At the edge of the horizon

At the edge of the horizon
At the edge of Japan

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

新卒一括採用 (job hunting in Japan)

I've often pondered the fact that the day after high school graduation occurs, the graduates all dye and style their hair in the funkiest colors and cuts.  After spending 18 years of their lives with the same hair style and color, au natural black, Japanese students run wild and free.  Sometimes it makes me envy their youth somewhat.  Little did I know that I shouldn't envy them at all, because after they graduate from university, their golden youth is finished.  Japan has a particular style of hiring that is collective and extremely competitive.  It's called "Shu-katsu," which is short for Shinsotsu-Ikkatsu-Saiyō.  It's a hiring process where large business, especially corporations, hire new graduates en masse.

Getting a job in Japan depends mostly on the prestige of the university the student attends rather than their abilities and talent.  That's why starting at the beginning of JHS, students really begin the process of being shaped for high school entrance exams and upon entrance to their high school, they begin the process of preparing for their college entrance exams.  Wherever you rank in this process shapes the rest of your life.  This happens in many countries, not just Japan.  It happens in America, though no one wants to admit it because of our denial of class.  It happens throughout Europe as well. Germany has a similar testing process that separates students based on academic ability at a young age, but it doesn't have this exhausting hiring process that is so limiting and detrimental to anyone who does not fit into the mold of "perfect employee."


University students begin really focusing on getting hired the year before they graduate.  They often return to their natural hair and uniformity that they had for years during their carefree youth (which wasn't very carefree since they were all stressed out about exams).  They even return to wearing an adult version of their school uniforms.  When they go through the recruitment process, everyone wears black suits.  When you go into any Aeon or similar large department store in March, you will notice a section with row after row of these uniforms.  Everyone of them looks the same.  There really is no styling when it comes to the recruitment uniform.  You must look this way.  This is impressed upon even those who aren't in the private sector.  Young teachers all wear these uniforms as well, though their hiring process is different from those entering the private sector.  I can't imagine how horrible it must be to have to conform in such a way, but it is even more limiting psychologically because they not only all look alike, but they also have to act alike as well.  In the hiring process, one wants to be noticed in order to be hired, but not stand out.

Here's the bad deal about this recruitment system:  If you don't get hired the year you're graduating, you'll probably never get a good, permanent job.  Because Japan is so age-based in its selection process, they won't hire those who graduated a year earlier because they have a new batch of graduates to pick from.  So if you miss out, then that's the rest of your life.

Thankfully, I've never had to do this and never will as I'm not a Japanese person. I already feel like I missed the "be successful by your early 30's boat" that many of my American peers are on.  I can't even imagine myself within this system.  I'd feel like an utter failure.  I'm sure some Japanese enjoy this process and look forward to it as a rite of passage, but I do believe that many Japanese people dislike it.  I know my students.  I know that they want to express who they are to the world.  They may lack the confidence to do this because they're being groomed for conformity, but they still have an openness that many of the adults I've met here no longer have.  To see that part of them repressed in order for them to function as successful adults in Japan is rather heartbreaking.   The fact that only a portion of them actually openly rebel against this system is also sad.

I don't mean to sound critical of Japan.  America also has a its own issues with meritocracy and a lost generation of youth, thanks to the economy.  But the video above, created by Tokyo University of the Arts student, Maho Yoshida, illustrates the rigidity, ruthlessness and despair within the system.  It also explains so much about modern Japanese society.  It seems to me that the real talents of these individual student are never even noticed during the recruitment process, and I'm certain they are not developed further at the companies that hire them.  What a shame...

Some of the comments written on the Youtube page have been translated in this article on the same subject.  You might find these comments telling in how Japanese people really feel about this hiring process.  It's good to hear what they think about it.


  1. I was stationed on Okinawa during 1980 and 1981. I don't know what it is like now, but it was a beautiful place then.

    The job situation for young people in the U.S. is particularly desperate. No one is faring very well, but they have it the worst.

    I look forward to reading more of your thoughts when you have time to get back to writing.

  2. Hi Cedric,

    Thanks so much for your response and for reading my blog! I appreciate it. Yes, Okinawa is beautiful. I don't know what it looked like in 1980/1981, but the ocean is still gorgeous. My favorite place is Miyako Island.

    Yeah, I'm sort of worried about returning to the US to find work...

    All the best,


  3. I have a 27 year old daughter and a 26 year old son who work in Cincinnati, Ohio. When you "rotate back to the world" as we used to say, if they can help you with your job search I am sure they would. They both lived in Vancouver, B.C. for a couple of years, and there is a large expat Japanese population there. Elizabeth speaks fair Japanese, or did when she left Canada. I doubt she has used it much since.

    I have a nephew with a doctorate in physics, he finished up 2 years ago and hasn't found a job yet. I have two other nephews who graduated from Oregon State with "good" degrees and they both got jobs solely because their dad (my brother) pulled strings for them.

    My brother and I are not close, but he does own part of a big public relations company in Idaho. When you get ready to come back, I will give you his address and tell him you are sending a resume if you like. You never know these days.