Nobody knows the true origin of the Japanese language. While some believe Japanese has its roots in Chinese, others argue that Korean forms its basis. The fact remains that Japanese quite simply is an unsolved mystery. The Japanese language represents an isolate, a language with no other known language related to it. What’s more, it’s defined as a less commonly taught critical language. With only 126 million Japanese speakers worldwide (121 million in Japan alone), it is no wonder that demand far exceeds supply. Knowing Japanese will therefore put you in a relatively exclusive group and open up many opportunities for you.
Perhaps one of the reasons Japanese is not commonly taken (as is the case with, for example, Spanish and French) is the perception that it is a difficult language. There are three written languages – Kanji, Hiragana and Katakana – which is probably one explanation for this perception. While this may seem staggering to beginning Japanese learners, rest assured that foreigners can function quite normally with just Hiragana or Katakana, which each contain roughly 44 characters that represent sounds – just as with English. Spoken Japanese is much easier to learn, with only 5 vowel sounds, no conjugation of verbs to reflect gender or number, and only two tenses: past and present (which is also used to speak about the future).
Currently, Japan is the third largest economic power in the world, and one of the world’s foremost producers of electronics, R&D (pharmaceuticals, medicine, electronics and computer-related technology), computers, automobiles and steel, and its largest trading partner is the United States (which imports a whopping 25% of Japanese exports). Other major receivers of Japanese exports include Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong, China, and South Korea. Therefore, learning Japanese would make you a major asset in the areas of business, engineering, research, manufacturing, economics, and politics. Furthermore, Japan’s position as a major world power means that your opportunities through learning Japanese would expand to cover the entire Pacific Rim area, as well as other parts of the world.
As a cultural presence, Japan has become a very real part of life in the United States and around the world, yet most people know very little about it. Learning Japanese in Japan will give you an opportunity to learn more about the meaning and history behind, for example, origami, bonsai, kabuki, poetry, and tea ceremonies; Japan’s legends like the Kamikaze and Kintaro; and how shoguns and samurai fit into Japan’s military history. With knowledge like this of Japanese culture, as well as the ability to communicate in both English and Japanese, you would be a real asset as a cultural liaison for many companies.
While your interest in learning Japanese may stem from wanting to watch anime or understand the different parts of a tea ceremony, you will find that your knowledge of Japanese will prove to be a useful skill, sometimes in unexpected ways!