Prof Noboru Sato, of Nagoya University and formerly of Honda Motors and Samsung gave the following 6 reasons (article in Japanese) that Japan is behind, not only in the globalization of business, but in terms of global cultural influence – in the arts and sports and also the strength of “Brand Japan”. Many will come as no surprise to Japan watchers:
Fewer Japanese students are studying abroad and Japanese universities are slow in increasing the number of foreign academics they hire. As Sato acknowledges, Japanese universities need to make their academic staffing more meritocratic if they want to attract the best in the world.
2. Young Japanese not working abroad
Sato points to how Japanese companies have not been proactive in hiring “returnees” – Japanese graduates who have spent part of their education overseas. However, and I would concur, he acknowledges this has changed recently, and many companies have been taking steps to hire foreign employees and returnees in Japan. But, as Sato points out, Japanese companies do not make any distinction in terms of pay or promotion prospects for people who have Masters degrees. This makes them an unattractive prospect for returnees and foreign graduates.
3. Uncompetitive education
Although Japan has very high literacy and numeracy rates, its educational spending as a proportion of GDP is one of the lowest in the world. In other words parents in Japan are footing the bill. Computer literacy is lower than most developed countries.
4. Industry’s lack of global competitiveness
All the famous names in electronics have been suffering recently – however Sato sees some grounds for optimism that they may regain their strength.
5. The penetration of Japanese food culture
Sato gives the first 4 reasons a fairly cursory explanation but really goes to town on this one – he’s clearly had one too many bad “Japanese” meals abroad. In Sato’s view, the “fake” Japanese restaurants, run by non-Japanese, in Europe, North America and South Korea, are ruining the Japan brand, as are the recent scandals in Japan’s own restaurants and department stores, where lower grade foods were passed off as higher grade, or wrongly stated to be from specific regions.
Japan ranks #33 in the world for tourist numbers, and South Korea, with half the population of Japan, ranks 23rd. Japan should be attracting more tourists given the richness of its culture and food.
Sato concludes that much of this could be solved if there was more sense of a need for competitiveness, from primary education onwards, in Japan. There needs to be more external stimulus and awareness of the need to be competitive relative to other countries. He does not give any concrete proposals on how this is to be achieved, however. In a sense Japan has got itself in a virtuous (or vicious) circle, in that it has become one of the nicest places to live in the world, so why would Japanese people feel any sense of urgency to compete with or live in other countries, which seem more dangerous and insecure – and as for the food…
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