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Many Japanese companies are reluctant to hire even highly skilled foreigners because of fears that their local staff aren’t ready for colleagues from abroad. This is deterring foreign talent: In one recent survey, Japan was ranked the least attractive place to work in Asia. As countries from Taiwan to South Korea to Singapore — and even China — look abroad for labor, Japan needs to change its thinking.



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In one recent survey, Japan was ranked the least attractive place to work in Asia. 

No surprise. I once talked to a young S. Korea woman who worked at a restaurant part time while studying in Japan. She said the Japanese boss would force all the waitresses to stand silently at attention in a line even when there were no customers in the place -- all for minimum wage, of course. Korea certainly has a harsh work ethic, but nothing like that, she said.

8 ( +8 / -0 )

Japan needs to change its thinking

Said by foreigners since time immemorial. Of course, in many ways this is part of the place's charm (though it doesn't age well). The problem is Japan, under Abe's endless leadership, seems more committed than ever to embracing global capitalism. And you simply cannot compete or function effectively within that system, inherently requiring significant concessions by members as it does, by preserving such an idiosynchratic status quo.

Japan Inc's understanding of internationalism still frames its approach to the world like it's 1988 and everyone must take the knee if they want the privilege of doing business here. That outsiders must significantly adapt to find success here, when they can go to a dozen other cities around Asia and find a far more hospitable climates, a more seamless transition and far more flexible thinking. Whether you like the neoliberal order is beside the point--Japan wants to play the game while largely preserving the postwar order that looks more like an anachronism with each passing year.

10 ( +10 / -0 )

The entier world is entering an era where the coming changes are either embraced and managed or disaster will be the result for those who do not.

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because of fears that their local staff aren’t ready for colleagues from abroad.

I would say it's more like a lot of the local managers, executives, and upper echelons aren't ready for people who are going to challenge them, who are going to tell them that their antiquated solutions to yesterday's problems won't work in today's world, and basically make them out to be less than the demigods that they imagine themselves to be is the larger issue at hand.

9 ( +9 / -0 )

Obviously Japan isn’t Asia’s least attractive place to work, but yeah it can be ridiculous. It’s also not gunna change fast.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

@Farmboy - not sure why you received the down vote. I have been doing work for numerous Japanese clients for more than 2 decades, many of which are large companies. I am seeing more and more foreign engineers and other types of employees at these companies. This trend has been accelerating the past 3 years or so.

Of course there are some dinosaurs that will never change and are stuck in the Showa time.

If a foreigner with technical skills can speak Japanese their salary would be higher than a Japanese employee. I would hire such a person tomorrow and I know of several large Japanese companies that would do the same.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

These executives fear change because they have not kept their skills updated and will not hire foreign rivals, just foreign helpers. The foreign ideas embarrass them and that's the worst thing for a hierarchical society such as Japan.

We set a poor example for our Japanese peers as well. Speak up in a meeting, question edicts from higher up, avoid nomikais, fail to suck up, leave work on time b/c you want to, um, actually get to know your children, use your vacation time, come up with innovative ideas that might challenge company dogma or hurt the fee fees of the come-over brigade, the list goes on and on.

Westerners and even the Koreans and Chinese I've worked with aren't as willing to subjugate their entire persona and ambition to mindlessly hai a buchou who's at times completely ignorant about his assigned domain (emphasis on the his, mind you). In the loathsome co. I worked at before returned to academia, my mgrs. were rotated into my department with no education or previous experience in the field. It's only natural that those of us who worked hard to earn a degree that prepared us for a specific calling and/or had broad experience find it hard to take orders from some arrogant blowhard learning on the fly. Japan has always been an outlier.

10 ( +10 / -0 )

“Bureaucracies force us to practice nonsense. And if you rehearse nonsense, you may one day find yourself the victim of it.” 

― Laurence Gonzales,

4 ( +4 / -0 )

While Japan is busy changing its thinking, there is one this country can do. Stop forced retirements.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I think its more the reputation Japan has for over work and suicide as a result of it, than the perception people have of Japan being a closed society, which it still is to a lesser extent than times past.

I have met a few travelers that worked in Japan. There overarching complaint was no work/life balance. It wasn't any perceived racism against them.

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Would like to know if your foreign travelers that worked in Japan were white or not. In my experience, whites [particularly Americas/Europeans] will experience little or no direct racism in a professional setting, and may even benefit from their foreigner status. Africans, African Americans, and Southeast Asians on the other hand? Quite a different story. I've seen how some Japanese treat say, Vietnamese employees in the workplace. It ain't pretty.

3 ( +4 / -1 )


Yes, exactly. I saw Chinese colleagues treated like garbage by people who had always treated me well. And Vietnamese were treated even worse. I’d say this fear is correct: many people are not willing to put aside their stereotypes of Chinese and other Asians long enough to work with them in a civil manner.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

I have worked with Japanese people both inside and outside Japan and never had a problem. In fact the best boss I have ever had was Japanese in Japan. Even in those days there were Korean, and Chinese staff, but we were all treated fairly and equally.

Interestly enough the only place where I have seen the most disgusting abuse of Chinese and Korean (and others) people was at Otamachi Immigration Office when they were extending their visas.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Absolute rubbish. Japan has absolutely no need to "change its thinking."

-3 ( +1 / -4 )

would rather work here than in China or S. Korea........

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Would like to know if your foreign travelers that worked in Japan were white or not.

Mostly white Europeans, not so much U.S and Aussies. plus a couple of South East Asian guys. The complaints were all much the same. I've heard the odd story of discrimination/racism, but its nearly always overwork

I think a lot of people go to Japan thinking they really want to experience Japanese culture, what is a world renowned culture AND work at the same time and unfortunately the work tends to takeover which leads to disappointment for some.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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