You've all probably heard by now that you do not need to know Japanese to live in Japan, especially if you live in one of the major cities. You've heard stories from people who've lived in Japan for 20 years and don't know a lick of Japanese. They might say they're doing just fine and that learning Japanese is a waste of time.
Perhaps they are right. If you look at that situation initially, living in a country for years and not knowing the language seems to back up their position. But I think the term "getting by" fits accurately in this case. I do not see the people who live in Japan and don't bother learning Japanese as successful. To go a step further, I think they do themselves quite a dishonor by boasting of such a feat. Here are some reasons why I believe that if you are going to be moving to and living in Japan, you need to learn as much Japanese as possible.
1. Everything Becomes Much Easier to Do
This should go without saying, as it seems like such an obvious answer. But you'd be surprised at the people I see who just struggle daily to do even mundane tasks. Sure there are signs written in (more often than not) poorly worded English that can give someone the idea of its intent. But even small tasks such as going to the grocery store, taking out your garbage, or navigating your way around your city can be a daunting challenge if you are clueless to the language. Why would you want to have the extra burden of not knowing what something says to add to any stress levels you might have?
One important area that I think is vital to know is being able to read food labels. If you have any sort of allergy or health concern, you will want to know what foods or items contain certain ingredients. If you're a vegetarian or, god help you, a vegan, you might be shocked to know that there are many items in Japan that contain fish or animal products.
It saves you immense time and energy to take a little bit of time in your day to study the language.
2. It Opens Up an Entire New World
Those who boast of not learning Japanese while living in Japan are often found in secluded little bubbles of other foreigners. They seem to avoid interacting with Japanese people at all costs and are content basking in their own protective worlds. Now, there is nothing wrong with choosing who you wish to interact with. I'm a firm believer that people have the right to freely associate with whomever they choose. But again, you'd be missing out on an entire world of people and culture that can greatly enrich your life.
Simply learning Japanese can teach you so much about how Japanese people think, and where they come from on a cultural level. There is a long standing troupe about foreigners not understanding why the Japanese do the things that they do, and why at times it can seem inefficient or just bizarre. More than likely, the Japanese are thinking the same way about the foreigner in this case. A lack of communication not only creates a language barrier, but it can create an awkward and tense situation out of something that should be innocent. Learning Japanese can be key to avoiding communication mishaps and cultural faux pas.
Not only can it prevent negative situations from arising, but it could lead to you meeting awesome people you may not have met otherwise. If you choose not to learn Japanese if you're in Japan you are closing yourself off from millions of potential people. You are regulating yourself to other foreigners, or Japanese who happen to have an interest in speaking English.
3. It Teaches You to Become More Self-Sufficient
One of the most annoying things in the world for me is to feel helpless. I hate having to rely on other people to help me all of the time and to hold my hand to do even the simplest tasks. Now, there's nothing wrong with getting help from someone every once in a while or if the situation warrants it, but if you're an adult, you need to know how to take care of yourself. When you first come to Japan, there will be so much that you just cannot do without help. This is fine and just a matter of course. But over time, if you do not learn to speak or read Japanese in certain situations, you will forever be trapped at the whim of others helping you. You will be seen as infantile and treated as such if you still rely on your friends, boss, or loved one to get you through every situation. That not only puts a burden on others, but it keeps you from being self-sufficient and less independent.
Now obviously, you cannot go from not knowing how to use an ATM to suddenly renting your own place or doing business over night. Of course it takes time. But if you make just a little effort each day, you can get to a decent level in no time.
4. Myth Busted: It's Not Really That Hard to Learn
Now, this may come as a shock to many, but learning Japanese is not hard. Learning any language is not that hard. Everyone has learned a language in their life (unless of course they have a disability that keeps them from doing so, but c'mon I'm not talking to those people anyway). If you've graduated from high school and have a college degree, you are smart enough to learn another language.
Japanese can seem daunting at first, but it truly is not as difficult as it may seem. Just a little practice each day is enough to get you do a decent level quickly. You don't have to know everything in the beginning, but that shouldn't keep you from just going forward. The first few years (and to this day) I exposed myself to Japanese I didn't understand. I forgot about trying to understand it and just let my brain take it in. You know what? Eventually it just all sort of fell into place and clicked. It will happen if you just invest the time.
But many people say they don't have the time. That is a lie. If you have even 15 minutes in a day that is more than enough time to learn quickly. The key thing is constant exposure to the language. A small amount, over a long period of time is much better than cramming a lot of information in one hour a week or so. It's how we learned as kids, and it does work the same in adults. Adults just have more excuses to make.
But What is "Successful"?
OK, so by now some of you might be thinking "Yeah, whatever, I know a guy who owns his own business and does quite well, and still doesn't know Japanese!". If that's the case then, yeah, good for that guy. He's managed to still "get by" and has a way of getting people to help him out. But I see being successful in Japan as being able to do things on your own, to communicate with the people around you, and to live a life that is just a little less stressful. Plus, it's pretty cool to be able to read kanji and communicate in a language much different than your own.
Even if your goal is to not even stay in Japan for the long term, it is still vital and important to learn as much Japanese as you can if you want it to be a better experience.
Why You Must Learn Japanese to be Successful in Japan Reviewed by Shea Roberts on 6:11 PM Rating: