Saturday, January 29, 2011

The bizarre backwardness of Japanese job market.

The fact that Japan is an island nation has led to the preservation of many unique customs. Some of them (e.g. Kabuki and Bunraku) are cultural gems. Others are simply outrageous and should be abandoned in the modern era asap. However, saying good bye to old customs is sometimes hard to do, especially when it concerns a value system tightly woven into society.

The manner in which Japanese companies recruit workers is bizarrely backward. Not only is it stifling the economy, but also, which is more serious, it is crushing the spirits of the young. Japanese companies, especially those big ones whose stocks are traded in the Tokyo stock exchange, impose age and college graduation year restrictions on the applicants. Typically, they state that the applicants should be less than a certain age. At the same time, the companies often allow only the fresh graduates (or, to be more precise, those students who expect to graduate from college at a definite period in the near future) to apply to their supposedly lucrative jobs.

The bizarre system (which is totally without any economic merits, although some old guards do claim there are some advantages) means that you need to follow a tightly scheduled lifeline. Once you step out of the line, then there's no question of getting a "proper job" at a "respectable company". The establishments are failing to see how this restriction of personal freedom is suffocating the Japanese youngsters, an intellectual and moral failure totally unjustified in the contemporary world.

The immediate victims of the Japanese system are those with atypical cv. Going around the globe, in the style of the "gap year" so widespread in U.K. and elsewhere, is totally out of the question. The jealous guards of the Japanese system, in the form of questioners at job interviews, typically demand explanations for any "holes" in the applicant's cv. A "hole", in the strangely medieval mindset of Japanese corporate culture, means any period of time you have spent away from institutions and organizations as a free individual. By this definition, Prince William of Wales, who took a gap year in South America, would not qualify for a position in a Japanese company.

Naturally, youngsters make some noise, but it falls on deaf ears. The plain fact that the present system constitutes a serious violation of basic human rights seems to have escaped the attention of powers that be so far. In cognitive neuroscience, we do study a phenomenon called "inattentional blindness", but the inaction of Japanese companies possibly qualifies for an "oddball".

(This theme to be continued)

10 comments:

Pupa said...

I quite agree with you on this problem and hope to change social feeling for age.

I have heard enough of the story that we are plunged into aging society first in the world.
But Japan is a serious backward country on breaking the barrier of age.
A world power of age discrimination.

Comrades, do something about it !

赤司ジョン said...

It was a long time dream to someday possibly work in Japan, unfortunately these ridiculous standards that make no sense economically are just road signs for me saying "look somewhere else" I'm sure you read the recent New York Times article about this. It's unfortunate that I will abandon a dream not because I failed, but because my dream failed.

Chkala said...

English-Japanese Translation of 赤司ジョン's comment:

いつの日か、どうにかして、日本で働くということが、長い間の夢でした。

しかし残念なことに、これらの馬鹿げた、経済的にナンセンスな慣習は、私にとって『他を当たれ』という道路標識に他なりませんでした。

あなたはきっと、最近この記事をニューヨーク・タイムズで読んだのでしょう。

自分の過失ではなく、ただ夢を諦めなければならないというのは、遺憾にたえがたいことです。

Anonymous said...

Good post, which I hope gets attention in Japanese political and business circles. In the U.S., it's illegal to discriminate on the basis of age, gender, race, national origin, and increasingly, sexual preference. I'm an American who's lived and worked in Japan for 15 years, yet never could understand how such discriminatory practices, also arguably contrary to the U.N. Universal Declaration on Human Rights, could be permitted to continue. As you point out, it's also economically irrational for the hiring cpamies and I'd add as well, psychologically harmful for students and other job-seekers (of any age, gender, etc.) who should be treated together on a basis of equality and objectivity per their qualifications when interviewing and researching positions of employment.

remainsofnaniwa said...

It was in the mid 80's when I took the nyusha-shiken -exam for entering company- for only once. It was a ridiculous procedure and I decided not to take any more. Since then, I have been working mostly at the extreme margin of Japanese system (honryu). But I am happy in my present job at a tiny office and have two kids. Life is more than OK for me. Better not join the honryu and find a way somewhere else, if you find yourself alien there.

Pupa said...

(about political remark)

I have come to love Mr.Ozawa by the echoes of your twitter.
Please, don't make fool of our boss , too.
Let's dispute the specific policy evaluation.

Foo-min said...

Do you think it's only about Japan?
In Australia, where I currently live, of course discrimination is criticized on the surface, but especially when it comes to getting a job, many companies prefer to employ straight (homophobia is still strong in Australian society), fit, white-Australian, and in retail industry pretty much every shops employ young adults only.
I sort of see a point in it but it's far from being fair.

That's why I think many people stopped mentioning d.o.b. and nationality on their resume.
Well, I guess it's at least something we can do in Japan.
Just a food for thought, maybe?

Yomogi said...

I am currently studying in the U.S.A. and used to work in Japan.

In Japan, recruiting process is too tightly restricted. There is a Japanese girl studying for an undergraduate degree at my university. She is looking for a job at Japanese companies, but she said that respectable companies refused her by seeing her resume. She is two years older than those who are walking on a main road without any gaps. She also changed her colleges. These small things make it difficult for her to get a chance to have an interview with famous companies. It’s ridiculous.

nekochama said...

Yes, and the practice of rejecting job applicants who took a gap year and traveled or perhaps cared for an elderly relative, or even someone who has had psychological counseling, means that mainstream corporate Japan loses the benefit of those perspectives.

Charles Martineau said...

Good post Mogi-san!
I just came back from my second trip to Japan (where I met your friend Garr Reynolds - he was my professor in KG almost 4yrs ago) and I was thinking to go work to Japan and yes, it does not sound easy! Can you talk about the PhD application process in Japan? Do Universities view PhD applicants the same Japanese companies view future employee's application? I just finished my Masters and I would love to do a PhD in Japan if this is possible.
Thanks!