Considering Japanese business, one immediately thinks of the likes of consumer electronics manufacturers Toshiba and Nintendo or of the car manufacturers Nissan and Honda. These Japanese blue chip firms are internationally immensely successful. They rank amongst the global business elite and their innovative products grace the homes of millions of people around the world.
It comes as a surprise then that the Land of the Rising Sun does not seem to fare well in terms of business education. The QS Global Top Business Schools 2009 featured only three Japanese schools amongst the 200 schools that constitute the MBA elite in Asia: Waseda Business School (WBS), International University of Japan (IUJ) and Ritsumeikan Asia-Pacific University (APU).
This raises the question why graduates and recruiters seem to shy away from Japan considering its position in international business. TopMBA's Alena Eckelmann, who lives and works in Tokyo, has investigated on the ground.
Business education à la Japonaise
Traditionally business training in Japan was provided by large corporations in-house. Upon joining a company freshmen would first receive comprehensive induction sessions that covered all business functions. They would then start working in a certain department and every few years be rotated to other departments. Eventually they had acquired knowledge of all the different business functions. This system produced well-rounded functional generalists and hence there was no need for MBAs.
Whilst some Japanese corporations continue to operate this in-house training model, others now outsource their business training to universities and business schools. Japanese corporate employees now increasingly study business at the 78 graduate business schools that operate MBA programs in Japan.
The favourite domestic choices of Japanese MBA students are the graduate schools of well-known universities. Most MBA programs at these schools are taught in Japanese only but they are not exclusive to Japanese students. Anyone who is fluent in the language and also fulfils the other entrance criteria may apply. In fact, an increasingly large number of students from Asia, especially from China, Korea, Taiwan and Southeast Asia, join these programs.
Top choices for international students
What seems largely unknown is the fact that there are more and more MBA courses in Japan that are taught entirely in English. These include programs at Waseda Business School (WBS), part of Waseda University, and at the Graduate School of International Corporate Strategy (ICS) of Hitosubashi University. Both schools are located in the centre of Tokyo, which is the heart of the Japanese business and economy.
Masakazu Sugiura, Professor at WBS and Project Director of the Waseda-NTU Double MBA Program tells of what he calls a mental block with regards to English-language MBAs in Japan that prospective international students and recruiters seem to have. His main message is: There ARE top-class MBAs taught in English in Japan and anyone with an interest in Japanese business or in Asian business should seriously consider them!
A new breed of Japanese business schools focuses on the Asia Pacific region. Amongst the pioneers are Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University (APU) located in Beppu City on Japan's Kyushu Island and the International University of Japan (IUJ) in Niigata Prefecture at the Sea of Japan. Both Kyushu and Niigata are Japan's gateways to Asia and hence the campus locations were a natural choice.
Professor Kenji Yokoyama, Dean of the Graduate School of Management at APU, explains the advantage of his school: At APU the topics of study focus on the Asia pacific region and the program makes use of a wide range of case studies of some of the world's leading companies based in Japan and in other Asian nations which are developed right here at APU. What's more, APU acts as an Asia Pacific network for students who establish their connections in the emerging Asian markets.
Dr. Yoshitaka Yamazaki, Associate Dean and Professor of Organizational Behaviour at the Graduate School of Business, International University of Japan (IUJ) tells us that the MBA environment in Japan offers unique opportunities to learn about Japanese perspectives and perceptions coming from Japanese professors and students both of whom are dispatched from the country's blue chip corporations.
A hot trend in Japanese MBA education are part-time, weekend and online programs offered in English by foreign business schools that have set up a campus in Tokyo. These include Temple University Japan (TUJ), Anaheim University Akio Morita School of Business (both have their main campus in the US) and Canada's McGill MBA Japan.
These schools initially targeted a niche market in form of the international community in Japan and especially executive employees of the many foreign corporations that have set up office in Tokyo. However, they are now ranking amongst the top MBAs in Japan according to Nikkei Business Publications.
The visa is not an issue
If international applicants pass the admission screening and they can prove that they are able to support their studies financially or receive a scholarship, then the Japanese business schools take care of the visa procedure. Obtaining a student visa for MBA studies in Japan is generally not difficult provided that the program of study is recognized by the Japanese Government. Typically, the schools help with obtaining a Certificate of Eligibility which can then be used by the prospective students to obtain a College Student Visa at their local Japanese embassy.
Fancy a job in Tokyo?
Staying on in Japan is only possible if the MBA graduate finds employment. For those who are hired, the employers, often international corporations, will sponsor a work visa. Although the economic downturn has hit Japan hard and the employment outlook is currently not as good, there are still plenty of opportunities in Tokyo, especially in certain industries.
IT, finance and banking and education are the main areas that employ large numbers of foreigners and Tokyo's head hunters are keen to fill their openings with qualified international candidates. However, near-fluency in Japanese is necessary in most cases. Hence, one can get away with studying for an MBA all in English. However, anyone who eyes a career in Japan needs advanced Japanese language skills.
Is Japan a viable future choice?
Japan could be an attractive option right now that the Japanese currency is strong against other currencies. In the past MBA graduates entered multi-national companies as well as the diplomatic service based in Japan. Although it is not easy, there are various opportunities that are only available to international students, some of which come with a very high salary.
Isn't Japan's economy a disaster-zone at the moment, so why is Japan still an excellent choice? Professor Sugiura knows the answer: Before the financial crisis studying business meant to study in the US without any question. However, the economic centre of gravity is now shifting to Asia and Japan has traditionally been and still is one of the business leaders in the region. Hence, it makes sense that business students too go where the future of business lies.
All in all, the MBA scene in Japan, like elsewhere in Asia, is thriving and the country is well prepared to be discovered by international MBA applicants and recruiters alike.