This article first appeared in a truncated version at on the Komaba Times Website, the blog for the Journalistic Writing class at the University of Tokyo

Anyone living in Japan can tell you that the words internationalization (国際化›) or globalization (グロバール化) are popular catchphrases now. Schools, companies and wider society are all caught up in this great wave called “Go Global”.

As a foreign student in Japan though, I can’t help but wonder – for a term that has gained such traction, no one has actually defined what  “internationalization” means. At first glance, it may seem like there are many credible attempts at increasing the international input in Japan but the inside story is far more mixed.

In essence, does my presence make my university make it a global institution? Does a good TOEFL score make someone a more global person? Do companies with many foreign employees automatically become global enterprises?

The Background


Right Outside the United Nations University in Tokyo

Let’s start at the background first. The current wave of  internationalization started a few years ago and has been first and foremost driven by economic reasons.

While Japanese car makers have still been doing relatively well, electronics makers have been doing very poorly. Sharp, Sony, Panasonic and Fujitsu have all been facing losses in recent years. The problem is even clearer when contrasted to the successes of Apple, Google and other silicon valley enterprises in the US and Samsung in Korea. After all, while Japanese phones used to be considered as the best – now the the best selling phone in Japan is the iPhone.

Other economic reasons include increasing moves towards free trade (like for example the Trans-Pacific Partnership) which Japan is negotiating about. In addition, a shrinking population has increased the need to increase overseas business for many Japanese firms.

Outside economics, Prime Minister Abe has also stated that it is his aim to put at least 10 Japanese universities in the global top 100 rankings by the end of the decade. The lack of international faculty and a sizable international student body hampers this. The Tokyo 2020 Olympics are also another reason for the sense of urgency in internationalization.

So What’s Being Done?


Mikitani Hiroshi, CEO of Rakuten

Japan as a country has realized (belatedly) that a long reliance on a large domestic market, the homogeneity in the workforce and poor language skills have been reasons for stagnation and poor competitiveness. It is because of this that many Japanese firms are increasing their attempts at hiring non-Japanese employees.

Some parts of the business world have also been expanding their operations overseas – and I don’t mean just shifting manufacturing to where it is cheaper. Rakuten’s buying of Viber, Softbank acquiring Sprint Corporation and LIXIL acquiring multiple overseas companies are all examples for a recent trend where Japanese companies purchase foreign ones.

Rakuten in particular deserves special attention because they have made their company language English. As Japan Times reported, even internal meetings are to be held in English. Both praise and criticism have been directed at it though – Honda’s (yes the car maker’s) president once called the plan “stupid”.

Universities have also come under pressure to develop  global leaders and “internationally capable manpower”. Many have for example, made taking the TOEFL (an English proficiency tests) compulsory for all enrolled students – even to the extent that my American friend studying in Nagoya had to take it.

Some universities have also implemented degree programs in English to increase the international study body. The Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) has also been supporting these programs with their Global 30 program.

Similarly, there have been increasing attempts to increase the number of Japanese students going abroad for their studies – which is at the moment far fewer than the number that South Korea and China send. Including for example, this video produced by AKB48 in conjunction with the MEXT to encourage people to go overseas to study. (My school makes an appearance too!)

In addition, MEXT also announced that they would be revamping the much criticized English education system in Japan – because if you can’t communicate with the world, you can’t possibly internationalize. Proposed measures include reforming the English syllabus, lowering the age at which students start having English classes and even implementing the TOEFL as a component of university entrance examinations.

But Is It Enough?


Photo by JD

But first my own definition. As I said before, while everybody is talking about “globalization” and “internationalization”, no one has actually defined it properly. By “internationalization” here I mean gaining the ability to operate – and compete – on an international stage. It also means being actively engaged in the world, and accepting of the wider world as opposed to looking inwards. Regardless of the actual definition of what internationalization is etc., it’s often more clear what it is not.

Back to the question. The efforts above are pointing in the correct direction and I don’t mean to say otherwise. Increasing the numbers of foreigners in Japanese companies and schools is certainly important because without foreigners there can be no foreign input.

However, a lot more needs to be done and there are deeper issues that have to be resolved. Consider Japan’s immigration system for example. Japan remains one of the hardest countries around to gain permanent citizenship for without marriage to a Japanese person. One acquaintance of mine has been living in Japan for more than 10 years and did his professorship in a Japanese university. He was denied permanent residency last year.

Many companies may also be open to hiring foreigners but utilizing them after they enter the company is an entirely different question. After all, the one thing that I keep hearing from other foreigners working in Japan is that they are treated “like Japanese who just speak another language”.

This may sound good but it is not. For one, this means that many Japanese companies expect compliance to Japanese hierarchy and unquestioning top-down company culture even towards their foreign employees. And if you can’t question and voice your opinions, what internationalization can there be?

What About Schools Then?


Photo by Taiyo FUJII

Cherry Blossoms at the International Christian University in Tokyo

Schools (I am more familiar with this subject) present an entirely different set of problems. For one, there are some schools which offer “English courses” – taught by Japanese professors with an inadequate command of English. Being able to read and write papers in English does not automatically qualify someone to teach in it.

Furthermore, foreign student integration is an issue. Now, this does not apply to all schools – some are quite successful in integrating the foreign and local student bodies. Furthermore, if the student is studying in Japanese this isn’t that big a problem.

However, it is not uncommon for foreign students to be living in entirely separate dormitories from Japanese students. The classes that foreign students take may be entirely closed to Japanese students. Alternatively, even if they are open to enrollment by Japanese students, the fact that they are in English puts off most Japanese students such that only a small, select bunch participate in them.

What this leads to is foreign students living in a virtually separate world from their Japanese classmates. This does not just tend to socially isolate foreign students and alienate them, but this also adds zilch to the “internationalization” of the education of Japanese students.

There Is A Lot More To Be Done


Photo by i nao

Narita Airport

This topic is far more complex than can be summarized in a single article and there are many factors mixed and scrambled around here. For example, there are problems in the systems (eg. the permanent residency system and school class systems), the numbers of foreigners (even Tokyo has only 3% foreign population) and deeper cultural problems (eg. Japanese company culture).

It seems to me that Japanese attempts to internationalize by bringing in more foreigners, enforcing standards of English etc. are simply fulfilling the prerequisites of internationalization. This does not necessarily mean internationalization itself. Because yes, without foreigners, there can be no foreign input. And without a degree of English, global communication is often difficult.

But there are deeper problems such as homogeneity which need to be addressed too. To me at least, how global Japan will become will largely rest on efforts to tackle the deeper problems and not just those on the surface.

Bonus Wallpapers!

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  • Austin fanboy

    Yet another wonderful post by my favourite FuguWriter. What can I say? I agree with your take on Japan’s real issues. They are not providing solutions. They are merely putting patches. And it will be eventually obvious that they are not helpful in the long term.

  • Robert

    Great read! This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot recently. I really hope Japan can catch up.

  • Chris Taran

    As someone that would love to move to Japan I find their qualifications for getting into the country absurd.

    As much as I want to live in Japan it simply can never happen because I lack a piece of paper marked “bachelor’s degree.”

    It doesn’t matter that I’m a skilled graphic/web designer or how talented I am, or how much I would love to contribute to their society – simply because I chose not to go the 4 year university route means I am forever forbidden from living in the country I love.

    This is incredibly depressing to me.

  • Robert Benesh

    This is a really interesting article, and I couldn’t agree more. There are so many empty gestures that appear to be bringing about internationalization. Japan needs to become a society that is approachable and accepting of foreigners. An international country should give foreigners the opportunity to function on as close to an equal level as nationals as possible. Japan has a long way to go on that front.

  • Michael Berlet

    Yeah, that 学歴社会 fixation is a real pain. Speak to any Japanese person of status, and their formal education will always, ALWAYS come up in some capacity. Ben Franklin wouldn’t make much headway there. Hopefully entry qualifications will change at some point.

    In any case, I hope you find your way in, somehow.

  • Neo

    I completly agree. Even more, if you compare it with other places, it is even more shocking. In one of my classes more than the 75 per cent was foreigner (the subject of immigration policies was quite akward).
    I believe that schools should make an effort in order to teach students a second or third language. For example, English is my third language. I may not be perfect, but I can read stuff too difficult for some native speakers and people can more or less understand me when I write. Languages are an essential tool in order to become competent.

  • Austin

    They technically already do – English is a compulsory subject from middle school onwards (this may be too late depending on your opinion). However, the issue is that the way its taught (too translation-based, poor phonetics teaching) has lead to English being one of the most hated subjects by school students and poor English skills in the end.

    This is the reason why the government is now trying to make reforms (finally) about the English education but as like most reforms in Japan, whether they will have a substantial effect needs to be seen.

  • Austin

    Thanks for the article and I agree with you too!

  • Austin

    Thanks for the comment. However then again I’m also sure that many other countries do take into account “formal education” when it comes to immigrating so I don’t think Japan is that unique in that sense.

    I should add that web design isn’t very highly regarded in Japan from what I know though.

  • Brin

    “What this leads to is foreign students living in a virtually separate
    world from their Japanese classmates. This does not just tend to
    socially isolate foreign students and alienate them, but this also adds
    zilch to the “internationalization” of the education of Japanese

    Yes, yes, and yes. I studied abroad in Japan and the school still went by American calendars…so while there were a couple Japanese students in my classes, they were mainly getting ready to study abroad, and I wasn’t able to take classes for Japanese students. They didn’t even start until two months after our semester. It was really hard to make Japanese friends – even joining a club was difficult with the schedules so far off.

  • Fogetti

    While I had a really hard time to land a job in Japan (which means years of struggling), and I also encountered the obstacles that is being raised on the way getting a Japanese resident status, I can also clearly see that multiculturalism has much more drawbacks then being a culturally homogeneous and closed society. People of different cultural background tend to live beside each other, not together as many people think.

    In other words there are always losers and winners in these situations, and the aliens, the newcomers tend to be the former not the latter. Also, don’t we forget that people with the same cultural background in a foreign/strange environment tend to build their own closed neighbourhoods where they can live comfortably and they feel safe. E.g. they start their own créche, kindergarten, schools, shrines and temples where they can speak their own language. And this is a fact. Take the EU. The borders are essentially virtual and you can’t even decide which country are you in. But even so you will find Polish, Chinese etc districts in every major cities. While this might seem appealing at first sight, what people don’t see (or they just don’t want to acknowledge it) that these are the symptoms that many people are failing to conform to the widely accepted norms in those countries. In extreme cases, this co-existence fails so-miserably that the reigning power takes immediate counter-measures to send these people home (e.g. the Hungarian gypsies in Canada or the Romanian gypsies in France.)

    Is this the Japan that we want to see? I doubt it.

    The point what I want to make is that maybe Japan should focus much more on advertising their cultural heritage and their wonderful language in the world rather than trying to bend a whole nation against their wishes. As Noam Chomsky put it so well in his recent interview “the behavior should be changed — not the ideals”. Which means in this case, that staying cultural homogeneous is a rarity in our world and Japan should take pride in it. The foreigners’ behaviour should be changed here instead, I think.

  • Austin fanboy

    Well, that is not surprising seeing how poor (from a Western point of view) Japanese web design is.

  • Austin fanboy

    As Austin said, in the current state of affairs, foreigners behaviour is being changed to fit Japanese corporate culture. And guess what? It is not helping Japan. Time to change tactics me thinks.

  • Neo

    Yeah, I knew it was a compulsary language, but I had the impresion it was tought the same way Latin is tought, as a dead language. I am glad they are going to change the way they teach it. I think that in general all around the world schools take a bad approach to teach languages. They try to teach it as a subject instead than as a skill. That is my personal opinion, so I might be wrong.

  • Magdalena

    Great article and of important topic.

    Indeed, that’s a complex issue and there surely is much about Japanese laws and civil culture that could be done: to make foreigners feel more welcome in the country – and the country feel more comfortable in the world.

    On the other hand, though, I would be careful with statements such as “[Internationalization] also means being actively engaged in the world, and accepting of the wider world as opposed to looking inwards.” I wouldn’t put these two in opposition. When everyone is looking at everyone else, all originality is lost.

    Japan truly has a lot to offer to the world – its culture and tradition, it’s ideals, the commitment and responsibility, the many aspects of beauty, the thoroughness, the technology, the amazing nature, etc. etc. – and all these are the reason why so many foreigners are so fascinated about and fall in love with the country in spite of its weaknesses. It is extremely important to keep that in sight.

    Ideally, as it is with individuals capable of self-reflection (an idea cultivated in buddhism btw), Japan would look deep into herself with appreciation and at the same time reach out to the world to join the fun in he the global playground. I honestly hope that will soon happen.

  • SomeGuy

    This is the same kind of rhetoric that white spremesists use when they talk about immigrants in the United States. It’s all nonsense.

    Of course, a multicultural society has challenges. But so does a culturally homogenous one, as this article explains.

  • starduest

    ‘Many companies may also be open to hiring foreigners but utilizing them after they enter the company is an entirely different question. After all, the one thing that I keep hearing from other foreigners working in Japan is that they are treated “like Japanese who just speak another language”.’

    While Japanese corporations will benefit from being more open to ideas and opinions from those lower down in the hierarchy, it seems like an undue sense of entitlement for foreigners working in Japan to expect special treatment. Depending on the individual, merely being foreign doesn’t equate to being more capable or having better ideas.

    Hard approaches, such as the “I am a foreigner and THIS is how it’s done outside of Japan” attitude, will not work in effecting change – not in Japan nor anywhere else. Japan may not have the luxury of time to become more internationalised, but change will not come quickly. Internationalisation as a buzzword has been around for a decades – the JET Programme, for example, which was set up with this as one of its aims is in its 27th year, with debatable results to show for it.

  • Joanna Uy

    I really found this article very interesting! I am a student in a global studies and world languages academy back here in the US and I’ve always wondered what is the purpose of globalization? My teachers have explained the importance of global education and how globalization plays a role in our education, but I never got that full definition and meaning of it. We recently had to turn in a research paper with any topic about the world and my paper is actually about the existence of global education. Does global education truly exist or is it just something that is being popularized? (like you said in the beginning, the words internationalization and globalization are catchphrases used a lot nowadays). What is the difference between internationalization and globalization? These are some questions I looked into because many of my exchange student friends seem to enjoy the concept of learning where there is more discussion rather than route learning. My friend from Japan said that the school curriculum here in the states is easy, but its more engaging. I wonder if Japanese schools had this more engaging factor, maybe they could find that true meaning and purpose of globalization/internationalization.
    Thank you so much! I really enjoyed reading this article. It kind of reflects what I have been feeling these past few years after joining our global studies academy.


    In regards to English teaching, they should look to South Korea and avoid almost every aspect of their system. South Koreans all have to take English classes starting at the Grade Three level through High School. Their English Standardized Test Scores are factored heavily into where they are accepted into University and therefore, life. All that being said, when you walk up to the typical South Korean under the age of 30, their English ability is low and they are ashamed (because of their low level) to use it. South Korea basically went through a similar overhaul, 20 years ago, to make itself a more global player, unfortunately, they failed to give legitimate reasons to its citizens, other than for University acceptance and now you have a people who go through 9 years of schooling (as well as afters schooling) and still cannot speak the language. They can however read and write at a fairly advanced level, as evidenced by their acceptance into Western Universities. So what should Japan do? Start with why and go from there.

  • Austin

    Thanks for the comment! Unfortunately I’ll have to disagree.

    What you’re talking about is the failure of social integration of foreigners into the EU. Fair enough. And what you’re describing here is actually present in a few towns with high foreigner populations (mainly Dekasegi Nikkei Brazilians and Peruvians).

    But firstly, can we really say that there are more drawbacks than advantages to this? Yes there are integration issues. However, taking the example of the Dekasegi, many companies hiring the foreigners say that they would be in trouble without them. And the dekasegi wouldn’t be there unless they could earn more than back home (exploitation issues aside).

    Secondly, it doesn’t mean that co-existence isn’t possible or that social isolation is universal in all cases. And I’m speaking about this from the perspective of a Singaporean here.

    Furthermore, what about the issue of skilled labor or foreign students? What you describe mainly involves unskilled labor. What about professors or businessmen who want to work in Japan? Should they be rejected because they break Japanese cultural homogeneity? As I said before, the current status quo has led to stagnation – it cannot hold.

    And while you may view cultural homogeneity as an ideal, don’t forget that it has big costs even among the Japanese. Discrimination towards Dowa (Burakumin) people and LGBT people, how women still have a very unequal status in society and general bullying all have their roots in “cultural homogeneity”.

  • Austin

    Hey thanks for raising the point. However, I’ve read statistics that Korean average TOEFL scores actually beat those of the Japanese (the point can be said that maybe the Koreans just study harder for it). Japan Times also recently published an article praising the Korean and Chinese English-education systems over the Japanese. Didn’t manage to read it because of the article limit though. But anyway, therefore I’m not sure if the Korean system should be entirely avoided.

  • Austin

    Thanks and I hope that it was food for thought for you!

  • Kwami

    As a teaching assistant at a fairly prestigious engineering school, I’ve worked with a lot of foreign students. The majority of them were Chinese, but we also had some from Korea, Japan, Burma, and Vietnam. By far, the Burmese were the best at English. The Chinese weren’t very good at all.

    If you want to do it right, look to Europe. They have excellent English skills.

  • Miamiron

    mobile compatibility takes a higher priority over graphical design I think.

    Why make a beautiful website when 90% of the traffic might be mobile based from bored students/salary men waiting on the train.

  • 甘い-han

    I didn’t move to Japan for the education, that’s laughable…an absolute joke. The most challenging thing about a Japanese University eduction is the process of entry. Apart from that, it’s all bubblegum and bjs. You know, easy stuff.

    Now, this article is following the misguided line of English learning, usage and teaching as some kind of miracle strategy for New Japan. Korea already swallowed that suicide pill, and China is going the same route.

    Hello! If the game was about English, then INDIA would be destroying the world.

    Japan does not need to learn anymore English. They should quit while they’re ahead. And, they are…the English language market has been on the downward spiral for the past decade now. Good move Japan.

    Japan simply needs to do what they’ve always done and reverse engineer everything, and make it better. Japan’s strengths are not in innovation or animation (apart from pornography). They do excel in tradition, contemplation, uniformity and in turn, quality control.

    They lack manpower and resources. English ain’t gonna change that!

    So stop it.

  • O’Doyle

    You obviously haven’t been to Scotland.

  • Austin

    That’s too simplistic. For one how is learning English a “suicide pill”? And how is the “English language market” on the “downward spiral”? I really can’t see where you’re coming from.

    Furthermore, if you’re giving the counter example of India, I can also give the examples of the Scandinavian countries. Isn’t the high proficiency in English key reasons why not just they are relatively successful but why you see so many Scandinavians working around the world?

    And as for “reverse engineering and improving things”. Yes, but other countries can do that now too. Japan cannot just rely on what it did during the high-growth period in the 1960s and 1970s and hope for a repeat of history.

  • Bryan

    Chris I know the feeling. i was in that exact same boat as you but I was so desperate to go to Japan, that I went back to university at the age of 35 to get my BA degree. I graduate at the end of the and then its of to Japan

  • Bryan

    Totally agree with you. The last thing you need in Japan is a situation like London or New York where you have a little Itally, China town, Cuba, Muslim quarter……..the list goes on and on. I believe if you want to live in Japan then you need to integrate yourself into mainstream Japanese society, contribute to Japanese society, learn to speak Japanese and become a fully fledged member of the local Japanese community you find yourself in. Otherwise whats the point you might as well stay home in your own country

  • Fogetti

    Thank you for your comment. As for rhetorics, yours also has a name. It is called demagogy. I gave some arguments (and these might be not the best, but still valid) but where is yours? And yes, there are challenges, that’s why we need discussion. I came from a continent where internationalization is a fact, not just a theory. And I clearly see it’s drawbacks as I pointed out before. So now, your turn to give your arguments.

  • Fogetti

    Thank you for the comment Austin. As for the integration I agree for some extent. But I see much more failures then success. What I want to say is that I SEE failures, while the supporters of the integration IMAGINE success. And this is a huge difference.

    And nope, I am not saying that the borders should be closed and all the foreigners should be banned from the country. I am just telling that Japan has a reason to do this so eagerly. To protect their culture.

    Let’s play with the thought of changing the word internationalization to globalization (which are covering the same concept anyway). Now everything (or at least lot of things) with a positive sign turns into negative. And I am not saying this off the top of my head. Just take a look how many protesters are popping up in any event of the G20.

    So what I want to say that there is no need to rush to do same things that every nation do. I agree that homogeneous society has it’s own problems, but this is again a warning that this could not be solved as easily as teaching more English and opening the borders.

  • Austin

    And thanks for responding to my comments too!

    The problem with the “imagine success” and “see failures” statement is that it’s just as possible to flip it around. Most people forget that immigrants often contribute a lot to the economy and simple social psychology says that it’s very easy to view the minorities in any group as negative – it just is too easy to catastrophize over minorities and immigrants. Take for example public polls in Western Europe which state very clearly that people think that around 3 or 4 times the number of immigrants exists over the actual number – isn’t it hard to say who is “imagining” and “seeing” things here?

    As for the protection of culture, yes it is true to a degree only because too much change in too short a time tends to cause shock. However, no culture is pure and neither is Japan’s. If it really was so pure and people wanted to “protect” it, no Japanese person should be wearing jeans or skirts. Culture is always in flux – when you say you are “protecting culture”, aren’t you also saying that you’d rather keep things static instead of letting them become a new form of Japanese culture?

    I’m not sure about “globalization” and “internationalization” though because the former doesn’t have a negative ring to it for me, and neither does it have a negative ring as a loanword in Japanese.

    And yes I agree that it’s not as easy as teaching English and opening the borders. But whether Japan can afford to *not* change is another question. I’m of the opinion that it must if it wants to avoid further stagnation, but on this point I think we can agree to disagree.

  • churapop

    Also the fact that Japanese teachers who can’t speak a lick of English themselves are the so-called ‘English teachers’, not using the actual ALTS that come in to be human voice recordings. I find this ridiculous.

  • Kristen

    Yeah, the earlier the better – kindergarten, maybe? – and exposure is really the best way to learn a language. Books, music, TV shows and movies!

  • Chris Taran

    I think I may be getting to that point myself Bryan. It’s nice to hear about someone else in a similar position. Thinking of looking into at least starting some night classes this year to get the ball rolling.

  • Chris Taran

    One of the core tenants of modern western web design is the responsive web. Sites designed to work on any device and still look great. The concepts of good design and mobile compatibility (as well as many other screens) are far from mutually exclusive.

  • Mike Newton

    Let’s not be too hasty to play the foreign privilege card here. First of all, it doesn’t have to be Japan for the hard-headed approach to fail. Imagine if you’re working in the USA and you say, “I’m from California and THIS is how we do things!” You’d probably get a similar reception as you would in Japan, no? (Though the Japanese would undoubtedly be more polite about it!)

    I think what he means here is companies talk a big game about becoming more international but in fact their words are just meaningless platitudes rarely backed up by action. Moreover, he didn’t say anything about foreigners having better ideas, just different ones. If Japan is serious about becoming more international then the quickest way to start down that road to begin with is to import the knowledge and experience they lack, which in this case comes from foreigners.

    For a good example of how this works, look at China (where I live and work). It’s easy to forget that China is still very much a developing economy. Like Japan, they’ve been sending their students abroad for decades to learn foreign best practices to be shared upon return home but they, also like Japan, have only had moderate success with this for a variety of reasons.

    The foreign way is not necessarily better than the Japanese (or Chinese) way, but it is different and if Japanese companies expect to be able to become more international then like it or not they’re going to need the assistance of foreign internationals in the short to mid-term.

  • Mike Newton

    While you have some points about the nature of human beings to gravitate towards similar social/ethnic/religious groups as part of an instinct to find safety in numbers and familiarity, what I take issue with is your opinion that this is by nature a zero sum game. Why do there have to be both winners and losers in the world of multiculturalism?

    I hasten to raise the United States as an example of what can happen when multiculturalism is embraced (though one could certainly argue it was frequently not by choice of many in its populace). Of course the country has its faults (racism is clearly still alive and well there), but each wave of immigrants has brought and continues to bring unique value to the country. You know how WhatsApp was just bought for $19b by Facebook? One of the co-founders is an immigrant. Oh, and you know that little company named Google co-founded by a fella named Sergey Brin? Also an immigrant. Can you conceive of the next Google coming out of Japan? I sure can’t. Is multiculturalism the answer? I have no way to prove that, but I think history shows that allowing for the free exchange of ideas across political and cultural boundaries is to the benefit of a society and an economy. I think it also shows that it doesn’t have to be a zero sum game.

    I’ll gladly admit that Japan should not simply give up doing things the Japanese way in favor of globalization. Japan still has an incredible amount to offer through its unique and bountiful cultural heritage. Let us not forget how Japanese automakers turned the world on its head with the concept of “kaizen” in the 1980s. Let us also not forget the strength of Japan’s soft power through its continuous export of music, television, and art. And I pray that we never forget the incredible precision, dedication, and craftsmanship that is the cornerstone of the Japanese tradition of excellence and quality across industry and art.

    Call me a dreamer, or an optimist, or someone who’s out of touch with reality, but I believe when two people embrace their differences, both of them can win.

  • Fogetti

    Yup, I can partly agree with your points. It was a mistake from me to make such a blunt statements about failure and success. They were not well defined and it was not a well established argument. I also agree that there is exaggeration when these problems arise, and this is largely due to the politicians involved in these affairs. Many times they make the problem to appear much bigger than it is.

    I am a programmer, so I can give the best arguments which are close programming. There is a publisher company called Manning who frequently publish excellent books about IT topics. Just take a look at the covers of some of their books. “OSGi in Action”, “Apache Wicket in Action”, “Struts 2 in Action”, etc. It’s stunning how diverse the culture was two centuries ago. And it’s all vanished by now. Mostly due to the internationalization (or globalization, call whatever you like). Let’s rephrase the words of the editors of this excellent series: “The pictures from the Ottoman collection, like the other illustrations that appear on our covers, bring to life the richness and variety of dress customs of two centuries ago. They recall the sense of isolation and distance of that period—and of every other historic period except our own hyperkinetic present. Dress codes have changed since then and the diversity by region, so rich at the time, has faded away. It is now often hard to tell the inhabitant of one continent from another. Perhaps, trying to view it optimistically, we have traded a cultural and visual diversity for a more varied personal life.”

    Can you see what’s the problem here? We are losing something beautiful and valuable during our lonely quest to make this earth to look the same in every corner. And what can we take out of this? Can we declare that we reached something? Did we? We are losing diversity during the pursuit of uniqueness. Kind of a contradiction, isn’t it! I would rather not exchange Japan’s uniqueness for an ill-defined, hardly proved benefit.

    And as for the stagnation. Why is that a problem? Who cares if something stagnates? Why should everything move, or grow? This is again the proof that people can’t seem to accept other alternatives than growing larger. Why aren’t we focusing on sustainable environments, culture and knowledge? Why don’t we focus on keeping our heritage and keeping our wealth instead of growing? Why don’t we focus on initiatives like permaculture instead of a growing GDP? Is that so hard? I don’t think so.

  • Fogetti

    Thank you for your comment. I agree, there should be neither winners nor losers. But that’s how it is now. You can’t really help that. At least not in the short run.

    But I don’t see how your examples prove the advantages of multiculturalism?! Let’s take Mr. Hiroshi Mikitani for example. He is Japanese and his company is based in Tokyo. He is running a multi billion dollar business. Did I prove something for you? I don’t think so. Did you prove something for me? I don’t think so.

    I have to admit that I am quite of old-fashioned in many topics. Yes, I am a conservative. But that’s only because I have strong values which are stemming in my family background. And these values dictate for me that I should be humble and learn instead of being arrogant and trying to change everything I encounter. I consider my coming years in Tokyo as an opportunity to embrace all the values I can find in my way. Just like the apprentices of a medieval guild.

    Anyway I like your idea. That’s how it should be. When two people embrace their differences, both of them should win.

  • 甘い-han

    Um, actually, yes, Japan can rely upon what it did during the 60s through Today. They need to play to their strengths, not their English language weakness.

    That is the central problem. So let me make it more clear.

    India was a reference to cheap English speaking labor. Japan has neither of these.

    Scandinavia? The population combined is 25 million souls. This is a joke right? Japan alone is 5x the size. India is 50x the size! Get real man. India should be, “King of the World,” if success was tantamount to English speaking per capita. Come on.

    The suicide pill is Korea’s misguided belief that speaking English will propel their nation from its current Second World status to a highly developed country, ie. First World.

    Wrong again.

    Language is not what does this however. Though language as the New Weapon, to infiltrate the outlying society and know thy enemy isn’t a poor tactic even if history does not support this, but damn, China is going to try!

    Brute force is on history’s side, forcing others to learn your language. Making your language the necessity is key.

    As for English being on the decline in Japan, just visit any number of foreign ESL job boards and you can read to your fill. Japan ain’t the leader when it comes to recruiting native speakers these days. It is not their priority thank goodness. That my friend, is beating a dead horse, a delicious dead horse.

    So, what does Japan have going for it in terms of globalizing the world? I will tell you.

    Quality Assurance.

    You are right that other countries are TRYING to catch-up to Japan. Living in Japan you must be aware by now that the Japanese are a very exacting people. Funnily enough, the language undermines this! In this regards, English make sense, ie. Rakuten.

    Did you know Rakuten’s company motto is “Get ‘er done!”?

    Anyways, the best thing Japan can do is protect it’s brand, and by brand I mean culture. Exporting culture is key, it always has been for this tiny island nation. The problem is that Japan is slowly realizing that exporting the culture does not require internal English speakers!

    Dammit all, that’s why YOU are there!!! Do something. Don’t be hammered into that cubit-sized box that the Japanese love to cram Gaijin into. Yeah man, there’s a way to do it, and it’s not ESL.

  • syrup16g

    Not true, if you can prove that you make at least 3 million yen in contracts a year (from within Japan) and have been a paid graphic/web designer for over 3 years you can legally apply for a self-employed visa. You can go as an artist as well if you have some legitimate reason to practice your craft in Japan, i.e. contracts, exhibitions, etc. You can also go under an investor/business management visa if you have 5 mil yen capital and a business plan that show show you will make 3 mil+ yen a year.

    You can get a BA from a no-name institution online for under $10k. That’s enough for Japanese immigration. $10k should be no problem for you if you think you have a chance at working legitimately in Japan.

    You are not “forever forbidden” from living in the country you love, which by the way, have you ever lived in before…? Even if you got the work visa, what are you going to do for money from within Japan? Can you negotiate web and graphic design contracts and jobs with clients who only speak Japanese? Why should they choose you over thousands of qualified Japanese people?

    What’s absurd about keeping society clean except for qualified professionals (on paper)? What’s absurd about restricting social services to people who can support the system themselves? If you don’t understand the importance of having all sorts of different paper certificates, you aren’t going to get very far in Japan. It’s easier to get a work visa for Japan than it is to get one in the US.

    Last resort if you want it so bad, get married to some homely snaggletooth Japanese girl who is obsessed with One Direction, mooch off her parent’s money until the end of time and continue your web work semi-legally within Japan. This is probably the easiest option. Good luck man.

  • Austin

    I’ll address stagnation first. Stagnation is defined as a lack of positive change – and thus if you are supporting stagnation you are supporting the status quo over a *move* to permaculture. Disagreeing with the current definition of “progress” is different from disagreeing with “progress” itself.

    And on to multiculturalism. The thing is that what you’re saying is just displaying lots of nostalgia for the past – but really, would Japan be more culturally rich if everyone was wearing the kimono?

    That’s a rather superficial way of looking at it. And what is to say that Japan will not form a different but similarly
    “unique” culture after globalization? Is shibuya-kei music or anime
    (products of globalisation) not as culturally rich as traditional
    Japanese music?

    Another thing – can you really say that people are the same throughout the whole of the world because of globalization at the moment? If you are defining “diversity” as just the shapes of the houses that people live in and the clothes that they wear then yes. But it is also through globalization and the internet that you have a lot of sub-cultures forming around the world with their own “uniqueness” too. Perhaps cultural diversity is no longer marked out by geographical lines – but I don’t see how you can say that overall diversity has *decreased* because of globalization.

  • Fogetti

    OK. As for the decrease that’s really easy to give you examples. Take the language for example. Now answer these simple questions first. Is a language considered to be the part of a nation’s culture? Is a language considered to be something which is worth protecting? Is a language permanent?

    If you answered all the three questions with yes, you will be surprised to learn that there are (and were and will be) languages which were on the verge of extinction. Take Gaeilge for example. English language made such an impact on this fellow language that it almost killed it. Is that the decrease that you were looking for? Isn’t that worth making countermeasures in such a case? Or even better isn’t that worth making precautionary measures?

    Or let’s take Hungarian for example. It was nearly extinct by the time of the 19th century when some excellent people of their age started to realize that Latin would eventually kill it and then it couldn’t be saved anymore. It required a huge effort of some of the brilliant participants of the language renewal (called “nyelvújítás”) movement to save it from dying. When I am talking about the negative effects of globalization I am mostly referring to these examples (and many others unmentioned here of course).

    Actually I have to disagree that anime would be the result of globalization. You might persuade me, if you can give me valid arguments supporting this statement. Until that happens I strongly disagree.

    And as for the diversity, I didn’t tell you that everyone should wear a kimono. I was just telling you, that the global fashion industry (you see, we are talking about an industry here, and not about culture anymore) does not really seem caring about cultural differences. Some designers in Milan or Paris decide what you wear in Tokyo or Sydney (or Budapest, or Munich, or Capetown or whatever), and that’s it. How does this propagate diversity?

    Finally, I have to admit that I didn’t know the exact academical definition of stagnation. I admit that I used it in a stupid way. I just wanted to stress and highlight that propagating the growth or progress without a valid reason leads to a vicious circle. If it’s aimless than it’s quite easy to abuse it.

  • Andrew

    Having a Little Italy or China Town can’t be that bad can it? I haven’t ever been to those districts in either of those cities, but I know someone who has come out of one of Calgary’s Chinese neighbourhoods. His parents were Chinese, and his parents still know basically no English. However, he’s grown up completely bilingual, and has a complete knowledge of his Chinese history while being decidedly Canadian. Growing up in a Chinese community arguably made him much more valuable as a hiring prospect compared to someone who grew up in a community that assimilated to “Canadian” culture, and learned English exclusively.

    However, I also know people who grew up in an English speaking part of Montreal, and never learned any French and still have no respect for the Quebecois culture, so I can see the aspect of cultural strongholds that you could hold disdain for.

    Having China towns and Little Italies preserves culture, and keeps culture from being stamped out of the children who have an amazing opportunity to be worldly citizens within their own country.

  • Andrew

    In Canada we have French Emersion classes in schools where they start the kids learning French from K-12. Not a lot of people make use of them though. I never went to one because I started school in a small town that didn’t have access to one, but it seems like a no brainer for my future kids. When I moved to a larger center, I made friends with a lot of the FE kids because they were of an equal academic and socio-economic level to me (the “Frenchies” weren’t poor and they achieved good grades). I knew all the Frenchies at my school quite well, and they were normal Canadian kids who happened to be able to trounce their way (with bad grammar of course) through a conversation with a native French speaker, and could read Harry Potter in French, despite almost all of them having total Anglophone parents. Taking French didn’t have any affect on how Southern Albertan they were; they retained their culture just fine. Additionally, their children, if put through the same system, would likely have 10 times more success if their parents were able to facilitate their French studies.

    TL;DR, taking English from K-12 isn’t going to damage anyone’s culture, but the kids have to be able to experiment and bash their own way through it, and they are going to be vastly more useful to today’s multinational corporations.

  • Son of Fogetti

    Japan WOULD be more culturally rich if everyone was wearing the kimono! Of course they’d have to maintain all the traditions that go with such wearing, but man alive, there’s nothing more Japanese than a well executed kimono.

    Get yourself a Katana and call your brother Yojimbo.

    It’s huntin’ time!

  • red*razors

    Your use of Gaeilge and English as an example here is not relevant. Globalisation wasn’t what almost killed Irish off – it was a concerted, political, imperialistic effort to conquer the native Irish, by removing Irish landowners and replacing them with English planters, in order to subdue the population and make Ireland submissive to the English Crown. It’s absolutely not even close to the same thing as globalisation. Perhaps if the english-speaking world invaded Japan and forcibly replaced all Japanese culture and language with Western culture, then you could compare them. As it is now, though, I find it offensive that you think the Irish Plantations simply amount to “globalisation”.

  • Fogetti

    Thank you for your reply red*razors. Just a reminder: proto-globalization means the “phase of globalization” which is “characterized by the rise of maritime European empires, in the 16th and 17th centuries, first the Portuguese and Spanish Empires, and later the Dutch and British Empires.” As such, the plantations fit snugly into globalization as part of the British colonization. If you find it offensive, that’s really sad but that’s basically your problem. I have nothing to do with that.

  • Fogetti

    Haha! Thank you very much. Yup, it would be fun to see people with wazamono on their side! ^_^

  • Dickson Yeo

    Dude, how did you get your PhD funding?


    “If you want to do it right, look to (Northern) Europe.” Haha…But seriously Scandinavians speak amazingly fluent English.

  • Kristen

    According to what I know from Psych class, bilinguals tend to be at a slight disadvantage for both languages in terms of depth, so insofar as culture = language they might suffer a little bit. But there’s ample opportunity in out 80~ years of life to catch up, and they’ll have two languages!

    Bilinguals also have benefits over monolinguals in terms of control over their thinking and attention (because they have to suppress one language while speaking the other) amongst other executive functions, especially if they started learning the second language at an early age :)

    Furthermore, language is always evolving and taking influences from other languages. I’m not sure I would value traditional culture over modern culture, and the modern culture of a country could be deeply tied to the many influential languages spoken in it, such as Québécois French!

    Finally, in the spirit of tolerance and understanding, I think it’s great to be exposed to more cultures than just your own. I’m a native English speaker who learned Japanese as well as Mandarin and French and I think they’ve all really enriched my life. To understand the nuances, you can’t help but learn about a country’s history and practices, and I find that in learning about how things are different elsewhere, you also appreciate/understand your own culture a lot more.

    And if kids decide that they don’t like particular aspects of their own culture as a result, well, they have the opportunity to try and make positive changes where they are. Whereas sheltering them from all knowledge of other cultures will not allow them that freedom of choice. I think it’s much more beautiful to know other choices exist and still choose the prescribed path of your own culture, than to never know and walk that path as a matter of course.

  • JapanSupreme

    The big problem with internationalization in Japan is that, while the elites in government and business pay lip service to learning English and joining the world community, they are really only interested in doing so in order to dominate the world and prove once and for all how superior Japanese people are at doing everything.

    This is subtly but consistently present in Japanese TV – you’ll notice how rarely they bring on, say, a white sushi chef, or a black taiko master – yet, there is a constant parade of Japanese people on TV who are referred to as masters or experts in foreign things, such as French or Italian cooking. The Japanese are loath to admit that a foreigner can master any of their traditional crafts – and will pop a serious gasket oohing and aahing over someone who has – yet they have no problem whatsoever with a Japanese person mastering a foreign art. Even if they do go overseas to present a non-Japanese person doing a Japanese art, it is always, always, always presented as that person deeply respecting Japan – yet, Italian chefs on Japanese TV never, ever spend time going on and on about how beautiful and wonderful Italian culture is.

    More than that, actors and actresses who have major Hollywood debuts (Rinko Kikuchi, or Ashida Mana-chan, for example, or Hiroyuki Sanada) get absolutely zero play on TV. Yet any time a Japanese person wins a “best” award for a movie, it is on the news 24/7. Any Japanese person who dominates a sport overseas is constantly paraded on TV; heck, even the Japanese guy who won “America’s Got Talent” was paraded on TV constantly. The tiniest, pettiest little thing – anything at all – if Japan somehow defeats foreigners at it, it’s huge f-ing news.

    Bottom line: the Japanese are uninterested in seeing what foreigners think of Japan – unless it is unqualified, unrelenting praise. And the Japanese media is uninterested in any achievements of Japanese people that can’t be qualitatively presented as “Japan beats everyone.”

    Until Japan gets over their little inferiority complex, spending all their time trying to prove just how superior and mighty they are as a race, they will never truly globalize or join the international community. All the discussion of it is just window dressing to hide the Japan-supremacist agenda.

    ALL that said – let me be clear: this is referring to the elite who control the government and media. Abe is a right-wing Japan supremacist, as is Momii, the man running NHK – and Hyakuta, another man running the company. They are all racist, Japan supremacists – but Japanese people in general aren’t necessarily on the same page. Still, with the massive power of propaganda people like Hyakuta and Abe wield, their ideas seep into every aspect of Japan, and it’s not uncommon to hear children talk of wanting to dominate the world with their Japanese superiority.

  • Bryan

    Go for it…time waits for no man Chris

  • zglar

    That’s what happen in Indonesia too! We already learn English from the first grade but without any additional learning like courses and self learning, most of us can’t speak English well!

  • demonstrable

    Thanks for writing such an interesting post. I don’t really have anything to add to the discussion but I definitely found this article and the subsequent comments to be very interesting.

  • JLR

    Perhaps if the host country was more welcoming the immigrants would not be in their own communities. Instead of demanding they assimilate and complain about them not being fluent in the native language perhaps a softer approach of helping them understand norms and helping by providing free language classes would be better.

    Japan promoting culture and heritage won’t get them far these days (Cool Japan?). If Japan wants to attract the best and brightest they need to do better than relying on culture and heritage.

  • JLR

    So assimilate or leave are the only options? Why do they have to go home if they can’t integrate themselves and act more Japanese?

    I lived in Japan for 4 years (and enjoyed it) but I feel far more welcomed in my new country (Thailand) within the first year than I did in the 4 years in Japan. Again this is just my experience.

  • JLR

    1.) India has a caste system (and corruption) so of course India will never be a world leader.

    2.) Japanese culture is no longer as attractive as it used to be. The whole Fukushima mess is not helping either. When Japan has to make it easier for Thais to get tourists visas (to get more tourists) it is not a good sign.

    3.) Japan has a graying society and eventually with less workers something is gong to have to give.

  • JLR

    I think one concern that was missed in the article was the treatment of women in Japan. Unless Japan starts closing the gender gap, and have more women in positions of power, they are not going to attract female workers from other countries.

    The percentage of white males in Japan far outnumbers the percentage of females in Japan and this will not change anytime soon. I can’t see how alienating an entire gender will help Japan advance in the decades to come.

  • JapanSupreme

    Let me clarify my second point:

    The bottom line is that Japanese people are only interested in INTERACTING with foreigners (not “seeing what foreigners think) if it somehow demonstrates the Japanese superiority. If it’s sports, they only care if Japan wins. If it’s movies, they only care if Japanese actors are showered with praise and awards.

    If Japanese people are simply talking to foreigners (seeing what we think), they only want to do so if that foreigner gives unqualified praise of Japan. Again, this is talking about the political and media (esp. TV) elites. Common people love to study and learn foreign things – Japanese culture is DROWNING in foreign influence (Japan is not and never has been “homogenous” in any way shape or form, and the mere idea is deeply racist). In fact, most common people will open up some pretty harsh criticism of Japan if you ask them honestly.

    But the elite? The people on TV? The public, and “official” narrative? They only want to interact with you if they can somehow use that interaction to prove their superiority as Japanese. That public narrative, the “official” story is what’s holding Japan back. The deep racism at the upper echelons of the society, and the monopolistic stranglehold those elites have on the media and culture is what’s holding Japan back.

  • 川チャリ




    読んだらあなたの意見が本当に残念です。私達の世がそのうち結束する必要があるのです。日本も。あなたそう書かれたでしょう?「In other words there are always
    losers and winners in these situations, and the aliens, the newcomers tend to
    be the former not the latter. Also, don’t we forget that people with the same
    cultural background in a foreign/strange environment tend to build their own
    closed neighbourhoods where they can live comfortably and they feel safe」


  • japanesehamantashen

    While I don’t entirely agree with Fogetti, he really does have a point that immigrants tend to live with other immigrants from the same place. I live in the D.C. region, one of the most welcoming places in the U.S. for immigrants. In fact, even my parents are immigrants from Israel, and many of my friends are also from immigrant families. Yet, somehow a huge percentage of Israelis that immigrate to this region settle in one zip code in Rockville (20852), attend the same public schools (e.g. Farmland Elementary), and even live in and around the same apartment building (I live several miles away, and I’m not really a part of that community). There are similar communities for Russians, Chinese, Koreans, etc. in this area as well. Immigrants from the same region clump together regardless of how welcoming the country is, because it’s simply just that much easier when you have people around you who share your language and culture.

  • kooriyuki

    “Being able to read and write papers in English does not automatically qualify someone to teach in it.”<— I find myself nodding at this, because I know of Japanese university students (from medicine school no less) who tutor English at the juku, but can't speak a word of it. Heck, writing in English is a chore to them too. MEXT should recognise that learning how to speak in English is of a higher priority than comprehension/writing.

  • MisunderstoodShark

    Cultural ‘clumping’ is not a failure of multiculturalism. People move into these areas because they often know someone there or have friends there or relatives living there, little markets with familiar (kosher or halal) foods are there, or for special dietary reasons, or they want their child to also know their home language so they send them to the preschool there, or so they get connections for a job despite language barriers, etc. I would also like to remind Fogetti that no EU country without borders has been destroyed. The UK hasn’t withered to Shariah law nor has the language changed to Polish nor has the whole of Bulgaria and Romania flooded into the UK since the restrictions lifted January 1st. I would also like to add that Fogetti used Chomsky’s quote out of context. Chomsky was referring to Japan’s political role on the international realm, urging Japan to be more independent and not be America’s puppet so to speak.

  • Flora

    1) You lost credence with me the moment you held up the EU as multicultural. It’s not. Just because you can go from “German-Speaking White Country” to “French-Speaking White Country” freely does not make you a multicultural vista of widespread acceptance. That’s why Europe has taken ACTUAL multiculturalism so badly – you’ve convinced yourselves over the years that you’re not homogenous because France and Italy are different countries with not-all-that-similar traditions, while at the same time restricting (if not eliminating) as much contact with non-White countries as possible.

    Now that those tides are turning and you have to struggle to blend with cultures that truly are different, there’s no end to European pundits crying “multiculturalism has failed/isn’t the answer”. It’s essentially the same as screaming “I changed my mind! I take it back!” the moment you go from the sandbox to the battlefield.

    The reason for those enclaves isn’t just because of a sense of safety and a way to bring “the old country” with you – it’s also because many new immigrants feel it’s the only place where practicing their traditions isn’t taboo in some way. They’re not constantly told to assimilate. On that note….

    2) Any country that tries to globalize but refuses to accept any changes on their part & instead orders everyone else to turn into them, is going to fail. Miserably. Globalization is just another word for integration – over time, both parties take on the color of the other & change into something else completely. That’s what makes multiculturalism such a slow & painful process – most people’s initial reaction once they realize this is fear, and they lash out at what they feel like is destroying all that they know. It’s an exercise in futility (it’s inevitably either integration or death, for all cultures) but they still try. If you manage to accept this, it eases the process.

    America & Canada had to learn this the hard way over the past century; if they want to, Japan can learn from our mistakes, but it will mean humbling themselves to accept that the traditional Japanese methods aren’t perfect and will eventually hurt them more than anything else. To be completely honest, I’m not sure they can. If they don’t panic & attempt to shut down their borders to non-Asians completely, then they’ll end up repeating all our (recent) racial mistakes. Watts Riots 2.0, basically.