Tangent: Julian Ryall on how Japanese employees educated abroad are denied opportunities by Japanese companies


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Hi Blog.  A bit of a tangent this time, but what do you think about this article?  It suggests that diversity in Japan’s corporate culture is being suppressed, and overseas experience is in fact a DEMERIT to placement and advancement.  If true, then how the heck are NJ supposed to get ahead in Japanese companies if even Japanese face the same resistance?  And what does it say about Japan’s future in the global market?  Arudou Debito


Firms’ conservative hiring holds back Japan
By Julian Ryall, DW.com, May 31, 2013
Courtesy http://www.dw.de/firms-conservative-hiring-holds-back-japan/a-16851451 and MS

Many young Japanese students go abroad to study with high hopes. They return home with foreign degrees and even higher hopes, only to be shot down by conservative company ideals.

On the very first day in her first job after graduation, Tomoko Tanaka says her dominant emotion was of disappointment.

Tanaka, who does not want her real name or the name of her company used in this article because it could affect her career, began work in April of this year and had high hopes that the years she spent studying overseas would make her a popular candidate with Japanese employers.

Instead, it seems, the effort and money that went into perfecting her English skills in the UK may have been wasted as Japanese firms do not always welcome potential recruits who have been exposed to foreign ways of thinking and behaving.

“I did not have a clear dream for my career, but I did want to work for a big and famous company,” 23-year-old Tanaka told DW. “I studied in the UK for one year, I learned about the difficulties of living with people from various countries, from different cultures, and the importance of taking action in order to change something and to make myself understood.

“And I felt more confident after living abroad because I could overcome many difficulties,” she added.

High test scores
Initially, Tanaka was encouraged by her job interviews as employers seemed to value a high score in language assessment tests.

After securing a job that appeared to offer good career prospects, Tanaka learned that she was being sent to a rural part of Japan and would be working in the administration department. Since she started, she has not yet had an opportunity to use her English skills.

“In my opinion, most Japanese companies want young people who have a ‘Japanese background’ and international communication skills, but I think that is global human resources in a very limited sense,” she said.

Graduates from foreign universities find it difficult to get a job

“It seems that Japanese companies want young people to obey their rules, but only to use their skills when the company needs it,” she added.

But this runs counter to what Japan needs in the rapidly evolving world of international trade, commerce and international relations.

In March, Prime Minister Naoto Kan announced that Japan would take part in negotiations to construct the Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade agreement and indicated that opening up to the rest of the world offers the best chances of growth for the nation.

Japan has also actively been seeking a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council, the government is planning to revise parts of the constitution that will enable Japanese troops to play much larger roles in international peace-keeping operations and companies are being encouraged to go further afield to secure the resources and markets that will provide for the nation’s future.

Companies lagging behind
Many companies here, however, are not keeping up with that vision.

A survey conducted in March 2012 by Disco, a Tokyo-based recruitment company, determined that less than one in four firms planned to hire Japanese applicants who had studied abroad.

Even among major, blue-chip companies, less than 40 percent said they would employ Japanese who had attended a foreign university.

Aware of the problems they face if they have invested their time and funds on an education overseas, more are staying closer to home. In 2004, there were 82,945 Japanese at colleges overseas; in 2010, the figure had contracted to less than 60,000. In the US alone, the number has fallen from a peak of 47,000 in the 1997-’98 academic year to just 19,900 in 2011-’12.

Inevitably, as places are freed up at foreign institutions, they are being snapped up by students from developing nations with a thirst for knowledge, with China and India in the forefront of the surge.

“It seems to me that for the first few years of young Japanese graduates’ careers, they are effectively being ‘trained’ in the corporate culture and requirements of their company,” said Chris Burgess, a lecturer in English and Australian Studies at Tsuda College in Tokyo.

Talent going to waste
“That means that despite all the rhetoric from the government, these companies are wasting so much talent,” he said.

PM Kan indicated that opening up to the rest of the world could help the country’s growth

“They are usually long-standing institutions with structures that are very difficult to reform,” he said. “There is an inbred corporate culture and they are very reluctant to evolve, even when they need to do precisely that to survive in an increasingly competitive business world.”

It is an alarming statistic that fully 25 percent of new employees at Japanese companies resign within the first three years, he said, simply because they are not satisfied with what they are doing.

“I felt confident and really motivated when I started my job interviews,” said 26-year-old Yumi Hara, from Yokohama, southwest of Tokyo.

Two years in London and a degree in East Asian Studies from the University of Virginia that gave her Chinese and Korean on top of her English would make her an attractive option for a Japanese company that had ambitions of expanding its operations overseas.

“But in the interviews, they didn’t really want to know what I thought, but whether I was able to give them the perfect answer, to tell them what they wanted to hear,” she said.

Hara admits she was “devastated” at the constant rejections – particularly when she discovered that friends who had opted to go to Japanese universities and had very limited language abilities were getting the very jobs that she wanted.

She shrugs.

“Today I’m teaching English in a small school and I’m pretty happy doing this as it’s a small company and I have the responsibility to start new things,” she said. “I don’t think I’ll be going to work for a big Japanese company any time soon.”

29 comments on “Tangent: Julian Ryall on how Japanese employees educated abroad are denied opportunities by Japanese companies

  • ともちん says:


    — どうぞGoogle Translateをご利用下さい。

  • Just in line with this thread , which addresses increasing inward looking attitudes of corporate
    Japan (and society) while putting on the face as being part of an international world .

    The writer’s telling comment/observation re Tokyo’s Olympic bid for 2020 is:-
    “We are going to do it our way – the Japanese way -even if we fail”


  • Jim Di Griz says:

    The article is dated May 31st, 2013.

    ‘Prime Minister Naoto Kan’.

    Don’t they mean Sick-note?

    Anyway, I have had first hand experience of the effect of this kind of attitude. A mid-level manager at a world famous Japanese company, who had to liase with a European company regarding joint development of a new product range, in a multi-million dollar deal, who had no language skills aside from his native Japanese. He was wasting hours every day for weeks fumbling with an electronic dictionary in order to (mis-) communicate using the most basic of English in e-mails, and being frustrated that he couldn’t even explain who he was when he tried to call the Euro partner on the phone. It is shocking. Especially since a friend of mine is married to a native English speaker level proficient Japanese worker in the same company, but I guess my friends husband works in a different office (although I know that they are in the same building).

    This episode really brought home to me how the amateur hour approach to international business in Japan is really what’s behind all the red ink. It’s got nothing to do with the JPY/USD exchange rate. It’s just simple unprofessionalism. It’s another case tatemae/honne. Japanese companies want all the window dressing of being modern organizations, but don’t want to actually become modern organizations, because this is Japan!

    If I was more cynical, having read the stories above, I would say that these highly capable and intelligent women quoted in the article are suffering from the same social trap as Princess Masako; they are ‘high value’ females wanted not for the skills they have in their own right, but rather as ‘bait’ to lure in a higher class of male employee. Get married to the sempai, get pregnant, quit work, happy hubby, job done.

    In any other society (even in Iran) these women would be able to use their skills to set up their own start-up venture with some confidence and a healthy dose of aspiration. But this is Japan. They will most likely end up using their English skills as eikaiwa desk staff, or serving the NJ customers at the local Starbucks.

    N.B. @Debito, I can give you the names and the company names for the anecdote above via private e-mail, if you would like. If I do, you will understand why I have not included them is this comment.

  • Why don’t they just remain in North America and realize their career ambitions? If they have the ambition to seek the skills they feel that they need over here, why return to Japan knowing that they will be thwarted at every turn? I met and worked with a young Japanese lady, recently graduated from a Canadian university in my field, who did just that. Smart, professional, excellent English skills and an asset to this country. Japan’s loss in my view. She now works in her filed for a junior oil and gas company and is married to a Canadian. I would suggest that she was a role model for other aspiring career minded young Japanese.

  • Loverilakkuma says:

    It’s quite ironic since the central government has been working on drastic reform of foreign language education (i.e., English) as part of national reform strategy. What puzzles me most is such educational reform is primarily initiated by J-corporate leaders who suggest the importance of nurturing English skills for Japanese students. The National Economy Association (Keizai Douyukai) is a prime mover for recent educational reform. Amazingly, the group chairman is Hiroshi Mikitani, a president of Rakuten Co. Ltd (http://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E4%B8%89%E6%9C%A8%E8%B0%B7%E6%B5%A9%E5%8F%B2).

    I am tempted to ask Mikitani and other key reformers: “how many Japanese students do you think will successfully land a job at international/global company, and make their language communication skills visible in their work??” How many Japanese companies do you think are running their business internationally just like Rakuten or Uniqlo as of today??

    Even more ironic is the assumption on Japanese who have good command of English. If we follow the logic of reformers, desired workers for whimsical J employers will be those who have good command of English, but it has to be nurtured in Japan. Foreign educated Japanese (that means, me, too) are not welcomed to J corporations.

    No wonder so many Japanese kids get screwed while they’re growing up. Japan’s false assumption on foreign language education is part of the reason for nation’s increasing insularity. If I were a parent, I would raise my kids elsewhere outside Japan.

  • @JT (#5) It looks like the logical step, but leaving one’s home country (forever) is not for everyone. There are also things like family ties and/or obligations to respect, and for Japanese, living abroad often means to severe these ties completely – not an easy decision.
    I wonder if the discrimination of proficiently English speaking Japanese is worse in the bigger (Nikkei 225) companies, where the conservative Japanese way to recruit people and run the shop is still unquestioned. The Japanese I know mostly work at mid-size companies or subsidiaries of foreign companies, and those who speak good (if slightly twang-y) English and have lived abroad are quite open about it, and use their skill with some pride.
    I think that it’s not so much about language skills, but more for the reason that the huge Japanese companies are often rotting from the head (see Olympus), and therefore are careful not to hire people who might question things and look “under the lid”, because they were taught these “dangerous” values such as critical thinking and equality during their time abroad.
    Young applicants that have gone through the Japanese education system without having been exposed to those “dangerous” Western values can be trusted not to rock the boat, not to question things, or even allow themselves the idea that the people above them could be wrong or corrupt. They can be expected to never speak up because they have no other options than to stay on the boat and accept the Japanese way (which, in my opinion, means to know one’s place and never question authority).
    That’s why the government and the bigger companies are not against speaking against different languages in general, but more against people going abroad to study, thereby getting a glimpse of “The System” from the outside.
    Even Japanese tourists are seemingly protected from outside influences by being shuttled through foreign countries by companies like JALPak and HIS in tightly organized groups with minimized exposure to foreigners.

  • @Markus: I think you can see the thinking of Japanese companies (and schools and colleges for that matter) in the fact that people pay large amounts of yen in order to learn the “interview kata” for the organisation they wish to join. The one who gets the job/place (leaving aside connections/nepotism) is the one who follows the interview kata most minutely, from the correct way to knock on the door, how to enter the room etc. These institutions want people who can behave like pre-programmed robots.IMO

    — Have we got a link to a source on this?

  • Text not to hand, so an anecdotal reference, I am reminded, yet again, of a passage from Kerr’s “Dogs & Demons”. When asked why Japanese kids had to spend so much time after school at juku, doing “real” study, and what did they DO all day in “regular school”?, the then Minister of Education quipped to the foreign journalist who posed the question, “Why, they learn to be Japanese!” ‘Nuff said.

  • #5 Jt: You seem to value things like efficiency over harmony.
    1) Japanese hierarchy means that older people (especially in a work environment) cannot be seen to be learning from (i.e. know less than) a younger employee. The older person always knows more, is always the leader. Period. Why would they want to hire someone who might rock the boat, and potentially make them look bad?
    To take instruction/orders from a younger person because they know more about the subject matter is humiliating, in the eyes of many Japanese people. I think there are a lot of subtleties that are lost on the average NJ, when they look at the inner workings of Japanese society.
    Ex: A Japanese retail store in Hawaii. Most employees were Japanese. The younger employee (24) was promoted based on ability from assistant manager to store manager. Immediately upon being promoted, she began calling the older (28 – 35 year old) part time employees “chan” (before being promoted it was “san”). I have many similar examples…
    Since getting into the right university is everything in Japan, there is also the possibility that Japanese people who went to college overseas are (perceived to be) the mis-fits who were not accepted into decent schools in Japan, so they decided to go overseas. Now back in Japan, they still want a job with the top companies, but years overseas has made them direct, focused, critical-thinkers (don’t forget open-minded). Some of them may interview badly, forgetting to put themselves down, and instead actually try to tell the interviewer what they are good at. Also, they did not know their place when they failed to gain entry into a top University, and went around they system.
    Are they likely to know their place/work well with others (Japanese) in the future?
    Will they bring foreign ideas to the workplace?
    Will they do something brash, like leave work at 9:30 pm, while their boss is still there? What will the other employees do when they see this? The boss will quickly lose control of his employees.
    Will they balk at unpaid overtime? Ridiculous amounts of overtime? Being at work, all the time, even when there is no actual work to do?
    Will they be selfish? Will they (selfishly) think that they can have a family AND a career? Will they put their family before the company?
    Will the women (who lived overseas) make coffee for the younger male employees? And will they do it with a smile, while speaking “up” to someone younger than herself?
    Will the men (who lived overseas) treat female employees as equals, thus making his superiors look bad (raising the bar)?
    When the going gets tough, and the sexual harassment/hazing/belittling treatment gets thick, will they leave (because they are bilingual, and they have options)?
    These people don’t have Japanese University connections to draw on. They can’t call their classmate, who now works for their customer, and get gossip or an introduction, because they did not go to college together. In “connections is so important” Japan, these people bring almost nothing to the table.
    Will they really work insanely long hours, for relatively low pay, for decades, keep their heads down, mouths shut, and have every aspect of their lives open to scrutiny by their superiors at work? Because Japanese companies don’t like change. Harmony is more important than efficiency.

    Thousands of Japanese companies each year say it is not worth the risk. And I just don’t see that changing anytime soon.

    How long until these bilingual, foreign-educated Japanese start coming back to Japan as heads of foreign companies? In 10-20 years, we will see some serious power shifting.

    Note: All of the above is just my opinion. I could be wrong.

  • Peter McArthur says:

    Re: Loverilakkuma’s remarks about English language teaching.

    I’ve worked for two years as a native speaking Assistant Language Teacher in Japanese junior high schools. My impressions are:

    * The school system is much too insulated from the real world.

    * English ability is seen more as a badge of scholarship than as a life skill.

    * Translation is emphasised, and communication is downplayed.

    Overall, I think Japan wants English, but it wants English on Japanese terms.

  • I think this is a case of the companies losing out, not the students. The overseas Japanese graduates are very much in demand. Have you ever heard of the Boston Career Forum? Thousands of students are wined and dined there by banks, consultancies and other top industry firms. It’s not uncommon for them to make job offers on the spot after a marathon of interviews and dinners – a much faster process than back in Japan. Of course many of the firms are gaishikei who are not afraid to make special offers to these students – it seems a lot of the Japanese firms have such rigid HR structures they just cannot (or choose not to) compete.

  • This situation is a disaster of course. That said it may be a blessing in disguise for many of these candidates as they may have been miserable inside a traditional Japanese company anyway. It’s an extension of the classic issue of managers not wanting to employ people that may outshine them. I just hope these candidates are not too damaged by the experience and instead find places in smaller more progressive companies (or foreign companies) that will value them or go and start their own businesses, there are plenty of arrogant Japanese giant corporations just begging to be usurped by someone with a better business model – not that it would be easy with all the protectionism in place of course.

    — Quite. Remember what happened to Horie.

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    Since I am a strong believer in the fact that pretty much all of Japan’s problems are in fact linked by a small number of people, let me try and tie a few of these issues that posters have presented above together (at least a little more closely).

    Firstly (let’s get this out of the way as quickly as possible), Horie (of Livedoor fame).

    He was much lauded as being a ‘new type’ of Japanese business man before his downfall, with his casual dress sense in the office, and internet business; oh, so much the ‘Japan of the future’ that the media wanted. And then it turned out that it was all a sham, and that he was using Livedoor to commit fraud. This in itself wasn’t so bad after all, he didn’t do anything that Olympus (and who knows which other Japanese companies?) weren’t doing, but he got caught! Why did he get caught? His image of being ‘new’ and ‘different’, and ‘the future of J-business’ threatened the interests vested in the status quo, so they hung him out to dry in the media circus whilst they carried on with (bad) business as usual.

    Horie was always more style than substance, and no more ‘the future’ of anything than that other (one time) great hope for the future, and ‘new type’ of politician, Hashimoto. Having read this article, in which Horie supports Hashimoto for his outburst over the sex-slaves, it should be painfully clear that both of them are not the solution to any of Japan’s problems, rather just another symptom of the malaise.


    Speaking of Horie’s conviction for criminal business practices (that are said to be par for the course in J-inc.), wasn’t it (as the rumor went- impossible to substantiate) that it was exactly a promise to make similar criminal investigations into the business practices of Crown Princess Masako’s Father’s company ‘go away’ that finally convinced her that she really should marry the Crown Prince despite having refused on many previous occasions?

    Speaking of Masako, saw this story yesterday. She is feeling much better after having a short trip to the Netherlands for a royal wedding recently. This is good news. But, I am surprised that despite speaking 5 languages fluently, she apparently does not speak any Japanese, and did not appear to tell the media that she feels better, rather that her husband speaks on her behalf;


    Not exactly a shining endorsement on the image she was supposed to have as a woman that Japanese ladies could look up to as a role model is it? Or perhaps it is! Perhaps modern Japan still prefers woman to be seen and not heard. In such a case, it should be no surprise that the two ladies commenting in the article that Debito topped this thread with are dissatisfied with corporate Japan. How much of their disaffection is due to being more international than the old men charged with employing them, and how much is due to being female? Doubly cursed. For sure, the only time Japanese social systems give any advantage to the women is when she is in dispute with her NJ husband. As an aside, it should be no wonder to us to discover that having been the object of social bullying through every step of thier lives based on the gender role imposed upon them, that when presented with a modicum of power over another (NJ husband) there are those who are unable to resist the opportunity to bully said NJ husband via legal custody process. But anyway….

    On to the main point.
    Many posters above have touched on the crux of the issue;
    Japan Inc. wants native level Japanese speakers of the English language, but does not want any of the ‘non Japanese’ ideas that come with speakers gaining that level of skill. This is a product of a misconception widely held in japan (propagated by the Ministry of Education, which we should never forget was initially staffed in the post war period by former Kempeitai secret police) that English can be learned in exactly the same way as any other objective subject (like sciences, for example). there are rules for English grammar, and these, along with vocabulary, can be mastered by hours of rote learning and testing (at least, that’s how the theory goes, the results do not appear to support this approach). There is no acceptance in mainstream Japanese education that English language is a skill that requires subjective interpretation. It is always taught in the same objective manner as sciences.

    This approach has many shortfalls, not least of which is that it refuses to acknowledge that languages have cultural nuances to such a degree that true ‘native speaker’ skill level is unattainable without an genuine understanding of the culture that produced the language. The Japanese education system seeks to sterilize English language teaching as far as possible from cultural understanding (hence the Japanese ability to perform well on English language tests, but inability to hold a conversation). The objective of the former Kempeitai in the post-war Ministry of Education was to ensure the continued transmission to future post-war generations of Japanese of the Imperial ideology (hence the ‘we Japanese…’, and any ‘Japan is unique’ conversations from regular Japanese to this very day). They have been so successful that all other considerations are still subjugated to this imperative (hence the problems described in the original article at the head of this thread).

    Essentially, most Japanese still believe that protecting ill defined ideas of what it is to be Japanese is more important than the success of Japan Inc., and the economic health of the country. The priority is still to protect Japan from ‘the outside’ at all costs.

    Case in point is this article I read today. It is about J-academics railing against Abe’s proposal to improve the ‘quality’ of English spoken by Japanese;


    This one paragraph should tell us all we need to know about Japan’s attitude, and what the chances are of Japan having a bright future, rather than becoming (even more of) a xenophobic little backwater;

    ‘The magazine profiles a Japanese graduate of UCLA whose English is perfect but whose social skills are deficient because he’s “forgotten how to use polite Japanese speech.” He won’t even pour drinks for his superiors.’

    Shock horror! In his free time, when this poor employee is bullied (for fear of affecting future work prospects) into going drinking with his arrogant, self-important, ‘seniors’ (who still expect to lord it over said junior employee even though ‘off the clock’), he won’t even pour their drinks! Give them an inch, and they’ll take a mile. It’ll be the end of Japan if they don’t stamp that out right away, no doubt.

    Which brings me finally (at last I hear you sigh) to another point raised by previous posters; why should such young Japanese who have lived outside of the country, had their ‘eye’s opened’, as it were, to different ways of doing things, ever come back and allow themselves to be humiliated like this? Maybe is it a kind of ‘Stockholm syndrome’ at work; they know that life doesn’t have to be like this, but they are fighting against a lifetime of ‘ware ware nipponjin’ brainwashing. maybe, like Crown Princess Masako, they feel that they have a duty to their family not to break the mold, and stay in Japan, and endure.

    Stay and have their souls crushed by the ‘wa’, or leave and be free to pursue their own identity and aspirations; either way, it is Japan’s loss.

  • Loverilakkuma says:

    @Peter McArthur, #12

    > Japan wants English, but it wants English on Japanese terms.

    I agree with you 100%. All members in Keizai Douyukai-sponsored council “教育改革による国際競争力強化PT” ( “Enhancing International Competition Through Education Reform”), chaired by Hiroshi Mikitani, are Japanese, although they have solid educational background/experience in foreign countries. http://www.doyukai.or.jp/policyproposals/articles/2013/130422a.html

    No NJ educator or researcher is in the list, just like the CEC(Central Education Council, a powerful advisory committee to the MEXT) consists of Japanese faculty and researchers in domestic universities.

  • Tilla Mook says:

    Karjh12: Tell that man “That is not the Japanese way, that is the failing way, and when you do fail you aren’t going to think ‘Oh, thank god we were Japanese’! You are going to be crying because you have failed. Cultures change. Customs change. It’s time to adapt. The Chinese know this and send their kids abroad whenever they can.”

  • Winning Gold at Dressage Doesn't Count says:

    So what we have from this article is two bits of anecdotal evidence, data on overseas students, and a poll of companies.

    One recent hire is dismayed that she spent an *entire year* overseas and is treated like other employees when she gets a job in Japan, where it is common for new employees of large companies to be placed in peripheral offices while they prove themselves. Another job applicant is dismayed that she can’t get a job in a tight labor market, despite something like five years overseas experience including a degree for which she studied Chinese and Korean in the United States. We don’t know how she performed academically.

    OK. I can quote a number of alternate examples of Japanese friends of mine who lived overseas, got good degrees, and now work for great companies in Japan. But like the examples above, mine wouldn’t prove anything.

    Data on overseas students is more or less worthless until you consider at least two things:

    1) The number of overall university students has leveled off in recent years, and will begin to decline with population ageing, meaning that the number of international students will as well.


    2) The degree to which the global economic crisis has made overseas study less attractive everywhere: i.e. this is not (necessarily) a phenomenon about Japanese realizing that Japanese companies won’t hire them if they go overseas.

    You also have to consider other factors, such as the overall increase of “foreign” hires from Japanese universities, etc.

    The poll data presented here doesn’t tell us the composition of respondents. Most businesses in Japan are small to medium enterprises, often supplying components to larger Japanese companies. Obviously, these companies have little use for employees who speak foreign languages and have some sort of “special experience” due to the fact that they lived in London.

    Speaking English or learning Chinese won’t get you a job anywhere. You need to show you have the skills appropriate to the job and, probably, good grades, and the language is a plus. Once employed, language skills and vague notions about “understanding how to be international” won’t necessarily mark you for special treatment. This has always been true in Japan, and elsewhere.

  • I agree with Chris. These experiences should be valuable lessons to the applicants: these are companies you shouldn’t even want to work at. It’s the corporations that are bringing trouble upon themselves, and they’ll suffer the consequences. Be glad not to be part of such a dreadful work environment with such a dreadful future laying ahead.

    Now if only one had more freedom to take a route different from the escalator to corporate despair earlier than during college… If anything, that seems to be what Japan needs.

  • #19WGaDDC

    “…Once employed, language skills and vague notions about “understanding how to be international” won’t necessarily mark you for special treatment. This has always been true in Japan, and elsewhere…”

    This is certainly not true in the UK.

    In my era of graduation in the mid 80s, there were adverts after adverts after adverts on TV from Banks, Insurance companies and the like that were simply aid at the young graduate that decided to have a “gap year” and go “find themselves” and travel the world. It was found that these graduates that did not go immediately into employment gained real life experiences and a new way of thinking and looking at problems. Since for most, having their budget their money to maximise their time away, the social interaction which different people and cultures and not to mention when stuck in the middle of nowhere and/or in a country one cannot speak the language having lost ones passport or money etc….(remember this was the days before computers, internet cheap phones etc etc), how one over came such difficulties.

    These “types” were heavy sought after. I can still vaguely recall one Bank advert where the image was a sepia misty/dreamy shot of a large prop driven plane flying low over the planes of Africa the blades going whoop whoop with water buffalo etc in the distance and the commentary of “one day…I dream of Africa…” etc etc.

    In the UK such companies recognised that the life skills acquired by those that did not jump onto the tread mill, once they returned and eventually went into full-time employment they rose higher and faster in corporate structures.

    This as far as I can see, shall never occur in Japan.

    Incidentally, my wife, studied at a prestige University in the UK; respected for its excellent medical facility (her field of expertise). Upon returning to Japan see never put on her CV that she spoke fluent English nor studied at a foreign university. Why…see all the comments above. She told me “they” don’t care, they only care about what has been done in Japan, because they don’t understand it and even if they do, claim it is not the same “standard” as required by Japan. Thus she never bothered after her first interview back.

  • @Winning (#19) I applaud your quest to base all and any assessments on Japanese culture on statistical data, but shouldn’t you then apply your standards to your own statements first?

    > Most businesses in Japan are small to medium enterprises, often supplying components to larger Japanese companies. Obviously, these
    > companies have little use for employees who speak foreign languages and have some sort of “special experience” due to the fact that they > lived in London.

    It’s not obvious at all. Don’t many of these companies source materials from abroad? How do they communicate with their suppliers? Do you have proof that none of these companies are looking for customers in other markets and never would want to?

    > Once employed, language skills and vague notions about “understanding how to be international” won’t necessarily mark you for special
    > treatment.

    So, if a Japanese boss has to decide who to send abroad for a meeting, the guy with zero language skills and international experience, or the guy who speaks the language and knows the culture (which could come in handy in negotiations, couldn’t it?), he’ll not in most cases choose the latter? Again, do you have any kind of data to support your speculation?

    As far as I can see you’re a typical apologist whose schtick is to accuse everybody of not being able to come up with more than anecdotal evidence, just to go on and wildly speculate on base of your own personal experiences (if even true). You’re welcome to do that, but please stop pretending it’s more than speculating you do.

  • Winning Gold at Dressage Doesn't Count says:

    >Don’t many of these companies source materials from abroad?

    Perhaps not, especially if, in order to procure favorable finance conditions, they are implicitly obliged to source their materials from a particular trading companies within their keiretsu. I suppose there would be a greater need within those trading companies for “international people,” which explains why the “international people” I know often work in those trading companies.

    >So, if a Japanese boss has to decide who to send abroad for a meeting, the guy with zero language skills and international experience, or the guy who speaks the language and knows the culture

    I didn’t say that “internationalness” or the ability to speak foreign languages is not valued per se. I think I actually identified it as a possible “plus.” However, hanging out overseas for a while doesn’t necessarily make you an attractive hire compared to somebody with more appropriate qualifications for much of the work that you might do alongside and independent of “international communication.” I don’t like to inject anecdotal evidence, but as a former employer, I can tell you that it’s the same overseas. Foreign teachers who have been in Japan teaching eikaiwa for a few years don’t necessarily have enhanced job prospects when they return home. Depending on the country they may not be able to hook an ESL job without a proper qualification.

    >just to go on and wildly speculate on base of your own personal experiences (if even true).

    It certainly is an odd comment that accuses somebody of reducing Japanese culture to statistical data in one breath and then accuses the same person of speculation based on personal experience in the other. But OK, above in this comment, I injected my own “personal experience” as an employer. But it was a comparative case to show that Japan is not somehow “unique” in this aspect of its employment relations. And I might as well not have referred to that status at all. In the previous comment, I actually stated that my own experience – knowledge of what my friends are up to – was irrelevant.

    As for reduction to statistical data, I am deeply skeptical of polls that are used as proof without a deeper consideration of methodology and the assumptions that lie behind those polls. I am generally pretty skeptical about narratives reported in newspapers and find it a fairly valuable exercise to deconstruct those narratives in order to question whether they actually demonstrate what they are saying. This goes for narratives that are intended to demonstrate points that I would generally agree with, as well as those I would challenge. My simple point as it relates to evidence presented by that article was that it flimsy at best. I didn’t even go into the wording of the question, which did not indicate that companies were avoiding international hires altogether.

    As for the fact that you shouldn’t get special treatment when you start at a company because of the mere fact that you speak English or trained to speak Chinese in America (?!) I suppose I haven’t offered any evidence. But I think this is something one can deduce logically. Putting aside the fact that companies in Japan, again, don’t necessarily go straight to the international supplier, even if I were working in a company that wanted a particular product from overseas for use in a particular process, who would be better to arrange the deal? A rookie who can talk to the other people about general topics, or somebody trained to know what he or she is looking for, what price they ought to pay, and what the technical and or other specifications of the product are? “Tomoko” appears to think she should be elevated to a higher status within her company just because she speaks English. This may actually happen in the future. But shouldn’t she know the ropes a bit before she dives into the deep end of representing her company in international negotiations?

  • ““Tomoko” appears to think she should be elevated to a higher status within her company just because she speaks English. This may actually happen in the future. But shouldn’t she know the ropes a bit before she dives into the deep end of representing her company in international negotiations?”

    What, like how to make the tea and work uncomplainingly for decades without the possibility of a raise , promotion and be fired if she gets pregnant? What cheek!

    “Foreign teachers who have been in Japan teaching eikaiwa for a few years don’t necessarily have enhanced job prospects when they return home. Depending on the country they may not be able to hook an ESL job without a proper qualification.”

    That’s a completely different thing. We are talking about people who have studied overseas. A better example would be someone who has studied esl and languages abroad to the appropriate level and has obtained the appropriate qualifications matching up with someone who has never left their home country.

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    @ DeBourca #24

    I wouldn’t bother getting into a discussion with WGIDDC. Look at his/her posting history; every comment is in support of maintaining the status quo, and against change. Tells me everything I need to know.

  • Winning Gold at Dressage Doesn't Count says:

    >That’s a completely different thing.

    Fair point.

    >We are talking about people who have studied overseas.

    OK, but I’m mainly talking about the examples in the article as either ill-selected or not necessarily representative. “Tomoko” who studied something (we don’t know what, but it appears to be English) in the UK for a year was actually hired by a “big and famous” Japanese company, which kind of deflates the argument that Japanese companies aren’t hiring people with overseas experience. Also she has been working at the company for one or at most two months – let me repeat that: ONE OR TWO MONTHS – which seems a little early to be complaining about not shooting up the corporate ranks or being placed in a position where she can work with important international counterparts or clients. Yumi Hara – who I think I’ve actually met, but that is besides the point – did something (we don’t know what) in England for a while before doing an Asian studies degree with a very heavy language component at a university with a not particularly well-known Asian studies program in a country where people generally don’t speak those languages. Nevertheless, let’s give Ms. Hara the benefit of the doubt and assume she’s a crack hand at languages and perhaps learned enough Korean and Chinese in Virginia to confidently engage in written and oral communication in those languages. We still don’t really know what other skills she has that would make her an attractive employee. Nor do we know where she is trying to find a job and whether it is a place where her language skills would come in handy.

    The point isn’t to denigrate these women. It is simply that the article above doesn’t really give us enough information to back up its central claim. It would be okay if these stories were just to add color to an article that had already proven this claim, but as such, it just takes the claim for granted, adds a few contestable stats, and repeats the claim as a meme. It is not therefore apparent from the stats or the anecdotes in the article that the claim in the first sentence is true. We just have to take the reporter’s word for it. Which I don’t. Sorry.

    >What, like how to make the tea and work uncomplainingly for decades without the possibility of a raise

    You’ll get no argument from me that it often stinks to be a women with career aspirations in Japan, but that’s not really what we were talking about here. To introduce gender dynamics takes this away from a discussion of whether or not students who have overseas experience are really, caeteris parabus, being hired or not. In any case, the tea making stereotype is a little hackneyed these days. While it was unheard of in the 1980s, it is now possible that women can make a decent career as a sha-in alongside their male counterparts if they make it across the first hurdle of securing that salaried position. But it is also true that limited daycare arrangements and social norms make this extremely difficult if they want to have a family. Most of the professional women I know employed at well known firms – again, anecdotal – are married with no kids. While the situation still sucks, though, it is changing. The “m-shaped curve” that gender and labor scholars cite, while by no means an “n-shaped curve,” has started to flatten over the last decade or so, and will likely flatten and extend upwards even more as the population ages and there is a labor shortage. There is still a long way to go, and gradual improvement from dire is still pretty bad, but “Tomoko” doesn’t appear to be treated like an OL (if she were, she’d probably be on a rolling temporary contract, and would be hired locally), so she’s probably not going to end up as eye candy.

    But before I’m again accused of speculation on the particular point of “Tomoko’s” career prospects, let me plead guilty to the charge. Again, we’re not really provided with enough information to determine for sure whether the experiences of these two women reinforce the central claim of the article.

    >Look at his/her posting history; every comment is in support of maintaining the status quo, and against change.

    Debito, point of order. As the moderator of this blog, surely you shouldn’t allow such attacks on the contributors. If, however, it is the case that people are allowed to look at the record and come to their own conclusions, then they should look at Dr. Di Griz’s posting history. There they’ll find someone who claims to be a university lecturer with a Ph.D. in Japanese politics but who cites as authoritative sources texts that are usually used as first year primers in English-language Japan studies classes, and who claims to be fluent in Japanese but doesn’t know the correct transcription of basic and well-known concepts like “tatemae.”

  • Jim di Griz says:

    @ Winning Gold #26

    Now your interest in my personal details is creeping me out. It’s the sort of thing I’d expect from ‘the stalker site’.
    Case closed.

  • I work as an international student recruiter at a top London uni (covering Asian markets).

    There are a variety of complex reasons for the decline in Japanese students abroad over the past decade. I don’t believe it’s due to Japanese companies becoming more reluctant to hire overseas-educated employees – if anything it’s the opposite as グローバル人材育成 has become the talk of the town and the number of job fairs for returnees is on the increase.

    The main issue is the recruiting cycle (which takes place during the penultimate year of university), meaning that students miss out big time if they chose to go abroad for a master’s etc. As graduate jobs have become more and more scarce in recent years, many students now feel it’s just too much of a risk.

    Fees to study at overseas universities have also increased hugely whilst average incomes of Japanese families have remained static (unlike in developing nations such as China and India).

    Some also attribute the decline to the increasingly ‘inward-looking’ (内向き) tendencies of many Japanese young people, unwilling to leave the comfort of their lives in Japan and try challenging things – not sure how true this is though and why the current young generation would be any more inward-looking than that of a decade ago.

  • It doesn’t get any better either:

    “US universities are still the most dominant international force in the Times Higher Education rankings…Imperial College, University College London, LSE and King’s College London are all in the top 40. London has more universities in this league table than all of Japan,..”*

    And I doubt this will improve over time, to the point that no Japanese student shall want to study oversea, for fear of not getting a job. So the Uni’s are becoming just as myopic as the Govt policy.

    * http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-24367153

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