The company behind fashion brand Uniqlo, Fast Retailing Co., is making English the “official language” among its management and head office staff from March 2012. The company is also putting an emphasis on those with foreign experience among it’s new recruits.
Fast Retailing joins other Japanese heavyweights that have made a similar move including Rakuten, Nissan and Lawson. Increasingly, moves like this are seen by Japanese companies as a way to create a more global mindset amongst their workforce at a time when the Japanese market is beginning a decline and new opportunities are arising outside of their homeland.
Fast Retailing has been expanding its operations overseas and sees English as essential in mainiting co-ordination and communication between it’s departments. Much of the company’s marketing is also conducted visually so that its promotions, included this cool Twitter visualization, can travel easily. By March 2012, employees at the Uniqlo head office will need to meet a TOEIC score of 700 or more. Those working in the 136 Uniqlo stores outside of Japan will also be pushed into conducting themselves in English at the same level. Uniqlo has recently opened new flagship stores in Shanghai and Moscow
More English in the Japanese workplace
Japan’s leading online retailer and e-commerce platform Rakuten has just consolidated a round of globalization which includes the purchase of Californian-based Buy.com Inc for $250 million, France’s PriceMinister for €200 million and a major alliance with China’s largest search engine Baidu. TechCrunch called Rakuten the biggest E-commerce site you never heard of – for the benefit of its American audience – pointing out that Rakuten boasts 64 million registered members and $3.2 billion in annual sales. Almost all of those users are based in Japan, however, and as other tech companies have found, focusing too much on their home market leaves them vunerable to the changing trends happening globally.
To avoid that fate, Rakuten is also enforcing English in its workplace for all meetings, documents and communications. Those who cannot speak a high level of English within 3 years will face the axe. The move by Rakuten to internationlize follows other cross-border partnerships including one between Yahoo! Japan and China’s number 1 e-commerce site, Taobao. That move allows those selling on Yahoo! Japan and Taobao to sell products to buyers in each other’s markets. ChinaMall is now active in Yahoo! Japan shopping.
What do you think? Will English in Japanese companies be a success or just lead to more confusion and a loss of Japan’s uniqueness in the global market?