Japanese firms adopt a global appearance

With overseas markets increasingly seen as the key to their survival, Japanese companies are adopting a more “international” look at home involving changes that would have been unheard of years ago.

[A few] long-held practices in hiring have been scrapped, as have [some] limits on positions available to non-Japanese at the companies’ head offices in Tokyo and other Japanese cities.

Currently, nearly 140,000 foreign nationals work at businesses in Japan.

According to a labor ministry-commissioned survey conducted by the Fujitsu Research Institute on about 800 companies from September through October last year, nearly 40 percent of those companies have hired foreigners with high-level knowledge and skills, including engineers, in recent years.

But 58 companies have suspended their employment of foreigners, showing that language barrier and corporate culture clashes remain a potential problem.

In a country where company loyalty remains relatively strong, 25 percent of those companies said they stopped hiring foreigners because previous hires had left for other companies offering better working conditions.

In addition, 20 percent said they lacked supervisors who could work effectively with the foreign employees.

But the trend has been to expand hiring of non-Japanese as the domestic market shrinks and the declining birthrate is expected to lead to a huge shortage in demand in future years.

Meanwhile, Internet shopping site operator Rakuten Inc. regards 2010 as the year to develop into a truly global company.

In February, Rakuten began distributing papers written in English instead of Japanese at its Monday morning executive meetings, a policy that soon covered meetings attended by all employees.

And in March, the dozens of participants at the executive meetings were required to speak in English.

Rakuten assigns graduates of overseas universities to technological divisions in which they are required to improve their Japanese-language skills and learn in-house culture.

Those non-Japanese are expected to eventually play key roles in Rakuten’s offices overseas.