of Japan, and most people either think of sushi, karaoke or the
bubble. While sushi a source of protein, and karaoke, depending on
your point of view is fun or a waste of time, most people will regard
the bubble as a modern miracle. Japan literally rose from ashes to
the second strongest economy in the world.
pulling itself from a ruinous defeat in the Second World War, Japan
dusted itself off, and in a few short decades, transformed itself
from one of the poorest nations on earth, to one of the richest there
have ever been. This was no easy feat. It is still a source of
pride for most older Japanese people. What worked in those days,
will not work today. If Japan does not recognize this face and act
upon the changes that are occurring at an ever-quickening pace, Japan
will be on the bottom of the pile, again!
last statement is not dramatic, it is a fact that Japan is losing out
due to old ideas and a seemingly stubborn refusal to change the way
they do business. 25% of the population is now over 65.
Entrepreneurship is nonexistent. It all starts with the people they
is a very mixed message being sent out by Japanese businesses and it
seems to be quite indicative of the uncertainty and fear that is
gripping the heart of the veterans of the bubble, from the
realization that maybe all things Japanese are not necessarily the
the one hand many businesses are going on a very audacious drive to
implement an “English only” work environment in order to ensure a
seamless flow of communication into and out of the company, and
improve ties and relations with partners, customers and clients
around the world. But on the other hand, all too often, companies
are shunning returning graduates who have either “missed the
recruiting boat” (that sees tens of thousands of freshmen employed
by corporate Japan every April), or are deemed too “un-Japanese”
to fit into and adhere to Japanese corporate culture.
attitude is starting to hurt Japan now, as insular Japanese companies
lose out to the more open minded and cosmopolitan workforces of
rivals across Asia and the rest of the world. However it also hurts
the career prospects for Japanese university students. Faced with
the prospect of being shunned by their own countrymen, if they study
abroad they feel forced to shun the valuable experience that is
gained from studying in an international university environment,
building an extensive network of alumni and simply mixing with global
minds. This is a travesty to Japan, not just to the students
themselves, but also to the potential universities that would gain
from having contact with someone from a country as steeped in culture
and history as Japan, which still has a lot to offer the world.
workers are still as highly skilled as their business rivals
worldwide, and in the right environment they and their companies will
prosper. But that environment has to be nurtured by the key decision
makers, and instilled at all levels of the corporate culture in
Japan. That culture needs to be one that sees itself as part of a
global community and not a lone ranger in a big bad world. It will
have to stop using phrases like “we Japanese…” that highlight
differences and perhaps even allude to a baseless snobbery. The
bubble is gone and for a return this xenophoebic speaking must end.
It will have to do away with all the barriers that enable a modern
business to function, and respond effectively to, the ever-changing
international environment that is global business today.
is unlikely that Japan will ever attain the heady heights of the
bubble, nor is it desirable. However if Japan wants to reestablish
itself as a major force in global business, it is going to have to
recognize that being global leaves little room for xenophobia and
that the practices and insular thinking that took it into the bubble
have no place in the 21stcentury.