The language and culture in Japan are both to be admired. Your language learning will not only teach you grammar, pronunciation, and words and phrases, but also about Japanese history, its traditions, and the important role that it plays in the world today.
But how is it that a country perceived to be so far from the western world, with a completely different language, can be so important? To answer this question in detail, you should learn to speak Japanese as the language is so heavily intertwined into the culture and history.
When it comes to Japanese learning, any learner will need to be motivated. This is the same for studying any new language, but luckily the benefits of learning Japanese serve as excellent sources of motivation.
At the end of this article, not only will you want to learn Japanese, you will also have an idea of the important role that Japan plays in the international system, as well as understanding the relations between Japan and the Western world.
For a long time Japan, wasn’t interested in global expansion. During many different periods, starting with the Asuka period which began in the 6th century, the country concentrated on internal development which led to the cultivation of politics and a strong culture with a set of values characterised by respect and politeness. The language was the vehicle which showed these advancements, and itself was highly developed at this time.
And although Japan engaged sporadically with the modern western world in the millennium that followed, it wasn’t until the Meiji era (1868-1912) that Japan started to modernise its foreign policy.
This allowed Japan to start fully engaging in the international community because, prior to this, cultural distinctions had characterised East Asian view of the world order, rather than the modern view of nations and states.
The decision came about after many attempts by western countries to start trading with Japan, often accompanied by threats of force when Japan refused. Japan hadn’t engaged with western technology and subsequently it wouldn’t have been able to defend itself from any attack by a foreign force.
The Tokugawa shogunate first opened Japan up to Western commerce in 1854 via the U.S.- Japan Treaty of Peace and Amity. When the Meiji government was established in 1868 after the overthrowing of the Tokugawa shogunate, westernisation of Japan started to really begin.
Any Japanese course that you take should teach you at least a little bit about Japanese history, although this is likely to be at a more intermediate level. One thing that is for certain is that you can learn Japanese to learn about the country.
Close ties between Japan and the west are important for all countries involved
The first half of the 20th century say tensions fray between Japan and the west. Japanese expansion and aggression abroad culminated in the Japanese air force carrying out a bombing raid on the US Naval Base at Pearl Harbor in December 1941. Japan had already sided against the allied forces, made up of many countries around the world, including the western powers of the UK, the USA, Canada, France, Netherlands, Australia, and New Zealand.
This led the USA to declare war on Japan, and 4 years later in 1945, drop two atomic bombs 4 days apart, firstly on Hiroshima, and subsequently on Nagasaki.
However, after the end of the Second World War, Japan started to re-engage with the international community, and particularly the west, by joining the Cold War Security Alliance.
By the late 1990s, Japanese relation with the west had greatly improved. The major cause of friction in the relationship, trade disputes, became less problematic as China displaced Japan as the greatest perceived economic threat. Meanwhile, though in the immediate post–Cold War period the security alliance suffered from a lack of a defined threat, the emergence of North Korea as a belligerent rogue state and China’s economic and military expansion provided a purpose to strengthen the relationship.
And thus Japan became one of the key allies for the western powers in the region, which saw the relationship grow even further, strategically, politically, and economically. One of the key developments in relations was seen in the increase in student exchange programs between Japan and countries such as the USA, Canada, the UK, and Australia. Such programs give beginners the chance to study through an immersion course so as to improve their language skills and fluency.
There are many advantages of doing this. You could learn Japanese to teach at home in your country, or to go and live and work in Japan itself.
The world has grown to love Japanese comics. No need to speak Japanese or have taken online Japanese courses to understand the adventures of Naruto or Knights of the Zodiac: all these comics have been translated from Japanese to English.
Limiting Japanese interests to manga would be reductive…though it is true that these books have inspired young generations to read and write in Japanese. Hence the proliferation of Japanese classes and Japanese calligraphy–where it is possible to learn kanji, hiragana, katakana, and rômaji with a Japanese language tutor!
Japanese food is very popular worldwide as well, and there are countless restaurants and even fast-food restaurants that have sushi, sashimi, and other tempura dishes.
Japan also makes its presence felt in many other areas:
Japanese art (ukiyo-e prints, paintings and ceramics) has also caused great inspiration for certain artists such as Georgia O’keefe.
Anime has spread beyond Japan’s borders and has infiltrated our Halloween costumes!
Learning Japanese for a trip to Japan is a great idea, but what’s more, Japanese interest in the western world is growing too, making this admiration bilateral!
Who hasn’t seen those thousands of Japanese tourists walking around New York City, London, Toronto, or Sydney with enthusiasm!
The Japanese love to discover elements of cultures that they visit.
Generally speaking, countries tend to do the vast amount of trade with their closest neighbours. However, one striking thing about Japan’s biggest trading partners is that almost half of the top 15 are not located in Asia. The USA, Australia, Germany, the UK, the Netherlands, and Mexico, all feature on the list. This shows the strength of Japanese relations with western countries as trade is often seen as an indicator of importance between nations.
The USA is Japan’s largest economic partner, taking 31.5% of its exports, supplying 22.3% of its imports, and accounting for 45.9% of its direct investment abroad in 1990. As of 2013, the United States takes up 18% of Japanese exports, and supplies 8.5% of its imports (the slack having been picked up by China, which now provides 22%).
For the European Union, trading has been strong with Japan for many years. Japan is the EU’s third biggest trading partner outside of Europe (the USA and China are the first two), and the agreement in principle of a free trade deal between the EU and Japan in 2017 should see trade increase through the removal of tariffs, as well as a deepening of the strategic partnership between the two economic giants.
Not yet convinced it’s a good idea to take Japanese classes and learn how to speak the language?
We’re not done!
Tokyo is one of the most iconic cities in the world
Learning Japanese can open doors in many different ways. If you are fluent, you can move to Japan to live and work. Learning Japanese for use in business is one of the principal reasons that people decide to take language lessons. Remember that you will need to improve your listening, reading and writing skills, as well as mastering the spoken language.
Working in Japan will require more than the greetings that basic Japanese will teach you, after all.
At the cultural level, many associations offer exchanges between the two countries. Japanese language courses, Japanese vocabulary training, free Japanese classes, classes on the history of Japan: these are the different things you can focus on when taking classes at these Japanese cultural associations.
Japanese language courses will get you one step closer to the cultural oddities of the land of the rising sun.
Traveling to Japan could mean discovering a whole new culture!
Some associations also offer preparation for the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JPLT), an official exam organized in July and December of each year aimed at certifying the Japanese language level of non-native speakers.
What’s more, the western world has benefited greatly from Japanese cultural exports such as manga, anime, and video games, with all three being a great way to improve your language skills whilst having fun. You Japanese classes will almost definitely touch on these key aspects of Japanese culture, but you can also use them to study outside of the classroom as well.
To learn Japanese, one of the reference manuals used in language schools in Japan is the Minna no Nihongo. It is considered indispensable if you want to take classes of Japanese anywhere in the world.
Finally, look out for a look Matsuri in your area. These are cultural festivals that promote the Japanese culture, and can now be found in big cities across the world.
There are lots of reasons to learn Japanese so don’t miss out on it if you want to go to Japan, or are thinking about organizing a language study trip and need useful information before going on your way!