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Why Study Japanese? The Overlooked Importance of Learning the Language

This article is contributed by ICI (International Communication Institute) Step Up Nihongo team.

Anyone having a go at learning Japanese must have done so for a reason. I feel safe in saying it was primarily for practical reasons, like asking where the bathroom is; getting along well with your Japanese in-laws; getting a better job; conducting business in Japan; making Japanese friends; enrolling in a Japanese university; or reading manga. However, there is another important reason for studying Japanese, one which is often overlooked or neglected.

The Hidden Value of Learning Japanese

People say, and you would probably agree, that you can see your own country better and more objectively when you are out of that country. It is what we gain by assuming a wider, objective perspective. It should come as no surprise that this same effect takes place when we study languages.

Language is a natural and historical product nurtured among, and cultured by, the people who speak it. It contains their culture and is a record of their mind-sets, their points of view. Their perspectives on life, the world, living, values and other topics are woven deeply into their language.

In important ways, English and Japanese are two extreme ends of a continuum of point of view: One assumes directness, while the other, indirectness. The Japanese language is comprised of a number of mindsets which are hardly present in English or rarely encouraged by English speakers. It contains certain points of view which are beyond the experience of ordinary English natives – in fact, they may hardly believe that such points of view could even exist. By studying Japanese correctly, you will get a new perspective on English and get to know more about it. Let me give you a couple of examples.


If you have begun to study Japanese even a bit, I’m sure you know how to say “hello” or “how are you?” in Japanese. Yes, konnichiwa. But does it really mean that? NO, it just means “(as for) this day.” Actually, it is the beginning bit of something like “Konnichiwa gokigen ikaga desu ka?” (How are you today?). Psychology that the most important part be only implied but "unsaid" is an underlying feature of the Japanese communication mindsets. So, often people start out saying something but may leave the sentence unfinished, and yet you are expected to know what they really wanted to mean.


I’m sure you are familiar with this one. This is a very useful phrase I strongly recommend that you remember. Whenever you need any help or a favor, say “Onegai-shimasu” which could be translated as “I humbly request.” Japanese has a clear, built-in form to exhibit that you are being humble and modest to show your respect to the counterpart. This attitude is always expected in daily life, esp. in business environment.


When you meet a Japanese person for the first time, you’d say “Doozo yoroshiku” which is equivalent to “I’m pleased to meet you.” Again, however, this does NOT mean that. It is a part of “Doozo yoroshiku onegai itashimasu” which would literally translate “I humbly request your nice treatment.” As you see, this is far from the mindset of its English equivalent.

Expanding your horizons like this is a very important aspect of learning a foreign language. Thanks to the great difference between English and Japanese – arguably greater than between any other two living languages – Japanese may be the best choice for those wanting to rediscover English, especially if you are a native.

Gaining Insight through Perspective: The Apple, Gravity, and Discovery

Now, here is a question:

You have heard, no doubt, that Sir Isaac Newton discovered the universal law of gravity by watching an apple fall from a tree. But how could this be? Surely this phenomenon was not newly observed by him – it must have been previously observed by many other people. Which brings up a question: Why did HE, and not someone else, discover the law? How could HE connect an apple falling downwards with the law of gravity? We all know this famous story since we were young, but something just does not feel right.

You could ask others about this, but basically the answers will be something like:

  • This is just a metaphorical story that teaches you that a very commonplace occurrence could lead to a world-changing, great discovery.
  • This story is to illustrate what a genius Sir Isaac Newton was.

Somehow, these answers are not convincing, at least to me. Something was missing in the logic. The apple’s fall did NOT logically lead to the discovery of universal gravitation, no matter how I thought it through.

Then, one day, I had a revelation.

As long as your point of view is several meters away from the apple tree, it is impossible to really see the workings of gravity in the scene. However, imagine yourself watching the same phenomenon from somewhere far out in space – from the moon, for instance. Would apples in the North pole, Antarctica, Australia, Japan and other countries all seem to be “falling down”? You can place a globe in front of you to help illustrate the phenomenon. The Antarctic apple would “fall up,” unless you were to flip the globe upside down. Even a child could see that the apple was being pulled by the Earth.

I am pretty sure that Isaac Newton set his point of view somewhere farther out in space when he saw the apple fall off the tree. His greatness lies not only in his instinct, but also in that he was able to control his point view to objectively view what he saw from a wider perspective.

The lesson here is that by controlling one’s points of view, anybody can readily see deeper truths.

The Power of Understanding Language Mindsets

Typically, when Japanese people study English, they are not taught the importance of understanding the English-language mindset, nor are they made aware of it, unfortunately. Rather, this critical element is disregarded completely. It is regrettable that such a great opportunity to expand one’s horizons is being lost and wasted.

Every language has its culture embedded in it. Japanese is different from Western languages because Japanese culture is different. Learning Japanese will change your worldview.

If You Would Like to Learn Japanese

Discover Japanese e-learning and online classes at ICI (International Communication Institute). Customize your learning experience to fit your schedule. Click the image below to learn more.