Monday, September 9, 2013

Japanese Start-Nots

I stumbled upon this interesting article titled, "Hey Japan, what's up with your start-up culture?" moments ago on reddit.

The company I work at would be considered a start-up...I guess. If the meaning of start-up is "newish company," then my workplace fits the bill. The points that really stood out to me (because I've heard about them from my boyfriend or thought of them firsthand) were:

  • "Bosses don't take risks. Japanese workers can't challenge the boss. If you give opinions, they don't listen. Bosses don't give young people opportunities: Only old men get to do interesting work."

This. At my place, which really, really wants to become a kind of Japanese Google, if it hasn't been done before, we probably won't do it. The company only wants to do something new if it is guaranteed to succeed. A number of our products are altered versions of products that other companies have put out with success. That's fine, there's always new ways to remake old things. However, when I or my other coworkers come up with new ideas, they are shot down. Usually under the guise of "We don't have someone that can do that," "The customers wouldn't like it," or "I'll think about it" (in other words: no). I am expected to generate new ideas, that will succeed, but I am not allowed to try something myself.

This is what my boyfriend has been saying to me when he talks about himself. Going abroad should be a pretty big thing in the US, and it is if you are from a small town. But, it's a rarity for even Japanese from large cities. I wouldn't blink an eye if a New Yorker told me that they had spent significant time abroad, but even amongst Tokyoites it seems that significant time abroad is enough to "out-group" someone. 
The problem for Japanese who do go abroad for a significant time is that they come back to Japan with a new/different mindset. That different way of thinking doesn't mesh with Japanese business culture. No one wants to hear your ideas. No one wants to brainstorm. No one wants to try to learn a new programming language or anything aside from the task at hand. 

I think that there are a lot of Japanese people, young and old, who want...long to do something. But the risk is too high. The typical path for a university student here is to start job hunting in their third year of university, secure a job in their fourth year, start their job immediately upon graduation and stay with that company until retirement. Job hopping, like what is popular in the US, is frowned upon. Getting an advanced degree is somewhat frowned upon.
When starting at a new company, douki, or people who entered the same year as you, are very important. Your douki should be about the same age as you, and your sempai will be a year or so older. If you get a masters, if you go abroad to work, if you take a year off to work, you mess up the system. You have only a few precious years after graduating university to find a company to work at. As I've been job searching, I've come across so many places that place age restrictions (usually up to 30) on new hires! 
So, if you're 26 and decide to quit your company and start your own, if it fails, you're SOL. Is it any wonder that people decide not to go the startup route?

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