In a bid to plugdwindling domestic consumption by tapping into overseas markets, some of Japan’s big-name retailers are telling their employees to start speaking English — or find another job.
As Japan’s population shrinks, the country’s retailers are increasingly looking to boost sales by expanding abroad and some firms are waking up to the necessity of being able to speak the global language of business in order to succeed overseas.
Rakuten, Japan’s biggest online retailer, plans to make English the firm’s official language, while Fast Retailing, operator of the Uniqlo apparel chain, wants to make English more common in its offices by 2012 and plans to test its employees for proficiency.
"It’s about sTOPping being a Japanese company. We will become a world company," Rakuten CEO Hiroshi Mikitani said last week at a news conference in Tokyo — conducted almost entirely in English.
Employees at Rakuten, which hopes overseas sales will eventually account for 70 percent of all transactions made through its websites, will need to master English by 2012 to avoid facing the sack.
"No English, no job," Mikitani told the Asahi newspaper.
Other high-profile Japanese companies, including automakers Toyota Motor and Nissan Motor, have announced moves to make the use of English more common in the workplace.
Some experts say the switch to English is healthy but just one of the changes companies need to make to go global.
"What’s interesting is that these companies really stand out as pioneers," Jeff Kingston, director of Asian Studies at Temple University’s Japan campus.
"They have a relatively new outlook. They realize that Japan is going to need to strike into foreign markets given the dormantstate of its economy," he said.