What's the Point?

Sorry if this isn’t a great place to put this, but I need to get something off my chest and there’s a much higher chance of one of you relating to it than any of my friends or family. They don’t really understand why I study all day or why I’m so into Japanese culture. Lately though, I’ve been asking myself the same question more and more.
A little background about my Japanese journey. Around 2 ½ years ago I decided to start learning a language. It had always been a goal of mine. Why Japanese? Well, I’m from rural America and Japan seemed so mystical, different, and as opposite from the US as possible. I’d always had a mild interest in Japan. They make the BEST fishing tackle in the world, Pokémon is a world-wide phenomenon, and I still remember opening my kid’s encyclopedia and reading about the Bullet Train as a kid. “Those symbols they write with seem cool", I thought. Finally, I love challenging and pushing myself and learning Japanese seemed about as hard as it could get.
Long story short, I become obsessed with the language, the food, the culture. Japan was intoxicating. Except for around a 5–6-month gap, I’ve studied Japanese every single day for 3-4 hours a day over the last few years. I am FAR from fluent, but I can now more or less struggle through Japanese news articles, can play games in Japanese, can squeak my way through YouTube videos or news segments (if the vocab lines up well with what I’ve learned). My biggest struggle is speaking. I just don’t have enough practice with conversation yet.
Here’s the issue: I’m not sure why I’m doing it anymore. I’ve been hit with the reality that it’s just not practical. For some reason in my mind, probably willful negligence, it didn’t click that it’s a ~20-hour travel day each way and a $1,800 plane ticket ($3600 for my wife and I) to get to Japan. When I began, I thought yeah, I can just go over 2-3 times a year and it will be great. Now I realize with financial constraints, a lack of PTO, and having to think about not just my wishes and future but also that of my spouse, I’m lucky to even get over there once a year. (Which I am SO thankful and blessed to be able to do).
I don’t want to give up Japanese. I find a lot of joy in it. However, in the back of my mind knowing that I’ll realistically never truly be able to use it the way I want to kills me. Knowing I’ll never be able to live over there like I once thought or even be able to spend more than 2 weeks out of my year there is a tough pill to swallow right now. I feel like the more I get into the culture, the more I meet Japanese friends, and the more time I put into it, the stronger my desire to be more involved with Japan gets. But the reality doesn’t get any closer.
I’m not sure what to do. Is there any way to put my Japanese to use other than being a translator or teaching English (neither of which really work out for me in this phase of my life)? Sorry for the rant. The reality of my situation just set in yesterday due to something else in life that came up and I just needed to spew out my thoughts.


That’s the point and the answer to your question.

Edit: maybe to extend on the point → you don’t always need to have an outcome for learning a language. This isn’t Japanese specific. Learning a language has proven to help prevent things like Alzheimer’s and Dementia later in life due to how much it engages the brain. Let go of this feeling of an outcome and embrace this knowledge of joy, happiness and personal gratitude.

Without getting too philosophical about it - why do we as humans do things we enjoy, such as reading, gaming, watching TV, socialising? What are the real outcomes of doing these things? Now take that logic and apply it to your situation and hopefully that will bring you the peace.


Things you do with your life don’t have to have a point. I’ve been attempting to learn Japanese on and off for like 10 years, and am only now finally seeing some results I’m somewhat satisfied with.

I am confused about why you think it’s useless to be learning if you literally can’t live in Japan? I’m maybe an outlier but I started learning Japanese because there was art I wanted to experience that was only in Japanese, not even with the intent of ever communicating in the language, only ever processing things other folks have made. Maybe it’s a deal breaker for you and you should cut down on how much Japanese stuff you engage with if it’s limiting you in other things you want to do in life, but if it isn’t, realistically, what else would you do with that time? Would it bring you more or less happiness than learning Japanese? That should probably be your primary question you ask yourself when you’re considering what you’re doing with your leisure time. The point is a very personal thing most of the time. and what makes doing something worth it for some people isn’t enough for others, and no one is right or wrong on which side they fall on in those situations.


Oh yes, the doubt about spending all this time on something you will probably never really need, right? BUT: you are already using your Japanese knowledge for videos, games etc. Is there anything you particularly enjoy? Books, anime, games…? Do that! You don’t have to practice how to speak if you see no merit in it.

For me, I will never go to Japan in the next 10+ years. I’m fine with that. Maybe it’ll happen once the kids are out of the house, who knows. My speaking ability is very bad, but I can enjoy natural Japanese content. And that’s what I want to do with this skill for now. I’m learning this language because I find it very beautiful and want to know how it works. I like watching and reading original Japanese content.


I think Japanese is a useful language because you can learn it and use it even if you don’t travel to Japan. You can find media in Japanese easily in the United States; the same can’t be said for every languge. It’s not trivial to say that you can “play games in Japanese,” for example, and we are lucky that we can just set the language in Pokémon to Japanese or download full Japanese voice acting in The Witcher 3. You can’t always do that; if you were learning Hindi, Swedish, or Indonesian, for instance, you’d be out of luck with those games.


Try make some Japanese friends to talk to online or on some forums. You can speak and interact in Japanese without living or being there. Also, its a great skill to have-perhaps deepen your interest in japanese novels, games etc even more


I thought similar, but lately I’ve been thinking about some coworkers who have gotten jobs in japan, and have been doing remote work for companies in japan. Its made me think that the future is whatever you’d like it to be, you know? Maybe one day you get a job in Japan, or maybe one day you might spend a lot of time there after you retire. Learning the language opens some doors!


“Finally, I love challenging and pushing myself and learning Japanese seemed about as hard as it could get”

This is the precise reason I picked it up and continue to this day.

I never cared quite as much as many other people about Japanese culture, just found a challenge and inherent beauty in the language.

The fact that it’s a modern language means learning it has real-life applications.
But for me, that’s just a cool bonus. I could have chosen to learn egyptian hieroglyphs and I wouldn’t care about finding real-life uses to it, so long as I enjoyed the learning experience.
For someone else, maybe the challenge is the bonus, and their focus is on its applications.

It’s kind of like pure math and applied math.
Pure math doesn’t care about whether or not something may have an application, while applied math is focused on real life applications.
But in the end, something that was thought to be pure math may end up having an application.
And likewise, to advance some field of applied math, some deeper understanding of pure math may be needed.
So there’s some overlap, regardless of what the initial goal was.

So yeah, learning a language, having fun with it, and not necessarily finding an use to it, is totally fine in my opinion.


I often hear people express feelings similar to yours in language learning communities, but I admit that I really don’t understand it. It feels like it’s specifically something that’s more common in the USA? Maybe because “everybody” speaks English these days and as such learning a foreign language seems odd to native English speakers?

At any rate I still don’t see the argument. Even if you think that language learning is a useless hobby, then so is watching movies or playing games or reading books or learning to knit. Why does it have to be fundamentally utilitarian?

To be clear I actually don’t actually believe that language learning is a useless hobby even if you don’t have any short-term practical objective for it, but I don’t even feel like I need to argue that point. You live to do things you enjoy, not build your LinkedIn profile.


A major hobby in your life, something you thought you might be able to pivot into a career, something to possibly base your life around, is now feeling pointless. You could use some professional help – and I don’t mean this in a demeaning way, I personally see a therapist on a weekly basis. It’s helpful to have someone you can talk to about personal issues like these. If not a therapist, your spouse, or a friend, some other relative you can trust.

What you’re looking for seems beyond the scope of an internet message board full of strangers who do not know you personally. Best of luck, man.

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I’ve appreciated the replies so far! Too many to respond to each one individually everyone has really reaffirmed why I do it. Because I love it. Maybe it wasn’t the best to post and I was just being a baby about it, but I just needed a place where I could talk about it and maybe gain some insight as to why others are learning as well.

A lot of people have mentioned you don’t have to have a practical reason for doing something. That really is a theological discussion, but in my opinion aside from a set amount of time I have for leisure every day, everything I do is with an end goal in mind.
-Lifting and going to the gym: boost my self confidence, teach discipline.

-Reading books: become more knowledgeable, broaden my horizons, and become a more effective communicator

-Japanese: To teach discipline, to be able to connect with others and learn to see the world through the lens of other cultures, because it is genuinely enjoyable, and to hopefully be able to do some sort of work with either a Japanese company that has a strong US presence or a US company that does a lot of work in Japan.

I’m just totally at a loss for what that looks like and every time I go to do research, I get the same two jobs: translator and JET program teacher…

There have been a few times when I have wondered too. The answer every time was the same: using / learning Japanese brings me happiness.

Maybe this is because of the structure that it brings to my days. Like I know that the first thing I will do at work will be to have a cup of coffee and read a manga / light novel for a bit before starting my work tasks haha. I really love reading and its really great that finally I can do it even though I have to use a dictionary :smiley:

Also, I had to figure myself out and what works for me while building better habits eg trying to sleep 7+ hours so that I can actually study after work haha. Stuff that has hopefully positive effects in other areas not just in learning Japanese.

Something else to consider is that life can be really unexpected sometimes. Maybe there will be an opportunity to stay in Japan for a much longer time at some point or maybe even retire. In a way its about putting the building blocks to take opportunities when they appear.


There are other potential benefits to being multilingual though:

  • Being fluent in a foreign language, especially one as difficult as Japanese, does look good on a resume regardless of what career you end up pursuing, especially if you go for an “intellectual” job. I’m a software dev myself, if I receive a resume where the programmer claims to be fluent in Korean, that will catch my attention. It probably means that the person is dedicated and hard working, or at the very least that they have an interesting story to tell during the interview.

  • More generally in my experience, people in social settings are always impressed if you casually drop that you can speak a foreign language. Is it worth the thousands of hours of study to flex on people at parties? Well, yes, of course.

  • It also gives you the opportunity to apply for jobs where speaking Japanese is a requirement or an advantage. If a Japanese company is opening a new branch in the US, they may be very interested to hire people who speak their language and understand their culture.

  • There may be cognitive benefits to language learning, see for instance Can Learning a Foreign Language Prevent Dementia? | The MIT Press Reader

For one thing, bilinguals outperform monolinguals on tests of selective attention and multitasking. Selective attention can be measured by what is called the “Stroop Test” in which individuals look at a list of color names written in different colors. The task is to name the colors that words are printed in, rather than say the word itself. (If you search for “Stroop Test” or “Stroop Effect” online, you can take this test yourself.) Because we read automatically, it can be difficult to ignore the word “blue,” and report that it is printed in green. Bilinguals perform better on the Stroop Test, as well as other measures of selective attention.

They also are better at multitasking. One explanation of this superiority is that speakers of two languages are continually inhibiting one of their languages, and this process of inhibition confers general cognitive benefits to other activities. In fact, bilingual individuals outperform their monolingual counterparts on a variety of cognitive measures, such as performing concept-formation tasks, following complex instructions, and switching to new instructions. For the sake of completeness, it should be noted that the advantages of being bilingual are not universal across all cognitive domains. Bilingual individuals have been shown to have smaller vocabularies and to take longer in retrieving words from memory when compared to monolinguals. In the long run, however, the cognitive and linguistic advantages of being bilingual far outweigh these two issues.


The psychologist Ellen Bialystok and her colleagues obtained the histories of 184 individuals who had made use of a memory clinic in Toronto. For those who showed signs of dementia, the monolinguals in the sample had an average age at time of onset of 71.4 years. The bilinguals, in contrast, received their diagnosis at 75.5 years, on average. In a study of this sort, a difference of four years is highly significant, and could not be explained by other systematic differences between the two groups. For example, the monolinguals reported, on average, a year and a half more schooling than their bilingual counterparts, so the effect was clearly not due to formal education.


I think that is a very USA thing in general, built-in into the culture that makes american people american. Everything has to have a utilitarian reason that will eventually bring profits in some way or another. At least that’s how I view it most of the time.

I used to despair about the meaning of life and related things when I come to have a more nihilistic view of the world, and it made me very depressed. However, now I believe that it brings me more freedom than anything else. I don’t have to lie or debate myself trying to give a meaning to every single thing I do or like. Why do I learn Japanese? Because I can, and I want it. Everything else is bonus.


Also, have you read the https://community.bunpro.jp/t/bored-of-justifying-why-i-learn-japanese/60966?u=imsamuka thread? It’s a little more of a rant, but it’s very related to this as well

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That feels extremely familiar! I definitely went through this in my 20’s. I think I was ambitious and scared that I would “fail” at life.

Eventually I realized that wanting to improve is good, but only if you also manage to enjoy where you are now. If you just always look up, always only see your flaws, only see what could be better, you’ll just never enjoy life.

Of course it’s easy to say in my position, I have a job that pays well and that I (mostly) enjoy. I am in a long term relationship. I own my flat. Not everybody is as lucky unfortunately.


You can also open a YouTube channel and shock natives!!!


I ask myself that question every day, and not even just about Japanese! :sweat_smile:

If you enjoy it, I think that’s all you need. I’m dealing with the same frustration that actually traveling there is prohibitively expensive—and adulting complicates things for me too—but unless you’re terminally ill, you have more time than you might think.

I started hitting Japanese hard after I remembered that as a kid, I wanted to play all the video games that weren’t getting translated. I finally realized that there was nothing stopping me, so I decided to do that. I still haven’t been to Japan yet, but I feel a sense of accomplishment that if I’m interested in something that hasn’t been translated yet, my brain no longer says, “Well, I guess I have to wait for the localization.”

EDIT: As a fellow adult with adult problems, I think it’s important to remind yourself that you can just do things because you enjoy them. I don’t mean that in a snarky way. I mean that when we get lost in the minutiae of working full-time and maintaining the plate-spinning act of our daily lives, it’s really easy to forget to take time to make ourselves happy. If Japanese does that for you, then that’s ipso facto worth the effort you’ve put in.


This is exactly the same thing you will see if you search for career opportunities related to any other language.

Speaking Japanese doesn’t magically open up some unknown career path that we’re not privy to in the United States. The key difference, I think, is that people who speak Japanese don’t search for jobs with a Japanese component; they just search for jobs. The language is secondary. You are going to get vastly different results if you research career opportunities in Japan in the English language from a network in the United States versus searching in the Japanese language from a network in Japan.

Unless you are proficient in Japanese, your options are going to be limited. It’s the same in the United States. Someone coming to the US with a different language background and limited English can’t expect to find a “salaryman” desk job. A Japanese person looking for career opportunities related to English in the US would see results that exactly complement yours, such as Japanese teaching roles and localization.

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Hey mate it looks like you’ve had quite the few replies to sift through here so just dropping in to say that I hope this has helped bring you a bit of peace of mind, and I’m sorry to hear that it’s been weight on your shoulders.

Things like this are upsetting, frustrating and cause us to sometimes lose motivation in what we enjoy most.

But if it’s making you happy when you do study, or read, or watch, or anything to do with Japanese - in my opinion that’s reason enough to keep going.

The concept is called 生き甲斐, and it sounds like you’re just about to discover what yours is.