I wholeheartedly agree with the recommendations (particularly the final one) in this Q&A from Professor Hiromi Maenaka of Akita International University, head of Global Studies program, on how Japanese can become more globally competent – summarised by me in English below:
Q: Why are there not many “global jinzai” (globally competent Japanese) in Japan?
A: It’s not just about English ability. At most Japanese schools, teaching focuses on how to answer questions to which there is a clear answer. But if I ask students who have just arrived at university why that answer is correct, they simply say “because I was taught that it was correct.” In real life there are few correct answers. Particularly overseas.
Q: Japanese companies are beginning to realise there is a shortage of global jinzai?
A: As more companies venture overseas, the majority of their production and demand is outside Japan. Acquisitions of and joint ventures with foreign companies have also increased. It has become necessary to work with people who have different nationalities and cultural backgrounds. So Japanese companies have become in urgent and multiple need of global jinzai.
Q: What kind of education is Akita International University providing to develop global jinzai?
A: Our students live alongside foreign students and study abroad on a solo basis. Through this experience, they lose their resistance to thinking and acting for themselves, discussing opinions with other people and making presentations in front of large groups. These are outcomes which companies also value, but there are problems.
Q: What kind of problems?
A: According to HR managers of companies which hire our graduates, compared to universities in the big cities, they seem “hot housed” and “disconnected from the real world”. Even if they are “global jinzai“, they cannot immediately make use of their abilities. I think companies might have to increase their provision of internships to counter this problem.
Q: Isn’t there an increase in opportunities to become “global jinzai” because of collaborations with foreign companies?
A: You have to debate with foreigners if you work with them. The problem for most is that most Japanese people have become used to a way of working whereby you don’t have to put your thoughts into words and feel comfortable in a world where you can communicate through ishin denshin (telepathy).
Q: How should we change?
A: You have to practice being able to say clearly what you think. Americans expect people to say clearly what they are thinking. Even if it is negative. Sometimes you even have to be prepared to have an argument.
Q: This might be bewildering for some people?
A: You have to try to find some common ground. Human emotions and the need to put yourself in someone else’s shoes are the same the world over. Also, the top executives of the company need to make the objective clear. Then employees will have this objective in common and can move forward together. Then both foreigners and Japanese can understand each other and collaborate.
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