What's it like to study... Japanese

Rebecca Smith is about to embark on her final year of Japanese at the University of Leeds - and it's much more than just a language course

Tell someone that you study Japanese and the response will be one of two things. The first, more common one, is complete surprise, followed by a string of questions. I soon perfected a spiel about the fundamentals of the Japanese writing system for when people ask how many alphabets there are. The second is bewilderment. “Do you study just Japanese?” is a question which makes me grit my teeth as I explain, patiently, that my degree covers far more than the Japanese language.

When it comes to being asked why I chose Japanese, I have to answer that when I was 18 I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. Upon hearing about my course, many people assume that the options upon graduation are rather limited; I am frequently asked if I intend to pursue a career in translation or interpreting. In fact, one of the reasons that I chose a language was the broad range of career opportunities it would bring me later on.

I was also attracted by the potential to study an array of subjects and disciplines. Throughout my degree, I have taken modules covering Japan’s culture, history, economy and religion. And not only those of Japan but of the surrounding region; I have written essays on Chinese modern history and learned about the development of civilisations over thousands of years in South East Asia.

The beauty of studying an academic discipline such as this is that in practical terms, the content of the essays I write is often fairly inconsequential. Far more important are the disciplines this helps to develop. I have learned how to conduct academic research, critically analyse texts, and construct a coherent argument. When I have chosen my topic well, I am able to feel like I am learning for learning’s sake, so I can choose what interests me. After all, it’s probably not essential to my future career that I gain an in-depth knowledge of angry ghosts in Japanese folklore.

That said, there are opportunities to study subjects whose practical application to everyday life is more apparent. Studying Japan’s economy has enabled me to understand basic economic concepts, and learning about the politics of the Asia Pacific Region has given me a greater appreciation for the ways in which countries interact. These are universal concepts, and ones which are useful for many careers. As an aspiring journalist, modules on politics and international relations may well prove invaluable.

The degree is divided into two distinct parts: the study of Japan and of its language. There is some crossover in that an understanding of language can aid that of cultural concepts, and in later years, the two halves of the degree begin to coincide in a much more noticeable way. The greatest difference between the two is the teaching style. Language lessons are taught in a classroom rather a lecture theatre. There are frequent in-class tests and homework not unlike that which you might have received at school, but on a much higher level.

There are few shortcuts to be taken when studying Japanese. The course involves more contact hours than many other arts degrees and preparation for seminars or assignments can be very time-consuming. There are also kanji to deal with: over two thousand characters derived from Chinese, several hundred of which must be learned within the first year.

While it’s true that a huge part of my degree requires me to analyse academic texts and form compelling arguments, there is also a significant amount of brute memorisation involved. This is unavoidable; it is impossible to study a language with three alphabets, thousands of characters and seemingly infinite combinations thereof without dedicating some serious time to sitting down and learning them. Much of my time is consumed with kanji revision for weekly tests and looking up characters I have forgotten.

This is one situation in which that oft-quoted maxim ‘you get out what you put in’ certainly applies. I have discovered through bitter experience that not revising for a test or keeping up with the reading for a module can quickly lead to bewilderment and stress, often culminating in a complete non-enjoyment of the subject at hand. However, making the effort to track down the week’s reading list before each seminar can be very rewarding. It is only through doing this that I have been able to fully engage with the course and really enjoy it.

While studying Japanese I have been constantly challenged; but where I have put effort in, I have also been rewarded. There is a great sense of satisfaction to be found in being able to hold a conversation in another language, or participate in complex debates about society or politics. I have surprised myself on more than one occasion, having grasped concepts I had previously thought beyond me. My degree has fuelled my curiosity about how the world works and led me to develop skills that can be applied to all areas of life. It has not quashed my love of learning, but helped me to understand that the acquisition of knowledge is inherently valuable; and that in itself is a great lesson to learn.

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Ashdown Group: Junior Application Support Analyst - Fluent German Speaker

£25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A global leader operating...

Ashdown Group: Marketing or Business Graduate Opportunity - Norwich - £22,000

£18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Business and Marketing Gr...

Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

£20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

Guru Careers: Graduate Media Assistant

Competitive (DOE): Guru Careers: We are looking for an ambitious and adaptable...

Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'