According to the last record in 2010, 125 million people speak Japanese with the majority living in Japan. It is difficult to tell just how many speak it as a second language.
Japan is the only country in the world recognizing Japanese as an official language. However, there are areas with high concentration of Japanese-speaking citizens within other countries like China, Korea and other Asian countries. There are also some parts of the Western World where Japanese is regularly spoken. Despite being the national language of one of the major economies in the world, Japanese isn’t broadly used in any major international political organization.
Japanese is part of the Old Japanese language family. More specifically it is part of the Japanese-Ryukyuan family. There is very little known about how the language developed, with very few words recorded in the third century. It wasn’t until the eighth century that substantial texts with the language developed.
The Chinese language helped to develop the Japanese language during the Heian period. It was around the Middle Ages that the language had developed far enough to be comparable to what is known as Japanese today.
Over time the dialects have changed. Kansai used to be the standard dialect, but that changed to the dialect from the Edo region in the 17th century. Japanese started to bring in more European words and phrases, and there are many English loanwords used today.
To make it even more difficult to learn the language, there are many dialects of Japanese throughout the country. While some dialects only differ in the pitch accent, there are also some vocabulary and particle differences.
The two main types of different dialects are the Kyoto-Osaka type and the Tokyo type languages. There are then subcategories within these two. Some of the less common, outer region dialects are difficult to learn, even for other native speakers. The majority of dialects in the inner regions, on the other hand, are understandable to most native speakers
The Japanese language is considered one of the hardest languages to learn by the Foreign Service Institute (FSI). The United States department encourages individuals to live in a Japanese-speaking area for half of their study time to help pick up the language properly.
Total study time recommended by the FSI is 2,200 hours. This means about 88 weeks of study. However, this is the average study time for all Category III languages, which are considered the hardest for English-speaking people. Out of all Category III languages, the FSI believes Japanese will be the hardest to learn.