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What do you think of the decision by major Japanese companies such as Rakuten and Fast Retailing to make English the official language at their management meetings?

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They will have 'more' excuses for business failures and stress related problems.

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I hope someone can tell the story of Engrish they made in their meeting room.

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Wonder why they are doing that? Be like an American company holding it's annual meeting in the USA in Polish?

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Finally. They need to compete internationally because the domestic market is shrinking and they can either use English or Chinese. Since most everyone has studied English for 6 ~ 8 years, might as well make it English. And it will be good for whatever eikaiwa schools are still in business, too.

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In japan, speak japanese, not some foreign tongue.

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They should also get rid of Katakana, too.

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It makes perfect sense as a business tool to compete internationally. If the end-result is to be better able to communicate with international clients, reps, managers and suppliers. It doesn't make sense if the business is not internationally oriented.

Doctors and researchers at Japanese university hospitals are also slowly doing the same thing to be better able to represent their universities abroad. Most of their presentations are in English so they really need the practice. I've seen lots of doctors making presentations without a problem but not being able to answer any of the follow up questions because they didn't understand them.

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International corporations in Europe, with barely an exception, use English as their in-house lingua franca. Even France and Germany, who show dedication to protecting and expanding their own cultures, accept English as a global standard in the business world. So it would only be natural that Japanese companies follow suit.

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Fast Retailing (Uniqlo), Rakuten are rapidly growing with mergers and acquisitions. Like any company who are expanding business overseas they need to use English as the official company language. Plain and simple.

Sony, Nissan Co. are already using English in their management meetings.

Toyota's Japanese management rejected to use English as working language. But as recent safety crisis (massive recalls) is blamed on company secrecy they have started to promote non-Japanese managers. Probably they will be the last major company to switch to English.

Also to note that Japanese domestic market is rapidly shrinking. By 2050 Japanese population is expected to shrink to 95-100 million. And only half of it will be in the 15-65 age group (working population). Fewer and older consumers mean fewer sales. By 2050 Japanese language will not be as important as it is today.

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@LHommeQuiMent, love your name by the way.

Toyota has not made English as a working language but to become managers, employees have to have at least 600 on the toeic and they have an in-house scale, if I remember correctly. It's ABCS, A being the lowest, and S being super users who have more than 730 on the TOEIC. I'm just going from memory here so I might be off somewhat but they have been promoting English internally, without having to spend too much on it.

It mostly makes Toyota employees more proactive in their learning of the language. Most Toyota employees I know, and I know a lot of them (many of my friends and most of my neighbors work for Toyota) speak English fairly well with some of them being absolutely perfect.

Other companies, with close relationships with Toyota usually use 550 on the TOEIC test as baseline for managers' positions.

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Will the usage of English be limited only in meetings or other conversation and documentation? If the implementation is only within meetings, I don't think it'll have a big impact.

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Sony and Nissan are headed by English speakers so it obvious they would. I worked in a large chem co in Tokyo. The weasel at the helm refused to learn simple Japanese. His excuse was he had to learn French. To this day we still mock him all over the world for his incompetence and arrogance.

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DXXJP, don't be so upset. Japanese is a dieing language. You would think that everyone here, with 6 years of English could understand simple English, but most of you can't. So, if a westerner comes here, and tries to learn Japanese from the same system, even simple Japanese would be a waste of time because people here don't know how to teach language. If they did, people here would speak English. So the guy in the Chemical company just didn't want to waste his time with Japanese lessons taught by people how have no clue on how to teach language. To this day it amazes me that people learn Hiragana first... Not Katakana. Katakana is used everywhere and every western person with a strong Katakana pratice could understand almost every menu sign etc in Tokyo. Hiragana is only for Japanese words and when you go out having positive reinforcement by understanding things immediately would encourage people to learn more. I recommend everyone to learn Katakana the first week they are here. Basically you will learn how to miss-pronounce every English word you know. After you unlearn how to pronounce things in Japanese, your life would be wonderful. Then take it slow. Example. I would like a beer. Biru kudasai. Send me an email. Maru kudasai. Lets go to the supermarket. supamaketo ikimasho. Salad please. Saredo kudasai See.... learning can be fun.

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Watashi wa Nihongo ga benkyo shimasu. Should I learn English, instead ? I prefer learning Japanese. I love Japan.

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It makes more sense simply because more than half the world are using English, unlike Japanese. It is only spoken in the center of the universe.

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It's a step in the right direction.

As Calvin would say, "If English is good enough for me, by golly it's good enough for the rest of the world." Ha ha ha...

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I don't work in their management team so I don't care.

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Wonder if this decision will give a shot in the arm to the sagging "Eikaiwa" schools?

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They should stick with japanese. Aren't these companies based in Japan. Like Americans speak Japanese in their meetings?

Who are they trying to fool? themselves?

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"Like Americans speak Japanese in their meetings?"

Sounandesuyo!

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Sarge, I'm afraid posting on a "Japanese" news website doesn't make it an American meeting. You failed.

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What is with "Americans" bla bla bla. The world speaks English for business. It is the language that has developed to bring countries together. Either Japan can join the rest of the world, or the world will just start to ignore Japan even more. Japan already is the place least wanted by western management. The talented management hate coming here. I believe the world languages rank:

Mandarin Chinese 845,000,000 Spanish 329,000,000 English 328,000,000 Hindi/Urdu 182,000,000 Hindi, 60,600,000 Urdu Arabic 221,000,000 Bengali 181,000,000 Portuguese 178,000,000 Russian 144,000,000 Japanese 122,000,000 German 90,300,000
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Waste of time and money in my opinion. Meetings in Japan are painful as it is. Meetings in English BY Japanese?? Ouch! I feel sorry for any foreign who has to go to one.

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hmm i thought this might be in response to the rise of chinese .

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Noborito

I never took a class, never been to higher education, however he and I fell off the boat about the same time. I was able to pick up Japanese on the street enough to answer a phone and have a simple conversation in Japanese in just over a year. I understand their desire to go global, but I think upper management might be enough. I remember when my Japanese was crap and how pain full it must have been to listen to me, but now I prefer to interact in Japanese because some of the English I hear is pretty painful. Side note, we had a salesman that couldn't speak English, but his penmanship was beautiful, and he could actually write a complete sentence.

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Note for the times: Unlike previous Japanese business expansions where Japanese companies expanded by opening offices and factories overseas often with Japanese executives with some local language capability and local worker functioning in the local language but most communication between those offices and Japan being conducted in Japanese.

Today's "expansion" is actually more along the line of mergers and acquisitions and more often then not of large companies with already established international presence, in such cases to stay Japanese in the head office and English everywhere else would be inefficient and to expect the newly merged or purchased section to work in Japanese (a language that would necessitate many, many years of study, massive software/hardware changes, etc..) would be impractical if not impossible.

Many of the top Japanese Pharmaceutical firms have only recently started to merge or joint venture with foreign firm after realizing the massive sales they have missed by not being in most markets other then Japan and the major stumbling block for their products being quickly approved outside Japanese even though they now have partners or have merged with overseas companies it that nothing is available in English.

Another main reason for this move is (and anyone who has been here for any amount of time and learned some Japanese and is honest about things can tell you) the Japanese language is far from black and white when it comes time to translate things and you can end up with someone saying or writing one thing but in the translation means a completely different thing and the best examples of this are government meetings with some of the best trained and paid ranslators making major mistranslation and causing major problems.

No this is the only direction for survival if Japanese companies want to still be around in a few years

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It's unproductive, impractical and confusing. Why English when the company is Japanese, in Japan, and most of its personnel are Japanese? It's perverse. Foriegn people serious about working and living here for over a few months obviously need to master Japanese. And they will be well-armed for their lives here, professionally and personally. It also seems to me global corporations of Japanese origin should use whatever language they feel is most efficient and productive in the given location.

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Although these businesses are based in Japan, I think it is great they are having their meetings in English. This is a big step and hopefully they will be working out any problems with their communication so that in the future when they want to expand to other countries, it will be less of a shock to them and they will be able to fully express their desires and needs in a common language.

It would be great if everyone could speak Japanese, but the reality is that in the current global market, English is the common language that people default to. This allows companies to be in a variety of countries that speak a plethora of languages, yet everyone can be on the same page (more or less).

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The choice of language per se is only part of the issue. Self expression, achieving consensus and tenacity in the defence of one's position are closely tied to cultural attitudes. The results of meetings held in English and Japanese might be quite different and over the long run would be likely to set a company on a different course.

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makes complete sense to me. rakuten is the 9th largest e-commerce company in the world. it has acquired buy.com in the USA and priceminister.com in France as well as 6 or 7 other B2B2C companies throughout the world. it's actually doing what many other japanese companies should be doing - namely striving to become a globally competitive company. this is basically what toyota did back in the 70's, just it didn't hold a press conference and make a big announcement about it. IMO rakuten's move to make english its language of communication makes complete and total sense. chinese, although spoken by more people, is not as important because all the top chinese execs at companies like baidu.com ($50 mill JV with rakuten) also speak english.

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It makes sense that the company is trying to incorporate English into its day-to-day business activities, since it is now expanding overseas (with English being the de facto business language of the world, whatever one make think about that...).

But, to me, it seems just a weee bit too ambitious—why should Japanese staff in Japan communicate in Japanese, it's their native tongue so surely communication would be far more efficient/smooth/clear/nuanced that if they stumble along in a second language. "Stumble along" may sound harsh, but the fact is that very few Japanese can think/read/speak English at the level required, by native standards, for effective business communication—it simply takes longer for them to read longer texts, explain nuances etc. It is not a matter of intelligence or studying, it is simply that the two languages are very different. The vast majority of us foreigners also "stumble along" in Japanese, even if we've studied the language.

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Hmmm.... I noticed that my above comments sounds quite harsh. Let me just add that I have met many Japanese businessmen who speak excellent English, but for most people in the corporate world here English is slow, cumbersome mode of communication.

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... and for me too, apparently, as evidenced by my crappy grammar. Apologies, I have a slight fever.

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It is a very forward thinking move I think. My opinion is that the Japanese have a sound knowledge in English grammar and lexicon. But the problem is the actual usage. Even when they learn the conversational English, there are some particularities with the actual usage, intonation etc. At work, I come across many who even do contracts in very good English but when they say something simple, it ends up sounding very rude. So the move such as these would greatly benefit I think. Look at the other South East, and southern Aisan countries. The grammar level is low, but they are better in their daily conversations. We tend not to notice the grammar mistakes much, because they are very polite when they talk. Hope other companies would follow suit.

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it is a hype and a lot of demand for japanese product out there. i think if they do it right they will end up being a very successful business. i just hope that they will not have millions of input boxes to check and fill up on the multiple checkout pages.

doing business internationally on internet, please just make it simple, make senses and easy to use the international ways, not the japanese ways with tons of encoding problem and restriction on language inputting modes, etc...

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Noborito, is you ranking of the world language focused on "mother tongue"? or total number of speakers worldwide? (I think it's the former, while it is the latter number which would be relevant to this conversation.)

And to all the people saying, "But it's a japanese company in Japan!!" please read crazygaijin's post above. Rakuten is now a multinational. So is Uniqlo.

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About time! My company has foreign managers all over the world, but not once have I seen an internal document written only in English.

That really sucks, but that's where I come in, so I can't complain much.

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Why English? There are more Chinese and Spanish speakers in the world. Speak Mandarin and Spanish.

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English as the official language at a Japanese company won't last. I work for a Japanese company in the U.S. with about a third of the employees (mostly management) from Japan. Even here in the U.S., it was not possible for the Japanese staff to conduct meetings from beginning to end in English. Usually the first few opening remarks may start off in English but soon Japanese will enter into the conversation and from then on, the rest of the meeting is in Japanese with someone like myself who is bilingual summarizing for the rest of the non-Japanese staff what is being said.

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This will not work.

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@tokyoapple "They should also get rid of Katakana, too." I agree. Katakana are next to useless for teaching a non-Japanese language's pronunciation. So is the Kunrei system of Romanization being taught in elementary schools.It is based on Katakana and was designed to allow Japanese to be transmitted in Morse code telegrams, not to transliterate a foreign language. It follows the Kana structure -sa si su -and so transliterates "sits" and "shits" with the same Kana:シッツ.

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