Majoring in Japanese? BAD IDEA!

Updated: Jun 12


I am a proud graduate of the University of North Texas. Class of 2013. While UNT was not my first choice for college (I originally was thinking of going to either Arkansas or Texas after transferring from my community college), my 2.5 years living at UNT were the best 4 years of my life (I spent a year at CC getting my bases out of the way for cheap, and spent half a year at Kansai Gaidai during my senior fall semester).


I can vividly remember all those times where my roommates/friends, Ryan, Randy, Robert, Gandy (Yes, his parents named him Gandalf), Rocky and Richter, Tommy, Ian, Winston, Daniel, Justin, and so many other guys that I would hang out with would all go to Kerr Hall at 3am for food, playing video games (mainly Sengoku Musou 2 and Empires) through out the day, spending hours at "Club Willis" reading almost EVERY single book on Japanese history (I actually spent an entire spring break doing that instead of going to South Padre Island and getting wasted with my dorm-mates), and singing filthy songs from the Fox's "Songs Banned in Boston" at the football games (usually drunk and booing UNT's (at the time) second-rate football team).... and of course, taking almost every single Japan/Japanese related class for my degree in International Studies - Asian Studies (though really, my degree is on par with a degree in Japanese/Japanese Studies from any major state school, like Texas, Ohio State, Michigan, California, Hawaii, etc).

I graduated with a 3.85 in Japanese and honors in Japanese, and while my overall GPA was a respectable 3.2 (I shouldn't have majored in business right out of the gate), it was said around UNT that I was UNT's Japanese Department "poster child" of success... that is, people from outside UNT's Japanese Department have said it. To be totally honest with myself, I could tell that most of my Japanese professors... ahem, instructors (as there were no Japanese professors at UNT while I was there from 2010 - 2013), didn't particularly have fond feelings for me, nor do they still do. I probably know why they weren't fond of me, but we'll get to that later.

Anyways, instead of reading about my "Animal House"-like escapades during college, you want to know if you ought to major in Japanese or not? Well let's jump right into it.

*This is a work in progress. Check back frequently for updates!

I'm gonna start of by saying that finding a Japanese undergraduate degree (or Bachelors of Arts program) isn't exactly easy to find. Sure, you might find Japanese related courses in many colleges that have an International Studies, Asian Studies, East Asian Studies, Global Studies, or any sort of similar program. However, outside some major state schools (like my University of North Texas, Ohio State, Michigan, California - Berkley, Hawaii, Washington, Oregon, or Arizona, to name a few), it is not very likely you will find a "strict Japanese" degree. They are out there, but you're gonna have to find them.

If I have time, I'll make a comprehensive list on schools that you have a "Strict Japanese" degree program for undergrads, but let's continue on.

Now what exactly does a "Strict Japanese" degree cover? It mainly depends on which school you go to.

Some schools focus on the language itself, where upon graduation, your skills will be around a JLPT N2-N3 (depending on the school and the amount of levels that the program offers).

Other schools might focus on Japanese literature, which focus on literature and literature thought and criticism mainly from the Edo Period (1603 - 1868) and the Modern Era (1868 - Present), however there are programs that also specialize in Ancient and Feudal Literature too (but those are usually in the Ivy League schools.

Finally there are schools that strictly focus on culture and history. You might focus on the history of the islands and people, or you might go a more anthropological route and do some social training, like deciphering Honne and Tatemae, the concept of Wa, or Japanese social issues.

Of course, some schools might have all three routes and you will be able to select which courses you want through their curriculum to fulfill certain requirements. This is the kind of program that you want most because this probably will make you more well rounded in all things Japanese.

In addition to the "Strict Japanese" degree program, you might also find a more well rounded Asian Studies or East Asian Studies program, like I had at UNT during my time in college. This degree type normally is in conjunction with a lot of different departments and gives students a more well rounded education.

However, the downside to this is that most of these degrees are heavy on the liberal arts side, with no real sort of value to the job market. I have every right to say this because I took this route, and let me tell you, guys who graduate with liberal arts degree without having a solid post-graduation plan are in for a very rude shock to the job market.

This is what a sample program might look like (totally fictional, but there might be programs out there similar to this).

University of Simple Gaijin Japanese Studies Program (Japanese Language Track)

- Japanese Language

- Japanese 101

- Japanese 102

- Japanese 201

- Japanese 202

- Japanese 301

- Japanese 302

- Japanese 401

- Japanese 402

- Japanese Language Electives

- History of the Japanese Language

- Japanese Dialects

- Osaka/Kansai Dialect

- Introduction to Kanbun

- Introduction to Manyougana (Probably rare or only available in Graduate Level classes)

- Japanese Grammar (In-Depth)

- Business Japanese

- Keigo/Sonkeigo

- Japanese Culture and History

- Introduction to Japan (probably a cultural and historical overview class)

- Literature

- Modern Japanese Literature

University of Simple Gaijin Japanese Studies Program (Culture and History Track)

- Japanese Language

- Japanese 101 *Required

- Japanese 102 *Required

- Japanese 201 *Required

- Japanese 202 *Required

- Japanese 301 *Required

- Japanese 302 # Optional

- Japanese Culture and History (Pick 4-6) (And again, just a sample)

- Introduction to Japan

- Japanese History 1 (Jomon to Kamakura)

- Japanese History 2 (Kamakura to Edo)

- Japanese History 3 (Edo to Modern Japan)

- Samurai Warfare

- History of Japanese Sexuality

- Anime/Manga -related class

- History of the Samurai

- Japanese Family Dynamics

- Japanese Business Practices

- Japanese Ghost Stories and Monster Culture

- Homosexuality and Shuudo in Samurai Culture

- History of Japanese in America

- Japanese Military History (WWI - WWII)

- Japanese Literature

- Modern Japanese Literature

University of Simple Gaijin Japanese Studies Program (Literature Track)

- Japanese Language

- Japanese 101 *Required

- Japanese 102 *Required

- Japanese 201 *Required

- Japanese 202 *Required

- Japanese 301 *Required

- Japanese 302 *Required

- Japanese History and Culture

- Intro to Japan

- Japanese Literature (Pick 4-6)

- Heian Period Literature

- Muromachi Period Literature

- Azuchi-Momoyama Period Literature

- Edo Period Literature

- Early Modern Japanese Literature

- Meiji Period Literature

- Taisho Period Literature

- WWII Era Literature

- Modern Literature

- Japanese Literary Thought

- Feminist Japanese Literary Theory (A load of crock)

- Samurai Literature (Now THAT's more like it)

- Heike Monogatari

- Murasaki Shikibu and the Pillow Book

- Traditional Japanese Folktales

- Ainu Literature

- Ryukyu Literature (Okinawan Literature)

In my honest opinion, unless your child wants to become a writer in Japan, I would HIGHLY recommend avoiding the literature route. Don't get me wrong, I love literature and reading, but at the end of the day, it will not pay the bills or put bread on the table. Ask any poor shnuck at Starbucks who is an English Literature major while they are making your latte or Cafe Americano. If American or English Literature is worthless in the job market, what makes you think Japanese Literature would be any different?

However, I do know a few people who have done that route and have become successful translators, but even they have admitted that their degree is somewhat worthless with all the literature they have read instead of learning the technicalities of the language.

That said, and in my opinion aslso, the best route to take would be the language route. A few reasons include the following...

- You are learning how to speak the language, read the language, listen to (mostly) native speakers speak the language, and you will have time to write in Japanese.

- The more Japanese classes you take IN JAPANESE, the faster it will be to progress your skills.

- Access to either the JLPT or ACTFL test when you are in your senior year. While I still think people ought to take the ACTFL because it measures a person's oral and writing skills, there is still nothing wrong with having a JLPT AND the ACTFL under your belt and on your resume. If anything, Japanese employers will like this better.

- Once you get your Japanese to a somewhat respectable level (JLPT N3 or Intermediate-Middle to Intermediate-High on the ACTFL), you probably will be able to read materials in Japanese about literature or culture, which is probably the best way to learn about Japanese culture and literature... 日本語で!

Now here comes the verdict... Honestly, I really don't think you should major in Japanese... by itself. That's right, I think that Japanese, by itself, is a worthless major (just like Women's Studies, Men's Studies, Cultural Studies, or anything Liberal....Arts related) . Who would know better than... myself.

Let me be very frank with you on something. Having a Japanese degree only gives you the basics of Japanese... and it might not even be good enough depending on what classes you took and the competence of the teachers you had.

My own Japanese education at the University of North Texas... WAS GARBAGE. None of the teachers I had, with the exception of my first one (Soeshima Yumi-Sensei, whom I admired a great deal with her no-nonsense attitude and told her students that she would not give out free A's. I think I was the only student in her class to get As, primarily due to my background in Japanese in high school), were very competent in teaching and whenever someone would try and ask questions, they would get angry.

One teacher in particular, whose name I won't say here... but she is important to the program, took a rather dislike to me because I was a bit of a ladies man with a few of the Japanese exchange students. I won't lie, I went out on quite a few dates with the girls and... had "multiple girlfriends for each day of the week" (Ah... good times.... good times), but what did you expect? I was young, stupid, and just got out of a nasty relationship before I entered UNT. Of course I was going to have the time of my life. However, she did seem to acknowledge that I did seem to have the aptitude to learn Japanese and while she did recognize my "hard work" in the form of nominating into Japanese National Honor Society and winning a small scholarship from the department for my time at Kansai Gaidai, it was very clear to me that she did it grudgingly and really did not like seeing me succeed.

I also had another Japanese teacher at Kansai Gaidai whom was SOO bad at his job, my classmates and I eventually stopped going to his class altogether because we all thought it would be in our best interests to learn Japanese on our own rather. Not only did he not seem happy to see ANY of us during class, he would even belittle us. Hell, the jackass even told me that "I was better off learning Spanish". It amazes me that Kansai Gaidai still allows this man to teach there still... but I got a special note for him later.

Normally I respect my former teachers and would thank them for helping me get to where I am today... but not today and especially not the case with UNT's Japanese Department. I might have graduated with a 3.85 in Japanese... but when I arrived in Akkeshi, it turned out that the Japanese I learned was considered to be "textbook", "unnatural", and "robotic". Not only was I frustrated in communicating with the yokels of Akkeshi, it seemed that I really didn't understand them either (mainly because of their "Hamagotoba" or type of Japanese in Hokkaido that is spoken along the coastlines).

Then it occurred to me...

The Japanese Department at UNT really did not care what they were teaching (and they still don't, to any of my UNT brethren reading this). And if anything, I started to realize that maybe my 3.85 in Japanese at UNT did not carry as much weight if the teaching was second rate. It was a devastating feeling... knowing that all the Japanese classes that I took at UNT were garbage and that (on the whole), the Japanese Department at UNT really did not care for their students and just handed out A's like they were candy bars on Halloween to students.

"Well Mike, you're trapped in East Hokkaido, no other Americans or people that speak English for miles around, and you just found out your Japanese is garbage... Only thing left to do..."


Ok, so I didn't cry like a giraffe, but I realized that if I was going to survive in Japan for at least a year, I would have to go balls to the wall in my own studies of the language. And it would have to be intense, and fast.

Fortunately for me, I managed to bring my entire Japanese textbook library from home with me to Akkeshi. On that night that I realized that my Japanese from UNT was crap, I decided to hit the "reset" button. From chapter 1 in the Genki textbook series, I restarted my Japanese studies.

In the span of one year... from my realization in September 2013 to July 2014, here is what I was able to accomplish,

  • Completed Genki I, Genki II, and the Integrated Approach to Intermediate Japanese

  • Managed to learn all Kyoiku Kanji (the 1006 kanji that all elementary school students are required to learn before they go into middle school)... or at least most of the Kyoiku Kanji and some middle school kanji. Point is, I got to over 1,200 kanji in less than a year.

  • Able to start learning advanced Japanese on my own (using the Tobira series, which I still use today, though I originally used the Japan Times Advanced Series book)

  • Passed the JLPT N4 and N3 on my first tries and well over the required pass requirements. Remember that having the N3 is having the Japanese skills on par with a bachelor of arts in Japanese. But remember that the JLPT does not test writing or speaking abilities, which started to improve even more once I got to Asahi.

Now understand that because I had the previous background in learning Japanese from high school and at UNT, my results were VERY atypical. I still managed to use some of the other things from UNT and Kansai Gaidai that I found useful, but on the whole, I relied on myself to learn Japanese on my own. In addition, considering that the Akkeshi Board of Education gave me zero responsibilities while on JET, most of my time in the office was at my desk sitting on my ass doing nothing. So what better opportunity for me to get paid to learn Japanese.

When I came back to the United States, I had a very difficult time finding work because other than my Japanese and bullshit I learned while teaching English, I had no tangible skills that I could bring to a company. It took me nearly 6 months after I came back from Japan in 2015 to find a position in Ohio that was willing to train me and introduce me into machinery and the automotive industry. While there are companies that will take you in and train you, they are VERY hard to find. I consider myself very lucky.

I do recommend that you MINOR in Japanese and get a either a STEM, Business, or International Business degree. That way you have skills that will put bread on the table and the Japanese skills be the jam that goes on that bread. So what are some good combinations with the Japanese minor?

  • Mechanical Engineering & Japanese (LOTS of Japanese companies need non-Japanese Japanese speaking people, especially those related to the auto industry)

  • Electrical Engineering & Japanese (Just like mechanical engineering)

  • Finance & Japanese

  • International Business & Japanese (Pick what sort of things in business interest you and then use your Japanese for that. Had I known this back in the day, I would have taken more finance, entrepreneurship, and international business courses instead of Organizational Behavior and Law... then again, I was young and immature when it came to business)

  • Data Science & Japanese

  • Health Care Studies & Japanese (This is a big one since Japan is going through a health care crisis with their graying population and lack of babies being born)

  • Management & Japanese

  • Computer Science & Japanese

With ANY of these degrees with the Japanese minor, you can easily break over $50,000 starting pay (with engineering getting more of course). Not too shabby for someone graduating from college, and a HELL of a lot better than the $30,000 a year (probably less now due to the exchange rate) you would get teaching English in Japan with JET or teaching at an Eikaiwa.

That said.... DO NOT MAJOR IN JAPANESE ALONE! Get a more tangible major that will give you skills for the work force, get the minor in Japanese to get you some soft skills, and NEVER stop learning new skills that you can incorporate your Japanese with. You are much better off learning with a private tutor that can teach you in English fluently (like me), on your own, or even using basic textbooks.

Oh yeah, and that special note to those teachers whom doubted me and my friends on learning Japanese....

北テキサス大学日本語部とある関西外語大日本語先生へ、

様見ろ! - 真伊久より

So what do you think about majoring in Japanese? Is it really a worthless major? Or does it deserve a little more respect? Start a dialogue with by emailing me at mike@simplegaijin.com !


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