|Topics in Japan #76:
Is it time that businesspeople in Japan "must" study English?
It's been known for a long time around the world that most Japanese are not very good at communicating in English. In business, most people will probably get so panicked when they unfortunately get a phone call in English that they cannot do anything but "Uh ... j─j─just a minute, please." However, in June this year, some news was announced that shocked Japanese businesspeople─two major companies, Rakuten and First Retailing(FR), announced that they had decided to switch their main language from Japanese to English within the next few years.
First Retailing is Japan's leading apparel maker and retailer. As of the end of August 2010, they had 136 stores overseas and 808 stores in Japan. Since they are expanding in the global market, it seems quite natural that their employees should be able to communicate in English. Switching of the languages is planned to be completed by the spring of 2012, and after that, all meetings will be held in English even if there's only one participant who doesn't understand Japanese.
Meanwhile, Japan's major e-commerce company Rakuten has also been expanding in the global market. Similar to FR, they're planning to complete this English strategy by the end of 2012, but at their headquarters in Tokyo, many things have already been changed to English, including menus in the cafeteria and signs in the elevators. Japanese employees are now being encouraged to use English even when speaking to other Japanese staff. Hiroshi Mikitani, the CEO and a graduate of the Harvard Business School, has already started to conduct press conferences in English.
It has been reported that FR will require their employees to score 700 or over, and Rakuten's to score 650 or over, on the TOEIC test. Their English strategies may have been shocking to the employees, but according to a Japanese business magazine "Weekly Diamond," Korea-based Samsung Electronics requires a TOEIC score of 900 or over when they hire people. Maybe Japanese businesspeople are now facing some tough choices about whether to study English hard, or lose out to global competition.