June 21, 2024

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Start-ups challenge culture of the Japanese salaryman

2 min read

At some point during the second year of the Covid-19 pandemic, the world of the Japanese salaryman and woman took an extraordinary — but little noticed — swerve off its historic course. No longer, it seemed, were bigger companies necessarily better; career uncertainty was not so terrifying.

Corporate Japan was facing an onslaught of change in 2021. Its most staid companies, where traditions, working practices and career expectations had barely changed for decades, were being forced to rapidly adapt to work-from-home pandemic norms, remote meetings, hierarchy disruption and the sudden demise of the presenteeism that once firmly policed their work culture.

But behind all that, something far more transformative was evolving. Younger Japanese workers who, through decades of deflation, wage stagnation and a sense of slow national decline, had prioritised predictability in their career, had new ideas of what a company should offer by way of risk, reward, stimulation and opportunities for rapid promotion. 

Companies, which until that point had felt little pressure to revamp their work cultures, given that stability and size had reliably attracted the most talented staff, were facing a new threat.

By the end of 2021, more than a fifth of job transitions from large companies in Japan were people leaving to join start-ups, according to the Japan Venture Capital Association, compared with 8 per cent in 2018. That proportion has continued to push towards 25 per cent, according to JVCA members. 

“I don’t think a lot of Japanese companies realise what is happening, because if they did, they would be in panic mode,” said a 26-year-old Keio University graduate currently negotiating her move from one of Japan’s biggest banks into a Kyoto-based tech start-up. “For a lot of my age-peers, start-ups are offering an alternative work environment — there is still a lot of pressure, but it is pressure you want. When you are at university choosing a job, you don’t see…



2023-11-19 00:00:44

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