Japanese company switches to English

Aug. 7, 2012 at 9:09 AM
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TOKYO, Aug. 7 (UPI) -- Billionaire Hiroshi Mikitani's decision that his company, Rakuten Inc., works in English provides a test case for corporate Japan's survival, observers say.

When deciding that his employees should work almost entirely in English, Mikitani said it was an attempt to counter Japan's shrinking population that threatens its place on the global economic stage, The Washington Post reported Tuesday.

"Japanese people think it's so difficult to speak English," Mikitani said. "But we need to break the shell."

The change, announced in 2010, took effect last month at Mikitani's e-commerce company, an Amazon competitor.

The country's attachment to its business customs and anxiety over English made it a powerhouse during its economic boom but now make Japan a poor match for global business, experts told the Post.

Rakuten's emphasis on English "sparked a huge debate among companies that are trying to globalize," Accenture executive Chikatomo Hodo said in Nikkei Business magazine's December 2011 edition. "Many say, 'We want to do it, too, but it would be detrimental to the company's organization and management'" because English-averse senior management.

Because of its policy, Rakuten now attracts talent from around the world -- one-in-three hires is non-Japanese, the Post reported. Mikitani says employees at the company headquarters in Tokyo communicate better with overseas subsidiaries.

The company also plans to expand its operations to 27 countries within a "few years," Mikitani said, up from the current 13, and increase overseas business from the current 10 percent of sales to 70 percent.

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