lifestyle

Are Japan’s efforts at internationalization succeeding or not?

40 Comments
By Krista Rogers

Not a day goes by without Japanese school children hearing the terms globalization (グロバール化) or internationalization (国際化), and why it’s so important for their future careers. In fact, the whole country seems to be swept up in a fervor of these two words. But do Japanese people really understand the meanings of them, or are the terms just being used as catchphrases?

Enter Austin, an international student who has been living in Japan since 2012. Last week he posted a thought-provoking piece called “Some Thoughts – And Doubts – About Japan’s Internationalization” on Tofugu, a Japanese language and culture blog. The piece has circulated around the Internet, and was even picked up and summarized in Japanese by blogger Madame Riri. In it, Austin addresses how while Japan may be making efforts to globalize on the surface, it still lacks something on a deeper level that is preventing it from becoming truly internationalized. Join the debate after we take look at some of his thoughts below.

Austin wonders if Japan is going about internationalizing itself in the right way. At the heart of the matter, he tries to pinpoint the true meanings of the terms “internationalization” and “globalization.”

According to Madame Riri, these two terms refer to “acting globally, being able to compete on an international stage” and “being able to accept a global outlook, as opposed to always looking inwardly,” respectively. And it seems that now more than ever Japan really does need to step up its game if it wants to continue competing on an international level. Top Japanese brands like Panasonic and even Nintendo aren’t doing as well as they once were, and competition from Chinese and Korean brands grows stronger every day. A lot of obstacles need to be overcome in order to reverse this pattern, and Prime Minister Abe has expressed his desire to see 10 Japanese universities into the top 100 global rankings list in the coming years.

The following are some of the main topics brought up by Austin in his piece. If you’ve lived in Japan for an extended period of time, perhaps you’ll be able to sympathize with some of his points. Is there anything that you strongly disagree with?

English education

Of course, who could neglect to mention the issue of English education in Japan? As anyone who has has ever taught English here can tell you, there seem to be a lot of contradictory feelings when it comes to English. On the one hand, English in movies and popular music is viewed as being cool and desirable. On the other hand, students still complain about the necessity of learning English at school, even while being constantly bombarded by people telling them that English is a surefire tool for future success. So what’s missing?

Japanese students begin engaging in occasional “foreign language activities” in the fifth grade, and they do not start formal English classes until the first year of junior high school (usually around 13 years old.) This late start could be one factor why it is so hard for them to catch up with students, especially when compared to other Asian countries such as South Korea, where children begin learning English in third grade. In addition, many grade school teachers are not adequately prepared to teach English, even if they have a good command of the language or understanding of its grammatical structure. Perhaps these factors will change in the upcoming years as the government is contemplating requiring a TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) score on all university entrance applications, regardless of program.

University life

As an international student at a Japanese university, Austin has a lot of experience with this one. He explains how although many Japanese universities tout exemplary international exchange programs, in reality there is actually very little interaction between foreign students and Japanese students. International students are often placed in completely separate programs of study where they have little actual contact with Japanese students. The same goes for living arrangements on or off campus. As a result, foreigners and Japanese often fail to intermingle, and do not take advantage of the diverse knowledge each group has to offer the other.

The corporate world

While some Japanese corporations have taken extreme measures to “internationalize” themselves (think of Rakuten, where English is the sole language used in-house), others have only superficially made an attempt to do so by hiring foreigners. However, does the presence of foreigners at a Japanese firm really signify any great development towards globalization? Austin points out that foreigners who are working at Japanese companies are often treated as “Japanese who just speak another language,” and the enriching experiences they could potentially bring into the mix are not being used effectively at all. They often conform into traditional hierarchical Japanese working practices, where their voices cannot be heard. While he does not say that Japanese companies should have a major cultural upheaval, Austin believes that some component should be added if companies do not want the talents of their international workers to go to waste.

Immigration

Austin also touches upon Japan’s immigration system, which is very strictly regulated. It is notoriously difficult for foreigners to gain permanent residency in Japan if they are not married to a Japanese person. Austin illustrates this case with a personal anecdote, stating that even his friend who has taught at a Japanese university for some 10 years now was denied permanent residency last year.

But how can an overall homogeneous society such as Japan achieve internationalization when the chances to interact with foreigners are so limited to begin with? Related to this point is also how Japan sends fewer students to study abroad than China or South Korea.

Austin sums up his his discussion by saying that what Japan needs is not superficial reforms, but should instead endeavor to change things on a much deeper level:

“It seems to me that Japanese attempts to internationalize by bringing in more foreigners, enforcing standards of English etc. are simply fulfilling the prerequisites of internationalization. This does not necessarily mean internationalization itself.”

Time will only tell when, or what, the impetus for change will be.

Sources: Tofugu, Madame Riri

Read more stories from RocketNews24. -- Why the Japanese Are Bad at Foreign Languages (Part 2) -- Japanese Tourists Share 15 Impressions of Traveling Abroad With Limited English Ability -- Learning Language Through Nonsense– Japanese Author of “Unusable English” Speaks

© RocketNews24

©2020 GPlusMedia Inc.


40 Comments
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Good observations, Austin is correct. Japan's efforts are little bit like me and my lifelong diet with the goal of losing 5kg. I am officially doing all the right things or at least talking about them - gym, veggies, etc - but I am not actually changing all my bad habits and have no intention in doing so.

In short, it's not going to happen, unless something radical or violent happens and this will lead to change. And it has to be worse than March 11th, sadly, or truly affect the elite where it hurts.

7 ( +11 / -4 )

I recall Olympus announcing that it fired its foreign CEO because he didn't understand "the Japanese style of globalization."

I think that says it all.

23 ( +25 / -2 )

That this conversation has been going on now for more than 30 years answer the question.

17 ( +18 / -1 )

Why must Japan internationalize in the first place? I have heard people complain about certain forms of immigration in other countries. The strife it brings from the anti Turkish sentiments in Germany to anti muslim sentiments in England. It would seem that many points of immigration and or internationalization as it were has a lot of negative associations. Especially when it seems a must do or forced perspective to keep up. Another good example is the United States and immigrants from Mexico tends to bring out a lot of bad in people. Not sure that it would be any better for Japan, changing something too fast or too much in a short amount of time because it deems necessary is not always a good thing. Especially when people just might not want to.

-6 ( +5 / -11 )

What does internationalization truly mean? Its not like Japan is some backwater, using an unheard of currency, where foreign travelers are regularly beaten for their foreignness is it?

Japan is plenty international. It just isn't western, and that is what sets it apart from Western Europe, North America and Down Under. The only way for Japan to be more international would be to lose pieces of self-identity, such as language and culture. And not that I even think that that would be so bad. I think there is a whole lot of bull-headed, self-congratulatory culture that could be chucked by the wayside that could pave the way for more important things do be done, but I guess that is the same in any country.

If the goal is just to be defined as "international" Japan has succeeded as well as could be expected. They still bow, but they will shake hands. So many are literate in their own language and can at least read a good bit of English. They deal with both their native numbers and Arabic numerals every day. They watch lots of foreign shows and consume lots of foreign products. Their own products are known throughout the world. They travel the world a lot. They have lots of foreign guests.

Oh, they did not integrate to some people's satisfaction? Well, welcome to Japan!

-4 ( +9 / -13 )

Globalization or internationalization it's all words if they don't practice iy.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

Austin points out that foreigners who are working at Japanese companies are often treated as “Japanese who just speak another language,” and the enriching experiences they could potentially bring into the mix are not being used effectively at all. They often conform into traditional hierarchical Japanese working practices, where their voices cannot be heard.

Very true. The only way to survive as a foreigner in a Japanese company is to do things the Japanese way, to not be the 'stake that sticks out'. Anyone who tries to do things in their own foreign way will not last long in the company. Foreigners are generally there either as a token, or for their language skills.

Why must Japan internationalize in the first place? I have heard people complain about certain forms of immigration in other countries. The strife it brings from the anti Turkish sentiments in Germany to anti muslim sentiments in England. It would seem that many points of immigration and or internationalization as it were has a lot of negative associations.

Internationalization and immigration are not the same thing.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

I think Japanese companies are making inroads in this regard, albeit at a rather slow pace. The Japanese media on the other hand...

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

Ask any US academic what their globalization strategy is and they will reply along these lines: "X% international students with exchanges with X numbers of universities." Yet, the issues they are currently grappling with are among others inclusion of the international students. The only "international" they have going for them is their language, English, which comes as default.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

You know, I'm not sure "globalization" is something to aspire to anymore. The world sucks, so maybe it's better to just stay away from it.

2 ( +3 / -2 )

Internationalization and Globalization are just two buzz words that are two sides of the same coin. Basically it means to loosen domestic laws to abide to international laws, like how the European Union does. Of course this experiment is not working so well. The U.N is a horribly inept and unreliable body to follow as well. It also advocates the none sense ideal that mass immigration from the world over, especially third world countries is a good thing and that every country should do the same.

The problem is that people that use these buzz words as a good thing never define them, they just play the semantics game, because "internationalization" and "globalization" sound good. And need to dupe you into that kind of game.

People will spew out their none sense under some guise like "look global!", "look abroad for opportunities". Underlying this view of course is that your options are limited and also that you have no options at home, without actually saying these of course. But why should this be? your options are limited where ever you go. If its about for example participating in the Chinese awakening and growth, then those people don't need to look internationally and globally when they can just stay in their back yard. Africa? who would want to go there?

Those that live in the third world want to come to the first world because that's where all the opportunities actually are.

That said, Japan does need to abide by any of these two terms, they have an amazing;y dynamic economy that knows how to mold itself into any given situation in a way unique to Japan.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

Japan is plenty international. It just isn't western, and that is what sets it apart from Western Europe, North America >and Down Under. The only way for Japan to be more international would be to lose pieces of self-identity, such as >language and culture. And not that I even think that that would be so bad. I think there is a whole lot of bull-headed, >self-congratulatory culture that could be chucked by the wayside that could pave the way for more important things do >be done, but I guess that is the same in any country.

My thoughts exactly while reading this article. Could Japan benefit from becoming a cultural melting pot? Sure, but at the cost of it's Identity.

They often conform into traditional hierarchical Japanese working practices

I just don't understand this. If you don't want to eat, sleep, live, and work Japanese or any country for that matter, why would you move there?

The problem with immigration in other countries isn't as much to do with population influx as it is with foreigners moving to a country only to practice the culture, traditions, and religion of their old one and completely neglect the new one. In the U.S. it's fine because we don't a distinct identity. Nothing gets to me more than people who come to Japan to complain about everything that makes it the country it is. Of course, I'm not talking about the people who move places and embrace it. I know some great people who truly love their new country, have learned the language and the culture, and I don't even consider them "foreign" because they might as well have been born here.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

Transnational/ multinational companies or corporations are flag bearers of globalisation and internationalisation. Global hotel brands are the ultimate expressions of globalisation - same menu, same restaurants, same decor, same points clubs, same uniforms - you have to check the name on the key card to remember where you are, such is the monoculture that prevails. Makes their same outlook corporate guests feel comfortable, but they are totally isolated from the country that they are staying in.

It's the differences that make life richer and more enjoyable, the different systems, languages and cultures. But the corporate world dislikes it, as their globalisation (aka monoculture) require everyone and everywhere behave in the same way, for 'smooth management', finance, supply chain, marketing, etc., to maximise profits.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Globalisation and internationalisation has made my country forget its culture. I live in South Africa and I have seen how our cultures have been chucked out and swopped out for something cooler and more american or english or italian. My people have lost their self-worth and pride for their culture and language which makes them different. Globalisation isn't a bad thing, it is how people interpret and manifest it. When this concept eventually gets to the average Joe, it reads as "you must know English to be cool" or "you must know English to get a job". I taught English in Japan and I would encourage any African to do so, but I would also encourage the same African to stick with their roots cause that's what makes internationalisation beautiful. When we can sit over a cup of tea and both exchange tea from our different countries and how it is apart of our culture(sharing experiences, not forcing them:apartheid/colonisation) then a trully beautiful thing starts happening and we can all stand back and view the colours of a rainbow.

People need to be able to embrace their differences and not try make everyone aspire to be the same.

7 ( +7 / -0 )

Why must culture be protected? Sure internationalization may bring a lot of socioeconomic problems at first and water down the uniqueness of a culture, but on the other hand, look at the constant dangers that come about with homogenous cultures living next to each other in todays world. Japan, China, and the Koreas are a reason why internationalization is necessary. They cant stand each other. Now imagine if they couldnt tell each other apart because of all of the intermingling. Look at Russia now with Ukraine. Or look at the Germans in WW2. When people have a chance to make themselves different or special in their own heads when compared to people living around them, it gets to them. Nationalists act like idiots and cliques form (like in highschools) and even though a homogenous country can be a safer place on a microscale - The world is always faced with Macro-sized conflicts. Cultures are neat and all, but they are becoming a relic of the past. Nationlism sucks and prevents true advancements on a global scale. Its Americas diversity that makes it the lead innovator in technology today. And it is Japan and other similar homogenous countries that hold them back from being truly great.

-2 ( +3 / -5 )

Preserving culture is important because variety is the spice of life. If we were all the same everywhere, it would be a pretty boring planet.

That said internationalization doesn't mean dropping one's own culture. It simply means learning to interact effectively in a global community. Something Japan doesn't do well now.

6 ( +8 / -2 )

The Japanese government continues its policy of "internationalization" (kokusaika) - urging companies to hire more foreigners. But in Japanese eyes, foreigners always remain gaijin - "outside people." Despite Tokyo's cosmopolitan reputation, diversity in the capital city runs mostly to products, not people. Kokusaika is just a media buzzword; most ordinary Japanese are still wondering what we're doing here.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

Strangerland,

That said internationalization doesn't mean dropping one's own culture. It simply means learning to interact effectively in a global community. Something Japan doesn't do well now.

This is true. Internationalism also does not imply anything about immigration or government policy, although those things do come into play. It is actually more an attitude and desire to be inquisitive and open to the world outside your own, and to gain a better understanding of one's own cultural good and poor qualities, through knowledge gained by interacting and understanding other global communities. The good qualities we want to keep. The bad should be reflected upon and taken steps to change, if necessary.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

nope, the trend is reversal currently

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Duh. Every country's citizens when pressed, prefer to keep immigrants out even though we citizens like the immigrants to do the dirty jobs with no future of advancement. Look up the immigration rules to most EU countries and or Australia, it's tough for any outsider to come in and become anything other than a minimum wage earner.

I felt very welcomed in Japan until they realized I wanted to stay and further myself into society. That's when people who were so happy to help me realized I wasn't going anywhere and the o-mo-te-na-shi faded.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

That said internationalization doesn't mean dropping one's own culture. It simply means learning to interact effectively >in a global community. Something Japan doesn't do well now.

Depends on which sector you are talking about though. Sure, politically Japan seems closed off and the politicians seem to have trouble interacting with the rest of the world. You can go to any first world country though and ask them to name you a Japanese company and most people can. I think most big name Japanese companies fit into the definition of:

“acting globally, being able to compete on an international stage” and “being able to accept a global outlook, as >opposed to always looking inwardly.”

Pushing their definition of internationalization and globalization has served Japan well, as I doubt it could have grown as strong of a country if it stayed confined to itself.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Permanent residency is just given to those married to Japanese? I vehemently disagree since I know of both real and fake nikkeijins and some even 3rd or 4th generation who have PRs.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Only the elite need to truly be able to function on a global level. The average person will work an hourly job in retail or food services and have very little chance of being part of the global economy, let alone having friends from overseas. For Japan to continue functioning, many of the insular ways must remain. For example, Japanese should not adopt a western sense of personal rights and freedoms due to the excesses they lead to. It is better that they devote their lives to working for the good of their country and company. This helps unlock shareholder value for the international investors.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

This week I had to report a stolen ATM card to UFJ bank. Since my Japanese is basic, I asked for help in English. The customer assistant said, " Oh, we aren't allowed to speak English,"...in perfect English,

6 ( +6 / -0 )

Japan is no Singapore period

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Japan will never get it and haven't for decades now. Sadly this is resulting in the elimination of Japanese language and words with what I call English Kanji. I'm still not going to know what the word means because it isn't used like English, and the whole exercise was meaningless. Internationalization doesn't mean Japanese language replacement. Keep your language while being international.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

In fact, the whole country seems to be swept up in a fervor of these two words.

Those two words were both in widespread use from the early 1990s are are probably found less today than they were 20 years ago.

But do Japanese people really understand the meanings of them, or are the terms just being used as catchphrases?

The article would have been more helpful if the writer herself had gone to the trouble of defining "internationalization."

0 ( +0 / -0 )

In Japanese corporate world, word "globalization" means buying a kaigai shucchou or overseas business trip ticket (business class), go there, enjoy, and ask gaijin staff to prepare minutes of meeting, bring cheap chocolates as souvenirs and after coming back explain to the team members how different the outside world is. And then file the report with X number of hanko. I attended a conference of around 800 high ranking officials, highly educated, in which gurobaraijeshon and guroburuka were discussed over 5 hours by several eminent speakers and networking session in Nihongo. I was the only foreigner in that audience and understood the real meaning of those terms. It is NOTHING. This country is a shimaguni, island and will remain so for next 100 years+. No change.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

There is a an almost schizophrenic split personality at play, in that those in Japan who are rushing to embrace internationalism the most, are the people who actually tend to reject it the most. i.e, incentives to attract foreign workers to Japan while making immigration laws stricter. The recent laws designed to make procedures easier for foreigners by making them report any changes of address or occupation at the nearest immigration office, instead of at their local city office is a good example. The reality is that it makes things much more difficult for the individual foreigner, but much easier for the Ministry of Justice. (The very fact that immigration falls under the auspices of MOJ, rather than its own separate department is very telling of how far Japan has internationalized).

Internationalization in Japan is very much dictated on Japanese terms. Which kind of defeats the point.

The attitudes to internationalization in Japan can be perfectly summed up by a now infamous photograph of a sign taken a few years ago: "International Club. No Foreigners Allowed".

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Efforts to increase English language ability as a international communication tool would definitely make Japan and Japanese more competitive on the global stage, in the sense that it could mean greater sales in the English speaking world and possibly in areas where English is the foreign/alternate language of choice. It would also make the skill sets of Japanese professionals potentially more cross-border portable, meaning that Japanese people would have greater opportunity to work abroad if the pay and benefits are right. However, will this lead to "internationalization" and inter-cultural understanding in Japan? Not so sure about that. YouTubers like Randomyoko use their strong English language skills to provide the world with their nationalistic diatribe with the intention of reaching a non-Japanese speaking audience, and I don't see what she does as improving Japan's relations with its neighbors. Her English-language "Annexation Song" is straight out of right-wing Japanese mass-consumption history books.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

I find one of the biggest barriers to internationalization is the purpose for which Engilsh is taught. We all know the "test English" problem. The other is "learn English so we can explain Japan to the world". Many students study so that they can explain the mysteries of tea ceremony, kimono, or hot springs to foreigners. IMHO this is a backwards stance. It would be much better for the Japanese to learn English so that they can learn about the world. There is no need to explain Japan to anyone- that is what Wikipedia and Youtube are for. Better to use language skills to broaden your horizons.

That,and lose the attitude that different = bad, strange, difficult, wrong. Different is cool!

1 ( +1 / -0 )

No one really cares about "internationalization" or "globalization" at the moment because we live in a world where sovereign states are still viable. Until that changes, the status quo is fine.

I also see comments about these things washing down the culture of other countries. No, that's just not the case. What is washing down the culture of those countries is a youth entranced by whatever fad is currently on TV, and the fact that there is a difference between culture and tradition and a lack of understanding around how culture works -> culture changes and tradition always becomes extinct.

Anyway, there will come a time when as a planet we will HAVE to live together - but for the moment, we don't need to, therefore I would expect a country like Japan with a strong sense of tradition to continue to resist change until there comes a time when they WILL need to change.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Are Japan’s efforts at internationalization succeeding or not?

Can you eat natto?

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Japanese could care less about globalization. It dilutes Japanese culture "wa" and dirties the country. The only reason Japanese want globalization is for business profit and they also get a good supply of Burburry rain coats and Nike running shoes. How many Japanese men want a gaijin in their woodpile? Answer almost none.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

I agree with Hawkeye on this:

Japanese could care less about globalization. It dilutes Japanese culture "wa" and dirties the country. The only reason Japanese want globalization is for business profit and they also get a good supply of Burburry rain coats and Nike running shoes. How many Japanese men want a gaijin in their woodpile? Answer almost none.

Here's couple of good examples:

"Japanese Only" signs at football match, as they rained down boo'es for the home team, targeting Lee Tanadari, who is a 4th generation Japanese citizen of Korean ethnicity. The cops and stadium officials do nothing to bring the racist banners down.

http://imgnews.naver.net/image/452/2014/03/09/014610183_01.jpg

http://image.kukinews.com/online_image/2014/0309/20140309urwk02.jpg

In Japan, you can do this and not only people (and even police) will do nothing, they will cheer you on. At the same time the Japanese media totally ignores this racist behavior.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wm5rvdIKyc0#t=54

Success with Internationalization in Japan? are you kidding me? Wow that sounds so funny, if not wishful thinking or delusional even. The Japanese ideal of "globalization" is getting approval and admiration of Japan, from westerners. Japanese could really care less about what the real meaning of globalization is.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

nope. japanese still xenophobic!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

"Depends on which sector you are talking about though. Sure, politically Japan seems closed off and the politicians seem to have trouble interacting with the rest of the world. You can go to any first world country though and ask them to name you a Japanese company and most people can. I think most big name Japanese companies fit into the definition of:"

Honestly I think this comes down to the current irrelevance of corporate Japan on a global scale. For example, despite Rakuten's best efforts they still struggly massively in NA and in Europe.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

I felt very welcomed in Japan until they realized I wanted to stay and further myself into society. That's when people who were so happy to help me realized I wasn't going anywhere and the o-mo-te-na-shi faded.

I've always been confused when foreigners say this. I never noticed any difference in how people treated me when I made the change from staying for a year, to staying for 5-10 years. I did notice over time that the English Hunters stopped being interested in me (mostly because my Japanese became better than their English), but the average person didn't treat me any differently because I wanted to stay.

I can't help but think that people who think they are treated differently because they intend to stay longer are simply imagining it.

Permanent residency is just given to those married to Japanese? I vehemently disagree since I know of both real and fake nikkeijins and some even 3rd or 4th generation who have PRs.

Yes, the original poster was incorrect. Preference is given to people married to Japanese in that they can get PR after 5 years of marriage, but unmarried people can get PR after 10 years.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I am getting tired of these punkie young kids who come to Japan for a few months or years and start complaining about how it needs to change. I like Japan the way it is! Leave it alone and let the Japanese be Japanese and let Japan be Japan!

If you really live in Japan, get involved with the life, the people and the culture you will see that IT WORKS! just fine the way it is. I do not want to live in Japan with a bunch of you outsiders who are trying to have a "foreigner experience" in Japan.

Everyone is welcome but leave your biases and complaints at the airplane door and enjoy Japan and all its quirks and nuances. That's what makes life in Japan so special.

-3 ( +1 / -4 )

"If you really live in Japan, get involved with the life, the people and the culture you will see that IT WORKS! just fine the way it is. I do not want to live in Japan with a bunch of you outsiders who are trying to have a "foreigner experience" in Japan."

You could make a real argument that it isn't working. The population's going down and the economy has been in a stagnant pattern for well over 2 decades.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

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