TT-659 -- Overcoming Aversion to English, ebiz news in Japan

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

General Edition Sunday, April 22, 2012, Issue No. 659


- What's New -- Overcoming Aversion to English
- News -- Rakuten shuts down China online mall
- Upcoming Events
- Corrections/Feedback -- More Fukushima radiation risk
- Travel Destinations Picks -- Ehime and Okinawa
- News Credits

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Back in February (TT-651) we discussed the problem of
rigidity in the Japanese school system and how this is
holding back the ability of the country to internationalize
-- a critical issue now that Japanese firms need to expand
abroad to survive. The outcome of such rigidity is that
kids either get hammered with values and processes so often
that they learn to give up OR they learn to hate the
system, and this is what has been happening to those
learning English.

A study released by the Japan Youth Research Institute
(JYRI) survey of 8,000 kids across China, South Korea,
Japan, and the USA found that just 57.2% of Japanese
students are interested in studying abroad and that this
was the lowest level of interest out of the four countries.
This study is relevant because it is generally agreed that
studying abroad is the best way to achieve fluency in a
foreign language, not to mention broadening one's problem
solving skills and general awareness. In comparison to the
Japanese kids, 82.4% of the South Korean kids and 62.5% of
Chinese ones were interested in studying overseas. As a
result, the number of Japanese studying abroad in 2009 fell
to just 59,923, compared with a peak of 82,945 kids in

Probably what's worse is that the JYRI survey found that a
majority of those not wanting to study abroad felt that way
because: i) life at home is easier (53.2%), ii) the
language barrier (48.1%), and iii) they have a lack of
confidence (42.7%). It's reasons and numbers like these
that scare the pants off the Japanese bureaucrats planning
the nation's future, since Japan has never needed
internationally minded and capable people more than now.
The local economy is headed downwards, and only overseas
expansion will maintain the tax base needed to pay for
future pensions and loans commitments.

Indeed, a knee-jerk reaction by the bureaucracy can already
be seen. The Education Ministry is going to almost double
its scholarship budget for kids studying overseas from
JPY1.9bn to JPY3.1bn. It is also going to allocate JPY40bn
over the next 5 years to share out between 40 universities
to get them to encourage more kids to go overseas. We've
mentioned before that often university professors want to
hold on to their most promising students instead of letting
them go. So just like subsidizing rice farmers, maybe the
money will go straight to the profs for entertainment

Anyway, each university will receive between JPY120m and
JPY160m a year and will be chosen according to the quality
of their plan to increase study-abroad numbers.

[Continued below...]

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[...Article continues]

At the current rate of decline, one wonders where Japan is
going to get its English-speakers from, unless companies
follow Rakuten's lead and impose English as a requirement
to stay employed. It's hard to see this, though, when
surveys like one that came out from GABA in February found
that 47.2% of people aged between 20 and 49 years old would
quit their jobs if their employer tried to do what Rakuten
is doing. Interestingly, it was the people with lower
salaries who were more likely to say they'd quit.

What is important from the GABA survey is that only 16.5%
of the 1,000 people polled reckoned that the English they
studied for school was useful in business. A pretty damning
message from the man in the street to the Education

English is such a big psychological hurdle to school kids
that it has become a nationwide inferiority complex. A
recent Education Ministry survey of 3,225 middle school
students found that 70% of kids said that they dislike
English! At the same time, though, 85% agreed that English
was important because it would give them an edge in finding
a job in the future. Clearly there are some very conflicted
kids out there.

The basic problem is that English language learning up to
High School level is there for exams alone, and that those
teaching it as well as the kids coming out of the system
can barely use it on a practical level. This exam-oriented
approach has and will continue to create a huge level of
aversion in students. You might ask why the aversion is a
problem now and not previously, since the school system
hasn't really changed in 60 years? We posit that previous
generations of students felt more compelled to learn
English because the best jobs were in Japan's export
machine. In the twenty years following the Plaza Accord in
1986, however, exports became concentrated to a few major
firms and the majority of jobs were in the domestic market
where English wasn't important.

But now with the forced move abroad by mid- and small-sized
companies, perhaps the pendulum is now swinging back the
other way.

For the adults in the job market, the need to learn English
is more immediate and unavoidable. So while as half of
employees may say that they will quit if forced to use
English, at the same time there was a record number of
2.27m people taking TOEIC tests this year. There has also
been a dramatic take up in web-video and Skype services
that offer low-cost English lessons with teachers in the
Philippines. Hundreds of thousands of people are already
using such services such as the one from Cerego, a
Shibuya-based company run by local entrepreneurs Eric Young
and Andrew Smith Lewis, which charges JPY10,000/month
per subscription. Cerego says it is experiencing heavy
take-up of its offering and expects to have 100,000 paid-up
subscribers within 3 years.

We think this resurgence in interest in private education
and testing clearly demonstrates that in the end it's the
market that will drive people's attitudes to English. It's
not an issue of whether kids these days are wimpier than
they were 20 years ago, or that kids are morally weaker --
which are common points of debate in Japanese media these
days. Rather, we think that kids are commonsense consumers,
and as they see the job market continue to tighten and
English become even more of a prerequisite, then the
numbers of those willing to study abroad will go up again
-- especially if the higher value scholarships mean a
comfortable life abroad... Now if they could only set
things up so a group of kids could all go study in groups
of 5 or 10 best friends, then those kids would have the
best of both worlds. ;-)


A last call that is running a special
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And lastly, we are taking next Sunday, April 29th, off.
This is one of 4 weeks a year that we don't publish. We
will be back on May 6th. Please have a good Golden Week.

...The information janitors/


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+++ NEWS

- Tourist numbers close to pre-Fukushima volumes
- Hospitals form buying group
- Rakuten shuts down China online mall
- Government employees to start Cool Biz on May 1st
- NTT DATA to start software co. in Myanmar

-> Tourist numbers close to pre-Fukushima volumes

While there is still concern about future earthquakes and
radiation from Fukushima, it's not enough to keep away
tourists who are interested in Japan. The Japan National
Tourism Organization (JNTO) announced that there were
678,500 visitors in March 2012, just 4.4% less than the
same period in 2010. Tourist numbers have increased from
most countries other than South Korea, which is still down
11%. In a similar trend, a record number of Japanese also
traveled abroad, totaling 1.73m people. ***Ed: No doubt
the outbound folks are capitalizing on the high yen, while
the inbound ones are taking advantage of promotional
discounts -- it's a good time to travel.** (Source: TT
commentary from, Apr 21, 2012)

-> Hospitals form buying group

In what may not be good news for medical suppliers already
under pressure from shrinking government procurement, 60
hospitals around Japan, including the Japan Red Cross
Ishinomaki Hospital, have teamed up to co-buy equipment and
supplies. The group is expected to initially focus on
high-margin products such as pacemakers, catheters, and (we
presume) stents. The Nikkei says that the combined buying
power of the group is around JPY30bn annually. (Source: TT
commentary from, April 20, 2012)

-> Rakuten shuts down China online mall

Rakuten has been aggressively expanding globally, which
means expanding risk as well. To CEO Mikitani's credit, he
knows when to stick around and fight and when to fold. This
has been the case with China, where Rakuten says it will
pull out of an online shopping mall venture with China's
largest online search provider, Baidu. Rakuten says that
tough competition and lots of red ink are behind the move
and that in pulling out it will write off the entire
investment of JPY860m. Baidu has not said what it will do
with the company and staff yet. ***Ed: This has to be a
black eye for Rakuten in China, and particularly given that
they are pulling out from a joint venture with such a major
player as Baidu. We imagine they won't be welcome back
there for a while...** (Source: TT commentary from, Apr 20, 2012)

-> Government employees to start Cool Biz on May 1st

The official nod to no ties and short sleeved shirts will
start early this year, on May 1st and run through to
October 31st. The government says that it wants to ensure
minimum power usage (in this case air conditioning) and so
wants people to dress for the warmer weather longer. The
temperatures in Tokyo for next week are expected to range
from 14 to 22 degrees, so not exactly sweat-inducing
weather. (Source: TT commentary from, Apr 20,

-> NTT DATA to start software co. in Myanmar

If like us and you've been mystified as to why the generals
in Myanmar have suddenly permitted a political thaw and are
pushing to open up to the world, some of the pieces will
have fallen into place over the last few weeks. On Friday
the government announced that it is forgiving JPY300bn of
loans and debt as well as extending new annual financial
assistance to develop that nation's economy. Hard on the
heels of this development, NTT Data has announced that it
will set up a software company in Myanmar, and will use it
as a base for business directed at (surprise, surprise) the
government and public agencies. ***Ed: Clearly NTT Data is
no slouch when it comes to offering its services to a
country with very little IT infrastructure and fresh
promises of home-team aid. You've got to admire, no matter
how grudgingly, how Japan Inc. works...** (Source: TT
commentary from, Apr 20, 2012)

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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This is an ideal opportunity to find out what is involved,
and to ask specific questions that are not normally
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In this section we run comments and corrections submitted
by readers. We encourage you to spot our mistakes and
amplify our points, by email, to

*** More Fukushima radiation risk...
In Terrie's Take 658 we described how we were
cautiously optimistic that the nuclear threat to Tokyo was
passing, and that there are now trusted foreign reports
coming in that show this. HOWEVER, an alert reader sent us
the link below, which points out that the risk factor from
Fukushima is still very high and will remain that way for a
while to come. Specifically, until December next year, the
spent fuel in Reactor Building 4 cannot be moved as the
gantry crane collapsed into the fuel pool. This means that
if there was a major aftershock and the spent fuel pool
cracked open -- a strong possibility since it would have
been weakened in last year's quake, then there would be
threat of a meltdown of the spent fuel rods and thus a
major radiation release... Hmmm, not good.

See the video or simply read the transcript here:


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=> Maegami-ji Temple in Saijo, Ehime-ken

Mt. Ishizuchi, or Ishizuchi-san as it' s known in Japanese,
dominates the scenery of Saijo. Maegami-ji temple stands in
a valley between the foothills of Ishizuchi in Saijo. The
mountain itself is revered as a god or kami, and Maegami-ji
means "the temple in front of god". Buddhism and Shinto
have been closely interrelated over the centuries, and in
layout of the grounds and architectural appearance of its
main hall, this temple has a lot in common with Shinto
shrines. A visit to the nearby Ishizuchi Shrine only
confirms this impression. In fact, Maegami-ji used to be
the headquarters of the Shinto cult of Mt. Ishizuchi before
Ishizuchi Shrine was formed in the Meiji period.

=> Island Camping at Zamami Beach, Okinawa-ken

Just a short domestic flight from Tokyo, Zamami feels a
world away from the pace of life in the metropolis. Nobody
on the island is in a hurry; schoolchildren and elderly
islanders greet visitors that are passing through.
Surrounding the village, Zamami is a nature lover's
paradise of jungle-covered hilltops, soaring cliffs and
deserted beaches.

Most visitors come to this island for the world-class
snorkeling and scuba diving, as the water is renowned for
visibility and an abundance of coral, fish and turtles.
From January to March Zamami is also a prime spot for whale
watching. Each view-point on the island is punctuated by
observation decks, used for sighting the whales'

The campsite is just a fifteen-minute walk from the harbor
(maps available from tourist information). Here you can
camp in the shade of the trees for as little as JPY300, or
JPY1,000 if you need to hire camping gear. I recommend hiring
a BBQ set from the campsite and rounding the day off by
cooking up some of the fresh local seafood.



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