Hiroko Tabuchi has a most interesting piece, “Young and Global Need Not Apply in Japan,” published in The New York Times (5/30/2012). It is on the often futile efforts that Western-educated Japanese students experience when they try to enter the Japanese workforce. They are not generally well received by Japan’s top companies when they come knocking on corporate doors with foreign degrees in hand.
Consider the experience of Roman Sato, who studied applied statistics at Oxford University in England, and who wished to return to work at a Japanese company in Japan. He was unsuccessful and today works for a British bank in Tokyo. So many Japanese students have become discouraged that the proportion of Western education seeking Japanese is shrinking (oh no, that word again) compared to their regional competitors in China, South Korea and India.
Western-educated Japanese are viewed with some suspicion regarding interpersonal manners. One woman was told that she “laughed too much” in her job interview, while others were viewed as either over-eager, over-educated, or too susceptible to poaching by other employers. The Western-educated Japanese are not seen as loyalists in the eyes of many Japanese company heads.
The news isn’t any better for Japanese students returning from overseas study. They find themselves behind their competitors in shukatsu, the Japanese system that tends to hire students right out of college. (Students begin interviewing for jobs during their junior year of college.) Some find themselves just too old for the Japanese job hunt culture.
This reluctance on the part of Japanese companies to hire those who participate in study abroad may explain the declining numbers of Japanese students going abroad. Using 2009 OECD figures, fewer than 60,000 Japanese students study overseas out of a total student body population of three million.
It appears that the corporate culture in Japan is a bit suspicious of returning Japanese who may have gone too global in their ways. This includes becoming too assertive in meetings and not knowing their place in the company hierarchy. It is still considered quite bold to go overseas for study and to return to establish your career in Japan.
Is there any place for a globally-minded workforce in Japan? Do you have another perspective on this critical piece about Japan?