Friday, June 11, 2010

Japan that you never know

My company purchased a piece of equipment from Japan. It didn’t function properly, so we made an urgent call to the vendor. The vendor sent the technical manager, Imai-san, to Malaysia. To our surprise, Imai-san came without bringing a notebook computer. “How is he going to perform his duty?” we thought.

A few weeks later, the sales manager, Nakano-san, came to our office. We asked him why Imai-san didn’t have a computer with him when he was in Malaysia. Nakano-san explained that they need approval before they could use a computer outside the company. They were concerned about possible leak of confidential information.

“If we lose our computers, we could be fired!” Nakano-san did a cut-throat gesture.

“Doesn’t Japan practice lifetime employment?” I asked.

“No, thing has changed.”

Security was top concern in this Japanese kaisya. Its employees were not allowed to use instant messaging or even thumb drive! They were also forbidden from downloading files from third party servers such as those provided by Rapidshare.

I am not sure if such rules are common among Japanese corporate. While these rules ensure that security is not compromised, the downside is that they present obstacles to day-to-day operation. Japan was an economic powerhouse back in 1980s, but started to decline since 1990s. Today, over-regulated Japanese companies may find it difficult to adapt to fast changing world.

No all are bad news though. Lifetime employment is a history now. Employers can lower cost by reducing the number of staff; Employees who are unhappy in one company can look for greener pastures elsewhere. Those who are entrepreneurial may even start their own businesses. Furthermore, a few Japanese companies already have foreigners in top management positions. Carlos Ghosn is doing well with Nissan. Sony has also hired Howard Stringer as CEO (though the electronic giant is still struggling.) These foreign talents should help to revamp the corporate culture.

The Land of the Rising Sun has seen its sun setting for too long. Can it bounce back?

Japan’s salaryman – End of lifetime employment?


  1. This is new. :) I didn't know that employee can't bring their computers out. Very, very strict.

  2. that is the extend of how companies are protecting their informations... like us, we are to encrypt everything in PC or Notebook, therefore the pc/notebook are now working a snail speed -_______-
    and if u r not carefully and plug-in ur hp or thumbdrive, all info will be encrypted....

  3. It is not easy to prevent propritary information from leaking out, however some companies may have no choice but to take measures to minimize the possibility as the information normally are the competitive advantage over their competitors.

  4. These people are paranoid!

  5. Indeed, industrial espionage is real so companies have no choice but to take all necessary steps to safeguard their intellectual property.

    On the other hand, lifetime employment is a thing of the past and not practised in foreign-owned companies operating in Japan. This is the real world.

  6. tekkaus, Mei Teng
    They have their reasons to be strict.

    Thumbdrive automatically encrypted? -_-"

    I doubt their PC has information about their patents.

    I believe the Japanese company I mention is not foreign-owned.

  7. I've always learned about Japan work ethics, lifetime employment etc. But I always read that the Japanese society changed deeply during the last decade.

    I wouldn't want to work for the same company for a lifetime... it's weird to me because my generation has never known that I guess. It used to be common in France too.

  8. oh, that's really a surprise to me that they don't even allowed laptops to go to the sites.. how are they going to work then??

  9. i've heard about companies that restrict information access, like disabling portable storage devices and limited internet access.. but not allowed to bring laptop out of office is just quite unreasonable..

  10. but i think the more restriction, the more people will try to find loopholes, and loopholes can never be eliminated..

  11. i don't think lifetime employment is practical.. who would want to work for the same company for the whole life?? it doesn't allow advancement at all.. once in, you just could see how green the outside world is..

  12. At least, they seem to be changing with the times. Employment is no longer lifetime case. Another good thing is that women no longer need to 'retire' after they get married and stay at home to become a graduate mom.

  13. Zhu
    I have already changed my job many times, LOL...

    Actually they could bring their laptops to site. Just need to apply in advance.

    Autumn Belle
    Japanese don't welcome migrant workers, so they need women to fill the jobs.

  14. Loyalty is pretty worthless these days, isn't it?

    But then again, employees are jumping ship so often, it's really no one's fault.

  15. wow new skin? and hey i didn't know jpwas so strict with their laptop policy!

  16. shingo
    I still think long term employment is good. But long term means 3 years.

    Not sure if all Japanese companies are so strict with their laptops, but this one is.