Ep 20: Can diversity and global mindset save Japan’s innovation? – with Asami Matsumoto

asami matsumotoJapan’s population is decreasing at a fast pace. From 127 million today, it is projected to go down to only 95 million people by 2050. Japanese companies won’t be able to solely rely on their domestic market anymore. They will have to find ways to become more international and reach overseas customers for the whole economy to maintain. But can Japanese companies really become more international? They are not particularly renowned for their global mindset. Apart from a few exceptions they are still very domestic, both in their operations and management style.

Still, some companies understand what’s at stakes and are willing to embrace this change. That’s what my guest, Asami Matsumoto, has decided to focus on. Her company Active Connector helps connecting international students with Japanese firms. In particular, she organizes workshops where companies’ employees mix with foreign students to solve the companies’ problems and challenges. She believes that diversity and global mindset is what Japan needs to really become more international.

This is a tough challenge she concedes. More than the language difference, it is the cultural gap that usually poses problems. Asami knows quite a lot about cultural differences and the power of diversity. She’s been living in many places including Wales, Canada and Pakistan. She’s therefore very much aware of the challenges it represents. But she hopes that bringing more foreigners to Japanese companies will overtime trigger the necessary changes that Japan needs.

I’m asking Asami why Japanese companies are so slow to change. In fact, many remain very unattractive with little paid vacations, long working hours and little room for employees to express their opinion. Therefore they will have a hard time bringing in more foreigners. We discuss about the main barriers to internationalization and how can foreigners contribute to make Japan more global.

Questions: What are the main barriers to internationalization in Japan? How can Japanese companies become more global? (reply in the comments)

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Show notes

  • (2:02) Presentation of Asami and Active Connector
  • (5:15) Are Japanese companies ready to be global?
  • (6:42) Focus on international students
  • (9:01) Japan’s recruiting process issue
  • (11:46) Work for what you love
  • (13:10) Companies don’t listen their employees
  • (14:47) Affirming uniqueness without breaking rules
  • (19:20) Becoming global is a necessity
  • (23:22) Life time employment vs. job hopping
  • (24:45) Tips for foreigners applying at Japanese companies
  • (27:02) Details about the ideation workshops
  • (33:47) Listening to employees’ voice
  • (36:05) Government initiatives
  • (37:39) Quick-fire questions

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  • Fabien
    Posted at 11:28h, 26 May Reply

    oooh, I can relate so much to the Engineer stamp 😉

    There is a “job hunting visa” for students with scholarship, for some months after graduation but in what I have observed it is offered with an alternative: “do you want an airplane ticket back to your country or this job hunting visa for few months in Japan?”. Some students haven’t been home for several years, their choice is very obvious.

    The payforward idea is very great!

  • Stephen Murphy-Shigematsu
    Posted at 04:02h, 30 May Reply

    Wonderful interview with Asami Matsumoto that reveals the complexity and necessity of diversity efforts in Japan. I have worked on these issues for many years, as a professor at Tokyo University, researcher, and cultural trainer, and I think you were able to show many of the most important aspects of the challenges faced in diversifying Japan.

  • Frederic Peyrot
    Posted at 11:17h, 31 May Reply

    Hi Stephen and Thank you for your comment. Yes I think Japan is at a crossroad. The question of immigration and diversity will be part of the necessary debates Japan needs to have. I also think that the best way to change people is by changing their environment. And so having a more international environment at work may be an effective but still smooth way to trigger change.

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