Modern Languages and Literatures


Junko Ueno, associate professor of Japanese

Our program provides students with a solid foundation in the disciplines of Japanese language and culture through vibrant and inspiring classes that are conducted in an enjoyable and encouraging manner. Having a global mind and a keen cultural awareness is indispensable in twenty-first century life. Proficiency in Japanese language and culture plays a vital role in pursuing extensive opportunities in today’s multicultural society. Students with a minor or an interdepartmental major in Japanese have gone on to careers that require exposure to global issues in the fields of domestic and international business, engineering, government service, law, education, the arts, journalism, or further study in graduate school.

  • Why study Japanese?

    The ability to communicate in another language has long been regarded as an essential element of a well-rounded education in the U.S.A.

    Language and communication are at the heart of the human experience. The United States must educate students who are equipped linguistically and culturally to communicate successfully in a pluralistic American society and abroad. This imperative envisions a future in which ALL students will develop and maintain proficiency in English and at least one other language. (Standards for Foreign Language Learning, 1998)

    Language is not only a means of contact with other human beings, but also it develops more individuals with strong skills as a matter of long-range economic self-interest.

    Currently, two-thirds of the translating jobs at the U.S. Department of State are filled by foreign born individuals because properly trained American-born candidates are not available. In addition, the world has changed since World War II. The language of business is no longer exclusively in English rather, it is the language of the customer, and too often, our sales representatives so not speak the same language. (Cuyamaca College, 2001)

    Among many foreign languages, Japanese language generates numerous benefits to students in the U.S.A. as shown below.

    Studying Japanese brings career opportunities for international business.

    With the increasing global importance of Asia and Pacific Rim, and economic and strategic significance of the US-Japan relationship, it is important that more Americans become proficient in Japanese in order to gain access to information available only in Japanese, to increase our national level of understanding of Japan, and to better communicate a deeper knowledge of the United States to Japan.(Japanese National Standards Task Force 1998)

    The past fifteen years have seen the establishment of a variety of less-commonly taught critical language programs to teach those languages that the U.S. government perceives to be of strategic, national importance, or that students deem as necessary for career development in a global economy. (National Clearing House for U.S.-Japan Studies 1998)

    While the Asian economics are suffering at present, it is important for the students to realize that by the time they graduate from college, the Asian economic power will undoubtedly be quite different than it is today consequently, it would be wise for students to prepare for the long-haul and to take a language which will prepare them for success. (Marin Academy 2001)

    By studying Japanese, students in various fields besides business (tourism, journalism, science, technology, humanities, and social sciences) will build strong foundations for their future career.

    With the importance of Japan in the global and Asian contexts mean that a knowledge of Japanese language and culture benefits not only those learners who will eventually become Japan experts but also those in a variety of different fields such as tourists, journalism, science, technology, humanities and social sciences. A growing awareness of this fact has led to a great increase in the numbers and backgrounds of students of Japanese and a broadening of their goals during the last 15-20 years. (Japanese National Standards Task Force 1998)

    Students can learn Japanese culture, which is very different and unique, through studying Japanese language.

    Japanese is spoken within a society whose rules of social conduct are very different from those in the West. The deep culture the mind set of the Japanese determines the way that they behave, interact, and react in their daily lives, and this has a direct influence on the way they talk and hear and read and write. The student of Japanese must be concerned in language in culture—the Japanese language as it is used within Japanese society, following the pattern of Japanese behavior. (National Foreign Language Center 1998)

    Japan, while most often being recognized as the worlds second largest
    economy is also a very unique island country in which there is a rich history, a
    distinct culture of people and traditions, and one universal language. With the increasing contact among the people and societies so deeply intertwined, the demand and necessity for, as well as interest in, acquiring proficiency in an Asian language is apparent now more than ever. (Marin Academy 2000)

    Because Japanese language and culture is so different, learning Japanese helps students learn about their own language and culture.

    One of the benefits gained by the study of Japanese is learning more about ones native language and about language as a general phenomenon, gaining an appreciation of both ones own and other languages and cultures, improving general cognitive and communicative skills, and gaining access to other cultures and bodies of knowledge. Studying a linguistically and culturally distant language like Japanese is especially likely to awaken in learners an understanding of the degree to which languages and cultures can vary and of what is distinctive about their own culture. (Japanese National Standards Task Force 1998)

    Studying Japanese helps study other academic subjects.

    In addition to what they learn of the language and culture, they will also acquire basic language learning strategies, higher thinking skills, and broader perspectives from their Japanese studies. (Japanese National Standards Task Force 1998)

    Japanese language education has been growing in the U.S.A.

    Today, students learn Japanese in increasingly diverse contexts. In addition to traditional programs at the college and graduate level, students now study Japanese in K-12 classes, at community colleges, in heritage language schools, in immersion programs for children, in extension classes, in distance-learning programs, and on their own with the aid of computerized learning programs. Between 1986 and 1991, for example, the number of high schools offering Japanese language rose from about 200 to 700. (Jorden and Lambert 1991)

    Specifically, Japanese language study experienced a remarkable 94.9 percent growth since 1985. (National Clearing House for U.S.-Japan Studies 1998)

    For some students, studying Japanese contributes to retaining cultural heritage.

    For American students who have never been exposed to non-Western cultures, the study of Japanese opens the door to Asia. For Japanese-American students, it is a venue in which to understand their cultural heritage. (Japanese National Standards Task Force 1998)

    Students can go to Japan to teach English through the program supported by government.

    The Japan Exchange and Teaching Programme seeks to help enhance internationalization in Japan, by promoting mutual understanding between Japan and other nations. The programme aims to enhance foreign language education in Japan, and to promote international exchange at the local level through fostering ties between Japanese youth and foreign youth. The objectives of the programme are being achieved by offering college/university graduates the opportunity to serve in local government organizations as well as public and private junior and senior high schools. (JET programme official web site 2000)

    Students can go to Japan to study Japanese.

    Union College offers Japan Term Abroad program, which emphasizes knowledge of the Japanese language and literature, art, politics, and general culture.

    Union Students can have a minor in Japanese.

    Students at Union can pursue a minor in Japanese. Requirements for the Japanese Minor: A minimum of 7 courses, starting at the 10-level, including one MLT course. If combined with participation in a Union Term Abroad to Japan, students can complete the minor with 3 additional language courses.

    In summary, for students, studying Japanese can be an asset in the job market, a spur to personal and intellectual growth, a source of increased self-esteem, and of course an enjoyable experience.

  • Courses & requirements
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  • Japanese events

    Community outreach

    Our Japanese language classes provide students with an opportunity to be a part of the local Japanese community in order to strengthen their linguistic and cultural understandings through various class projects. The Albany Japanese Language School, what used to be called hiyoko, is a local group consisting of Japanese children of various ages and their caregivers. These children study Japanese every Sunday at Union College to maintain their knowledge of their heritage language and culture. The Union students studying Japanese have been regularly involved in these children’s classes and activities since the fall of 2010 in various ways, including reading Japanese children books to them, teaching magic tricks in Japanese, playing kids games in Japanese, etc. One of our annual events is called bunkasai, a cultural event held by most schools in Japan, from nursery schools to universities, at which their students showcase their achievements. In that event, the students of all levels of Japanese present their projects in Japanese, from the demonstration of Japanese traditional dance to Japanese songs and stories. The children in the local community also showcase their academic achievements by presenting skits, Japanese calligraphy, playing Japanese musical instruments, etc.

    Staring with a Service Learning Grant in 2010, the College has been very helpful in deepening the bond between our students and the local Japanese community. Most of the aforementioned events have been funded though different programs, including Modern Languages and Literatures, Asian Studies, and IEG. “Communities” is one of the five goal areas established by the National Standards in Foreign Language Education Project (National Standards) and the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) as the standards for foreign language learning. We are extremely thankful for the support of Union College to help us make our student language learning experience meaningful and rewarding.

    Japanese Table

    Mondays @ Common Lunch in RCC 305

  • Study abroad
  • Career opportunities

    There are many exciting opportunities for students of Japanese, both here and in Japan. Your options are limitless.

    This page was developed to help you explore these opportunities. To better help you, we have divided this section into three categories: employment, internships, and scholarships.

    Remember, it is important to start weighing your options well before your senior year. Also, although it is very important to take classes about Japanese culture, economy, and politics, language study is essential to finding the best jobs.

    For further questions, please contact Prof. Junko Ueno or check the Union College Becker Career Center website.


    The following is a brief list of places you can search for employment in Japan and the U.S. Language skills are essential to most of these jobs.

    General Resources for Working in Japan

    • Escape Artist (job resources for those seeking to live and work in Japan)
    • Jobs in Japan (offerings for sectors including English teachers, high-tech jobs, bilingual work, and modeling/acting/entertainment)
    • Japan Zone (information about working in Japan)
    • The Japan FAQ (information for those planning to live and work in Japan)
    • Pacific Bridge (working to further cross-cultural understanding through employment opportunities)

    Teaching Jobs in Japan

    • ELT News (job information for those wishing to teach in Japan. Journals from teachers who have taught in Japan before. News and message boards)
    • Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Program (perhaps the best-known employment center for those desiring to teach English in Japan for a few years)
    • Ohayosensei (teaching positions in conversation schools, public schools, universities and companies across Japan)

    Government Agencies

    • U.S. Embassy in Japan (visa info etc.)
    • The U.S. government is always in need of bilingual employees. Try the following sites:
    • USAID (The Agency for International Development)
    • FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation)


    Various teaching and research options are always available for students of Japanese.


    Check out these sites for information about scholarships:

  • Internet resources