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  • Asahi: J companies abandoning old hiring and promotion practices, offering NJ employees equitable positions (seriously, that’s what they say!). Come again?

    Posted by Dr. ARUDOU, Debito on April 12th, 2010

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    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.

    http://www.asahi.com/english/TKY201004050360.html

    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.

    Those non-Japanese are expected to eventually play key roles in Rakuten’s offices overseas.
    ENDS

    /////////////////////////////////
    Original Japanese follows:

    求人、舞台は世界へ 日本企業に外国人採用広がる
    2010年4月5日 朝日新聞
    http://www.asahi.com/business/topics/economy/TKY201004040360.html

    国境を越えた人材獲得が日本企業に広がっている。日本への留学生だけでなく、海外の大学を卒業した外国人を本社スタッフとして採用する例も増えた。少子高齢化で国内市場が急速に縮む中、海外ビジネスを広げるために「グローバル採用」のアクセルを踏んでいる。

    ■海外の大学卒に注目、「よりグローバルな人材を」

    「東芝はグローバルな会社。チャンスがあれば海外の研究拠点で働き、経験、知識を広げたい」。川崎市にある東芝のソフトウェア技術センターで働くリー・クァンリン・サムソンさん(29)は、シンガポール国立大学で電気工学を専攻。源氏物語の英語版を読破するなど日本文化に興味があり、卒業後の2006年10月に入社した。

    東芝は06年度から、拠点があるタイやシンガポールなどの大学の卒業生を採用し始めた。リーさんは「1期生」。それまでは日本留学の経験者を採っていた。人事部の鈴木誠一郎・人材採用センター長は「よりグローバルな人材活用が必要と判断し、日本語を採用条件にはしないことにした。欲しいのは25年後に事業部のリーダーになれる人材だ」という。

    「(海外の売上高を増やすには)とがった製品を作ることが必要。日本人とは違った価値観を生かすことで、現地に適したものづくりができると思う」。システムキッチンなどの住宅関連メーカー、パナソニック電工のムサエワ・フェルザさん(ウズベキスタン出身)は3月、外国人留学生を対象にした入社セミナーで、こう話した。人事部採用グループで08年に入社した。

    09年の国内の新設住宅着工戸数はピーク時の半分以下の約80万戸。人事部の行岡正恭・採用グループ長は「海外展開に力を入れるしかない。まず『内なる国際化』を進める」という。異文化の人材を受け入れて組織を活性化させようと狙う。

    企業も変わろうとしている。楽天は、毎週月曜午前7時から執行役員ら数十人が出席して開かれる幹部会議の発表資料を2月から英語とし、3月からは発表言語も英語にした。全社員が出る朝の会議の資料も2月後半から英語になった。同社は今年を「真の世界企業への脱皮の年」と位置づける。

    一方で、海外の新卒者はまず、日本の技術部門で勤務。日本語の習熟度を高め、「楽天主義」と呼ばれる社内文化や、報告、連絡、相談を徹底させる「報連相」などのビジネスマナーを学んだ後、将来は出身国で活躍してもらうことを視野に入れる。

    ■国内に14万人、言葉の壁も

    人事コンサルティング会社、ジェイエーエスの小平達也社長によると、日本企業によるグローバル採用の「一波」は80年代後半から90年代初頭のバブル経済のころ。大手が欧米の文系スペシャリストを採ったが、バブル崩壊とともに下火になった。

    第2期は90年代後半。IT企業や外資系が即戦力のインドや中国のエンジニアの採用を増やした。第3期は04年以降。アジアなど新興国への進出を迫られ、日本語を話せる留学生を中心にエンジニアの採用を増やした。

    「いまは新たな波の前の端境期。ポスト3.0(第3期の後)だ」と小平社長。ここ数年、外国人採用による「組織の多様化」を期待する声が多いという。

    日本人技術者の不足傾向も背景にある。法務省によると、「技術」資格で新規入国した外国人は98年は3293人だったが、08年には1万626人に拡大した。

    いま日本には14万人近くの「外国人社員」がいる。厚生労働省が富士通総研に委託して昨年9〜10月、上場企業を対象に実施したアンケート(約800社が回答)によると、4割弱が技術者など高度な知識を持つ外国人を採用していたが、そのうち4割以上が「受け入れ部署が限られる」との悩みを抱えていた。「言語・コミュニケーション上の壁」との回答も4割近くを占めた。

    また、一度は外国人を雇用しながら中止した58社に理由を聞くと、4社に1社が「処遇条件が良好な他社への転職が多かった」、2割が「雇用管理できる管理者が不足していた」と答えた。

    外国人採用に熱心な富士通。言葉や異文化の壁で離職に至るケースを減らすため、生活や仕事に関する情報を入手できる英文サイトの立ち上げや異文化交流のセミナーを開くなど、孤立化を避ける取り組みを進めている。(古屋聡一、編集委員・織田一)
    ENDS

    /////////////////////////////////////////

    COMMENTS FROM THE COMMUNITY:

    April 7, 2010

    From AB:

    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

    From CD:

    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

    From:  NM

    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:

    http://tinyurl.com/yk8u7lw
    or
    http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1861977891/qid=1149169815/sr=1-1/ref=sr_1_1/102-7532168-7028949?s=books&v=glance&n=283155

    ==================
    April 8, 2010

    From: AB

    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

    From: CD

    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

    From EF

    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.

    ========================

    ENDS

    19 Responses to “Asahi: J companies abandoning old hiring and promotion practices, offering NJ employees equitable positions (seriously, that’s what they say!). Come again?”

    1. holmes Says:

      “the Japanese work environment is much more intense than your own
      country, we’re not confident an American would be able to handle it.”

      This sounds like J-Doublespeak for “We expect you to do alot of unpaid overtime, pressure you unreasonably, and want to call your cellphone (that we don’t pay for anymore, by the way) at the weekend, or in fact, anytime we want. We also expect you to go out drinking with us because it is cheaper than going to a hostess bar, and do a lot of stuff uncomplainingly thats not in the job description.”

      Probably a blessing in disguise you didnt take the job.

    2. Joe Says:

      “Probably a blessing in disguise you didnt take the job.”

      QFT. In retrospect, I wish that my last J employer had taken such a xenophobic stance against hiring me. Would have saved me many late nights banging my head against a wall because “the Japanese way” precluded anyone from executing suggestions that improve things enough to reduce those ridiculous hours of unpaid overtime…though I suppose nothing would have prevented being dressed up as a woman and forced to sing karaoke in the interests of “team building”.

      As long as we’re going to be treated differently, we might as well take advantage of that.

    3. jack Says:

      How surprising. More uncritical regurgitation by the press of exactly what business wants us to hear. The empty promises of upper management fads are just window dressing on a deeply discriminatory system, and it should be the mainstream press who report on this, not just activist blogs like this.

      The next time you’re looking for reasons why skilled labor doesn’t want to immigrate to Japan, look no further than these posts from The Community.

    4. TJJ Says:

      Interesting that Toshiba is mentioned in the article. I had a job interview at the Toshiba HQ a few years ago and was treated very rudely by the manager because my Japanese ability was not up to scratch. My fault of course, I’m not complaining about that but I was at a loss to explain why they even interviewed me in the first place because I made it clear that I was not 100% fluent. So why interview me and then treat me rudely during the interview because of my lack of Japanese ability?

      – To put you in your place, perhaps? Same thing happened to me at those fictitious Japanese-company Bubble-Era “job fairs” in the US in the late ’80’s-early 90’s (I went to one in San Francisco in 1991), where the only thing they were essentially trying to do was hire Japanese who had been educated overseas. Us (less-fluent, back then) NJ were a curiosity, soon told that they were not needed for whatever excuse they deigned to cook up. It indeed put me in my place.

    5. Tom R. Says:

      “the Japanese work environment is much more intense than your own country, we’re not confident an American would be able to handle it.”

      “well, I think you should just stick to education.”

      I would have just laughed all the way out the door. I think they would have gotten the drift, no matter what culture or race their from.

      Really, isn’t using culture and race differences in this manner extremely old thinking? It sounds so antiquated, and unimportant.

      Surely, there must be some way to easily out-maneuver whatever thinking idiots like these use that compel them to hire candidates based in part on their “Japaneseness”.

      Time to write another book Debito!

      – I am.

    6. Gilesdesign Says:

      I work at Toshiba HQ now.

      I am from UK and I applied for a job that was on rikunabi (not directed at foreigners) but I got the job. I work in industrial design as the only foreigner.
      I think the problem is that Japanese companies see employing foreigners as something special that has to be treated completely differently to how they recruit Japanese people. I do think Toshiba’s intentions of offering NJ good positions are real though ( for business reasons not to combat discrimination). I have met some of the Toshiba freshman from the global recruits system who’s Japanese language was so fluent that my Japanese friends had no idea they were not Japanese so the comment about “we decided not to use Japanese-language abilities as a requirement for employment” is a bit of a slap in the face for those that worked hard to master the language and reinforces the feeling that people got the job DESPITE their language/race/foreignness rather than they were just the best person for the job.

      Anyway I enjoy working at Toshiba, differences in work style do exist between Japan and my country but things are changing for the better. Honestly I think sometimes the traditional Japanese work style is bad for Japanese people too whether they admit it or not.

      People change throughout their life, learn new skills, have new ambitions etc so people changing jobs is inevitable and good for staff and companies alike. Companies should recruit more people at all ages not just university graduates. Many university graduates will find that the job that they chose (or were chosen for) at 22 is rarely the right job for them at 50 so they end up being a drain on the company and unhappy at work. So loyalty should NOT always be seen as a bonus.

      “25 percent of those companies said they stopped hiring foreigners because previous hires had left for other companies offering better working conditions.”
      Big Japanese companies do not try particularly hard to attract or keep contract staff, the assumption is that a recruit should just be grateful that their sorry-ass is getting some work so there is not much of a two-way negotiation involved which is not nice. The government also make it very hard for companies to recruit contract workers because they put a restriction on the number of years people can be employed on contract without being made into a core worker (usually 3-4years) . This also reinforces the NJ revolving door effect as many NJ are employed on contract but dont want to be lifers. ( I do not know the details of this law or have any sources besides word of mouth sorry)

      – Thanks for writing in; your experience here is very welcome.

      However, I would prefer that you don’t buy into the prejudiced rhetoric that NJ don’t want to be lifers. That should be seen as such regardless of nationality, either ways, instead of potentially being used as an excuse to preempt offering a NJ a real permanent job like anyone else qualified.

    7. Gilesdesign Says:

      Sorry maybe I should clarify, when I said that many NJ do not want to be “lifers”.
      By “lifers” I meant core workers (graduate to retirement) rather than “lifers” as in living in Japan for life.
      This is maybe because many other countries are benefiting from a more fluid labour mobility compared with Japan. As a result many (not all) NJ are reluctant to to lock up their entire career path like the traditional Japanese graduate to retirement system.
      But you are right this is not a reason to discriminate against NJ as it is not just NJ who dislike the system…I know first hand that many Japanese are also now rejecting the traditional employment system too and have moved to other companies who might be trying harder to attract and keep good staff. This should be seen as a wake up call to Japanese companies that they need to find ways to actively attract and keep good staff (of course regardless of nationality race etc) rather than treating employment like a one way dialogue. I know Japanese friends who get TOLD they are moving to another department the other side of the world with no prior consultation when they have just had a baby and bought a house. Thats not a fair system for anyone J or NJ.

    8. J. Hart Says:

      Gilesdesign:

      Thank you very much for your insight into Toshiba’s approach into the hiring of foreigners, and your experience with it. It seems a well considered statement.

      In your note you state the following :

      “The government also make it very hard for companies to recruit contract workers because they put a restriction on the number of years people can be employed on contract without being made into a core worker (usually 3-4years)”.

      This may be true, but it should be noted that the law is often disregarded by employers here. In my case, I had been employed at a very prominent Japanese research institute for thirteen years on a series of one year contracts. I was non-renewed in March of 2009 at the age of 52, and was denied any recourse, consideration, option, or compensation whatsoever by the company. I found it necessary to seek the generous and capable assistance of the General Union of Osaka, which was successful in finally pressuring the institute to a settlement in March of this year. The law is essential for forcing a settlement, but can and will be ignored in the hope that the time and effort required to do so will discourage the employee from contesting unfair treatment.

      Mine was far from the only case there, but as far as I know, I was the only one to contest it. Having done so, I will be leaving Japan for good rather than staying on as I had hoped.

    9. Behan Says:

      This sounds like an April Fools joke.

    10. Canadian in Japan Says:

      I worked as a direct university hire at a major Japanese company in the automotive industry.

      The company has subsidiaries all over the world but was of the view that the domestic HQ needed a more international perspective. I was hired among others to that effect. I worked for 4 years and was promoted with my Japanese colleagues. I eventually left and thus can no say how likely I was to be a candidate for a future management position (being a manager at a traditional Japanese company takes a long time).

      My view also is that the companies struggle with the fact that many foreign hires leave the company after a relatively short time. The turnover rate seems to be much higher than Japanese employees. This is not a generalization but just an observation of how things were at my company.

    11. GiantPanda Says:

      Gilesdesign – there is no law that requires companies to make contract workers into core workers after 3-4 years.

      However, if you are employed on a fixed term contract that is automatically renewed over and over again on the same terms, it creates a presumption that you are in fact a permanent employe. There is no “bright white line” as to when this occurs, but to be on the safe side many of the large Japanese companies seem to have a policy of renewing 1 year contracts only for 3 years, then either ditching the contract worker or making them permanent.

      In the case of J. Hart – a one year contract renewed every year for 13 years would almost certainly be presumed to have become an indefinite term contract. I’m not surprised they settled.

    12. Jeffrey Says:

      I am an American citizen who just got a Masters at Sophia/Jochi University and was hired by Bridgestone as an entry-level employee (life-time contract). I am going through the standard training course right now with all of the other Japanese new-comers — lots of boring lectures on what makes a good shakai-jin and stuff. I am the only Westerner who was hired, but there are several Chinese and Koreans who also came on board. I have heard from the head of human resources here that the company plans to hire even more foreigners in the years to come.

    13. Jair Says:

      “But in fiscal 2006, Toshiba began hiring graduates of universities in Thailand, Singapore and other countries where it has key offices.”

      Wow, impressive. Well done, Toshiba. (Pat in the back.) Wait, this is not 1940. It’s 2010!!

      Here’s how I see it: some people in some companies indeed realize it’s good for the company to have a wide array of talents. But not the rest of the employees.

      The following 2 examples might not be as good as those from The Community, but they illustrate this to a certain point:

      -European hired at Mitsubishi about 4 years ago, because “we want to get international” and he spoke good Japanese. He was told he would be an agent of change, pity it was him against the whole company. To be fair, nobody was actively boycotting him, it’s just the hirers expected the presence of this single guy to magically transform everything. After trying to do things the “international way” as the guy who hired him expected, he just gave in and acted as a pretty conformist employee until he quit two years later. His resume got a boost from the Mitsubishi name, at least.

      -American programmer hired at Konami 1 year ago. “Fluent Japanese is not a requisite for the position” he was told. Pity that was only HR’s opinion, actually other programmers are unhappy and complain because they can’t communicate fluently with him.

    14. Ariel Says:

      I empathize with Jair’s (post 13) second example (American who was hired by Konami and was told Japanese fluency was not needed). I worked at a Japanese company for three years (well, technically I still do, but they moved me to the US to open a branch office) and was told the same thing before I accepted the job.

      Turns out all of the files I needed to access (including on my personal computer) were written in Japanese, I had to correspond regularly with coworkers who knew little to no English via phone and email, and the HR staff (one of whom knew at least conversational English) refused to interact with me in English at all. Fortunately I had studied a fair bit of Japanese (I had JLPT 3 at that point) and was interested in improving my skills, but it was definitely a struggle to get by at first…I even had to figure out new computer programs like Access by trial and error because I couldn’t read the menus. I was lucky and had coworkers who were supportive and rarely made me feel inadequate so I had only a few really negative experiences, but I constantly felt guilty that I couldn’t do a lot of basic tasks without help.

      What really got my goat was when the management starting recruiting my replacement when I was moved to the US. Despite my feedback that the job really did require minimal Japanese skills (at least JLPT 3, preferably 2) they continued to tell potential recruits that it required none. Fortunately the person they ultimately ended up hiring has a strong background in Japanese, but I know that that was not one of the reasons they hired her.

      My company’s management seems to have fallen into the trap of assuming that since it’s “internationally oriented” that all of their native employees should be able to function in English…but at the same time they offer no real training to bring people who aren’t bilingual up to speed. So the people who really end up suffering are the foreign employees who come in with the assurances that they’ll be able to communicate easily, but then find 100% of the burden of the language barrier lies on them.

    15. Canadian in Japan Says:

      I would say the Mitsubishi case mentioned by Jair is pretty typical.

      The companies mean well in “going international” but don’t exactly think through their hiring decisions. Foreign hires are assigned to divisions with very few if any foreigners and are given no support but expected to effect some kind of change. Needless to say, most survive by conforming. Not to say that this is a terribly bad thing, it just doesn’t seem to be in line with the goals of the company or the expectations of the employee.

    16. Gilesdesign Says:

      Giant Panda,
      Thanks for explaining, people always talked about it like it was some law at my current and previous employers, I guess maybe it is just common company policies rather than to do with any actual law. I heard the government do put pressure on them to make repetitive contract workers into core workers though because contract work is seen as unstable and government wish to secure low unemployment rates and perhaps also to make sure workers are given proper insurance, pensions etc that they deserve for long term employment. Despite this intention, in my experience contract workers are often let go after 3 or 4 years rather than made core workers because there is still a stigma attached to contract workers who are perceived to have “missed the boat” along the way by not getting into the right university or failing an exam or have the wrong upbringing. It is a harsh system and there do not seem to be a lot of second chances for those Japanese however amazing your skill or experiences are. NJ are of course viewed in an entirely different light, they are on contract because nobody thinks you could possibly even be part of a Japanese education system to begin with.

    17. cstaylor Says:

      Hey Joe, the tour conductor tried the same thing with me at a company enkai. I told her where to stick the dress, and she quickly moved on to another employee that cross-dresses in his free time. The poor guy had a tough time living that down… they should have banned cellphones before he took the stage.

    18. Masada Says:

      I work for a major automotive supplier as a direct university hire as well, but in my case I’m a nisei so my experience may not fully apply to that of most NJs. On the whole I’m skeptical of any claims that some sort of sea change is occurring in the Japanese corporate world, but I have seen a modest increase in proper (ie regular) NJ employees mainly from East Asia and South East Asia (which is surprising to me at least, considering how backwards my company is). In almost all cases these are direct hires of international students from Japanese universities, mainly from China, although I have met a couple individuals from Indonesia and Sri Lanka as well – and of course the Sri Lankan guy is prominently featured on our recruiting website to show people just how progressive a company we are (yay for us). Although there has been a slight increase over the last 3-5 years, it still seems like nothing more than a drop in the bucket when you have 5-10 NJ hirings out of an incoming batch of 200 recruits.

      I also hear alot from friends and acquaintances about job discrimination against nikkei Brazilians, Peruvians, etc., and heavy pressure for them to either naturalize or not even consider working as a direct hire for a traditional Japanese company. And even after naturalizing, very few companies will give them the time of day unless the company values Portuguese language ability or has ties to Brazil in some way – note that all of these individuals have received all or most of their formal education in Japan, possess Japanese language ability that is on par or exceeds that of a typical J recruit, and in some cases identifies more with Japanese society – as in, they see Japanese as their first language and can’t see themselves going back to Brazil, etc. I’ve heard many horror stories of what they have to go through during the whole 就職活動 thing and it’s not pretty to say the least.

    19. Joe Says:

      cstaylor: I hope that you were at least discreet in turning her down. Japanese companies have a way of making things “uncomfortable” for those who dare disturb the 和…and if you are married to a Japanese, then that extends to your family as well.

      – Depends. If you’re working for any environment which practices intimidation (and pins it on “culture”), then you (plural) better have the cojones and personal integrity to ride out the storm. But don’t double-guess yourself into an inferior or humiliating position just because of amorphous stuff like “wa”. Not believing is spooks is one way for them to not appear.

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