In addition to motivation and efforts it's extremely important to have a clear vision of opportunities you will be able to gain access to by mastering Japanese. In the following article I will try to explain you in a few situations when I felt that the hard effort was worth it. While many people still say that you can get by wait English in most of the developed countries I believe that Japan is an exception.
What are the advantages of speaking Japanese when you are in Japan?
Before going to Japan I had to 2 years of language education and I was familiar with the basic grammar when I first came to the country. I can tell you that I have almost given up in the first year because I found that in spite of the time I spent on learning the language nobody seemed to understand me. Luckily, I had a few friends around me and they said that it's not going to happen overnight so what I needed was patience.
One of the first issues you face when you move to a different country is the issue of finding a place to dwell. Obviously, you need a real estate agent to do that and as you might have guessed, these guys don't really speak English. This doesn't mean that you can't find a real estate agent in Japan who doesn't speak English but there is another issue I need to mention here. When you want to rent a property, you need to build up some kind of trust with the owner. The first time I heard this I found it weird because in most of the countries you simply pay the rent and probably some deposit and you can move into the apartment without serious negotiations.
First of all, the owner wants to make sure that you pay the rent every month. Secondly, in case you disappear but you leave all your belongings in the apartment the owner has no right to touch your stuff. The only way is to get a formal permission from the courthouse, therefore disposing of the tenant’s belongings can take a very long time and a lot of money. Many foreigners feel that they get refused when they want to rent an apartment in Japan because of pure racism, however I think the situation is somewhat different.
Therefore, when you talk to the real estate agent he tries to judge your current situation and position in the society so that he can negotiate with the owner. This is the point when the knowledge of Japanese can help you a lot and you can build the trust up by using their native language. Once I personally heard that the real estate agent was saying to the owner that I speak the language just as if I was one of them. That was a nice compliment from the agent.
Another thing I would like to mention here is related to paying taxes in Japan. At the end of every financial year you’re supposed to declare and pay your taxes. If you are a company employee, usually the company does it for you and because of this the vast majority of the Japanese population don’t hassle with tax issues. However, even if you are a company employee, you have plenty of ways to calculate your taxes and deduct expenses. There are many factors that influence your tax rate and the best person is the tax office employee who can help you with tax issues. They are surprisingly nice at the tax office because they feel it’s their duty to teach you the means to pay taxes in Japan. It might sound scary for the first time but when you go to the tax office you realise that it's much easier than you originally thought. I don't think I have to emphasise the importance of Japanese when you talk to the tax office employee.
If you don't know how to read the tax declaration documents you might need to have them translated but believe me you can save an enormous amount of money by properly filling the form. Even for the first two years when I was a student and I had some light part-time jobs I went to the tax office and told them my occupation and expenses they returned about $500. The tax office in Kobe is nearby so only to me about an hour. Good hourly wage wage, right?
The third thing I will talk about is related to immigration with which every foreigner has to deal with in order to get a proper visa to live in Japan. The officers at the immigration office are similar to the officers at the tax office, in a sense that they prefer their native language. There are many types of visas you can apply for and the one for highly qualified researchers is based on a point system.
You get almost half of the required points if you have successfully taken an advanced Japanese language examination. And you can get the rest of the points based on your scientific career. I believe that when you apply for a different type of visa they take your Japanese skills into consideration as well. I can only think of English teachers in Japan as an exceptional case. Still the demand for English teachers in Japan is extremely high, so they might not require English teachers to speak Japanese. However when the English teacher goes to the real estate agent or the tax office we return to the same problem I have already talked about.
It took me some time to understand the technical terms at these places and I feel that doing a tax decoration in my home country is a complicated thing. If you have questions or you need help with these procedures you can contact me (hikari.code [at] gmail dot com) any time and I will try to do my best to give you some advice.