Thursday, January 21, 2010

Can Japanese organizations embrace diverse people as members?

As I mentioned in my previous post, the recruiting process for new employees have stayed the same in the last 40 years in Japan. Basically, big Japanese companies hire permanent employees only from among new graduates just once a year. They do not only avoid to employ old workers who used to work for other companies, but also stay away from young people who graduated just a year ago and have not found a job yet. Some people sarcastically say that it is because Japanese companies seek only "work experience virgins".

This unique recruiting practice in Japan has a specific name "shinsotsu ikkatsu saiyo" or "concentrated hiring of new graduates" in English. The Japanese version of wikipedia on this term tells us an interesting fact. According to a governmental study in 2006, the top 2 reasons why Japanese companies continue this recruiting practice is (1) to maintain the age structure of employees (balance in numbers between the young and the old) (2) to acquire human resources who have not been (adversely) affected by other companies' corporate culture. Japanese companies expect these new employees to hold a solid loyalty to them and work for them until the time of retirement. It helped Japanese economy grow fast and steadily until the 1980s.

In the age of globalization and the flattening world, however, this Japan-specific hiring practice most likely will not work any more. The fundamental defect of this method is that it miserably fails to embrace different kinds of people in an organization. Japanese organizations assume homogenious members and if not, they make desperate efforts to uniform the members' ideas by "brainwashing" them. In another word, Japanese people do not know how to organize people other than by gathering people with the same thoughts and background.

In a Japanese organization, members are expected to look the same, think the same, and behave the same. Exotic attitudes are not publicly criticized but privately finger-pointed. Unwritten rules govern the organization. Real power often resides in the people who have no position on the organizational chart, even out of the organization. It is very hard for outsiders to understand. Sometimes it is confusing even to insiders.

This is the time when companies place an appropriate person to a position only on the ground that the person has suitable skills and talent. Other elements (sex, age, ethnic background, etc) are not essential. Only Japanese companies go to the opposite way. Are they stupid? I used to think so. But now my thought has changed slightly. Probably, Japanese companies simply don't know how to deal with diverse people. The management executives have never worked in an environment where different kinds of people work in harmony. It is not that they are willing to keep the traditional recruiting process; they just have no choice but to keep doing it. Maybe, we should feel a little pity for them, instead of despising them.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Japanese university students take to the street demanding a better recruiting process

Do you know how university students in Japan find a job after their graduation? Actually, they start looking for a job long before they actually graduate from university. Students go to university for 4 years in Japan. As early as they are a junior (the 3rd grade), many of students start their activity in search for their permanent job - this activity is called "Shukatsu".

This job search activity or Shukatsu is a prolonged process that can take up to 1.5 years. Candidates must go through an IQ test and several interviews before they finally acquire a position. The competition is fierce for a limited number of openings in some popular corporations. Usually traditional big corporations are popular among prospective graduates.

An interesting tendency in Japanese companies is that they don’t really care what students have achieved in university. What the companies are more interested in these prospective graduates are which university they come from. The more prestigious university the candidate comes from, the better. They would hire a graduate from a prestigious university with GPA 2.0 rather than a graduate from a less known university with GPA 4.0.

A prolonged recruiting process coupled with indifference of companies toward students’ academic achievement leads to Japanese students’ typical thinking that studying in university is of no use. You might be so surprised to find how much students – especially those who study business related disciplines like economics, management, marketing and law - do not study on campus in Japan. Electing subjects they major is not considered important. Their sole purpose is to go to university and it does not matter what they study. Furthermore, you don’t need high marks to get a job. As a result, it is rational for them to study more than barely to pass final exams.

This mysterious attitude of Japanese corporations stems from their traditional belief that on-the-job training and company-held seminars are sufficient to turn these potentially intelligent but ignorant students into competent employees.Companies invest education in employees and their grateful employees work for one company for a period long enough to allow the educational investment to pay off. This is a beneficial cycle that brought a splendid success to the Japaneanse economy – until recently.

Now the cycle has rather become a vicious one. Japan has seen a still ongoing economic stagnation in the last 20 years. It is increasingly more difficult for university graduates to find a “good, stable and well-paid” job nowadays. The period for a job search becomes longer, while the chance to find it is slimmer. Some frustrated students finally decided to take to the street. Now they are organizing a demonstration demanding for a fairer and less-burdening recruiting process. One of them sent me an email asking me to promote this event to the public. The demonstration will take place in Tokyo on January 23rd. Joining this event might help you understand more about plight that Japanese students face today.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Why is China often considered to be a threat to the rest of the world?

Google and the Limits of "Cyber-Democratization"

An unidentified cracker, while the Chinese government is strongly suspected, attacked the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights artists late last year. In response to this incident, Google has decided to stop self-imposed censorship on search results in China. The world's largest web search engine corporation has stated that it might withdraw the business in China unless Chinese government abandons its strict access control imposed on the Internet of its territory.

Sigh. How many times have I sighed thinking of the Chinese government's repressive policies on its freedom of speech?

An article titled "China Threat" or a "Peaceful Rise of China"? analyzes why the West often considers China as a threat. According to the author, there are three reasons:

(1) ideological and cultural factors
(2) geopolitical and geoeconomic factors
(3) possibility of the collapse of China

The issue (1) concerns difference of the values between the West and China. The issue (2) has to do with China's sharply rising economic and political power which potentially overshadows the American hegemony. The issue (3) is related to the Soviet Union-type sudden breakdown of China and enormous confusion thereafter.

In my opinion, the fundamental reason why many citizens in the West feel eerie about China is the issue (1) - especially China's reluctance toward democratization and negligence on human rights including the freedom of speech.

Personally, I understand that the Chinese government is standing on a very shaky ground in the midst of social upheavals coupled with its rapid economic development. There are so many domestic problems both economic and political in China, anyway.

Still, I strongly wish China would be a democratic country. OK, maybe it does not have to have general elections like in the West for now. The real problem is weakness of the governance structure of the Chinese government. The government policy is not controlled by the parliament whose members are chosen through a general election. Nobody has accountability of what they are doing. No activities are checked and corrected in a coherent and transparent manner. This is a fearful situation for both Chinese people and outsiders.

This concern leads to the issue (3) above, which involves the potential collapse of the China regime.

I think that the Chinese government does not need to introduce full-fledged election system from the beginning - like elections for the National Assembly members and even its Prime Minister. In order to avoid the social unrest, the government should start with elections for some important positions within the Communist Party. Voters will be only Communist Party members which make up of only a few percentages of the whole Chinese population. After they feel confident in electing important positions, they should gradually move onto larger-scale elections whose voters are normal Chinese citizens.

This is not exciting at all. But I believe that this way will be the most practical and the most probable scenario to democratization of China.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

More young Japanese people should go abroad to study and work

I have posted a new entry in Japanese. The entry's title is "If you are a 15 year-old Japanese person, get out of Japan and go abroad".

In this post, I insisted that young people under 15 years old give up entering a Japanese university. Japanese universities, especially those teach liberal arts, are infamous for allowing students to graduate from them without substantial study. After 4 years of study, students would neither acquire any professional knowledge nor English proficiency. They are like innocent babies compared to students who studied in English speaking countries like US. Why? The reason is simple; Japanese companies have never looked for graduates with professional knowledge. They are just looking for young ignorant people who graduate from prestigious universities for screening purpose only. They don't care what students have studied in university.

This post has aroused strong emotional reactions among the readers. I have got more than 20,000 hits within only two days. Perhaps, a half of the readers supported and the other half of them opposed my assertion.

Why has this kind of post created such vehement responses from a variety of people? Probably, almost all Japanese people are already aware that something is seriously wrong with Japanese economy and feeling uneasy, at least subconsciously. Nevertheless, many of them do not wish to admit it. When you witness something that you don't want to see, it will cause an intense discomfort in your mind. This explains why my post saw such fervent oppositions.

Some people who live abroad and are able to speak a good English have also attempted some objections to my post. Probably, many of them simply don't know what's going on at workplaces in Japan. Anyway, they can survive anywhere in the world, so good for them. More miserable people are those who are monoligual and have no choice but to stick to Japan. I am afraid I can't come up with any good solution that allows them to get by in this tough economic situation in Japan. I am sorry, but they need to think by themselves.

I just want to give a piece of advice to the younger generation below 15 years old. "Get out of Japan to get a broader view". They are innocent. It is our responsibility to help them acquire abilities enough to lead a happy life in coming days. They will deadly need English skills and global perspectives. This is just minimum requirements for them to have a good life in the future. After making some effort to get professional skills, they will be able to get a job anywhere in the world including Japan.

Friday, January 8, 2010

The language barrier makes Japan so unique, but is it really beneficial?

This is a good essay about "foreignness".

The Others

This is well-written about how expats would feel after spending many years in a foreign country. Since I have also lived outside of Japan for nearly 6 years, this essay is very persuading to me. The funny part about this essay is a paragraph that describes Japan as "the last remaining place you can feel truly foreign in the world"

The most generally satisfying experience of foreignness?complete bafflement, but with no sense of rejection?probably comes still from time spent in Japan. To the foreigner Japan appears as a Disneyland-like nation in which everyone has a well-defined role to play, including the foreigner, whose job it is to be foreign. Everything works to facilitate this role-playing, including a towering language barrier.

I laughed a lot. This is painfully true. After visiting more than 20 countries and spending several years, I have come to the conclusion that Japan is so unique that no other country is alike. This uniqueness was brought by the geographical isolation, the huge market with purchasing power, and the language barrier.

Chikirin, one of the most popular Japanese bloggers, showed in her recent post her optimistic view on Japan's future. According to her entry, there are three reasons why she believes in Japan's bright future:

1. Uniqueness of Japan is valuable
2. Younger generation is increasingly more excellent than the elder
3. The global economic center of gravity is shifting toward Asia

However, she did not forget to mention that even though Japan owns numerous aspects of its valuable uniqueness, Japan has been failing to turn it into money effectively so far. I believe that the fundamental reason why it happens resides in Japanese's lack of communication skills with outsiders. The language barrier, that is, lack of English proficiency of Japanese people, plays an important role. Most Japanese including intectuals are monolingual and so myopic. They don't know and are not willing to know what is happening outside of Japan. Naturally, they can't imagine how outsiders look at Japan. Japanese people don't know what foreigners find valuable in Japan and what they don't.

Japanese need to learn how to communicate with outsiders. Japan used to be called "the factory of the world". It has completely become a past. New industries with high added value often involve services(not goods) and languages, communication and media often play a critical role. We Japanese need to be more proficient in English to work with non-Japanese people. When these conditions are met, Japanese economy will be properous again like the past glory days.