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The Englishisation of corporate Japan – an opportunity for English-speaking educational institutions?

13 April 2012

English is fast becoming a vital skill for workers in Japan and those with an international education have a clear advantage.

Englishisation is not a word you will find in an English dictionary; it is a term coined by Hiroshi Mikitani, internet entrepreneur and CEO of Rakuten Inc, Japan's largest e-commerce site. He announced in 2010 that English would become the language for all meetings, documents and company communications by 2012. The plan is for Rakuten to become a household name in the next 10 years and Mikitani believes the path to that goal is to adopt the global language of business: English.

Rakuten is not alone in implementing the use of English company-wide; among others, car manufacturer, Nissan; Fast Retailing Co, the business behind fashion brand Uniqlo; and retailer, Lawson are also introducing English as their lingua-franca over the next year or two.

Strangely, the growing trend of speaking English in the business environment seems at odds with the apparent decrease in the number of Japanese students travelling overseas to study in English-speaking countries. According to statistics from the Japanese Ministry of Education and Science, the trend of students heading abroad has been declining since 2007. This new shift in business focus may well halt that decline and represent a clear opportunity for universities in English-speaking nations.

Those who do venture overseas to obtain a university degree clearly have the upper hand in the job market when they return home. The English language skills obtained by studying in a Western culture and learning English among native speakers gives new graduates the edge when climbing the ranks of Japanese global corporations.

This view is backed up by leading international recruiter, Michael Page, which claims in its 2012 Japan Salary Survey report: “The shortage of English speaking professionals continues to be the most significant challenge facing multinational companies in Japan. The best bilingual candidates often have multiple job offers to consider, which makes it a competitive market for employers looking to attract and retain top performers.”

With over 70% of Japan’s GDP coming from the service sector the need for English is more important than ever. Manufactured goods speak for themselves with their quality; however, companies operating in the global service sector simply must communicate in English.

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