I studied Japanese full time in Kyoto, Japan from 1990 to early 1993. And from there I never really stopped. I had an important advantage: I have lived in Kyoto since 1989.
Japan is the world's 3rd largest economy and also a distinct piece of the current "global village" world we live in. Japan has been interacting through trade and commerce and culture for well over 50 years now. But very few foreigners in Japan or anywhere else in the world speak Japanese.
It is known as a "difficult language" but that doesn't mean anything if your passion lies in learning that language. My take on learning languages, and I speak 4 fluently (English, Japanese, German, and Swedish), is very simple.
In three stages:
1. Begin with memorization on portable cue cards. Memorize 40% nouns, 40% verbs (worry about conjugation later), and 20% adjectives and time expressions.
2. Listen to the language as much as possible and begin speaking out loud to get your pronunciation pitch-perfect.
3. Start using your words and your pronunciation skills to make sentences and continue watching, listening, thinking about the language as much as possible. For Japanese, step one also requires learning the hiragana and katakana syllable sets (48 characters in each one) and a few Chinese kanji ideograms.
Even if you don't plan to read Japanese well you should have a good understanding of how the written language is constructed. Looking at the future, Japan is always in need of people who are intermediate fluent in Japanese. Currently, there are many jobs open to foreigners as Japan is the world's fastest aging population and the birth rate is also among the lowest in the world. And Japan's interest in foreign cultures is always trending and so is the world's fascination with Japanese cultural exports. Manga, anime, cosplay, architecture, design and contemporary art . . .
Japan also has the most advanced and widespread craft culture (much like Italy) in the world and these traditions continue to live and change. So no matter your interest in travel and culture, Japan has to be in the top 5-10 places to gain language fluency.
If Japan interests you, traditional or modern, then you should absolutely begin to study Japanese and listen and watch as much Japanese content as possible. The more you put in, in the beginning, the easier it gets.
Ian Martin, Your Japan Private Tours Kyoto