English Speaking Japanese Companies

June 30th, 2010By Category: Starting a Business

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.

Photo Courtesy of Mark / Flikr

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?

Author of this article


GaijinPot is an online community for foreigners living in Japan, providing information on everything you need to know about enjoying life here, from finding a job and accommodation to having fun.

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  • Paul Martin says:

    Japanese are opportunists they flow with whicheverway the wind blows which is human nature of course…they are NOT interested in english because they like gaijins as a superiority mentality has always existed in Japan. Truth is if chinese or russian,etc was the predominant international bu$iness language the japanese would scramble ernestly to learn that too!

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  • I’m speaking Japanese. If they’d get their heads out of their asses and
    realize that anyone CAN learn Japanese and calm down enough to actually
    listen to the person then everything would be better. Hell, I’d even
    have either my boyfriend or another friend with me,

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  • Jenny says:

    I've been here for two years myself and yet to find anyone who either spoke Japanese to me or ran and found someone who could speak English. It seems like they freak out when they see a white face and automatically assume I'm speaking English when the reality is I'm speaking Japanese. If they'd get their heads out of their asses and realize that anyone CAN learn Japanese and calm down enough to actually listen to the person then everything would be better. Hell, I'd even have either my boyfriend or another friend with me, and I'd be speaking Japanese, and the person would respond back to the bf or friend. O.o At least being here I can work on reading, writing, and listening. The speaking part will have to either come later when the other three are fairly mastered, or do it anyway regardless of what the other person is doing.

  • Mono_locco says:

    Jenny what drugs are u on lol….what's the point of learning Japanese….so you can live in Japan thats why. Do you really think just because companies make their employees learn English suddenly all of Japan will turn to English lol…
    Anyways with that said the English system in Japan = FAIL so even if they get taught English at their work places it will suck anyways. I have been an English teacher here for more than 3 yrs and I want to face palm myself every time I have to teach from these terrible books they have at schools….

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  • noname says:

    Really? Amazing how I keep running into the 5% that ALWAYS want to speak English to me even when I start off in Japanese. It's gotten so bad that I either ignore all English, or just reply in Japanese. You're right, this is Japan, speak Japanese and keep your English at work!

  • anon says:

    You`re right Jenny. If a few companies make their employees speak English then there is no reason whatsoever for us to learn to speak Japanese anymore. None at all… Can`t think of any… How exactly would that be useful, huh?

    It`s not like the other 95% of the population will only speak Japanese, right? This is Japan after all!

  • Michael says:

    Fagman so how are the courses half-arsed?

  • Masao Hayashi says:

    This is going to be interesting.

  • Its not about you says:

    I have a feeling that they aren't doing this for YOU, they are doing it for their own interests. Japanese companies want to go global and expand, in doing so they must learn to use English. They can't train the rest of the world in Japanese.

  • duceduc™ says:

    This will be a great opportunity for Japanese to brush up on their English they have taken for 6 years when they were a student.

  • FAGMAN says:

    Japanese companies do this from time to time. It will last 2 years and the company will pull the plug. I work for two companies that are doing this. It is nothing special in tokyo. We all know that the training companies that will run the courses will be so half arsed (not from the teachers end) and the students won't progress enough.

  • Johnhibbs73 says:

    We should think ourselves lucky??

  • Eggysimpson says:

    “Then what is the point of us native English speakers even bothering with learning Japanese”…
    Ummm, to be able to communicate in foreign country? I don't think this will mean the phasing out of Japanese in Japan… not will it mean that ALL Japanese jobs will utilise English only…

  • duceduc™ says:

    It is about time they realize English is the primary language worldwide.

  • Jenny says:

    Then what is the point of us native English speakers even bothering with learning Japanese, and taking the JLPT N2 or N1 when everyone is just going to be speaking English? That's the whole reason why I'm taking the test so I CAN be hired by a Japanese company!!