- It is better to know basic Japanese characters
- The more countryside you go to, the more important the Japanese language becomes
- Knowing Japanese helps you get along with the natives
- Knowing Japanese will make your world bigger
That’s a good question…
First of all, there are a variety of reasons to be in Japan; you might be a student studying Japanese, or a businessperson using your own language at work, or maybe a spouse of a Japanese person. Since what you do in Japan and how you do it is different from one person to another, I cannot give a perfect answer for how important it is to learn Japanese. So it depends on each person, but I can still say learning Japanese is a smart thing to do if you live in Japan.
It is better to know hiragana and katakana
I believe that knowing some basic Japanese characters will make life of any non-native Japanese speaker in Japan much easier. When you live in Japan, you will inevitably see and hear the Japanese language on a daily basis. When you go shopping, take trains and busses, have dinner at restaurants, and are walking on the streets… you will encounter the Japanese language for sure. So many street and shop signs, menus, and packages of food and drinks are written in Japanese. They do not have English or other foreign languages on them. And asking Japanese people for help to understand Japanese signs requires Japanese as well.
So, I recommend that you are competent enough to read basic Japanese: hiragana and katakana. They are the phonetic systems for Japanese words, and hiragana is used for Japanese words. Katakana is used for non-Japanese words, including names of foreign people, foreign food, and foreign places. If you can read hiragana and katakana, then you have the basic knowledge to read, write, and speak Japanese. There are useful apps and websites for learning hiragana and katakana, which I shared in my article about Japanese learning apps.
The countryside is dangerous
Yes, the countryside can be dangerous… if you do not know much Japanese. It is because there are fewer street and shop signs in foreign languages, as well as fewer Japanese people who can speak English, not to mention other foreign languages. Unlike cities and business areas, where there are more non-Japanese speakers, you do not see so many of them in rural areas. Accordingly, there are fewer language resources for foreign people. But on the other hand, it can be the best place to learn Japanese if you are eager to master the language. Since you will not see many people who understand your first language in the countryside, you will be forced to use Japanese and will be immersed in the language.
Use their language to get closer to natives
Even though there may be many of you who do not have to use Japanese at work or with your families and friends, still learning some Japanese phrases is a good thing to do. If you know some basic phrases like “good morning” and “thank you,” it will give you better relationships with Japanese people you encounter. Imagine you are greeted by a foreign customer in your own language, doesn’t it feel nice? Likewise, many Japanese people appreciate it when you talk to them in their language. Here are some phrases you can use to get along well with Japanese people:
- おはようございます(ohayou gozaimasu): Good morning
- こんにちは (konnichiwa): Hello
- こんばんは (konbanwa): Good evening
- ありがとうございます (arigatou gozaimasu): Thank you
- ごめんなさい (gomennasai): I’m sorry
- すみません (sumimasen): Excuse me
- さようなら (sayounara): Bye
Culture and tradition come with the language
Finally, a great thing about learning Japanese is that you can learn and embrace more Japanese culture and tradition. Language is a very big part of our lives, and each language has been influenced by and changing with culture. For example, in western countries it is encouraged to say yes and no rather than maybe, words like maybe are used often in Japanese culture. Therefore, by learning their language, even some basics of it, it will help you understand Japanese culture.
It will be fun
You might not feel like starting to study Japanese. It is a very unique language, and is even considered by many people in the world as one of the most difficult languages to learn. But just give it a try and start memorizing hiragana today. You will find it fascinating and want to learn more and more!