• TOP
  • The Appeal of Learning the Japanese Language

The Appeal of Learning the Japanese Language

By Richard Harrison
Kobe University
October 13, 2023


Language learning has always held a special place in human culture and cognition. Beyond its utilitarian function of communication, the acquisition of a new language opens up windows to understanding different cultures, and expanding cognitive abilities. One language that has captured the hearts and minds of many learners around the world is Japanese.

According to the Japan Foundation's "Survey Report on Japanese-Language Education Abroad" the number of Japanese language learners around the world has increased by about 30-fold in the past 40 years, reaching 3,794,714 as of fiscal 2021.

With its intricate writing systems, nuanced expressions, and rich cultural heritage, the appeal of learning the Japanese language is undeniable. There are many reasons for this appeal, including the rich culture and history of Japan, the widespread popularity of Japanese pop culture growing and the economic power of the country, as well as learning Japanese for one’s own personal growth.
A Japanese texbook on a table

Travel and Personal Exploration

If you are planning on visiting Japan, learning Japanese will make your trip much more enjoyable. For the avid traveler, learning Japanese can be a transformative experience. While many Japanese people do speak English, especially in urban areas, speaking their language can enhance interactions and facilitate a deeper connection with the local culture. Travelers who can communicate effectively in Japanese may uncover hidden gems, engage in authentic conversations, and gain insights that may otherwise remain inaccessible. You will be able to communicate with locals, read signs, and order food without any difficulty. Moreover, the ability to read and navigate signs, menus, and transportation schedules in Japan enhances the overall travel experience. It empowers travelers to venture off the beaten path, explore remote regions, and truly immerse themselves in the country's natural beauty and historical sites.

From my very first short trip around Japan back in the early 1980s, when I knew very little Japanese, through to the present day when I recently completed visits to all 47 prefectures, Japanese has been the key to opening the paths to more and more remote parts of this country, off the beaten track away from high-speed Shinkansen lines. Being able to navigate the Japanese ‘Linguistic Landscape’ undoubtedly gives one access to people, places and cultures that would otherwise go unnoticed.
Japanese signs in Omoide Yokocho, Shinjuku

Cultural Enchantment

Japan boasts a history that spans millennia, and its unique cultural identity is infused with a blend of tradition and modernity. This history is reflected in the country's art, architecture, and literature. However, Japan is also a modern country with a vibrant economy and a thriving pop culture scene. This combination of tradition and modernity makes Japanese culture both fascinating and accessible to learners from all over the world.

Learning the Japanese language allows individuals to access this cultural richness in a more profound way, and can give you a deeper understanding of Japanese culture, from its traditional arts and crafts to its modern pop culture. The language is intricately tied to Japan's classical literature, such as the renowned "Tale of Genji" which dates back to the 11th century. By understanding the language, learners can engage with these literary masterpieces in their original form, gaining insight into the societal values, customs, and ways of thinking during those times.

Moreover, traditional arts like tea ceremony, calligraphy, and flower arrangement are all deeply intertwined with the language. These arts reflect Japan's aesthetics and philosophy, emphasizing harmony, mindfulness, and the appreciation of subtlety. Learning Japanese enhances one's understanding of the underlying cultural nuances that inform these practices, enabling learners to not only participate but also to truly comprehend their significance.

Recently, I completed the 33 Saikoku Kannon Pilgrimage in the Kansai region, retracing the journeys taken by some of the greats of Japanese history such as Murasaki Shikibu and Matsuo Basho, in my own rediscovery of the people and places that appeared in the texts that I had read all those years ago in university.
A mixture of traditional and modern architecture in Japan

Media Literacy

Japanese pop culture has become a global phenomenon, with J-pop music, fashion trends, and subcultures like cosplay gaining followers worldwide. This global popularity has played a significant role in driving interest in the Japanese language. Aspiring enthusiasts who wish to interact with Japanese creators, attend conventions, or consume content in its original language find learning Japanese can give you the opportunity to enjoy these cultural products in their original language. Subtle cultural references, wordplay, and humor are often lost in translation, and learning the language provides a deeper connection to the creators' intent. It can also help you connect with other fans of Japanese subcultures from all over the world.

I particularly enjoy the O-warai culture here in Kansai, not only for its humorous content and linguistic acrobatics, but also for the fact that it plays a big role in everyday interactions in daily life. One of my most memorable experiences here in Kobe was appearing on a popular Japanese variety program called ‘Tantei Knight Scoop’, where I joined forces with one of the ‘detectives’ to track down a copy of a 1960’s million selling song called ‘Manchester and Liverpool’. Together we solved the mystery of this song named after my home town!

Professional Incentives

In today's interconnected world, businesses have expanded their operations beyond national boundaries. Japan, as one of the world's largest economies, offers numerous professional opportunities for those who can bridge the language gap. Proficiency in Japanese can open doors to careers in fields such as international business, trade, technology, and tourism. Whether negotiating deals, conducting market research, or building relationships with Japanese counterparts, language fluency can make a significant difference in one's career trajectory. In addition, Japanese companies are increasingly expanding their operations overseas, which means that there is a growing demand for Japanese speakers in countries all over the world. Learning Japanese can give you a competitive edge in the job market. it can also help you to build relationships with Japanese clients and partners.

Additionally, Japan is renowned for its technological innovation and research. Learning Japanese can be immensely advantageous for individuals aspiring to collaborate with Japanese researchers, work on joint projects, or pursue advanced studies in fields like robotics, engineering, and medicine. Accessing academic literature and attending conferences in the language can facilitate the exchange of ideas and facilitate international collaboration.

Besides shaping my own career, my knowledge of Japanese language has brought me many rewarding and fascinating professional opportunities, ranging from interpreting for a Japanese rhythmic gymnastics team in an international event, through to in-house translating of designs for a new car project for a major Japanese motor company int the UK. Without a doubt, the more proficient you become at Japanese the more opportunities come your way!
A global business meeting conducted in Japanese

Personal Growth

Learning a new language has been proven to have cognitive benefits that extend beyond communication. The complexity of the Japanese language, with its three writing systems (hiragana, katakana, and kanji) and unique grammar structure, challenges learners to think in diverse ways. Learning Japanese involves mastering politeness levels and nuances that reflect the speaker's relationship with the listener. This fosters empathy and a heightened awareness of social dynamics, traits that can extend beyond language interactions into everyday life.

Furthermore, language learning is a gateway to building cross-cultural connections and friendships. Engaging with native speakers allows us to experience cultural exchange first hand, fostering a broader worldview and a deep appreciation for diversity.

As a long-term resident in the Kansai area, I have been able to join many different communities, each with their own linguistic and cultural norms. I recently became a member of the local Hanshin Tigers baseball team fan club, and as well as enjoying the actual games, I also participate daily in Japanese language online fan communities. People from all walks of life share information, opinions and insights engaging in lively debate irrespective of background. Not only does this further my understanding of the game, but also gives me a greater sense of belonging in my local area. These types of interactions are not just intrinsically rewarding in themselves, but help one to grow on a personal level to gain a wider view of Japanese culture and society.

Learning Japanese

Japanese is a relatively difficult language to learn. It has a complex grammar system and a writing system that uses three different sets of characters, with a large number of kanji characters. There are many textbooks, online courses, and language schools that can teach you the basics of Japanese. Learning Japanese reading and writing takes time and effort. Find a learning method that works for you, experiment with different methods until you find one that you enjoy and that fits your learning style. Set realistic goals, don't try to learn everything about Japanese overnight, set small, achievable goals for yourself and gradually work your way up.

Learning Japanese to native level takes time and effort, but it is a rewarding experience that can open up new opportunities. If you are interested in Japanese culture, anime, or simply want to expand your linguistic horizons, learning Japanese is a great option.


In conclusion, the appeal of the Japanese language is multifaceted and profound. From cultural immersion and media appreciation to professional opportunities and personal growth, the benefits of acquiring this language are abundant.

Some specific benefits of learning Japanese are that, you will have a better understanding of Japanese culture, in its original form. You will be able to communicate with native Japanese speakers, allowing you to travel to Japan and have meaningful conversations with locals and build relationships with Japanese friends and colleagues. You will be more marketable in the job market. Many businesses are looking for employees who can speak Japanese, and this can give you a competitive edge in the job market, and open up new career opportunities. You will challenge yourself and expand your horizons.

As the world continues to globalize, the ability to communicate in Japanese equips individuals with skills that transcend language itself, enabling them to bridge cultures, form meaningful connections, and navigate the complexities of an increasingly interconnected world.
Post your comments