Why Japanese Companies Prioritize Language When Hiring Foreigners

“So why aren’t Japanese companies more flexible about hiring technically competent and adaptable foreigners, even if they don’t speak the language?”

This question appeared on my LinkedIn feed in reaction to a post about the worsening labor situation in Japan as young Japanese people are emigrating abroad to seek better-paying jobs, driven in part by the massively depreciating Japanese yen. They’re certainly acting like rational economic actors.

That’s, of course, happening in the context of the continued decline in the Japanese population, and by extension — the labor force. The Japanese population dropped by 0.8 million people last year, to 122.42 million. That’s been happening for a while and is certainly not news.

Given this, it would also make rational sense for Japanese companies¹ to be more flexible about hiring foreign staff than to insist on Japanese language skills.

The reality is far more complex.

75% of job listings require Japanese fluency
In 2022, Nikkei Asia looked at recruitment information listed by two job listing websites that targeted foreigners. They discovered that 75% out of 18,000 offers asked for Japanese proficiency equivalent to the N1 Level on the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) — the highest achievable level. In contrast, only 37% of the 9000 registered job seekers had that level — indicating a mismatch of gigantic proportion.

The report also goes on to state that managers are reluctant to hire foreigners due to “concerns about language and communications problems.”

I asked my friend Zhou Ruyi for her take on the situation. Ruyi is a recruitment professional and entrepreneur in the field of technology. I had previously interviewed her in my article “Japanese Companies Lack Two Success Factors to Win in the Global Age.”

“Simple. Most of their employees and clients cannot speak English and are not able to communicate without Japanese. Besides…


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