Japanese is the language spoken by 120 million natives of the Japanese islands and by an additional 2 million people outside of Japan, primarily in South America and the United States. Parallel to the emergence of Japan as the world's second greatest economic power in the second half of the twentieth century, its language has increasingly become a medium of communication on the international business scene, not only in Asia, but also across the globe—including in the United States. Japan is also the home of one of the world's oldest continuously existing civilizations. The study of Japanese is thus rewarding not only for its practical benefits, but also for the introduction it offers to a rich cultural and literary tradition still largely unknown to the majority of Westerners.

Harvard offers a full course of study in standard Japanese, the dialect of Japanese spoken in Tokyo. The core of the program consists of five years of instruction, the first four years of which form a common curriculum devoted to a balanced and successively more advanced mastery of the four skills of speaking, listening, reading, and writing in the language. The elementary course (Japanese Bab) assumes no background in the language and develops basic survival-level linguistic skills, including the ability to read and write hiragana, katakana, and approximately 200 Chinese characters. Additional characters are introduced successively throughout the second and third years. By the end of the fourth year, students will have been exposed to the majority of the 1,945 characters established as "common use" characters (jooyoo kanji) by the Ministry of Education in Japan. The fifth-year course combines reading on a variety of social science topics relevant to contemporary Japan, with project work enabling students to gain experience in writing and giving formal presentations in Japanese on academic topics of their own interest. Advanced students (beyond the third year level) with an interest in literature may also take courses in classical Japanese and kanbun offered by the literature faculty in the Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations.

Students in the Japanese Language Program come from a wide variety of graduate, undergraduate, and professional units of Harvard University, including, but not limited to, students majoring in East Asian Studies. To respond to the diverse needs of its students and to equip them with the practical language skills needed to function in an increasingly internationalized and competitive marketplace, the Harvard Japanese Program is committed to a proficiency-based teaching philosophy and its implementation at all levels of instruction. This means an emphasis on both accuracy and creativity in the use of the language, and on a parallel mastery of all four skills of speaking, listening, reading, and writing—even at the advanced levels, where increasingly complex reading tasks often dominate class time. Toward this end, interactive classroom techniques and culturally-authentic language materials are utilized, and classes are conducted entirely in Japanese from approximately the beginning of the second year of instruction. Attention is also paid to developing in students self-instructional strategies that will carry them beyond the classroom into a life-long process of language learning.

The Japanese Language Program considers the integration of in-class learning with the extra-curricular life of students as an essential part of successful language learning. Among opportunities for students to experience such integration is a program that pairs interested students at the third-year level and above with visiting Japanese researchers and their families at Harvard for cultural and linguistic exchange. Also available to students is a wide variety of funded opportunities, either summer- or year-long, to travel to Japan for study-abroad, research, or work experience through internships in a variety of Japanese and international corporations and government institutions.

The offices of the Japanese language program are located at 5 Bryant St. Interested students are encouraged to contact the Program (617-495-2961) with questions regarding placement or other matters, or to visit the Program's offices and meet with its faculty and staff members at any time.