TT-564 -- How Long to Learn Japanese? E-biz news from Japan

* * * * * * * * * T E R R I E 'S T A K E * * * * * * *
A weekly roundup of news & information from Terrie Lloyd.

General Edition Sunday, May 09, 2010 Issue No. 564


- What's new
- News
- Candidate roundup/Vacancies
- Upcoming events
- Corrections/Feedback
- News credits

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Back in March (TT559) we reported that out of 257 Filipino
nurses brought to Japan to help out with the nation's
nursing shortage, only 3 actually passed their
Japanese-language nursing exams. While in 2009, none of the
82 candidates passed. This represents a stunning waste of
human resources, money, and dreams, both here in Japan and
back in the Philippines.

As we mentioned in the news item at the time, most of the
blame on this rather miserable statistic can be placed with
the Japanese authorities who conceived the program in the
first place. How can someone possibly learn enough Japanese
in the first 6 months that over the remaining 2 1/2 years
of gruelingly long hours of manual labor they can then acquire
the rest of the language needed to actually pass their nursing

Indeed, one of the three to successfully pass recounted how
she had to fight to stay awake and study until 01:00am
every morning, trying to acquire sufficient kanji to read
the exam questions in the first place. Let's remember that
she was already a fully qualified nurse -- so this was
really just a language issue.

From our experience (both personal and through observation)
the quickest that an intelligent person not used to
Chinese/Japanese characters can actually learn and be
functional in the language, from zero, is about one year.
And for those wanting to be productive (versus merely
functional) two years is a much better time frame. These
periods, by the way, mean FULL TIME study -- in a highly
structured classroom setting, with lots of quality teaching
time, and with the very best language aids that money can
buy. Add work responsibilities and long hours, and an
immigrant may never master Japanese properly.

[Continued below...]

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[...Article continues]

The basis for our saying one year is the practical minimum
is based on the fact that certain diplomatic courses run
here for staff of foreign embassies can turn out Japanese
speakers/readers in one year so long as the person can
dedicate themselves fully to their studies and doesn't have
to worry about income, job responsibilities, etc. Although
the graduates from such courses can indeed read a newspaper
after a year, they will quickly tell you that a dictionary
and a spare hour per article is also needed to cope.
That's why we say that an extra year of study is worth
investing in: it spares you having to carry a dictionary
and hours of spare time.

Thus, to expect nurses from a relatively relaxed culture to
come in and suddenly become Japanese-fluent, while changing
bed pans and turning immobile patients over (remember
they're not registered in Japan as nurses yet, so the work
is manual and extremely tiring) is just an exercise in

And it's not just nurses. There have been many schemes
cooked up over the years to bring low-cost foreign workers
to Japan and put them to work. One segment where there has
been some (limited) success is in software development. In
India, China, Vietnam, and the Philippines, there are
numerous Japanese language schools servicing the needs of
large corporations there that want to break into the Japanese

Typically these foreign employers have their engineers
study on their own time initially, to prove that they have
the basic interest, commitment, and capability. If the
person passes their Japanese Language Proficiency Test
(JLPT) Level Four exam, then they are given financial and
work support to do a full-time course for at least 3 months
to get to Level 3 or higher. If they pass Level 3, then
they are placed on an eligibility roster for eventual
assignment in Japan.

Now, admittedly, JLPT Level 3 isn't really that useful in a
Japanese work environment, you need to have Level 2
or even Level 1 ability to be a proper contributor. But at
least one's own personal needs and social support can be
covered with Level 3. In reality, most of the work a
foreign software person is going to perform in Japan anyway
is going to be low level and relatively language independent.
We say this because one of the most common jobs for
foreign software developers is to churn out the mind-numbing
code needed for device drivers and electromechanical
devices. Recently there is some higher-end systems
architecting work available, but this is still rare.

Anyway, we now have a situation where the designers of the
nursing program are starting to realize that their charges
are actually people and not little flexible-limbed robots,
and therefore the idea of extending their language lessons
by at least another 3-6 months without the conflict of
grueling work schedules, is highly likely. Yes, it's going
to be expensive, but without such steps, they can forget
about having 10,000 extra foreign nurses here.

Japan could learn about language learning for foreign
immigrants by taking a look at how foreign companies
prepare their own employees for overseas assignments, and
pick up on best practices. The Nikkei's erstwhile senior
journalist, Waichi Sekiguchi, penned an interesting article
several weeks ago about how Samsung prepares its staff for
foreign postings, including coming to Japan.

He points out that the firm realizes that employees working
abroad have to have strong language skills and so it has a
program whereby trainees are sent abroad for a year, to
intensively learn English, Chinese, or Japanese.

For the first nine months the employee does nothing but
immersive study and for the following three months they are
expected to get out into the local community and build a
personal network. This last part is a stroke of brilliance
because it strongly ties exam achievement with practical
application of the newfound skill. Of course the employee
receives salary during this entire period. Samsung also has
Korea-based language training camps and about 1,100
employees attend these camps annually for 10 weeks of solid
instruction. Apparently about 20,000 people, about 10% of
the workforce, has gone through such intensive programs --
which is very impressive.

Now, this discussion is about inbound workers rather than
Japanese employees being sent abroad. So the point of the
Samsung model is that here you have a large group of
corporate elite, and even for such motivated employees the
minimum language training offered is twelve months (if you
include the three months dedicated to personal networking).
This, in our opinion is the absolute minimum that should be
offered to the nurses and engineers who are supposed to
help out the nation in the future.

We have no doubt that some would prefer the technological
answer. Therefore, one ray of hope may come from a company
called Fuetrek, which has announced a software recognition
application and accompanying chip set having an outstanding
99% accuracy. This is significantly higher than existing
systems which come in at around 85% accuracy. The system
uses a centralized network server to store and process a
million-word/phrase database from input made on a cell
phone or other remote device. The system is yet to be
incorporated into any commercial devices, but if it is,
perhaps this technology will go some way towards easing
language issues for skilled foreign newcomers.

Of course if someone is having a heart attack and you're
out of translator batteries, then we wonder who gets the
blame? The hospital, the nurse, or the translation device
vendor? ;-)


Lastly, we would like to remind any budding entrepreneurs
that our quarterly Entrepreneur Handbook seminar is taking
place on May 22nd, two weeks from now. If you are already
in business, or are simply thinking about it, this seminar
will help you figure out what to expect and how to deal
with the inevitable challenges that will come your way.
419 people have taken this course since 2003, and we
estimate that about 20% of them have gone on to establish

Of course, those numbers could be interpreted another way
-- in that a larger proportion of people probably decided
against launching out on their own or least delayed doing
so... But this is also a good thing ;-), as running your
own company is not for everybody. Certainly this seminar
will help you make that decision!

...The information janitors/


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+++ NEWS

- 45% of Japanese kids sleep in class
- ...And now your ancestors will pay, too!
- U.S. action on child abductions starting to take shape
- New auto sales up 33.5%
- Love hotel fundraising

-> 45% of Japanese kids sleep in class

Somehow we missed this news report from the Nikkei in April,
but we had to include it this time around. According to
the Japan Youth Research Institute, 45.1% of Japanese kids
doze off in class, the worst rate among the nations of
Japan, U.S., China, and South Korea. The institute reckons
it's because Japanese kids spend too much time playing
computer games and emailing/texting their friends late at
night. ***Ed: So where are the parents?** (Source: TT
commentary from, Apr 8, 2010)

-> ...And now your ancestors will pay, too!

We've heard that people in Okinawa are upset with PM
Hatoyama's inability to simply get rid of all the American
armed forces from the island, all at once. But things have
gone to altogether another level when people start
vandalizing his family's graves. Apparently last week
someone spray painted Granddad Ichiro Hatoyama's grave
stone yellow, and that of his grandmother as well. (Source:
TT commentary from, May 7, 2010)

-> U.S. action on child abductions starting to take shape

It looks like with the Chris Savoie attempted child
repossession case last year, that child abduction by
(primarily) Japanese mothers from the U.S. to Japan is
about to get some much needed but unwelcome (from the
Japanese government's point of view) attention from
lawmakers in the USA. Led by Christopher Smith (R) of New
Jersey, there is a bill being submitted to Congress that
will punish Japan with sanctions or worse if the Japanese
don't do something quickly about the rate of abductions --
signing the Hague Convention being one step towards that
goal. (Source: TT commentary from, May 6, 2010)

-> New auto sales up 33.5%

Sales of new vehicles are up over last year by an average
33.5% according to the Japan Automobile Dealers Association
(JADA). Of the 222,095 autos sold, the biggest rise was in
660cc or smaller K-class vehicles, which account for just
over 90% of all vehicle sales, followed by mid-range ones.
Reasons for the increased sales include: i) government
incentives for eco-vehicles, lower toll fees, and general
consumer confidence. (Source: TT commentary from, May 6, 2010)

-> Love hotel fundraising

A Financial Times article last week tells the story of
Aim-listed Japan Leisure ("Leisure" being a substitute term
for love hotels) which is looking to raise capital on the
exchange. The FT spoke to asset manager Steve Mansfield
about his leisure hotel business in Japan. According to the
article, about one million couples visit the nation's
25,000-30,000 hotels each day! Last fiscal year, Japan
Leisure had sales of JPY1.2bn, and an operating profit of
JPY33.3m. The company's occupancy rate is an impressive
242%, amounting to JPY13,568 per room. Apparently Mansfield
wants the money to scale the business. Sounds like a good
bet to us.** (Source: TT
commentary from, May 6, 2010)

NOTE: Broken links
Many online news sources remove their articles after just a
few days of posting them, thus breaking our links -- we
apologize for the inconvenience.


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Start a Company in Japan

Entrepreneur's Handbook Seminar 22nd of May, 2010

If you have been considering setting up your own company,
find out what it takes to make it successful.
Terrie Lloyd, founder of over 13 start-up companies in Japan,
will be giving an English-language seminar and Q and A on
starting up a company in Japan. Over 300 people have
attended this seminar over the last 8 years.

This is an ideal opportunity to find out what is involved,
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Topic: Employee Rights in Japan

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Open to all - Venue is The Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan


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Kea Japan is honored to host an event with Brian Martin
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Brian has worked for companies around the world. Hear how
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companies, Levi's and Triumph. Learn which principles Brian
believes business leaders and entrepreneurs need to be

Date : May 19th 2010
Place : Club 57, Roppongi, Tokyo, Japan
Time : 6pm to 9pm (doors open at 5:50pm)
Price : 2500yen pre-registered or 3000yen at the door

+++ Finger food and one drink included in the entry price
+++ Numbers are limited to 150 people, so get in quick to
secure your spot
+++ live Jazz will begin from 8:30pm
Payment: to register and
receive event information and a paypal invoice.



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