Updated March 8, 2024

Should You Major in Japanese? The Pros and Cons


Japan Dev Team

Japan Dev contributor

Are you interested in learning Japanese? Have you even considered majoring in Japanese at university? If so, you’ll want to read what I have to say before making your final decision...

Because here's the thing: Learning Japanese is a great idea if you’re planning to live in Japan. Or if you just want to learn a new language. But having Japanese as your (only) major may not be the best choice for everyone.

So, if you’re thinking about majoring in Japanese, you’ve come to the right place. I’ll explain the pros and cons of selecting Japanese language as your major in detail. I'll also provide some alternatives for those who aren't as into the language itself and just want to integrate into Japan.

Consider The Why

First things first: Why are you considering majoring in Japanese?

Answering this question as clearly as possible will help you understand the pros and cons much more clearly.

Are you a linguistics aficionado? Are you into the roots of Japanese language and culture? Or maybe you see it as a two-for-one deal: learn a new language and open up new job opportunities in Japan.

Pinpointing what exactly you want out of the experience can not only help make up your mind but also show the misconceptions you may have about this particular major. 

In fact, let’s start by clearing one of the most common ones right away, which is that studying Japanese at a university will guarantee that you’ll learn the language.

Is It Worth It To Major in Japanese?


I talked about this briefly in my post on moving to Japan as a software developer, but the answer to this question varies depending on your circumstances. That said, most of the time, the answer is a flat “No.”

While there are specific cases where majoring in Japanese makes sense, which I’ll cover in a bit, it’s usually a high-risk move.

For one, many people believe that studying Japanese as a major in college is the best way to master this challenging language. However, this is hardly ever the case. Learning is active in nature, and if you don’t put in the effort, no one can teach you anything by force.

The idea that you’ll eventually start to get Japanese at some point during your 4-year education is also common. But that’s not necessarily the case. As I mentioned, studying Japanese in college doesn’t guarantee that you’ll become fluent, and oftentimes, people who major in Japanese can’t speak it in the real world.

Then there are people who may fall in love with the idea of moving to Japan due to an interest in Japanese culture, art/media, or lifestyle, and do a Japanese major in their home countries. However, they may get disillusioned once they get here and end up not liking living in Japan or change their minds about moving here in the first place.

Another important point to consider is how useful Japanese is outside of Japan. It’s important to remember that your options will be limited elsewhere, as the degree alone doesn’t even provide you with a teaching license. 

Besides, even if you move to Japan, your only specialty will be speaking Japanese, which isn’t much at all. 

So, what can you do instead?


Other Options: Double Major or Minor in Japanese If You Must

By this point, you’ve probably realized that unless you want a career in academia or are fascinated by the linguistics of it all, majoring in Japanese isn’t a good decision for most people.

However, if you really want to study Japanese in college, why not do a double major instead? Many colleges allow you to graduate with a double degree by allowing you to take additional credit, which you can use to your advantage. 

For instance, a business major could work well alongside a Japanese major if you’re not interested in anything else that’s specific. Of course, getting a STEM-related degree as your second major would be even better as it opens up better job opportunities.

If you want to work as a software developer in Japan, I specifically recommend majoring in computer science or a related field in addition to your Japanese major.

That said, if a double major isn’t possible, you can also consider doing a minor in Japanese. A minor won’t provide you with a Japanese degree, but it can allow you to take additional Japanese classes on top of your major, which you can treat as a language course. 

Both of these options will provide you with a backup plan, as you’ll have a separate degree if you find that living in Japan isn’t for you. Remember, you can always learn Japanese down the line by yourself, but going to college later is considerably more challenging.

Maybe You’re Better Off Learning Japanese By Yourself

All that said, if all you want is to learn Japanese, why not choose a less bleak path than a four-year in-class program? Nowadays, there are wonderful language learning tools available to virtually anyone with an internet connection, and I even detailed some of them in my post on the best Japanese learning tools.

Apps like Duolingo allow you to learn at your own pace, which is another perk of learning Japanese on your own, but that’s not all. 

For instance, I recently wrote an article introducing some of the best podcasts for Japanese learners at different levels. Listening to Japanese podcasts is a great way to immerse yourself in the language during your daily commute, and it’s a great listening practice.

Besides, we’re talking about Japan, one of the few countries that produce media content for a global audience. You have plenty of anime series, mangas, and video games at your disposal, all of which are the strong suits of Japanese culture and offer wonderfully captivating experiences. 

In fact, I have a separate post introducing the best easy-to-read mangas for Japanese learners you might want to check out.

So, why not start immersing yourself in the language right away? If you really want to learn Japanese, it’ll be the best and the most fun thing you can do.

TL;DR: Is It A Good Idea To Major In Japanese?


Let's take this opportunity to conclude by providing an overview of the topic, or a “too long; didn’t read,” if you will.

Essentially, if you’re considering majoring in Japanese, I strongly urge you to pinpoint your exact reasons. Keep in mind that it’s only logical for a small, specific group of people who are either considering a career in academia or are very passionate about linguistics or Japanese culture.

Even then, I’d still advise against majoring only in Japanese, as doing a double major or a minor in Japanese can be much better for your career. This way, if you end up not liking living in Japan or find better opportunities, you’ll have a backup plan.

Besides, if you want to work as a software engineer, I especially recommend majoring in computer science or a similar field instead. You can get engineering jobs with little to no Japanese if you have the relevant skills and experience.

Finally, remember that learning Japanese is something you can always do on your own. After all, there are plenty of language learning apps, as well as tons of Japanese media catering to all types of interests.

As I explained in my post “Should I attend a Japanese language school,” you can always learn on your own and take the JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test) to prove your proficiency.

All in all, it’s safe to say that a Japanese major isn’t for most people, and you want to exercise caution before making such a decision.

While this is it for this post, if you want to learn more about moving to Japan as a software developer, head on over to my post.


Japan Dev Team

This post was written by our Japan Dev editorial team.