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  • Asahi’s AERA Mag July 14, 2014: Special on NJ in J globalized companies, says “Offices without NJ will not succeed”. Yet again panders to stereotypes

    Posted by Dr. ARUDOU, Debito on July 10th, 2014

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    Hi Blog. On the heels of our prior discussion about the Takeda Pharmaceutical Co.’s “scandal” about having the audacity to put a NJ as CEO of the company (shock horror! Think of how much the company will be compromised!, was the narrative), here’s a special issue by left-leaning AERA magazine of July 14, put out by the (left-and-right-leaning, depending on the editor) Asahi News Corp, on Japan’s “global companies”.  Its big headline is that offices that are not multinational in terms of staff “will not succeed”. (Somebody tell that to Takeda Pharma’s xenophobes!)

    Aera.0714

    (Click on image to expand in browser.  Courtesy of MS.)

    You might think this is a forward-thinking move, but AERA also resorts to the same old media tropes about NJ.  For example, it puns on the seminal TV show of more than a decade ago called “Koko Ga Hen Da Yo, Nihonjin” with a bit on “Koko Ga Hen Da Yo, Japanese workplaces”.  Not to appear dated, it also refers to Koko Ga Hen’s current incarnation “YOU Wa Nani Shi Ni NIhon E” (What did YOU [sic] come to Japan to do?), with a poll of twenty (a scientifically-significant sample!! /sarcasm) real-live NJ residents of Japan saying what they find unsatisfactory about Japan.  There’s also a discussion between two J pundits on immigration (yep; how about polling an immigrant?), a comparison between NJ transplant schools modeled on the Indian, Chinese, and Canadian education systems (why?  dunno), and the coup de grace — the influential Oguri Saori manga “Darling wa Gaikokujin being riffed on to talk about “Darling wa Damenzu Gaikokujin“.

    This is about J women marrying NJ “Wrong men” (from a manga title, a polyglot word of Dame (J)  and Mens (E?)) who are penniless, unfaithful, or violent (and in this case, according to AERA, from less-economically-developed countries, viz. the newly-coined word “kakusa-kon“, or economically-tiered marriages), because the NJ get a visa, and the women get the relief (iyashi) of having less to lose (financially or materially) after the breakup. Whaa….?

    Yep, even when we resort to the hackneyed stereotypical tropes (gotta love the swarthy smitten NJ in the illustration; clearly by the skin tone there’s kakusa there), we still have to pander to prejudices by including some nasty ones.

    There’s more up there, so other comments?  Mine is that even if J companies take things to heart and hire more NJ employees, I’m worried that 1) like before, it’ll only be on a “contingency” basis (to take the NJ out for a test drive, meaning the hiring process is two-tiered and unequal, with less job security for the NJ), and 2) it’ll just happen because it’s “trendy”.  NJ have been hired as “pet gaijin” (as was common practice during the “Bubble Years”; I know) to show off how “international” the company has become, without ever allowing NJ employees to play any real part in the company’s future.  Just plonking NJ in your office doesn’t necessarily mean much (until NJ become, for example, managers).  And when they do, the Takeda-styled soukaiya mentioned last blog entry will no doubt protest it anyway (if not fire you for doing the right thing about J-boss corruption, a la Olympus).

    Sorry to rain on what may be a positive trend (I’d much rather have them acknowledge that J companies cannot remain insular than not, of course), but I’m not sure AERA is encouraging real non-insularity.  Especially when even they can’t keep the discussion serious and refrain from painting NJ with negative stereotypes.  Dr. ARUDOU, Debito

    19 Responses to “Asahi’s AERA Mag July 14, 2014: Special on NJ in J globalized companies, says “Offices without NJ will not succeed”. Yet again panders to stereotypes”

    1. Bucky Says:

      The “Offices without NJ-” ref was clearly the central rhetorical aim of that spread. The rest of the stuff, I feel, was sugar-coating for that pill and balm for the oyaji egos and worldviews just rocked back on their heels by it.

      I’m gonna go ahead and chalk this one up as a win for the good guys.

    2. dude Says:

      Debito – Japanese companies mostly will not hire NJ as managers. They will hire (some) entry level NJ, parade them as showpieces, use them to practice English, etc. They don’t want NJ as managers disrupting the “WA”.
      Further, if a J company tried to hire an NJ manager, they would have to pay much more than the standard “approved” rate… so I think J companies will continue as they have been doing, with a very few hiring a foreign CEO…

      – Which means that few if any Japanese companies will ever truly become “global” with employment practices found in other globalized companies, now, will it? Despite what AERA seems to be advocating.

    3. Jim di Griz Says:

      Until J-society stops kidding itself with ‘Japan is sooo appealing for foreigners- there’s so many of them dying to live and work here, because Japan is so unique and special’, and accept the reality that ”Japan’s special cultural ways of doing things’ is really only code-words for corruption, bribes, unethical practices, discrimination, etc, the J-media will be prevented from doing the sensible thing (asking NJ who left Japan/left the employ of a J-company ‘what is wrong with japanese companies and society?’), and therefore, in the absence of an honest starting point for discussion, have literally nothing else to talk about, except rehashed, disproved stereotypes and bad social science.

    4. dean Says:

      Yeah, its kind of sad because you wake up one day and realize this is how the deck is stacked against you. You were never meant to be a manager, just a tool. Dude is spot on. I missed the lecture on this and many other realities about Japan many years ago.

    5. Loverilakkuma Says:

      To put it more specific, Japanese companies, I mean, companies founded and/or co-founded by Japanese owner(s) and headquartered in Japan, are not willing to give foreign individuals an executive position to manage their businesses. There are some exceptions that Japanese companies appoint NJ to important executive position such as senior director, technical advisor, executive board member, or even more important position such as secretary or vice president. But these will likely happen in overseas branches or subsidiaries– rather than the ones in Japan. Even foreigners appointed to higher position in Japanese companies are usually considered as “temporary” or “interim,” and hence replaceable to Japanese native. I’m not sure such global-minded pundit like Hiroshi Mikitani of Rakuten will ever welcome NJ to his executive board or appoint to vice president or CEO when he retires.

    6. dude Says:

      People!!!
      They don’t actually want foreigners taking jobs away from “good Japanese people”.
      This is for the most part, a smokescreen.
      Don’t buy into the (false) idea that the people who run Japan want or will allow more than a tiny few foreigners in.
      For the most part, this is just another excuse… “we tried, and we failed (again)”

    7. dude Says:

      Jim Di Griz – Your advice is sound – if they cared. But I think they do not.
      I agree with your assessment – they are indeed pulling the wool over their own eyes.
      All of the Japanese CEO’s I’ve met have exhibited similar qualities – they don’t ask the opinion of their employees, or of people younger than themselves. So advocating that they or the J press do this is unrealistic. The AERA piece, to me, is an aberration.
      Japan will change when it has to. Whether via gaiatsu or by necessity.
      But today, they are still not there. Get comfortable – this will take a while…

      Dean – I can relate (been there). Whenever you work under a tyrant or totalitarian regime, like in Japan, where they want you to give everything to the company, earn a small subsistence salary, with little or no security for the future… think outside the box.
      Get a side income.
      Start building your parachute – one day you will need it.
      If you can translate, do so, part time.
      If you can interpret, do a side job once in a while.
      Meanwhile, as connections are a big part of business, you may find one of these side jobs could offer you a way out.

      Loverilakkuma – Hiroshi Mikitani – what a great example! To Japanese people, he is the poster boy for “internationalization”.
      I have never found him to be global-minded. He is smart, but his top executives are Japanese – on purpose. If he hires an NJ executive, I doubt he would choose one who speaks Japanese. He is a classic example of the Japanese tendency of determining how to deal with NJ, w/o involving NJ in the decision.
      He likes the top-down Japanese management style.
      And yes, he thinks NJ are a pain to deal with.

    8. Jim di Griz Says:

      @ Dude #7

      Actually, Rakuten is a company I have been following and researching for a couple of years. They have an interesting business model;
      Offer a prize to the top sellers on Rakuten each year! The prize? A ‘business training’ week long course (run by Rakuten), in New York! Who would refuse that?
      Seems rather kind of them, doesn’t it?
      Except that Rakuten ‘trainers’ use the course to extract as much information about the winners businesses as possible, and then Rakuten decides if they can use their massive resources to copy that business, and put the ‘winner’ out of work.
      So clever, but not exactly the image that Mikitani ‘the entrepreneur’ wants; stifling other entrepreneurs.

      Anyhow, Rakuten made a big show and dance about how it had ‘gone English’, a move that prompted many head office employees to scurry off to the local Berlitz and ECC, but the truth was that managers were spending many hours every week preparing thier little English speeches about thier part of the business for Rakuten management meetings, only to not be able to understand what anyone else was saying, nor be able to ask or answer any questions in English.

      As a result, within 6 months of the announcement of the start of the scheme, English language meetings were being immediately followed by an identical meeting in Japanese, and then about 2 years ago, they just ditched the ‘official’ English meeting, and went back to operating in Japanese.

      I guess it doesn’t matter if you’re a business genius, English language proficiency doesn’t come by decree.

      As for the boss, well he sent his family packing to Hawaii as soon as Fukushima happened (didn’t see that in the news, did you? Too many ‘flyjin’ stories), and now his family are in San Francisco, with green cards, due to that thing the US has that allows green cards to those with millions of USD in assets or cash in the US.

    9. dean Says:

      @loverlilakuma,

      Ive also hear different about “progressive” Rakuten. Im guessing the “English only” rule has faded.

      Foreigners in Japan generally have an uphill battle. I think the whole truth should be out there for anybody seeking to reside here. Most big companies hire young people with a blank slate for experience; actually they dont want experience. It goes against everything you have been taught, but this is how it is. for a long term asset, I guess it makes sense but in the fast moving global economy, self investment/improvement is important and many companies abroad expect it. Most countries and companies value experience, in Japan this usually is not the case. Knowledge and experience must be shared from the craddle to grave employment duration. Japanese over 35 get the shaft as well. There are some serious, engrained cultural norms that cannot be changed easily, if at all. Its why those in the know are doubting that the reforms will work. Demographics and the obvious problems skeptics point to are only part of the issue. Its time for japan to look at whats happening outside Japan and consider changing instead of responding to everything with “ah sou na no?” when it comes to all things gaijin, then running back to the safety and comfort of the group. For several generations, this is all they have ever known, and its worked.

      Not saying all is bad, though. Relative safety in society, decent infrastructure, job security (if your able to penetrate) insider training etc. If you want to trade your career for that then maybe Japan is for you.

    10. dude Says:

      Jim – you know I live in Hawaii? There were lots of “elite” Japanese bringing their families here after Fukushima. Many of their families with young children are still here… And you are correct, many went to the mainland too.

    11. Loverilakkuma Says:

      @Jim Di Griz & Dude

      Thank you, thank you for your information. Mikitani is in my watch list since he was one of the two masterminds who proposed highly challenging TOEFL for college entrance exam and graduation exam to all Japanese students last May. His plan was rejected by the MEXT, but he was very adamant about its installment as a standard assessment tool that contains many vocabularies and cognitively complex passages Japanese students(and even teachers) cannot understand. Japanese test-takers got only 70 out of 120, third lowest among Asia in the year 2012. The vast majority of Japanese students are not even close to that level, as 2/3 students do not pass the elementary level(3rd grade to semi-2nd grade) of STEP English Test.

      It totally makes sense. Mikitani is not an educator. Even worse, he seems to buy into ‘English-fluency-as-global-resource’ myth by recruiting a bunch of English-fluent Japanese expats who screw themselves up due to their ignorance of business professionalism and its normal procedure.

    12. Jim di Griz Says:

      @ Loverilakkuma #11

      Maybe you know, but Mikitani has an agenda for pushing Japanese English education- its a business opportunity for him.
      Before he started Rakuten, his ‘dream’ was to open an on-line English language school.

      Now he has the resources and market positioning of the Rakuten brand, I believe he wants to steer English language education in Japan in a direction that will allow him to realize his English teaching business with customers captured by changed education policy, or changed business standards.

      Just like his position on the panel for deregulating Internet drug sales, he has a vested interest.

      It makes me shudder when people hold him up (like they did with Hashimoto) as an example of ‘a breath of fresh air’.

    13. Aaron Says:

      I doubt that is Mikitani’s objective with English. He probably wants to expand Rakuten in many markets. This would be a wise move – eRetail was non-existent in China in 2007 but now it is about 10% of non-grocery retail and most Asian markets will follow suit. He needs to move rapidly and he needs employees who can speak the lingua franca of business – English. Mikitani’s ‘problem’ (if it is indeed a problem) is that he has high expectations for everything. I sincerely doubt he has lowered the bar on what he expects in terms of business professionalism. What I’ve heard is that he measures just about everything that can be measured.

    14. Jim di Griz Says:

      Aaron, maybe, but I’m basing my comments on discussions with top managers who have left Rakuten.

    15. Loverilakkuma Says:

      @Jim Di Griz, #12

      Quite. He’s definitely pro-deregulation and corporate tax cuts. I’m sure he will be welcomed to the Billionaire’s Boys Club in the Wall Street or Silicon Valley in the US or elsewhere in the world. He should be on the top list of corporatists who preach for “One Market Under God” (http://www.amazon.com/One-Market-Under-God-Capitalism/dp/0385495048), if there’s any equivalent in Japan. He would not hesitate to make implosion in public education, should there be Japanese version of Chronicle of Echoes. (http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00KWL91RU)

      @Aaron, #13

      That’s exactly why Mikitani made such an outrageous demand on student achievement. He wants to move the goalpost to make it far more difficult for the students to achieve an unrealistic goal like many private reformers. His words make little or no difference from clueless MEXT bureaucrats. Both rely on questionable method– MEXT for TOEIC, Mikitani for TOEFL— to assess anything to be measured quantifiably. His attempt to force underachieving Japanese students to take rigorous English language exam is the Japanese version of Common Core Tests for College and Career Readiness that will make them suffer so bad (http://dianeravitch.net/2014/07/03/politico-plans-for-the-federal-tests-for-common-core-are-falling-apart/). It’s a rubbing salt into the wounds.

    16. Baudrillard Says:

      Mikitani is just another Kitaoka who “tried to enlist the help of the Ministry of Education, but their bureaucrats did not see the need for a new test to compete with the STEP Eiken, an English test already backed by the ministry. To overcome this opposition, Kitaoka received help from his friend, Yaeji Watanabe. Watanabe’s influence as a retired high-ranking bureaucrat from the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (renamed the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry, or METI) proved crucial to TOEIC’s establishment.” (wikipedia,history of TOEIC).

      As Hofstede points out, individuals in Japan dont compete much but groups compete furiously. MEXT arguably backing TOEIC just as a rival to the Ministry of Education.

      Maybe English is a trendy commodity, and every ministry should have their own test!

    17. Becky Says:

      Does Mikitani himself speak fluent English? I don’t follow anything Rakuten-related, but somebody very close to me was acquainted with Mikitani’s mother. She was partly raised in NYC (my friend used the old expression バイリンギャル to describe her, remember those heady days?), graduated from a national university in Japan back in the times when it was unheard of for women to do so, and seems to be a remarkable and dynamic woman even now who seems keen to promote the elevation of women in corporate culture, and doesn’t mind using her influence to do so. Very much a “do it now” kind of person, from what I’ve been told.

      It’s not hard to believe that Mikitani has been influenced by his mother, or inherited some of her dynamism. The hand that rocks the cradle, and all that. About the English thing, I’d definitely be willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps he picked it up so easily that he expects everyone else to be like that.

    18. Loverilakkuma Says:

      @Baudrillard,#16

      MEXT is a current name of Education Ministry. They changed the name in January 2001.

      @Becky, #17

      He surely does. Mikitani holds MBA from Harvard. He has made quite a lot of speaking and lecturing in English about online business and e-commerce for years.

      https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=Hiroshi+Mikitani

      I don’t have a problem with people giving unreserved praise for his accomplishment. They can give his entrepreneurship and language skills(sounds mediocre but much better than many Japanese elitists) to his exclusive billionaire status. I, for one, however, hold it questionable for his little or no expertise in English language teaching and curriculum practice. Again, he is an entrepreneur–not an academic scholar. He is just one of those business & financial elitists scrambling for the seat to barge in public education with both guns blazing–like corporate hedge-fund managers and wealthy philanthropists like Gates, Walton Foundation– and jump on the bandwagon of English Language Education ‘reform’ movement spearheaded by the Abe Cabinet and the MEXT.

      He can send whatever message he wants to please his employees, friends, and wannabes for his best interest. But, it’s just laughable to expect them to behave like him, and become a successful entrepreneur like him. Not gonna happen.

    19. Jim Di Griz Says:

      @ Baudrillard #16

      That’s pretty much the scenario I envisaged Mikitani as planning.

      @ Becky #17

      I don’t think it matters how good his English is in reality. I think the only thing that matters is the image that he has created, that Rakuten is an ‘all English’ Japanese success story, and this means that he is popularly regarded as being the most ‘un-Japanese’ Japanese businessman in Japan. Maybe it’s easier to understand if you consider this way; Mikitani’s whole PR effort has been directed at creating the image of himself as ‘Mikitani is to J-business, what Hashimoto is to J-politics’ (admittedly before Hashimoto blew it before banging on about wartime sex-slaves).

      Why would Mikitani do this? Well, look at all the attention from the establishment that Hashimoto got- even the LDP was talking about the chance of an alliance. Mikitani wants access. Access to policy makers, so that he can influence policy and make profits.

      And that is what he has been doing. But he’s such a nice guy, right? He’s not like all those stuffy, grey, living in the past Shachou, is he? So he gets a free pass.

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