5 Reasons You Shouldn’t Major in Japanese (and 2 You Might Consider It)

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!

  • 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.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1267226884 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? ..it’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!

  • http://www.youtube.com/user/YAMAstudios 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. :-(

  • http://kiroma.wordpress.com/ 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!

  • http://kiroma.wordpress.com/ 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

  • http://www.japanese-tutor.co.za 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.