Corporate officers who do not become proficient in English in two years' time will be fired. That is the mandate set forward by Hiroshi Mikitani, president and CEO of Rakuten, which operates the largest Internet mall in Japan.
As part of its efforts to go global, Rakuten intends to conduct all executive meetings in English and eventually have all internal documents written in the language. All menus in its staff canteen are already available in English.
Mikitani says that with English widely used in cyberspace, making the language the company’s official language is expected to improve its employees’ abilities and broaden their perspectives.
However, the decision is causing a stir in Japan’s business world, reports J-Cast. While some people believe the initiative could change the way Japan does business, others wonder if such a lofty goal is really possible.
The implication that high-ranking employees would be fired if they failed to fulfill the new requirement came to light in an online interview with Mikitani. Personnel evaluation will include their English ability in the future,. he said.
Japanese business people are wondering not only if it can really be done, but if their company will be the next to implement a similar policy. Some workers are feeling uneasy and apprehensive about the situation, wondering why a company with Japanese employees and Japanese end users would issue such a decree. Others expressed concern that the positive aspects of employees with subpar English ability could be overlooked, and that inter-company communication could suffer.
Some in the business world wonder just to what standard of English employees will be held to. Following an English-only speech that Mikitani gave on NHK news, critics pointed out Mikitani's own shortcomings in the language. Said one: “If he’s only come this far in the language himself, how does he expect to hold others to such high standards?”
There is speculation that Mikitani's true intent is to clear space in the upper echelons of the company for non-Japanese to take over, J-Cast says.
So what is the official language of foreign-financed companies in Japan? A Newsweek Japan columnist said their editorial staff’s official language is Japanese, even for non-Japanese employees.
“Of course, when we speak to employees in other countries, we use English, and if you can’t at least read an article in English, you can’t work for us,” the columnist said. “But I can’t even imagine having meetings with Japanese colleagues in English.”
But according to a manager from Rakuten, employees aren’t complaining.
“Everyone is ready to tackle this,” he said. “It’s not becoming a huge issue. Some employees have reported that they might feel embarrassed speaking in English, but that’s all.”
Rakuten says the reason for the new rule is to become a major player in the world online shopping market, and to expand its reach from its current six countries to 27 major countries or more.
“In 10 years, the market will be very different and we want to be prepared," the Rakuten manager told J-Cast. "From here on, Rakuten’s position depends on Mikitani's decisions. It isn’t for others to decide.”© Japan Today