One of the big reasons people go for the N1 is because they think it will improve their job prospects. This is, of course, true. Although, you do need to back it up with good speaking and listening skills in the interview, having an N1 will most definitely get you more interviews.
Another reason to take the N1 and pass is also the awesome-ness of it. It is an incredibly difficult test for most people, and passing it gives you well-deserved bragging rights as being the ultimate Japanese test-taker.
But, I would like to offer another more interesting and sometimes not so obvious reason why studying for and taking the N1 can be really helpful. That is that it can really deepen your understanding of Japanese culture. Being able to read quickly and understand the nuances gives you a real boost. And understanding most of what is on TV can give you a front row seat to the true Japan.
Japanese in English
Whenever you read or hear anything about Japan in English (or your native language), you are most likely hearing about it through a filter of some kind. Either the person reporting it has translated a news story or translated interviews to get you that story. Either way the source of the material was most likely in Japanese.
And almost any kind of translation will inevitably have some kind of bias to it. It is incredibly difficult to capture the exact connotation of anything being translated. And in Japanese, there are actually some sayings and things that are ‘un-translate-able’. I know that sounds almost impossible, but there are.
The main reason for this is that anything you see and hear in your native language is meant for people that might not be very knowledgeable about Japan. The audience for that kind of news might have never been to Japan. So the writer has to write with this in mind.
I’m guilty of this every time I write something for Boot Camp. I try to think about what those outside of Japan know and don’t know about the country when I write a culture article. But, I still do try to keep it interesting for the 20%+ or so of you reading this that are living in Japan.
Japanese in Japanese
This is going to be a no-brainer, but information about Japan in Japanese is written for Japanese people. Duh, right? But, the point is, you can’t really start to understand the culture until you read it or hear it in Japanese. Because chances are what you read and hear about in your native language about Japan is very different than what the main topic of conversation about Japan in Japanese is.
And it is admittedly hard at first to try to get into the groove so to speak. For example, I still have issues with Japanese comedy. I just can’t understand why my wife finds the craziest things so absolutely funny. But I am starting to get a feel for what the culture is really like, which is a bit scary and relieving at the same time.
When I first came to Japan it was great to live in the bliss of not understanding anything. For example, advertising had no obvious effect on me. I could just walk past a series of posters and not be annoyed by any of it really. Now I pick up on a lot of it, so that has gotten a little more annoying.
But, the other side of that is I can watch dramas and talk to natives about the shows. I don’t have to rely on the old standby topics of ‘how was your weekend?’ or ‘It sure is cold isn’t it?’ (when I am talking to my English students). I can actually, you know, be friends.
Studying the intricate grammar points of N1 is really tricky, but to be able to understand the culture natively has had a huge impact on me. Using another language at that level after a few years of stumbling around is great. So although the road is long, the goal is worth it.
Good luck everyone on this quest to the top!
Photo by Beeldmark