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)