Asahi: J companies abandoning old hiring and promotion practices, offering NJ employees equitable positions (seriously, that’s what they say!). Come again?
Posted by debito on April 12th, 2010
Here’s something that goes against common experience and common sense: The Asahi claiming that more major Japanese companies are hiring NJ more equitably. As in, they’ll be leaders in a quarter-century or so. Yeah, I heard that back in the Eighties during the “Kokusaika Boom”, when I too was hired at Japanese companies to help with companies “internationalization”, and got out real quick when I realized it was fallacious. What do others think? Have things changed? I have included some posts below from The Community talking about this, and they seem to disagree with the Asahi. Arudou Debito in Sapporo
Japanese firms adopt a global appearance
BY SOICHI FURUYA AND MAKOTO ODA THE ASAHI SHIMBUN
2010/04/06, Courtesy of JH.
With overseas markets increasingly seen as the key to their survival, Japanese companies are adopting a more “international” look at home involving changes that would have been unheard of years ago.
Long-held practices in hiring have been scrapped, as have limits on positions available to non-Japanese at the companies’ head offices in Tokyo and other Japanese cities.
Methods of communication have shifted as foreigners take on increasingly important roles in devising strategy for overseas sales.
The employment of Lee Guanglin Samson, a 29-year-old Singaporean, is one example of how electronic appliance maker Toshiba Corp. is evolving.
“Judging that a more global use of human personnel is necessary, we decided not to use Japanese-language abilities as a requirement for employment,” said Seiichiro Suzuki, head of Toshiba’s personnel center. “Those whom we want are people who will be able to become leaders of business divisions 25 years later.”
During his days at the National University of Singapore, Lee became so interested in Japanese culture that he read the English version of “The Tale of Genji,” an ancient and voluminous novel that no doubt took time away from his studies of his major: electrical engineering.
A job at Toshiba would have been impossible for Lee during his undergraduate years because of the company’s policy at the time to only employ foreigners who had studied at Japanese universities.
But in fiscal 2006, Toshiba began hiring graduates of universities in Thailand, Singapore and other countries where it has key offices.
After graduation, Lee in October 2006 joined Toshiba and was later assigned to its Corporate Software Engineering Center in Kawasaki.
“Toshiba is a global company. If I have a chance, I want to work at its overseas research center to expand my experience and knowledge,” he said.
Currently, nearly 140,000 foreign nationals work at businesses in Japan.
According to a labor minitry-commissioned survey conducted by the Fujitsu Research Institute on about 800 companies from September through October last year, nearly 40 percent of those companies have hired foreigners with high-level knowledge and skills, including engineers, in recent years.
But 58 companies have suspended their employment of foreigners, showing that language barrier and corporate culture clashes remain a potential problem.
In a country where company loyalty remains relatively strong, 25 percent of those companies said they stopped hiring foreigners because previous hires had left for other companies offering better working conditions.
In addition, 20 percent said they lacked supervisors who could work effectively with the foreign employees.
But the trend has been to expand hiring of non-Japanese as the domestic market shrinks and the declining birthrate is expected to lead to a huge shortage in demand in future years.
For Panasonic Electric Works Co., a maker of kitchen systems and other home-related products, a key economic statistic was 2009 housing starts, which stood at about 800,000, less than half of their peak.
“We cannot help but put more emphasis on overseas businesses. First of all, we will promote internationalization in our own company,” said Masayasu Yukioka, head of employment at Panasonic Electric’s personnel division.
As part of that process, the company hired Musaeva Feruza, from Uzbekistan, in 2008 at its personnel division.
“By using senses of values that are different from those of Japanese, we will be able to manufacture products that are suitable for each region (of the world),” Feruza said in a seminar in March for foreigners studying in Japan and hoping to land jobs at the company.
Meanwhile, Internet shopping site operator Rakuten Inc. regards 2010 as the year to develop into a truly global company.
In February, Rakuten began distributing papers written in English instead of Japanese at its Monday morning executive meetings, a policy that soon covered meetings attended by all employees.
And in March, the dozens of participants at the executive meetings were required to speak in English.
Rakuten assigns graduates of overseas universities to technological divisions in which they are required to improve their Japanese-language skills and learn in-house culture.
COMMENTS FROM THE COMMUNITY:
April 7, 2010
Had two interviews at two major Japanese companies about two months ago
(Nitori, the “home fashion” store found throughout Japan, and Zensho, the
company behind Sukiya and family restaurants, 3rd largest food company
behind McDonalds and Skylark). I got “we don’t think a foreigner can handle
the intense Japanese work environment” from both, Nitori in particular
narrowed it down from “foreigner” to “Americans,” saying that it’s not
likely I’d be able to keep up, and even if I did, I would just get burned
out, because that’s just how Americans are. The ultimate rejection was
mutual, I probably would have turned down their offer anyway after that.
The guy was extremely rude, addressing me in horrible Japanese, no manners,
etc. It was so bizarre that I thought it might be a test, so I just slapped
a smile on and went with it, but I guess they were legit in their
discrimination after all.
This article just sounds like another case of “look at what an
internationally minded country we are, har har!” fluff that I hear all the
time when someone Japanese does something positive in the world. If only
the country could see things through our eyes for one day, they’d shut up
with all of that さすが日本 (sasuga nihon) crap that I hear all the time,
particularly in the division of international affairs.
April 7, 2010
AB, thank you for writing about your experience. Although I’m in a different field (TESOL), when I lived in Japan, my hobby was interviewing. I liked practicing interviewing for jobs in Japanese (and thought it was good to show that non-Japanese people could), or if they wanted English, fine. But my main point was to show, even show myself, really, that interviews are not the same as begging, and that they should be a 2-way street. Not everyone who’s interviewing is desperate to get that job. The prospective employer needs to get down on bended knee and thank lucky stars when the right candidate appears…and it is incredible how many instead maintain some sort of weird “objective” distance, even when they want you to acccept the job… that always made me really want not to work there!! Now that I’m in the hiring seat myself, I’ve found this to make a huge difference… we get the candidates we want, and their transition is smooth, because I try to make sure they know from the first interview that we’d like them to come join us, and that we need and want them and would be nice co-workers.
Anyway, so I spent a lot of time turning down jobs, and almost always the reactions was SHOCK!! But I’m offering you a JOB!!! The funniest one was the time I applied to the [insert name of Japan, Inc.corporation] major competitor to the company my husband works for. First, it was just very interesting to see the differences between the 2 companies, because they both fit their corporate “branded” images to a “T”. Obviously someone had spent time making sure that interviews were part indoctrination from the get-go! Don’t want any riff-raff sneaking in.
And second, it was amazing what a massive issue it seemed to be that I was related to someone who worked for the competitor. Lots and lots of hemming and hawing and bizarre-seeming questions (would I be willing to tape over my cellphone’s camera while on site to prevent corporate espionage???…um, yes, but wouldn’t it just be easier not to hire someone who’s going to spy on you?)
Finally, the offer was made…ta-dah!! I had the right to accept a 2-year, term-contract position, for a generous salary that was about 1/3 of what I was making teaching English to kids 3-4 hours a day.
My duties: write and revise all PR releases and be essentially available to do whatever else they wanted me to do…everything from “helping” teach company classes to checking people’s emails to having “conversation lunches” with the secretaries was mentioned.
The schedule? 9-6, Mon-Fri.
I said (somewhere must have the tape I sneakily took), “although in the United States, that would be considered full-time work, essentially this is a part-time position, isn’t it?” (it was, of course, with no benefits).
They thought that was hilarious!! How clever I was!! I smiled and thanked them and went home, and they were going to call the next day, “after you have a chance to consult your husband about our offer.”
Tomorrow rolled around, and I said that I’d be happy to accept the position under the same working conditions as any average Japanese freshman employee…ie, lifetime employment, no special treatment.
But what??? I’m not Japanese!! Why would I want that? I would never be able to adjust!! I told them that I had a pretty good idea, from watching my husband’s job, just what would be required, and felt confident in my ability.
No, I had to take the term-limited part-time job or nothing. They did point out that the salary they were offering was higher than the starting salary for freshmen workers.
Needless to say, I decided not to take it. It would have been interesting, though.
Their final reaction? ”But you don’t understand…this is [insert name of Japan, Inc. multinational corporation]. No one turns us down.”
Japan…gotta keep yourself entertained!!
Oh, and the best advice I ever got on job hunting, courtesy of my brother-in-law: ”Never even pretend to change yourself to get a job. If you do, they just hired someone they don’t want, and you just ended up with a job that doesn’t fit you. If they hire the real you, you’ll both be happier.”
April 7, 2010
The big companies have been hiring non-Japanese since the late 1980s, including technical staff. For view of what it’s like to be a permanent foreign employee in Japan Inc. see this book:
That’s a good story, CD. I can imagine that if I DID make it through
that last interview at Nitori, I would have at least made it an issue once I
was inside, if I didn’t just turn the position down all together.
That’s also good advice. The best advice I’ve gotten otherwise from fellow
foreign people working in Japan was, “just don’t even apply to Japanese
companies,” lol. Seriously, that was the “common” advice from multiple
people who don’t know each other, “just stick to foreign companies that
aren’t going to treat you like an idiot.” One person suggested just going
back to your home country, apply to a major company, and request a post in
Japan or in their Tokyo office. And when I take a step back and look at the
whole picture, only one of my friends works for a major Japanese company,
and that was only because he applied from the American office as an American
who just requested to work in Japan. Everyone else works for foreign
companies that just happen to have offices/locations in Japan.
You say you’re in the hiring position now. In Japan? What company? How do
I apply? :) My current job is going to end soon and although I’ve got my
applications out to several companies in Tokyo, nothing is set in stone yet.
And [another author], I would LOVE to know about how to go about suing Nitori. Not
to get money or anything, but just so they get a lesson in, “look at what
happens when you treat people different based on nationality/race.”
Unfortunately, for that incident, I have no proof. If I spoke up now, I
would just look like a disgruntled reject who is trying to strike back for
being rejected. Even though I know there is no mistake, they would just
easily write it off as, “oh, he must have misunderstood us, as Japanese
isn’t his native language.” The best I can do is just not shop at Nitori,
but admittedly, that’s not very satisfying. I’ll never forget him just
saying, “the Japanese work environment is much more intense than your own
country, we’re not confident an American would be able to handle it.” And
then he topped off the end of the interview with, “well, I think you should
just stick to education.”
Lol, just coincidence, and unrelated, but as I’m typing this in my Japanese
office, I’m listening to a conversation about how they changed out everyones
old-school ball mouses for lasers because the ball mouses kept sticking and
wouldn’t drag properly. Guess who’s computer is the only one that remains
unchanged, and who will never get a proper notification of “we have laser
mouses” outside of overhearing a conversation.
April 8, 2010
I direct a university intensive English program here in the US…but when I was in Tokyo, yeah, I’d interview for anything. I remember a shady-seeming “foreign ladies to introduce art exhibitions to potential investors” gig towards the end of the bubble years. The salary was supposedly 600,000 yen/ month, and there were at least 50 people interviewing the day I was. It seemed pretty close to selling jeans at the Gap, but I only made it to Round 2, so maybe at some point art knowledge was required.
Rather than boycott the whole system, if it’s not going to upset your life, I’d recommend getting out there into the job market and sharing your honest perspective. After all, if things just stay the same all the time, why would they change? But it sounds like you need work, so forget the crusading and just be creative and positive in your search. There is something good out there for you; it’s just a matter of finding it.
And for those talking about suing, I am curious just what we might sue these companies for, considering that in Japan it’s not illegal to discriminate on the basis of race or ethnicity, right? They can do as they please, and they do. In fact, the former Dean of the longest-existing US branch campus in Tokyo instructed me to take the non-discriminatory policy statement out of the university’s Chronicle ad…because the school is a Japanese private corporation, and so he had no need to follow the Equal Opportunity policy in hiring. Students assumed that all of the American faculty came from the US, but of course we were mainly local hires. So even Americans can learn to practice discriminatory hiring in Japan.
April 8, 2010
I’m sure we all have been turned down for one thing or another, however I
look at as a blessing. Mid last year I was turned down, because a Japanese
person was a requirement. My wife said to me, at least you don’t have to
worry about always playing on the visiting team if you got that job… You
know what, she was right.