Learning Japanese is not just language learning. Since the way the Japanese people think is inextricably woven into their language, it is also a doorway to a new world, as well as a new way of understanding the world we think we “know.”

Language Courses

Japanese has been taught at Carleton since 1968. In elementary classes 101-103 all four skills: speaking, listening, reading and writing are equally emphasized. Students learn 46 characters (hiragana) in the first ten days. By the end of the first year, students have enough basic Japanese to survive in Japan.

Intermediate classes 204-206 emphasize the development of reading skills, especially the mastery of kanji, Chinese characters, with considerable work on spoken Japanese through the use of audiovisuals. By the end of 205, students are ready to start reading Japanese books in Japanese. The college language requirement is completed with 205. Japanese 206 focuses on polishing and refining practical skills in both spoken and written Japanese.

Advanced courses allow students to enjoy modern Japanese short stories, manga, and other contemporary materials in the original and discuss them in Japanese with classmates. The students can also read Japanese newspapers and journals and discuss in Japanese current topics such as the environment. One goal of these courses is to attain a high level of communication skills in Japanese.


Japanese literature and popular culture is one of the richest in the world. Carleton offers courses that enable students to analyze the modern Japanese novels by Soseki, live-action films by Kurosawa, anime by Miyazaki, and manga by Tezuka. In addition to the texts themselves and the traditions they represent, these classes explore the social, cultural, aesthetic, and political contexts in which they were written.

Majors and Minors

Students may petition for a special major in Japanese, or they may focus on the study of the language, literature, or popular culture as Asian Studies majors. Japanese courses are also an integral part of the East Asian Studies minor.

A minor in Japanese language is offered by the college for students completing the required number of courses after Japanese 204.