Japan job treadmill grinds down workers and firms

By Madeleine King

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© 2012 AFP

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It's a shame they have this ludicrous 就活 system here. It still utterly baffles me that pretty much their entire third year is spent, not at school, and not studying, but looking for a job when legally they cannot be hired at that time anyway.

9 ( +9 / -0 )

The Land of the Rising Loopholes, will find a way, but it might take several generations.

6 ( +7 / -1 )

Uniglo may be the company to break the mould, letting some new light into Japan. Students today are getting wiser and considering global employment rather than the treadmill system of Japan. More students are considering a year out to get that all important experience that so many US and European student take for granted.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

I've had numerous students complain about Uniqlo's new concept to hire first year students once they graduate. They complained that once the company does this, they'll all follow which means job hunting will start in 1st year, not 3rd. How about it starts once they have graduated??

Both rakuten and uniqlo make me laugh with their whole "we do English" concept. I know people who work at both companies and will fully admit that Japanese is the language and very few workers can hold a conversation in English let alone do business in English. Again, the dressing is more important that the material .

5 ( +5 / -0 )

So I guess if the Unqlo or Rakuten internship doesn't work out, and you are not of "world mind", and you are not hired at basically graduate without any job at all.

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its 50 percent unemployment for young people in alot of places around the world. wonder is that worse than having to endure the mind numbing joke that is the job market in japan. Going to be alot of disenchanted youth who wont be too keen to pay for grandma and grandpas pensions

2 ( +2 / -0 )

What to most Japanese youngsters seems heaven to my son is clearly hell. He thrives on uncertainty and would wither away at most any Japanese company. He'll go to the States for university next year; whether he'll return is unknowable. But one thing is clear: if he doesn't, it would be due to Japan's ossified employment system, and that would be another in a very long string of serious losses for Japan.

7 ( +8 / -1 )

The whole university degree=corporate career equation is hopelessly anachronistic in many countries now. Both employers and employees need to start thinking outside the box...

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an unending round of interviews, job seminars and employment fairs

Unending? It lasts a few months, maybe a year or two. Nothing compared to working for life.

-12 ( +2 / -14 )

There is an opportunity there for a young person with an entrepreneurial mind, pity none of them have one.

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All I can say thank goodness I didnt grow up here & go to Uni here, what a colossal waste of time, money & a life.

Like so many many things in Japan a MASSIVE overhaul is needed

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With a greying and shrinking domestic market for their goods and services, they are looking for candidates who can offer something a little different; something that will help them compete on the world stage

Really???! Then why is that that so many talented and original-thinking Japanese graduates return from college overseas only to find that the Japanese companies arent interested in them because they cant mold them into what they want them to be, and find them too free-thinking and questioning and full of too many bright ideas for change?

They are all talking the talk. Even the chairman of the keidanren is saying it! But nobody is actually DOING anything about it!

7 ( +8 / -1 )

Nicky: "Even the chairman of the keidanren is saying it! But nobody is actually DOING anything about it!"

You sound like you're surprised by that. It's ALWAYS "Let's talk about this and that and pass some legislation but leave it up to the local governments/companies to follow it or not" lip service and no action here.

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Yeah you are right smithy, dont know why I am even surprised really

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Treadmill? More like grist mill.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Rakuten has already made the change to English, right? Any idea on whether they've also started allowing people to think outside the "corpthink"?

2 ( +2 / -0 )

It is a big ask of a hidebound education and employment system.

Yup, and then they go to work in a hidebound company in a hidebound society. The recruiting system is just one of a thousand examples of things that refuse to change in Japan despite many signs that Japan Inc. is broken.

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Could someone explain (to me) how university works in Japan? Do they only write final exams in their fourth year?

I'm only going by my experiences in Canada.. but we had exams at the end of every semester for whichever classes we took. For most students that would mean exams in December and April. Classes broken down into 1st, 2nd,3rd and 4th year courses... and the classes had requirements before you could take them. For example, I majored in economics in Uni.. so if I wanted to take a second year econ course, lets say Econ 201, I would have needed to pass Econ 101/102 or something like that

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Canadian University for us is where we start to get serious about academic issues and courses. Thus exams are at the end of each semester or year depending on the university style. We don't have entrance exams in junior and senior highschool and university like Japan but you're carried through just by passing. No pressure at all.

University does have entrance marks and the levels vary depending on the program of interest, but still not an entrance exam. Thus the system has a teaching purpose through each level of the year in study making exams required. This is usually the first time students are challenged and forced to really work hard. I don't think this is unusual outside of Japan

The issue is that memorization isn't helping Japan anymore and the educational system needs to allow people to grow in university rather than depending on business to do it.

University grade level minded people or those of even older years should start their own businesses. The level of entrepreneurial activity in Japan is remarkable low compared to other countries. Quite literally no one can even think of working for themselves. I know many talented people but they are afraid to try and I'm always saddened when their work for a large company, never to use their real skills again.

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Thanks for the refresher, actually I went to uni in Canada so ya, there definitely wasn't an entrance exam for me. I was in highschool in Ontario when OAC (grade 13) was still around so really, our final marks in OAC courses basically determined if we would be accepted to a certain university or not, this was back in 1999. I would say the most pressure was that last year of high school but for the most part, everyone who applied to Uni got to go where they wanted to... but again, this was back '99 so I assume the process has changed a great deal, for starters, OAC has been completly taken out

From what I understand about Japan, students there have to write entrance exams to get into University, but do their scores in highschool classes matter in the application process? I thought more emphasis was put on the entrance exam which is why I thought most kids go to juku... but I could be misinformed.

Once in University in Japan, how is it different compared to Canada? (or other countries) Do they write exams at the end of each semester, or only at the end of their 4th (senior) year? With respect to courses and studies, are the subjects arranged by year level, like an Econ 101, 201, 301, etc.. Do the kids actually live away from home? What's this nonsense about taking the entire 3rd year off to search for a job?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Most of my seniors have already given up job hunting. They see it as hopeless. I can't blame them.

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Uniqlo will join e-commerce giant Rakuten in switching its internal communication language to English by early 2012

That seems to be taking the "lingua franca" aspect of English way too far. It might be culturally degrading to Japan. Even if it raised profitability to some degree, there is much more to life than money... like culture for instance, of which a primary aspect, if not the primary aspect, is considered to be language. So instead, since it is a Japanese business that is primarily run by Japanese people, it would make more sense that they speak Japanese except for what I suppose is the minority of them who are interfacing the business with another nation's populace who then run the foreign branches.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

7solance, no worries. They don't use English. It was a great publicity stunt, got their name in the news but the fact is, they are very Japanese, speaking Japanese and all this "outside the box" chat is nothing but a farce.

1 ( +1 / -0 )


As a fellow canuck be glad you went to school there rather than here, its totally messed up here. Japan school/uni is designed to produce worker drones which kinda worked in the past but is wildly out of date now for a few decades.

Students have to pass test(s) to get into kindergartens, junior & senior schools sometimes & then the Uni's where the most "important" tests happen. Its a collosal waste of time & energy. If you make it to Uni then you dont have to study much to pass, totally messed up & yeah students spend lots of time of supposed job hunts, its all rather farce more than substance.

Trust me you wudnt want to go through what Japanese kids have to put up with

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Students have to pass test(s) to get into kindergartens

No they don't. Only if Mum and Dad insist, and most don't. The only 'test' my son had to pass to get into the local kindergarten was an interview with the head. She asked him, 'Of the food your mother cooks for you, what's your favourite?' he answered 'Strawberries'. He got in.

Elementary and junior high schools, being compulsory, can be entered without tests. The problem isn't so much 'everyone has to take tests' as parents pushing average Taro to get into a much-better-than-average school.

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pls note i did say SOMETIMES, and yes one can always find a school to go to.

But schools compete with each other for students & that leaves schools seen as good & others ok or not good even bad. I think its a mistake to be able to choose schools for elementary, junior, senior schools, you live at XXX so you go to these 3schools then Uni etc if yr game. But the current situation has created a system where schools either have it or they dont to at least an extent.

Your last sentence has created what I describe above, a very bad situation imo, where I used to live in Katsuhika-ku long time ago was a great area but the schools were known for being poor schools so were filled with kids that mostly didnt have much of a future to look forward to & thats CRIMINAL in my opinion.

Bottom line is a lot of room for improvement but it aint happening much if at all & it contributes to Japans decline sadly

1 ( +1 / -0 )

you live at XXX so you go to these 3schools

That may be the ideal, but in real life it would mean that if you live in a poor neighbourhood you go to a poor school.

I agree with you that there is a lot of room for improvement, but it needs to come from the parents, not the schools. Neither of my kids were pressured to go to juku, and they did just fine.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Japan school/uni is designed to produce worker drones which kinda worked in the past but is wildly out of date now for a few decades.

Is that a joke? Do you work at a uni here? The kids have way more freedom at uni than they will ever have in their life - they can complain about all those job interviews and whatnot all they like but they still manage to go out with friend, go shopping, take trips... I don't doubt the interviews are stressful but that stress is exactly what everyone back home does. Thing is, back home you actually failed courses, worked a decent number of hours with a PT job and mommy and daddy didn't pay for everything.

Indeed, the test mentality is a harsh one for JHS/HS/Uni entrance but kindy and whatnot? That is the parents doing - as Cleo pointed out. If you want to see where the pressure comes from, check out the kyoiku mamas, not the school system.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Well said Cleo!

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If Japan could just start a flexible, needs-based recruiting system, and allow people to start on dates other than April 1, they would have more success in recruiting international talent! That talent are both foreigners, and Japanese studying overseas.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

They don't care about international talent though. They want cheap workers such as the Chinese and the Koreans so they can give them a low salary and have them work like dogs. Heck, they don't wanted talented Japanese - which is why so many flee when they look at the life that working in Japan offers them.

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No dont work in education, not up to the task I wudnt make a good teacher, I merely pointed out what I have seen for 20+yrs here & that streams of drones coming out of schools, Uni's etc.

I didnt lay any blame just pointed out what I observe is all

0 ( +0 / -0 )

The unis are the ones that make them into drones - sadly. They come to us this way - and have a bit of a break and then go back to being drones. sad, isn't ?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Time to get out of Nippon and get a decent overseas education!

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I bet you have never even set foot in Japan

Been here probably longer than you've been on this earth, and put two kids through the system.

I didn't get accepted into the japanese kindergarden, so Cleo I have no idea what you are talking about. Is your child mentally disabled or something?

There are kindergartens that have entrance tests - the ones kyoiku mamas want to send their darlings to, presumably like the one you failed to get into - and others that treat three-year-olds as three-year-olds and accept any kid that isn't obviously mentally disabled (No, my son isn't mentally disabled; recognising 'food' and coming up with yummy strawberries as his favourite was plenty good enough to show that he was normal. If he'd answered the question by screaming, bursting into tears/laughter or running round the room, he wouldn't have gotten in.) Did you want to go to the high-pressure kindy, or was it your parents' decision?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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