because I got a place but was talked out of taking it.) Bear in mind that a degree has merits outside its own field, universities are constantly banging on about transferable skills and a lot of people don’t end up with a job which requires their specific degree whatever they study – there is no degree that guarantees you that related job, whatever the universities might try to convince you! In fact the only one of my friends to get a job straight out of uni in her field of study did music, one of the worst for direct employment prospects.

    I’m not saying you absolutely should do Japanese but you need to think carefully and definitely don’t pick something you don’t really like because you think it will get you a better job. A friend of mine studied law and I saw far too many people either change course after a year or drop out altogether because they’d only done it either for the (theoretical) money or their parents/teachers convinced them it was a good idea. They hated it and essentially wasted a year’s time and tuition fees.


    Any time you turn a passion into something that has limits, things usually end up poorly.

  • Joel Alexander

    That’s because that IS basically all there is. Most Japanese firms are much more likely to hire a native speaker.

  • Joel Alexander

    I’m studying Japanese as a part-time diploma at uni – currently in the summer break between the second and third (of three) years. And yeah, I have to admit, whenever I try to actually use my Japanese in a real situation, it often becomes horribly clear how much I still have to learn. Or how much more practice I ought to be doing.

    I do, however, already have bachelors in physics and mechatronic engineering, so it’s not like I’m relying on my Japanese.

  • SaraWyatt

    I got the same advice from a career counselor back in the day (late2005 lol). He told me it’s better to take Chinese because we’d be doing a lot of business with China in the future. True dat. But, I got so mad at him. I went on a rant about how I was already learning Japanese and they’re completely different languages and cultures and how I was good at it and how I’d be good enough to be an interpreter/translator some day. hahahaaa Poor guy. I was very passionate, but it didn’t matter anyway. There were some complications (life) and I never got to follow through. Yet. Nowadays it seems I’m more of a language hobbyist (or opportunist). I move from language to language depending on what’s most relevant in my life at the time and what’s available for me to learn. I went from German->Japanese->Korean(for 5sec)->Italian->Spanish. It helps with Jeopardy if nothing else. For a while (several years) I felt it was the end of the world if I couldn’t study Japanese at school. I still adore it, but I just can’t see getting very far without moving there and it’s hard to move there and work unless you’re a professional of some kind. And, really, /there/ is where it’s most relevant.

  • Emily

    I’m about to be 3rd year into a Japanese major and feeling the same way about the benefits of self-study! I don’t think I’ll drop out entirely, but reading this article has made me seriously consider changing my major to a minor (thus eliminating the boring, mandatory papers!)…

  • SaraWyatt

    I feel the same way. I’ve been looking into schemes which would allow me to float around the world for a while without a penny to my name. I came up with cruise ships. Also, some countries, like New Zealand, are welcoming to farm workers in general because their youngsters are runnin’ off to find better jobs. I like the sound of this WWOOFing thing. Thanks for bringing it to my attention. :) Good luck! It’s never too late to return to school. ;)

  • Drew

    Like Will Hunting once said:
    “You just wasted 150 grand on an education you could’ve gotten for a dollar in late fees at the local library.”

  • Ruben

    There is a lot of stuff to learn when you want a good degree, for me there is no need to push japanese violently into my brains as well.
    But I love the language…it’s fun ! So I take it easy. Learning the language on my own is the best option.
    Maybe I would learn the language faster in Japan, but when I go to Japan I suppose there will be a lot of other stuff beside learning the language (housing, employment if it’s for a longer time,…) to take care about ! Not a good option to stand in the middle of a japanese speaking world and think, “maybe my japanese has to improve in order to survive this”.

  • Rikke

    No worries! WWOOF is really a nice organization. Take a look at their website ;)
    You work for for board and lodging, so you “only” have to pay for transportation, yourself.
    I have this pink, fluffy dream of living as a rurounin for about a year, just going wherever, finding people to live with and work for, and if I get tired of it, I just move on!

  • Rikke

    Yeah; my problem is I wouldn’t know what to use the Japanese for… I don’t even know if I want a job that requires me to have a degree in Japanese. I really don’t know what I want…

  • Michael

    Yeah, i knew that would have been a bad idea before I even read this. Why are schools everywhere so against actually teaching the language in a way that will help people speak it? It’s like a conspiracy.

  • Nick Haupt

    The colleges I’m looking into don’t even offer Japanese as a major, but I’ve been interested in getting a minor in it. My majors were always going to be related to the fields I want to go into, and my minors useful skills I wanted on the side.

  • oh dear

    Well…this made me feel much ”better” >_>”

  • AJ

    Interesting article… It made me think about the cons and pros that I wasnt aware of. Thanks dude~ ^J^
    American Ju Jitsu started my big interest in the language and culture in Japan, although when I was younger, I was obsessed with saying the word “Japanese” if that counts (after I started learning about the culture in 2nd grade lol). Haha.. ><
    Studying on my own, trying to make things fun.. Like trying to sing any Japanese song that seems momentary fun to do so, like the epic convience store song. Although my major is computer graphic design, and I wanna be a mangaka (and if i fail, video game designer lol).
    Uhm… This is my 6th year teaching myself, and I speak decently (I suck at speaking lol). I am o.k. at writing as long as it is no more than 1 page then my writing starts to suck even though it already looks like a preschoolers hand writting, and im proud. Haha. Although I can read manga in its original format (YAY~~!). :D

    I wrote lots, opps. whatever. gomensai.
    sugoi no desu ka.

  • SaraWyatt

    Yeah, I like that dream. I’d like to spend at least a few years of my life like that. I don’t really want anything except the ability to travel, the time to read as many books as I want, and to learn as much as I can before I die. Working outside would be nice. I like fresh air, gardening, and animals. I’ll check the website and see if there’s a farm in Ireland or Japan in need… then start saving money! Maybe I’ll find a husband and get to stay longer, who knows? heh heh heh

  • Ali Muskett

    This is a really interesting article. I never even considered studying a language at university, let alone majoring in one, but for the last couple of years I have been wishing that I had studied Japanese. I’ve found trying to fit in Japanese around work etc is just too hard, and I wish I could focus on it more. But you do have a very good point about jobs, and about the fact that majoring in Japanese won’t necessarily make you fluent.

  • HatsuHazama

    Hell yeah! It’s my ambition to become an engineer living an working in Japan someday as well, though I’ve not decided on specialisation (even though I have ages to decide).

    Aerospace is definitely one of the cooler ones in my opinion though.

  • HatsuHazama

    I personally have cannot see myself using Japanese as anything but an additional qualification, but maybe thats because I haven’t really spoken with, well, anybody about it seriously in terms of qualifications (funny side of being a nearly closet-self-learner!).
    However, the fact remains though, I’d still chose Japanese over most real qualifications, but that’s just because I love it so much.

  • Bill O’Dwyer

    I’m sorry, but this article has gotten me quite angry.
    What started as a very lengthy comment has now evolved into a full blown counter-blog. Have a read if you’ve time.

  • Lionrence

    where live there’s a pretty big community of people who just love Japanese, I know a lot of people who went to university and majored in what we call East Asian studies and they also learn Japanese or Chinese depending on their choices. From my experience, none of them have achieved a decent job resulting of this (one of them even asked me to get him a job at my company which requires a high school degree only) and they are damn good at japanese because they learned on their own, or went to japan for a couple of years.

    I sometimes contemplate the idea of having a Japanese related job, but with what I’ve seen, I’m not too confident. I just keep learning for fun at least^^

  • Jen Obrien

    I WWOOFed in Japan, twice. If you’re careful to find good hosts it’s absolutely worthwhile. Do it while you still have the freedom to make these kinds of choices – get experience trying out different things and then find something you really love to that you can focus on in school and work. I tried to control my education by deciding first and experiencing after, and it didn’t work at all. Things worked out in the end, but it was like a 15 year process.

  • grotesk_faery

    I really wanted to minor in Japanese since I adore languages and it’s the only one I’ve not felt comfortable doing entirely on my own, but for some reason my huge university (VCU) doesn’t even offer a single Japanese class. They offer Zulu, but no Japanese… I’d have to go to one of the nearby schools to learn it, and as a premed student, I just can’t handle jamming that sort of thing into my schedule and I can’t manage my time well enough to truly study it on my own. So I’m a bio major, premed, with minors in chemistry and French… maybe someday, Japanese will be a thing for me, but not in college.

  • John

    I’d have to agree with Joel here right off the bat, but perhaps sometime in the future I’ll look into this more and get in touch with the friends I have living in Japan and see if I can come up with anything useful and interesting for a post!

  • John

    I would agree that you definitely need interaction and some sort of feedback at some point for speaking and writing, but if you’re just learning it to consume media then you’re in the clear, haha.

  • John

    I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s bad, perhaps just a bit limited. Do you know what you want to do for a career? Teaching? Government job? Something else? And what would you study in Taiwan if you ended up going?

  • John

    Plus you’ve still got some years to figure it out, so don’t worry about it too much! When I started college I never would have guessed I’d end up where I am today, haha. Just stay positive and use your best judgement as things go along.

  • John

    What are you thinking of switching to?

  • John

    I do agree that that is true, and your degree in no way defines what you’re going to end up doing unless it’s highly technical like engineering or something. But that ties in with my 2 reasons why you might be okay to major in Japanese – if you have other skills. Personally, the language classes I was taking didn’t really develop anything else iother than the language too much, but if you’re in a program that does or if you feel confident that you have enough skills and knowledge from other areas of your life then you’d be more likely to be okay. Plus there are much more valuable skills than dedication and time management etc. You’re pretty much assumed to have those just for graduating, haha.

  • John

    Thanks! Glad you enjoyed it!

  • Newclear

    I’m an engineer. I’m also living in Japan. I think that’s good enough reason to study Japanese (on my own) just so I can communicate my needs and casual conversations, at least minimally. Otherwise, nothing would compel me to pick up that arduous task considering I’m an intermediate Spanish speaker, and a beginner Italian, French and Portuguese speaker. I will admit though… learning Japanese has opened my mind to learning Chinese, which actually made the list of official UN languages, so it won’t all be a “waste” when I leave here in 2 years. Other than that, language preservation feels important to me, but the point is most languages by itself alone hardly pays the light bill, especially with cuts to teachers and language and arts programmes.

  • John

    Hey man, sorry to hear that I got you all fired up, haha. I really wasn’t trying to ruffle anyone’s feathers with the article, but I’m pretty flattered you actually wrote a whole blog post in response to it. I get where you’re coming from with it, but maybe I wasn’t clear as I meant to be in my post. I’m not trying to discourage anyone from majoring in Japanese or from following their dreams or anything, I’m just trying to give them something to think about and generate some helpful tips and feedback (like yours, thanks!) here in the comments.

    Like I said, I majored in Japanese, and I’m glad I did. I got to meet lots of people and get involved with stuff I never would have if I hadn’t, and learning Japanese kind of changed my way of thinking about some things. But I’m also really glad I didn’t only major in Japanese and nothing else. I wouldn’t be where I am today if I did.

    But yeah, the bottom line is that I just want people to think about stuff and be prepared. With the way the job market is over here in America these days, I just want everyone to be happy and successful after they graduate. Japanese is an awesome language and I hope that everyone who’s interested pursues it in some way or another. I’m just trying to get people thinking about their futures, not shoot anyone down or anything. And again, thanks for all your feedback!

  • Tofugu no ChiChi

    One reason to major in Japanese: work in Tofugu and meet Koichi!

  • Jessica Haynia

    I completely agree with you, John about the classes being slow. I studied on my own before taking Japanese in college because when i first started my school didn’t offer Japanese. By the time it did and I took it I had already learned Kana and most of the basics. As I took the two beginning classes I was still practicing on my own with Textfugu and found my classes more of a review for that than learning anymore really new. Even with Kanji, I was so far ahead. We were barely learning any and when we did it was simply what their English meanings were and thats it. I was so far ahead of pretty much all of my classmates.

    That was community college. This semester I start at a University that offers Japanese as a minor, but it’s not just the language. The minor is also about Japan’s history and even literature too so I’m taking it more because it’s an interest of mine. My major is Anthropology, in case anyone was wondering, lol.

    But from what I hear, the University classes aren’t really any different than the ones at the community college. I also think of the biggest problems is that, at least in my schools, they don’t really require a lot of speaking. Now that would be something taking an actual Japanese class has over studying on your own, yet from what I gather they don’t take much advantage of that. So yeah for me studying on my own has proved more useful, but taking the classes has helped me stay on track and also help make things stick in my mind since it’s another opportunity to practice.

    I do agree with not majoring in JUST Japanese. I think minoring in it would be best, or doing the double major thing.

    Oh and thanks for this John. I was super sad about not being able to take Japanese this semester since the class is full, but now I’m cool with it! ^^

  • ジョサイア

    In other words keep out art majors :P

  • John

    Our Japanese classes actually focused mostly on speaking but the issue for me was that it was all memorized conversations and short responses to questions we were more or less prepared for if we looked over the lesson. There wasn’t very much thinking and speaking on the fly which was why I felt studying abroad and talking to people in real Japanese situations was the most helpful for my learning at least.

  • Marie

    Ah, feeling a little nervous now :/ I’m going to be a Japanese major at college next year, makes me nervous. Though, I love Japanese and learn it on my own as well and write letters in Japanese to my friend for practice. My goal is to be a translator/interpreter because I love translating, for some odd reason. That’s definitely what I want to do with my life, and can’t really see myself doing anything else. If I keep at it, do you think I’ll be okay after graduation and actually find a job/not starve? Also, what might be another major/or minor to pair with a Japanese major?

  • John

    Well if you know that’s what you want to do, my advice for you is just to work really hard at it while you’re in college and make sure to practice a lot on your own too. Don’t count only on the course to teach you the stuff you’ll need to be fluent after graduating. As long as you work hard at it, you should be okay. What sort of stuff do you want to interpret or translate? Perhaps you could major/minor in a related field. That would definitely help you out, I think. Also make sure that your self studies gear towards this as well. Do you want to translate government or foreign policy stuff? You could minor in something like that and you could also focus your self study towards those things, like reading government publications in Japanese or just watching the Japanese news. Of course if you’re interested in something else you could just tailor your studies accordingly.

  • Pepper_the_Sgt

    Fortunately, I’ve chosen to chosen to only minor in Japanese and major in something else. Unfortunately, that something else is Audio Engineering Technology (i.e., that guy who records and mixes music albums). I love doing it, but If you haven’t noticed, the music industry is kind of falling apart lately. So it’s a really competitive job market with not much money.

    I’d like to to audio for films, cartoons, video games, and so on. Still competitive, but at least you can pay your bills if you find a job. I think I would like working on those kinds of projects more, but there’s not much of that kind of work around me.

    I’m hoping to get a teaching job in Japan soon (should find out in March if I get it), with the goal of really improving my Japanese by living in the country. Hopefully I’ll make some connections and get some audio work. That would be ideal. Even if I return to America or move to some other country, it would be nice to have clients from Japan. With the internet, that kind of business is totally doable today.

  • brian

    Middlebury Summer Language School. Nuff said.

  • Marie

    I see the classes as more of a place for guidelines, practice, and questions. Um, well I’m not really sure what I want to translating. Anything from business, to government, to translating a textbook I’m okay with. A lot of people told me the UN is a good place for a translating job, so would foreign policy be good with that?(international affairs,international affairs/global study,international business, international economics) I don’t have a options to tailor to unfortunately; the only thing I’m really passionately interested in are languages and it probably wouldn’t be good idea to try and learn 3 languages at once :/

  • janegus

    I hate to agree with this, but I must admit I kept nodding my head along as I kept reading. I graduated last year with a double major in Japanese and Spanish. While I absolutely love Japanese, the job market could care less about that. I spent 3 years learning it in my university and a whole year studying abroad in Japan, but even with all that I was low-low-level conversation level and most people here expected a fluent speaker, I mean or else where was the proof I was studying it for 4 years. I must say I do regret majoring in only languages because although majoring in Spanish (since I live in SoCal & am already a native speaker) it still does not give me much leverage in the work force so finding a job has been pretty rough. I would advice anyone in the midst of still learning languages to really think things through as well and plan ahead, I certainly wish i had more… :/

  • Foreigner

    I think you forgot to cite your sources for this article; there are a lot of assumptions which do not reference real studies, research, or experience outside of your failed interview with Honda and 8 weeks in the country.

    With experience working for 5 different corporations in Japan (one being a leading web service and another being a consumer electronics giant), I can confidently say that Japanese corporations are more eager than ever to hire English-speaking employees. In fact, at two of the companies I have worked for, team meetings are conducted exclusively in English.

    Of course, this is not universally applicable. But increased trade with western economies and a smaller pool of new recruits than ever due to a sustained reduced birth rate, Japanese companies are becoming more and more progressive in this area.

    There most certainly has never been a more opportune moment to be an English speaker in Japan.

    For those who are worried: do your best, and don’t lose hope!

    P.S.: As with finding work anywhere, don’t expect everything to come to you. Don’t expect you’ll be successful in every interview or meeting. Network wherever you can. Visit events and trade shows, as that’s where the meaningful connections begin. Give and receive as many business cards as possible. It takes time to find work here, as business moves much slower than in Europe or North America, but it will happen, since there are many people who are actively looking for you. Ganbatte!

  • John

    I didn’t cite many sources as the majority of the article is just my own assumptions or my personal opinion or stuff that my friends have told me from their own experiences, haha. That’s awesome that you’ve been lucky enough to work for 5 different corporations in Japan. I’m really happy to hear you’ve been so fortunate. Since you’ve had so much luck with finding work over there, do you have any more advice for those seeking employment in Japan? Were you living there already when you got the jobs or were you living somewhere else when you got hired? I’m sure plenty of people (myself included) would love to hear more about it!

  • John

    Yeah, definitely. I can’t say if something else might be more suitable since I’m not sure of what’s offered at your school, but I’m sure there’s a guidance counselor of something available for you to discuss potential options with but to me, foreign policy or something sounds like a solid starting point. Good luck!

  • Evelyn

    I majored in Japanese and it was one of the worst decisions I’ve ever made. I’m immensely grateful for the fantastic teacher and the friends I made, but I’ve got a massive debt and I’ve wasted three years because I couldn’t handle the work load.

    Majoring in a language like Japanese, as well as my minor and any other papers I needed to make up points towards my degree meant I had so much work to do I ended up hating it. Plus, for Japanese I would have to put in something like 12 hours of study per week for quizzes worth 2%, loosing out on time to write that History essay, worth 25%.

    Studying in your own time has many more benefits, to me, than studying Japanese at Uni.

  • John

    Sorry to hear things didn’t work out for you :( If you could go back and do it all over, what do you think you’d do differently? Did you end up getting a job related to Japan in the end?

  • Arden Tenjou

    Hey there. Not sure if this is applicable, and if not, no worries. I’ve got various qualifications and I’ve been translating for fan groups for several months. I’ve researched a bit but I just can’t seem to find a way to break into professional translation. I used to say I only wanted to do literary, but now I’m not so picky. Any tips? Anybody? :)

  • Luai

    For what it’s worth, Penn State University has a japanese program that really will make you fluent…. if you can stick with it. It’s not hard, it’s downright torturous. The work load is immense, and in order to keep up with the pace you absolutely have to supplement the homework with outside study, just so you can pass the tests. The teachers are extremely strict and their expectations are very high. I was majoring in it, and doing quite well, but the stress was so bad I had a complete mental breakdown and had to leave school for a while. I’m going back, but I won’t be majoring in Japanese anymore. I already have enough under my belt to complete the minor, so I’ll be doing that, and I had another major in linguistics underway, so that’s going to be my focus now.
    Anyway, my point is, there are some programs out there that will make you fluent, but the huge amount of work and stress may not be worth it for some people. Studying on your own lets you roll with life’s punches and put japanese on the back burner when other things need to take priority.

  • MnGalaxy

    I definitely agree with you. Not only Japanese, but also any other languages. They are just a tool, not for earning a living (except if you are superior) I love Japanese very much, and also take a Japanese class, but just for speaking and some grammar. Most of my study time is at home, and my main major is Medicine, too. I also learn English like other people

  • John

    That’s awesome that they have such an intensive program, but yeah like you said, it can be rough. I mean, the same can be said for any difficult major, but at least with languages there are easier (arguably more useful) choices than Japanese, but that’s not always relevant if you choose Japanese because you really love it and aren’t just looking for a handy language to know. Apparently my school had an intensive track that was supposed to be much more demanding and useful, but for someone like me with another major and a minor to worry about, it wasn’t something I was super interested in checking out haha.

  • mitsuho32

    I’m going to med school after my four years undergrad, and I only need about eight or so prerequisites, so I thought why not major in Japanese? It’s actually already helped me because the colleges I’ve applied to think a prospective Japanese major is an interesting student!

  • Gaijin2013

    due to start degree
    here in england in sep in business management and japanese studies, i would love to move to japan some day and have visited numerous times. within the course there is a full 12 months in japan which wil defo be the most beneficial part but i dont expect to be fluent at end, its more of getting a basic grasp to make it easier to continue with in situ learning when i graduate, plus our student loan system in england makes the debt part not so bad as we only have to pay it back when earning decent wage and even then only tiny installments

  • Yuume

    I have a major in Mass Communication, so I can literally get jobs in anything from TV to magazines/newspapers and graphic design.

    I am however considering going back to school and majoring in Japanese. I’m right between a beginner and intermediate, and I’m working on my written Japanese at the moment.

    I would definitely put in the extra study time outside of class, but what do you study? Just grab lots of book and movies and speak to lots of people and practice as often as possible?

  • SaraWyatt

    The 15-year plan seems to be the one I’m on. :) I’m pretty cool with it. I’ll do the WWOOFing thing next.

  • John

    Yeah, that’s actually another reason it’d be okay to major in Japanese, I think – if you’re planning to go to school for something else after. This was mostly geared towards those not doing that sort of thing, but I’m really glad to hear it’s working out for you so far! Best of luck with med school!

  • John

    I think people learn better on their own when they’re interested and have fun with the stuff they’re learning. What do you want to do with your Japanese? Whatever that is, pick media that is relevant to it. Do you need speaking practice? Or will you mostly be using it for reading and writing? We have lots of guides here on Tofugu for self-learners – everything from Japanese video games to Japanese dramas to Japanese e-books. For me, it was video games, manga, and J-dramas, but I’m mostly interested in the consumption of Japanese media. Just get into something that you believe will be interesting and/or useful to you and you’ll have no problem. Check out some of the guides we have on the site and if you have any questions or want advice, just let us know!

  • Jen Obrien

    yes – go for it!

  • Tampopo

    I took about four years of Japanese courses in college. Granted, it was community college, but I can say I learned far more in my own doing SRS with Anki, absorbing Japanese media and self studying. My teacher is one of the nicest people I’ve ever met, but the classes are just lacking. No one really completes the full course being able to speak a word. In the most advanced classes people couldn’t read basic kanji. The curriculum was just lacking. I believe that what you do on your own time is far greater than anything you could learn in a class. I thought about majoring in Japanese, but then I thought “what would I do with it?” I’m not interesting in translating, and I honestly not interested in working for a Japanese company. I majored in English. At least with that I can teach English in Japan. XD But I’ve pretty much determined that I just want to be able to communicate in Japanese, read it, write it and understand it. And of course i would like to love there some day. Learning a language has far more benefits than just financial benefits. I think the biggest benefit for me is to be able to speak and understand another language, which broadens my worldview.

  • Travis

    I’m still really unclear on what it means to major in “Japanese”. I double-majored in East Asian Studies & History, while I know other people who majored in Literature, or “Japanese Language & Literature,” others who did Linguistics, and others who majored in “Translation & Interpretation.” That last one seems the closest, I guess, to just majoring purely in learning a language, and yet, it comes with the crucial training in using that language as your chief marketable skill.

    In any case, admittedly, I cannot say that I have yet made a successful career for myself with my Japanese language ability. I’m not a successful businessman, or curator, or professional translator or anything. I’m a PhD student, at the moment. But, my language skills have certainly helped me get jobs or internships at numerous museums and other institutions, and, I have found that more often than not, I was one of the people in the room with the best language ability (outside of the native speakers, of course). One of these days, I’ll finally finish my PhD, and attempt to get a job at a museum, or some other sort of cultural institution, hopefully working in Japan, though not in any sort of corporate/business context, and while my language skills are still not 100%, still not necessarily fully up to the task of letting me get by in a Japanese office, I am optimistic about the potential future. (Plus, I do have a whole bunch of friends who have been successful in pursuing careers in Japan, using their Japanese language skills, in a wide array of fields. So, for those of you who are interested in being corporate drones, the possibility absolutely does exist!)

  • Marie


  • Chinchou

    I’m in an East Asian Studies minor program, and I’m in my third year of learning Japanese. I definitely agree that classes alone aren’t enough. It’s more like the classes supplement self-study rather than the other way around. For me, the classes are a good motivator for me to continue, but I agree on the point about marks being the main focus and not the learning.

    I attend Japanese language exchange meetings every week and visit my Japanese teacher’s office hours whenever I can. I make my own notes for self-study purposes, and I think it’s turning out well. I want to become a translator in the long run, and I hope to teach English in Japan for a while to be able to learn the language naturally so that I can make up for whatever I still need for proficiency after my last year of college. My main major program is Linguistics, and I also hope to get TESOL certification so that I know what I’m doing when I’m teaching. I’ve also had a bit of a Commerce background, so I think that I can sort of use that to fall back on.

    Great article.

  • Hikari

    I’m majoring in both Japanese and Economics. I have to spend 2 years studying Japanese language. The rest is Economics and Asian Studies. Our curriculum mainly focuses on reading and translating, so we can barely say some sentences in Japanese if you ask me.
    That’s why I’ve spent a year as an exchange students in Japan. I got better at speaking, but I’m still far away from being fluent. So I’m really happy that I still have Economics as my second major to rely on. I’d like to work at a Japanese company in my home country(there’re many in my region), but I’m not quite optimistic…

  • brianlacour

    I’m learning japanese on my own too. I’m only 15 been studying everyday a few hours for a few months. I know hiragana and katakana and i also use the pimsleur approach while I’m studying and writing kanji. What i wanted to ask is do you guys have any tips for a novice like me on kanji or japanese in general

  • Michael Warren McDonald

    Very much so. My statement of course applies to most people that go through college. I’m sorry to hear that your language course didn’t offer much in a wide range of skill. That puzzles me, but then again, the college that I am going to pretty much requires that each course somehow reaches outside of itself.

  • Flora

    If you’re learning kanji, spring for “Tadashii Kanji Kakitori-kun” ($45.00 on Yes!Asia). It’s a kanji-tutor for the Nintendo DS that has become the love of my Japanese life.

    But since it’s a Japanese game meant for native speakers, all of the instructions are in Japanese (mostly hiragana, but all the kanji have furigana, so it’s cool). Unless you’ve got a mad vocabulary, I’d suggest going through the many tutorial videos on Youtube so you know what to do.

  • Admiral Awesome

    I have to agree. I have many friends majoring in useless majors and I just hope they make it work. Things like Philosophy and History. There’s few jobs and unless you couple it with other majors it’s totally useless. I’m learning Japanese on my own, and I play the piano as well, though I would never major in music. My major right now is Software Engineering. I know that the kind of discipline I can gain in this major will be useful in almost any kind of job.

  • kaeritakunattayo

    Do you think this is only the case in America?

  • roger mcmuffin

    majoring in east asian studies. im military so its free. why the hell not.

  • John

    This was written mostly from an American point of view, so that’s what it’s geared towards. The feedback I’ve been getting from other countries seems to be about half and half. Debt works differently in most countries and other countries have different unemployment rates than the US right now, too.

  • John

    Well military counts as an additional skill I think, so go for it! Can’t beat free.

  • Alexa VanDemark

    I’m a major in East Asian Studies at my university. Your cons of the Japanese major have truth, I agree, though I also think it depends on the person. I chose EAS over Japanese because I wanted to learn a bit about Japan’s neighbors too, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t focused on Japan. I’m in 300-level Japanese now, and I love it. But you’re right, John – to be really good at a language in college, you HAVE to spend personal time outside of class to get better. I use WaniKani myself, and read ahead in our textbook, but if someone wants to leap into the career field with Japanese, they really need to be above average to get anything.
    I hope to do JET after I graduate, and once my time with that is done, hopefully I’ll figure out what to do from there.

    But what I think is most important for anyone pursuing a major of any kind is to pursue one they love. If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life. So if Japanese gives you a super thrill like nothing else, then do it.

  • Travis Dove

    I’m going to major in International Relations and take Japanese (also want to do Korean).

  • Grace

    Hi John. I’m Italian and I’ve been studying Japanese on my own for some months now. It is really fun to me, it’s something that makes my brain flip. Spanish is like that too. I remember four years ago when I desperately wanted to study Languages at college..but my parents said no.

    And when I asked why they just told me that it is not possible to get a job knowing only languages. Now, of course the sentence is not completely true but there is a 99% of truth in it. Especially in this moment, especially (I guess) in Italy, where I live.
    What I wanted you to know is that I’ve been fighting their choice for like three years (I’m currently studying european and international law) just to discover with great pleasure and joy after a while what you wrote so truthfully in this post. This confirms once again what every kind of people keeps telling me from some years! Thank you so much.

  • Andy

    I graduated from ucla with a Japanese B.A. but it’s definitely not enough. going to law school in the fall to better the chances of a successful career, possibly in international or entertainment law

  • Mao Mao

    (This is a very lengthy post, & most of it is about pursuing an academic life in Japan)


    First, I truly agree with what John have said here.

    For me, I happened to start following animes aired in their original Japanese dub on a satellite channel. Even before that, when I was around 7 or 8 I already begun to read the Doraemon tankobon which was translated to my native language, the Malay language (Hi, I’m a Malaysian BTW). So you could say I’m deeply influenced by (or maybe hopelessly in love with) Japanese cultures since then, until now.

    So, one day when I was looking around in a bookstore during a school trip, I walked through the language section & happened to saw several Japanese Language guide books & thought to myself, hey why not. It WAS EXPENSIVE for me back then, I was 14, & mum usually nagged me for spending much on language books. But it wasn’t for naught.

    I love it so much, and decided to study, work & live in Japan no matter what. After that I bought another book for learning katakana & hiragana, & managed to learnt them all in 2 weeks. I was 16 then. & then school ended, came in the university application period.

    I also attended a 10 weeks beginner Japanese Language course before entering university, but to my dismay, I already learnt by myself all the things they taught in the lessons. Majority of the students in the lessons were newly exposed to Japanese, causing them to pick up everything at a slow pace, leading the senseis to even opted not to spend much time with writing system, but focusing on the grammar structures & vocabularies instead.

    It depleted me because I aimed to strengthen my kanji, but they didn’t even taught any katakana or hiragana. They just showed this is how katakana looks like, this is how hiragana looks like, that was it. But one of the senseis apparently majored in Economics at a Japan’s university, & not really purely from a Japanese language background, but still could manage to become a Japanese Language teacher. So it kinda opened up my eyes more, to realizing, that there are more than just Japanese Language study, in order to reach my dream.

    During the university application period, the decision whether to opt for the Japanese study course or not, was among the hardest in my life. I finally decided not to, primarily because they required the applicants to take part in an interviewing session, & I didn’t thought my anime+guide books only level was enough to pass it. Also, I started to think that I could tackle it by my ownself, in my own way, at my own pace & so why not, opt for a field, that I could only experience while enrolling in an academic institutions like universities?

    And so, I got myself majored in Ecology & biodiversity. Hell yeah, it was FUN. I gotta go to lots of fieldworks with my university mates, works with lots of professionals in ecology field, & even though I ended up extended a year because I didn’t satisfied enough credit hours to graduate in time, I’m satisfied. To kinda at least officially show that I still have beginner Japanese language skill, I took a Japanese subject while in university, & also took the level N5 Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT). I passed the test, got the certificate, & also got an A printed next to the Japanese subject on my university’s academic transcript.

    And then, a phone call from mom, said that she saw a notice on the education ministry website, saying that there’s a scholarship application being offered to pursue postgrad studies in ANY field, at any university in Japan. It goes without saying that I applied for it, though I was really being negative about it; the deadline was less in two weeks, & I have to obtain a recommendation letter from my supervisor, write my study plans & stuff, & it was really annoying when they even asked for the exact date of when I admitted to primary school, to what my siblings’ jobs are. But I somehow managed to get through… I pressed my supervisor so much, that she even recommended me for our university’s postgrad sponsorship program as an alternative.

    As you might guess, I won the scholarship. What I can say is that, they will NOT ONLY weigh your Japanese Language ability, they also care about how much you really understand about Japan, your familiarity with the cultures, how the community functions, & current issues surrounding the country. In simpler words, your knowledge about Japan. During the interviewing session, I gave my all, & spoke all the Japanese I know.

    But it is not all sweet and yays all the time. If you are familiar about Japan’s academic environment, you will aware that it is very very very exam oriented. Everything revolves around kibishii exams. Although I am already aware of this, when the true reality hit me, it hit me hard. Putting emotions aside, there shouldn’t be any problems, but I realized I’m a human too & have emotions, & so I was constantly mentally exhausted. This was especially when I was still enrolling at the Japanese Language Education Centre, where they really grind you, not with just Japanese Language, but also to make sure you are prepare enough to face the entrance examinations, and also all the procedures concerning them. 8 new kanjis & kanji test everyday. But again, it wasn’t all for naught, as I get more familiar to Japanese Language, & it became like a second nature to me.

    Luckily for me, the foundation, that provvides me the scholarship, didn’t just give me the money and I’m on my own. We are like family; we have gathering every month, & talk about our experience, feelings, & how we spent the month. They already guide us on the preparation for entering the university, e.g. contact the Profs, to become a Research Student (研究生) or not etc etc. even before coming to Japan, & so I’m not that lost.

    And things got even better when I got myself joining the current lab, after stopping from going to the language school. And double lucky enough to can even talk about sailormoon etc etc pokemon with my sensei., while many others are not that friendly. It helps, especially in critical moment like now when I’m really nervous, I mean like kinchou sugi (緊張すぎ) for the upcoming entrance examination, but all my labmates & sensei are very supportive, & even said they can’t wait to hold a welcome party for me. In case you want to know, yes, I’m still doing ecology. :D

    Other stuffs are out of topic in regards to this article, so I’ll end my lengthy post here. & needless to say, of course I love my mom more like zillion billion trillion more, like infinitely more. LOL

    To summarize it:
    1) Think whether you could tackle the language on your own or not.

    2) Attending Japanese language course or school (even the ones in Japan) might not gonna be so fruitful & all happy-go-lucky-pikachu-kawaiiness whatever as you thought it may be. A purely language academy might be really fun like sliding over the rainbow (gosh why the overly descriptive writings) but not really for the one who aims to prepare you for entering university/college/course school (専門学校=senmon gakkou).

    3) You might obtain useful information, see chances & opportunities, from the courses you attended. The students of the 10 weeks Japanese course I went prior to entering university as undergrad, was mainly consisted of Japanese companies sending their staffs there. And not just ordinary workers, but managers, engineers & bosses. I got a job offer phone call from them to become an interprator/translator for their company, but I was already doing my 1st semester for undergrad at that time.

    4) Scholarship offers are being advertised everywhere in the internet. Make effort with Google. Not just scholarship from giant companies, but also even from the universities themselves.

    5) Most (if not, all) of the professors here in Japan knows English. Just email them. They will most definitely reply you, so you will not be left hanging for any definite answers. One Prof. was kind enough that he said, though my field of interest is different from his main research theme, but because both of them are somehow related, he attached some academic papers in his email to see whether I’m interested in somehow change my theme a bit to match with his.

    6) A bit related to point (5), it doesn’t mean you really need to know Japanese language through and through, to get place in school/college & land jobs here in Japan. While they are happy to know & most probably accept you if you can speaks like a Japanese, in general they really like to speak about their own language & cultures to incoming foreigners, & they rarely could really have the chance to do that, & have their own experience of cultural exchange. What really matters is, whether you really got the skills and abilities needed for whatever things you wish to apply to. But of course, there is also usual cases like John’s experience with Honda above. So, my advice is, avoid expecting too much, yet avoid holding so much onto the must-get-myself-to-speak-like-a-real-Japanese idea too.

    7) You majors/minors at universities/colleges doesn’t necessarily determines your future career. Met a friend here in Japan, who also did biology, but now working with an airline company managing flight schedules. Another one became a software programmer. So, I advice to not limit your own self with only the things you could see in front of you.

    OKAY, that’s all I guess. Hope this will help.

    Good luck!

  • Kevin G

    Great post! I’m studying Computer Science and Japanese currently at my university. Hoping for the best! Gotta keep your head up!

  • Jonadab

    Clearly the thing to do is to quadruple major in Japanese, all-grade music education, pre-med, and law, with a double minor in public speaking and quantum mechanics. Yes, you can get your bachelor’s degree in only eleven years, and only three of your majors (plus one of your minors) will be completely worthless on the job market without a graduate degree! Yay!

  • Riley

    While I understand some of the reasoning behind not majoring it, I can’t fully agree that they’re legitimate reasons. To me, it sounds like poor choice in university and lack of support for students. I’m in my fourth year, and the curriculum has almost entirely shifted away from language learning to everyday use, with multiple choices of reading, speaking, and writing courses with the sole intent being improving students everyday conversational use and overall fluency. Also, the Japanese department holds multiple career fairs throughout the academic year, and students quite often have no trouble finding employment after their undergrad if they choose not to go to grad school.

    So, to me, it shouldn’t be, reasons you shouldn’t major in Japanese, rather reasons you should really do your homework about where to major in Japanese.

  • anonymous

    haha, I completely agree with the idea that majoring Japanese is not worthy for “jobs” even as a Japanese! But, I think whichever you chose to major, it’s hard to master, so I just wish never give up!^^

  • Aime L. Calderon Herrera

    In my country we don’t have things as majors or minors, it’s just one choice. If I wanted to I could’ve probably picked two careers and study a couple of years more to acomplish it. So Japanese is just a hobbie and economics was my career choice. I studied 2 years of japanese and had to drop out, so far I just know things like how to say my name or ask where the bathroom is. =P. I dedicated more time to english in my youth and it has been more useful.

  • ryo

    Other skills. [Insert League of Legends mastery page] wwwwwwwwww

  • Silvia

    I’m one of the crazy ones that majored in Japanology with a minor in… Japanology, twice. So I have both my bachelor and my master in Japanese Studies. How great is that? I must say though that we don’t pay huge amounts of money to be able to study here in Austria, so you can basically study what interests you without being broke for the rest of the life.

    So can you find a job with just that? If you’re a sensible, half-way computer-savy human being, yes you can. But you’d have to be willing to move to where the jobs are. When I started they were all in Vienna, the frontier to Eastern Europe, now they’re mostly in Germany as it’s all EU and there’s no need to be close anymore.

    So what did I do? I ended up with JALPAK (the travel bureau segment of Japan Airlines) and from there I ended up in the tourism industry. Now I’ve gone solo and I’m currently opening up my own travel bureau specialized in Japan. I could have found a job in the industry without problems, but I wanted to do this. I guess it’s expected from someone who majored and minored in Japanese Studies?

  • abu

    Hi John.

    I think you’ve got strong points there and I agree with you. It’s just that I also think it might depends on the place you’re living (or planning to work) as well. Maybe in your case, as you mentioned, “majoring in Japanese might just be the worst thing you can do for your career” but in my case, it’s the other way around.

    By the way, I’m a second year student majoring in Japanese (only, no minor or second major) at a university in Malaysia. I haven’t graduated yet, so I will share my opinion based on my observation and also the experience of my seniors who have already graduated and are currently working.

    1) In my country, majoring in Japanese will give you a hell lot of benefits. Recently there are more and more Japanese companies in Malaysia in this leads to the demand for Japanese speaking local Malaysians. The fact that there is only one university in Malaysia offering a degree in Japanese language and linguistics (which has only 9-11 students every intake which is once a year) really benefits us because we have the least competition in getting job because the jobs offering are more than the number of Japanese major students graduating every year. All of my seniors who have graduated (except those who furthered their studies) got their job within one or two months after they graduated (in Malaysia, most of the students start job hunting only after they graduate) and all of them are currently working at Japanese companies as translator and interpreter, public relations officer, human resource manager, account executive and personal assistant just to name a few. Of course we have many Malaysians who went to study in Japan (obviously they have better Japanese than us), but almost all of them were majoring in engineering related field so it’s just natural for them to work in their related field of studies.

    2) Our syllabus plays the main role in our Japanese proficiency. I’m not sure about the syllabus for Japanese major at other universities but for my university, basically the syllabus is like this:

    i) The first 3 semesters (the whole first year and the first semester of the second year), we only study Japanese intensively 4 hours a day from the very basic level since most of us have zero basic in Japanese. We have no other major courses within this period. By the end of the third semester, we are expected to have reached at least higher intermediate level.

    ii) Starting from the fourth semester until the last semester which is the seventh semester, we will be taking all the core courses for Japanese major such as Japanese literature, Japanese linguistics and Japanese civilisation which will be taught fully in Japanese (except for translation course where we will be using Japanese, Malay and English). So basically we use Japanese everyday since 80% of our classes are taught in Japanese (the other 20% are the elective courses). Of course it’s very hard, that’s why only those who can keep up with all the heavy courses taught fully in Japanese can survive till the end. That being said, those who graduate for certain have an absolute fluency in Japanese.

    iii) All of us have the opportunity to go for a summer program in Japan and half of us will have another opportunity to go for a one year exchange program in Japan. It helps us greatly in improving our Japanese proficiency.

    Again, I’m not saying that you’re wrong, but I believe that there are still some places in the world (hopefully not only my place) where majoring in Japanese is actually a very good thing and might be the best you can do for your career.

    P/S: I’m sorry for my bad English >.<

  • abu

    I’m agree with all your points, especially your 7th point. By the way, I’m also from Malaysia and I’m currently majoring in Japanese language and linguistics at UM.

  • Japonesca

    Hi, John.

    After more than 20 years since I started studying Japanese, I think you are very right on what you are saying.

    In 1997 I passed The Japanese Proficiency Test in Japan, and I wouldn’t get that without my will applied to self-study.

    Now I’m blogging my work in spanish about the elementary school kanjis in Japan, that’s the way I got it, and that’s a really long way, but for japanese children is the same.

    Congratulate you for your posts, I’ve already suscribed.

  • Craig Tallentire

    The difficulty comment- Japanese isnt the easiest language, Spannish probally beats it there, I know Swedish does for sure, but Japanese is definitely easier than French.

    A big point that is being missed here is the value in a degree. Getting a degree in something useful isnt the be all and end all, most people get degrees in relevant crap, the key is just to get a degree. If you take a degree in something easy like a language then you will be able to get high grades and qualify for better graduate jobs, particular weighed up against taking something ‘useful’ that youre not really into.

  • Mitsumasa Abe

    It is sad; but as a Japanese, I cannot deny it…


  • Shaunie

    May I ask what university this is? it sounds interesting.

  • ren

    Haha! I can’t help, but agree. I am a Japanese Studies graduate, too. It’s useful, when you want to be in field of translation and academe. However, the options for corporate field is quite limited. Either you’re stuck with IT or some language specialist in some company. I’ve done both, but I want to try other fields. On the other hand, I cannot imagine myself majoring another degree. I guess, I must love it very much. :D

  • Aoiblue

    How is the linguistic major going? after much consideration I’m thinking about doing a major in linguistics and a minor in east Asian studies?

  • Jean Markale

    Spot on about University language “courses.”
    I learned German on my own in the Service, and when my obligation was up I went to WMU. There were a handful of people I knew who had studied German for two years so I thought it would be cool that I could learn something from them…
    and their German was HORRIBLE. They couldn’t put together a sentence, their vocabulary was almost nonexistent, they couldn’t understand even a modicum of what was said to them. Two years after that, one of my friends came by for some beers on her way to a teaching job and says to me, “you know, your German is better than mine, but because I have a four-year degree, they’re letting me teach it now.” That was fourteen years ago, and subsequent experience with students of other languages has revealed the same shortcomings. People always ask me why I don’t go to Uni to learn languages. They can’t seem to get through their skulls that I refuse to pay thousands of dollars at a university so they can spend years doing a crummy job of trying to teach what I can learn on my own, for a couple hundred bucks, in a year or less.

  • Amanda Donaldson

    I get that this article is just trying to be helpful, but frankly people should be able to do what they want without judgement like this. Not everyone is super good at independently studying and university classes are good for learning basics.

  • Ki Su

    I learned japanese as a young person and I am planning on getting a degree in it but as a fun “hey look what I have” degree rather than a degree I bank my career on. That is where biochemistry comes in. :D

  • Stephen Miller

    I disagree with pretty much all the points made in this post. If you really like Japanese, studying it at university is a valid choice, professionally speaking–and you do not have to be “really really good” at it, but simply devoted (which is true of most other fields that afford financial security).

    My bachelor’s degree was in Japanese and I have never had any problem getting employed since graduating college. In fact, the only 2 periods I have been unemployed since graduating were when I wasn’t looking for a job, or when I was collecting unemployment insurance. Every time I have sought or applied for a job, I got a response or got hired within about a week. There is absolutely a labor shortage of workers with Japanese skills, in relation to the demand for such people.

    To go through the points 1 by 1:
    1) You could learn it on your own, but you will probably never get to a professional level this way. So if you just want to study Japanese as a hobby, for manga or anime or whatever, just stick to studying it on your own and you shouldn’t have a problem. You won’t need school, and studying will be free.

    I did this for 2 years in high school (although I had no interest in anime or manga). I was lucky in that my high school offered Japanese, which I did eventually take advantage of, placing into 3rd year my senior year. In college I was also able to place into 3rd year language classes, and eventually studied abroad for 2 semesters my junior year and took advanced, intensive classes. This really helped cement my Japanese abilities. If you are going to major in Japanese, I recommend studying abroad as long as possible. 10 weeks (a summer) is too short. And it is quite common for people who major in a language in college, to go in with some experience from high school–so if they don’t teach Japanese at your high school, start learning it on your own first (and get used to it because you will be continually learning the rest of your life).

    2) It is extremely subjective to say that other languages are more useful. If you are dealing with people who speak those other languages, then sure, they are more useful. The fact is that most other languages are more common, and closer to English, which cuts both ways. You will find more speakers to practice with, and will have an easier learning the language; but you will find more competition in trying to secure a position, and also less intense need for these languages because they are not exotic and the language barrier is more easily overcome (many people in other countries learn English as a matter of course, and they do it better than the Japanese do).

    Japanese is a rare skill for Westerners, and if you try working with a Japanese company, you will find most of the other Americans will think it’s a very useful skill to have, because they have to deal with the language barrier every day and do not have the patience and energy to learn something difficult like Japanese. Depending on the workplace you may become the most in-demand person there.

    3) The idea that there are “no” jobs is ridiculous. You just have to look for them. They are limited–limited to jobs that require you to speak Japanese. Japan and America still have a very strong economic relationship. There are plenty of Japanese companies that have branches here in America. Many of them are automotive, and limited to certain regions in the country, but there are still other opportunities as well (electronics, software, chemicals, etc.). The great part is that you will probably face little competition for jobs as the skill is so rare.

    I have never not gotten a position I applied to or interviewed for, and it’s not because my Japanese is “awesome.” It’s because I was the only person qualified, or the only one who even applied! They are still trying to find a replacement for me at my last 2 jobs. So, yeah, there are jobs. You may have to move to get them, but they’re there.

    By the way, translation and interpretation jobs are projected to increase something like 42% in the next 7 years or so. This is way, way, way higher than most other fields.

    Heck, the author himself admitted there are jobs out there–he just wasn’t qualified for the one (1) he applied for. If you are at a level where you could pass JLPT 1 after graduating college, you have nothing to worry about–you’ll be hired. Treat Japanese seriously, like a technical skill, just like programming or engineering, and study your ass off until you are at that level, even if it takes a few years after graduating. Doing JET (or teaching English some other way) for a year or 2 will help you get there if you aren’t already.

    4) Student debt is completely irrelevant in this case because your college is going to cost the same no matter what you study. If the argument is that Japanese can’t make you money, that’s wrong too. There’s not only no shortage of jobs (instead, a shortage of labor), but they pay well too. OK, being a translator/coordinator/interpreter/administrative assistant/whatever may not pay as much as being an engineer, but it’s more than enough for a single college graduate to live comfortably and pay back any reasonable loans he may have taken out. The doctors, engineers, programmers, etc., I know, are probably making more than me. But the people who studied other languages…? I don’t think so.

    Of all the languages that English translators work with, Japanese is consistently cited as being one of the highest-paying ones. The median pay for translators is $43,000 a year. In this economy, most of the people my age would kill for an income like that, doing what they love. Let’s just say I’ve never had a problem making my loan payments.

    5) Boo hoo, getting up in the morning is hard. Any skill worth money is “hard.”

    As for the points made about why you should study Japanese… I largely disagree with them as well. As I stated before, you don’t have to be really good. You need devotion. Is this really what you want to do? Does studying exhaust you, or could you just keep on doing it forever? If the latter, proceed. If the former, reconsider. Because it’s not really a matter of skill; it’s a matter of dedication. You will continue learning more and more words, phrases, concepts, and grammar constructions at each new job you take (assuming they are related to Japanese), so you’d better like “continual learning.”

    Regarding having another skill: it’s the other way around, really. Obviously having another skill is a great complement to knowing any foreign language. It’s just not a good reason to learn Japanese! If you were already an engineer, for example, and then started working for a Japanese company, and foresaw working there long-term–then that would be a good reason to start learning. On the other hand, as a Westerner who has already acquired Japanese skills (i.e. after graduating and working with Japanese for a number of years), you have every reason to acquire another skill, and particularly one that complements the work that is available at Japanese companies. You can always go back to school, or even learn new things through “on-the-job” training.

    The reasons I would say you could have for getting this degree are:
    1) You like Japanese (a lot), and are seriously considering becoming a translator or interpeter
    2) You don’t mind (or like) moving for work
    3) You don’t want to have to deal with competition or lack of work
    4) You want decent pay
    5) You want to get into academics (e.g. Japanese literature) and plan to go on to graduate school

    Reasons you should not study Japanese:
    1) You are only interested in it because of anime or manga

  • ann

    you’re soo right in the studyin on ur own part. I absolutely adoore languages. by 11 i started learning japanese on my own just whenever i had time, and by 14 i was fluent, like… reeaaaally fluent. I speak french and spanish as well hey! :) but.. no, spanish is way more complicated than japanese. Do you really.. i mean how much do you know of spanish?’s …spanish is waaaayyy more difficult, the only thing in which japanese is difficult is in writing yeah, and still.. you only need memory and discipline. By the way, english is NOT my first language, And of course haha it’s a lot easier than japanese, but.. wow really, japanese is nowhere near difficult! just that.. some people think that learning languages is real hard.. Forget the fear of it being something different! That’s what i always tell my students! I currently teach english for high school students, and that’s what I always tell them. Hey i teach literature! and english is not my first language. heheh really, languages are not that hard. Babies learn them! even when they don’t have any other language to translante to.

  • Tofugu Hardcore Fan

    Don’t worry, John. I think the intention of your article was very obvious. Some people are inevitably bounded to be offended when reading something they might not like to hear.
    P.S. Long life to non-shaved faces!

  • Jon Walmsley

    You pretty much said everything I was going to say in reply to this article, and more, and said it better too! I’m currently preparing to start my 4 year Japanese studies degree this autumn, having been learning the language in my own time for 1 and a half years already, literally studying it every day on impulse. As you said, “it’s not really a matter of skill; it’s a matter of dedication” and dedication takes passion of which I feel I have no shortage of. You get out what you put in – provided you pick the best institution to work at that is.

  • ヘイリー *≧▽≦)

    Hey so Im an undergrad double majoring in Chinese and Japanese. People keep telling me that I should have no problem getting a good job with these degrees, but reading your blog post has given me some doubts. I started freshmen year in Level 3 Japanese and Level 2 Chinese so Im ahead of most people my age, but I worry about how what other skills i should be developing in preparation for finding a career. I love language, but Im not sure if I really want to be a teacher or translator. Any thoughts? Thanks!

  • Stephen Miller

    You are among a few very people even close to being qualified for jobs like this one (which is incidentally in Southern CA):

    You may not have 2 years of interpreting experience, but as of right now the job’s been posted for at least a month and a half already. I’m sure they would consider you, seeing as they haven’t found anyone else yet. Now whether you could interpret satisfactorily from Japanese to English/Spanish is another story. (Your Japanese doesn’t have to be perfect but interpreting is rarely taught in language classes and can be tough to get the hang of at first.)

    Your best option is probably to go on JET and be a CIR for 1 or 2 years. It’s an easy way to pick up translation/interpreting experience to overcome the experience requirements that serves as a barrier to entry for certain industry jobs, like the one above. You can also improve your conversational Japanese just by being an ALT.

  • Stephen Miller

    Good luck with your studies. Lately I have been considering going back to school to get a degree in translation/interpretation. I discovered that some schools (like the Monterey Institute) offer scholarships if you previously worked for JET. Even though JET is the only job I did after graduation that did not directly involve translation/interpretation (I was an ALT), it really helped me with my translation career and it looks like it’s not about to stop. I highly recommend you consider JET once you graduate.

  • kmacca

    The spoken version is much easier than French (no need to gender everything, and misgendering something might change its meaning) and I find the majority of the writing is intuitive (the kanji for Friday essentially reads “gold sun” i.e. “pay day”). Sometimes I will write in kanji because I can’t actually remember what the words sound like, but the kanji just makes sense.

  • Jasmine

    At my intro level class at university, we learned all of the kana within the first week of classes. I think the speed of study really depends on the class.

  • Jasmine Hensley

    To start, I’d just like to say that I agree that it’s good to warn people about the dangers of majoring in Japanese, because I think some people are too optimistic and living in dream land about it.

    I’ve completely two years of Japanese at university and am about to study abroad in Japan. I’m double majoring in Environmental Studies and Japanese, and am going to be an environmental researcher (I know that to most people this probably sounds ridiculous, but I promise I know what I’m doing). Obviously I fall under the point about double majoring with something more “useful.” Also, because I’m not trying to get a job based solely on my Japanese skills, I can’t really comment on most of the cons of this article.

    However, something that bothers me more than anything else are your generalizations about the level of Japanese that you will leave university with. After my first semester of Japanese at university, my skills were good enough that I could have easily gotten by in Japan (certainly above “preschooler” level). By the end of two years, my language skill is close to high school level, I’d estimate. I really feel like the quality of the classes and the ability of the students varies so much from school to school that you can’t make such general statements. I go to a top 20 university in the US, and I would be willing to bet that most people who agree and say that their college Japanese classes were useless didn’t go to a very good school (or at least not one with a good Japanese program).

  • Doobie

    Totally agree with all the points in this article. I’ve been a Japanophile since I was 18, studied Japanese at Uni, had a ton of Japanese girlfriends and now live in Japan. Japanese is a hard language to master. University was next to useless. I learned more than 4 years of Uni simply living in the country for a few months. Next; Picking up Japanese to a functional level is a sinch, but mastering it to where you are able to be successfully employed not only takes time, but also requires a certain talent with languages- in other words, if you don’t have the kind of brain that picks up languages easily then you’ll likely never be able to become really fluent. It’s nothing like learning Italian. All the phrasal verbs, common proverbs and verb roots that are shared throughout European languages go out the window. Next: You need to be extremely studious to get the kanji down, a real bookworm type. God knows, I’ve lived here over 10 years and although I speak it every day there’s no way I could get a job with my level.

    Think of it like this, how many Chinese students living in the US/UK do you see able to speak perfect English and working in a company in your country? Not many. Well, that’s you in reverse. Besides, there *are* no jobs for foreigners over here in companies. It’s a rare thing to find.

    All things aside, Japan is a fantastic place to live, a safe and wonderful country with pleasant people. Living here you can either teach English(nice job with a competitive salary), build your own business such as a restaurant, a trading company, or your own English school. You simply have to think outside the box in order to rise above the ranks of the lowly English teacher. There are opportunities out there, but you have to make them yourself or find the right contacts.

  • Conzuelo Huesca

    Hello, I have to say you made some very interesting points throughout your article and honestly it made me want to do something with Japanese in college all the more :D I am currently taking a year off from college and I’ll be going back next fall, but as a bilingual I am not only fascinated with Japanese but also with Spanish which happens to be my native tongue, oh…and did I mention I love computers as well! So I want to study Computer Programming, Japanese and Spanish (basically just polish it up a bit). How do you think I should go about this? I’d like to know your opinion on how to arrange them in the major/minor category. Thanks a bunch for reading, I hope to hear soon from you!


  • Alec

    you should have been born in sweden, where university education is free and you even get a monthly payment for studying ^_^ lol. But yea, sweden is good! I’m taking an online japanese course just while I’m waiting to see if I will get the scholarship I applied for or not. I feel that I could have studied just as well by myself, but by doing it this way, I get free money.

  • Lava Yuki

    I don’t think its a good idea to a major in Japanese, especially in terms of jobs. You can learn Japanese equally as well with a combination of self-study, a extra curricular classroom lessons or a private teacher (if possible), as well as watching and reading Japanese media material. Also, if you can, a trip to Japan to go to a language school for a few months (like in summer holidays) is a great way to really boast ur skills. This is what i did. My major is Medicine, but Ive just been doing Japanese on the side via private lessons, self study, video games and manga, as well as going to language school in Japan during my summer holidays. Now I can have conversations with Japanese friends, read Japanese books for younger readers (am reading Harry Potter atm), as well as understand a lot of the dialogue from video games. This is after 3 years with no Japanese major.

    I’d say just do Japanese as a minor or side to your major. Not only will it make you more marketable in terms of jobs, it will better your chances of getting a non-English teaching job in Japan. Jobs for translating can be very competitive in Japan (According to Japanese friend who works at a translating company in Osaka), so its better not to put all your eggs in one basket.

  • Carthegian

    Been a frequent visitor so far, and kinda happy to find reference of KL here.. :) I’m a self-learner Japanese, living not far away from UM..

  • Ichibannorts

    I’m close to finishing my BA studies as a Japanese and English major and I’m really in doubt about my competence and skills. I don’t even know if I’ll be able to find a job. :-(

  • Kieran

    Focus on learning Japanese. Talk to Japanese people, read literature, learn to translate… Like with any skill, you have to be pretty good at Japanese to make money from it!

  • Kieran

    Couldn’t agree more. I have met many Japanese and Chinese majors who can barely introduce themselves, let alone read a novel. Some of them list translation and interpretation as skills on LinkedIn, but if you are “limited working proficiency” and JLPT 3 or even 2 that’s not going to impress anyone. There’s no way they can really do translation, let alone interpretation. I have spent lots and lots of hours (months, years) learning Japanese and can speak fluently, read novels, even read some Classical Literature, and write papers, but I can’t interpret professionally (that takes special training), and after lots of translation practice in my research I still won’t be able to translate medical, legal, or very technical writing. It’s GREAT FUN learning Japanese, but it’s not EASY. As you said, you can make as much or more money translating French (the language of banking in Europe).

  • Jessha

    I’m majoring in Japanese, so I figured I’d give my two cents.
    1: Completely agree with having to supplement your learning, but it can really be as simple as watching dramas. My listening improved immensely, and even my grammar, to an extent, without even consciously studying.
    2: I think you had went into Japanese with the wrong impression in the first place, to be honest. I also think your university did a poor job of expressing the reality. I’ve studied Japanese at two different universities, and they both made it clear by the end of four years you should only be able to pass JLPT2, and that it’s nearly impossible to pass JLPT1 without living in Japan for at least a year. So I’ve known from the start that completing my Japanese degree doesn’t mean I’m going to be fluent. I also know that the university I’m currently at actually ends at a lower level than most other universities in the country. It’s definitely what you’ve been saying about knowing what you’re getting into before you get into it.
    3: A lot of job hunting is being able to market yourself. I’m not even finished my degree and I have a professor at a university in Japan who pulled me aside and offered to give me any references or recommendations that I might need in the future. I also admittedly have an amazing Japanese professor here that really cares about her students and encourages them as well as giving them extra pushes. She actually hired me as the Japanese TA for lower level students this year, even though I’m really not confident about my level. However, I’ve found that since she hired me that I’ve been talking more to my Japanese friends in Japanese when I absolutely refused to before. Finally, one student from my university was able to get into Kyoto with JET, which is pretty near impossible in the first place, simply because the interviewer liked him (and actually told him this is why he got Kyoto).

    My advice is pretty much the same as yours. You need to know what you’re getting into, and you need to do MORE. Not even just supplemental studying, you need to be involved in everything at the university that has to do with international relations (especially Japan). I’ve personally done a “Buddy Program”, worked in ESL as a TA, did an ambassador program at a Japanese university, working as the Japanese TA now, on the board for the Japanese Culture Club (was actually offered presidency last year, but they decided to go with someone else because I’ll be finishing soon), done conversation clubs with some Japanese friends, did a short term study abroad in Japan, and spend my breaks hanging out with other Japanese-language students and with Japanese exchange students. That’s just been over the past two years. This isn’t me bragging about what I’ve been involved in, it’s just an example of how many professional contacts I’ve made that can help me in my future. Like I said, I’m really not that confident about my level in Japanese. I wasn’t the top in my class or anything like that (except in listening, from all that drama watching).

    Really, for ANY degree, just doing the degree is pretty much never enough.

  • Japanese lover

    It depends on the teacher, the student and the place that you studied. I have studied Japanese for less than a year and I know more Japanese than a person who took 2 years of Japanese in a community college. I paid for Japanese courses at Japan Society where they were native Japanese teachers. Plus if your first language is Spanish than it’s really easy to understand Japanese because Japanese and Spanish are very similar in pronunciation and the vowels. If you did not have luck with the Japanese language probably was because as English native is more difficult to pronounce the vowels and to understand the language. Second it’s the dedication that a person takes to study. When I register for the Japanese courses at Japan Society by myself I studied before going there. Through online free lessons learning Hiragana, Katakana and useful phrases. When I got there I already knew those two alphabets plus it was more easy for me to understand.

    Right now Japanese is in high demand and that’s because there are not many people that speaks that language. They pay good salaries and the most important thing is that if you really like the language you will learn it quickly. Studying Japanese is taking a good look at books of grammar, writing and spelling. Don’t think that your Japanese is going to be good just because you were studying by reading manga books. That is the dumbest idea to do!! That is a slang Japanese and in the future you will have a lot of problems with that.

    Do what you have to do!! Don’t get influence by people who did not put that much effort studying and they just give up easily!!

    They were not perseverance enough!!!

  • Okane

    People don’t let this blog change your decisions about what you should do. Sometimes there are people who want to influence you in a bad way. I graduated with a minor in Japanese and I found a good job where is essential that you know Japanese. Now days is very important to know more than one language. If you work hard and love the language you will be able to understand it very well. Hard work pays off!!!

  • Michael Milligan

    Thank you so much for taking the time to write this. I really appreciate it.

  • Melissa Hanung

    I’m sad that this article pops up many times on google search for about *anything* I typed… I’m afraid this will discourage people..

    You forgot to mention that as Japanese’s birth always decrease every year *it has upside-down pyramid model* than it in constant need of work force. And second thing you forgot to mention is that Japanese ppl REALLY, REALLY appreciate foreigners that can speak / write in their language and offer TONNS of scholarships in their schools.

  • Laura

    Hi, thanks for the article. Actually I’m not American, but I’m Italian and I can say that we have the same problem here.
    I graduated at the Language Department of a famous university and my major was Japanese and Chinese Language. After 5 years of university (Italians like to make it longer) I can say I couldn’t really speak Japanese. To tell you the truth I had a decent level of understanding because I liked to study by myself using songs, movies and TV series but I couldn’t speak a sentence. Since in Italy students are not always forced to attend classes, I stopped to attend Japanese language classes during my 4th year because they were REALLY useless. After I graduated, I decided to go to spend all my money in Japan and spent there 1 years and half. I made Japanese friends and attended a VERY GOOD Japanese course at Doshisha Daigaku in Kyoto and I came back to Italy with a good level of language skills, not perfect but good. One month later, I found a job for a large Italian company and I have been working for 2 years as customer assistant/secretary for a team of Japanese clients and engineers. It is a nice job, decently paid and I can speak Japanese for about 60% of my working time. BUT. It’s temporary. When Clients go, I go with them. Now I’m thinking to go for translation jobs, but I’m not sure that it is the solution. The funny thing is that even if you try to look for a job with Chinese language, jobs with Japanese language still seems to be more offered than the ones with Chinese here.

  • Hyunnaye

    Everyone’s experience varies! It depends on their language skills so just because you didn’t have a great time in Japan and you didn’t really use the language to the best of your abilities doesn’t mean you have to tell others not to learn the language! Sure you may have tried not to offend or make anyone feel bad but that is too late! Don’t think that just because you had that experience everyone/anyone is gonna go through what you did! You should have put “5 things to consider before going to Japan or learning the language”…that way you aren’t offending or hurting anyone! Though the points you have made may be experienced by anyone but you should have considered giving advice to people not what it seems like criticizing people! (I know you aren’t but it seems that way!)
    To sum it up: You have been through it but stop crushing other people’s dreams with YOUR experiences! Like I said everyone’s experiences differs so let them choose and try it!

  • jjjjjjjjjjjeeeeeeeeeeeeaaaa

    I believe this goes with majoring in any language. Double majoring is also a good option. I know several people that doubled up with a language of their choice and international relations/political science/business/ international business/economics. It gives you more job opportunities.

  • Karen Zheung

    Thank you so much for that post! I haven been studying Japanese since middle school and now in my senior year i wanted to major in it in college since i really love it. While I understand I need to be realistic I didn’t want to feel completely crushed. This has given me a lot of encouragement and more confidence in my decisions.

  • MarySue

    Same for me this article help me finalize my decision for my major. My mother had be trying to convince me that it shouldn’t be my only plan, that its not stable even though i had a passion for it. Due to that I didn’t listen that is until i say this article. It really convinced me because it was someone who had actually attempted what i was aiming for and it made more of an impact. Thank You for your time in preventing bad decision!

  • 12a1146

    I can totally confirm that studying Japanese is a complete waste of
    time!! I studied 2 years at a Japanese language school and then 2
    years at University in Japan (all in Japanese of course). After all that
    I feel nothing but regret for wasting so much of my time learning
    something so harmful. I say harmful because the process of learning
    Japanese means your are hated by the students that want to practice
    English. That may sound strange however there isn’t a day that goes by
    at University that there isn’t pressure to speak English.
    When ever you meet a new person you can feel the disappointment or even

    not only that – studying at University in Japan was the worse
    experience of my life. All the Japanese students do nothing by sleep,
    play games on their cel phones, or talk to friends during class. If you
    don’t believe this you can ask any student in Japan – the Universities
    are almost impossible to get in, but once you are in, you can sleep and
    still pass all your classes!!

    If you are thinking of studying Japanese don’t listen to all these
    people who pretend they can speak Japanese. I’m so tired of hearing
    people say they can speak Japanese and give advice when they only
    know a bit of conversation Japanese. NO>>> if you are going to
    get advice, you get it from people like me who can write a full page
    essay in Japanese in 10-15 minutes. Maybe that is a good question to
    ask someone boasting that they can speak Jap and are giving you advice…
    “so… how long would it take you to write a 1 page essay in Japanese?”

    So how good is my Japanese? I passed level one in 2008…. and I still don’t
    feel comfortable in the language at all. I speak a few languages and for
    some reason although I’ve studied Japanese the longest (6 years in Japan!), it doesn’t feel
    at all natural. I blame this on the illogical grammar and never ending
    exceptions to the rule.

    Can I get a job using my Japanese – sure, in Japan… I could easily get
    a job teaching English… lol… at least teaching English would pay
    more than some job I can get using my Japanese. You will find and
    rightfully so.. Japanese companies will only want to hire native
    Japanese speakers if the job is about speaking Japanese. On the other
    hand, Japanese companies will totally hire me to work in their offices
    speaking English. They will hire me first and foremost because they feel
    that I will act like I’m Japanese.

    Not to sound too negative however if you are not already fluent, don’t
    waste your time learning Japanese other than maybe a bit of conversation
    stuff. I can confirm 100% that there is nothing more I regret in my life than having wasted about 5000 thousands hours studying Japanese – makes me want to cry!

  • Scott Connor

    I am doing a degree in Pharmaceutical Chemistry which I really enjoy, but halfway though my degree I found my love for Japanese. So I am now self-studying and planning to take the JLPT n5 soon. This works for me because there are alot of jobs in Pharmaceutical Chemistry at the moment so I will be sorted for a job (hopefully) and I can learn the language at my own pace. I speak with native Japanese people at the moment and use a textbook and kanji cards to learn. I also use memrise and pimsleur. I hope to be fluent in Japanese one day, so I may take night classes. But I don’t think I would do a degree in Japanese. Maybe when I am older and if I am unemployed but other than that I wouldn’t

  • Kat

    I found my degree in Japanese to be wholly worthwhile, and have written an article about why:

  • Ale

    I write from Italy and I totally agree. I just earned a bachelor degree in Japanese language and culture and I was quite desperate about what I should do after. Here the university system is quite strict and if you undergraduate in one field you have to major in the same one. By the way, after months of research and several trips to all kind of offices, I finally managed to majoring in marketing. I think that I made a good choise and that it whorts the extra year of study that I have to do to get in pair with this program. (Sorry if my english si notte perfect)

    Greatings gram Rome!

  • Ale

    *to major

  • Ale

    *from Rome

  • Paul Heidt

    I have a question about when you said “Since most people aren’t at this level when they graduate” I live in South Africa JHB and Japanese as a High School subject is non-existant so id like to find out. Sounds like Japanese may be a subject for your school that you graduated at? Please tell me at what grade you had the option to start learning?Or unless it was Varsity and not school? Im fascinated!I am teaching a young girl she is in grade 9 at the moment so my contemplations are what level of Japanese is taught in Schools that have it as an option.And i dnt mean Japanese Schools, Western Schools.

  • David Curry

    I’ve been reflecting a bit on how I’ve spent my adult life. In the past 5 years, I moved from casually learning Japanese– never questioning my learning resources or learning progress– to stomping my foot on the gas. In that frame, I learned over 2000 kanji, built my vocabulary, ironed out most of the problems I had with grammar. I can now read a news article without assistance, listen to and understand spoken or written dialogue. My weakest ability is speaking or output/finding something to say ()or finding the courage to do it). I just don’t know what to do with it.

    I lived in Japan for a long time… but long story short, it hasn’t worked out. It’s not for me, or rather, I’m not for them. I’m not big on Japanese entertainment or culture (anime, music, etc) where JP comprehension skill would be an advantage. I’m just glad that I learned everything on the Internet for free, instead of taking out loans for school.

    So am i stuck with a meaningless skill? I’ve been thinking about learning Cantonese, since I find myself understanding the traditional Chinese writing after having studied kanji… but I don’t think Cantonese is in demand anymore, is it? I can’t make heads or tails of the simplified Chinese writing commonly used in Mandarin, which I hear is a marketable skill.

  • Kotak

    Non native speaker here. First off majoring in Japanese is not a good idea. I’m trilingual and not american, please correct any of my spelling errors if you find any. You won’t though. It’s not hard to be fluent in Japanese(or any language) as a matter of fact its fun. I can understand more then any Japanese major and I have zero debt. I can still put fluent in Japanese on my resume just like you. What do you think looks better someone who is an engineer/programmer who is fluent in Japanese or just someone who is fluent in Japanese with no other degree? Stop defending your degree, its useless. Also if you are living in Japan why the hell would you major in Japanese? Why not shoot for a degree that is guaranteed to make capital and just learn Japanese on the side? That’s as dumb as majoring in english in American. Use your common sense. It’s your bank account though.

  • Shishi

    Regardless of whether or not you choose to major in Japanese, remember to be flexible. Keep on learning new skills not matter what, do not be afraid to try new things, and consider how Japanese can aid those skills you are currently developing.

  • Alice

    Hey, I’m sorry, I just can’t resist.
    “That’s as dumb as majoring in english in American”

  • Justan

    You really have no clue what you’re talking about…. do you? Go look up a guy named Danny Choo then try again.