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Why Japan’s ‘shūkatsu’ job-seeking system is changing (bbc.com)
70 points by willvarfar 58 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 62 comments

This article does a poor job of explaining just how soul-crushing the shukatsu system is. For example, you're traditionally expected to hand-write your resumes [1] and application letters, in ink, from scratch, for every single company you apply to. Make a single mistake while writing it? Throw it in the bin and start again. Now repeat for every single company you want to apply to. The system is also a colossal time suck: the only way to apply to most companies is to attend their application sessions (setsumeikai) in person, and each Japanese graduate goes to, on average, 76 (!) of these. And only then does the interview process actually start!

[1] https://soranews24.com/2014/10/02/to-handwrite-or-not-to-han...

Sounds like DDOS protection to me. Wouldn't a touch heavy process of application result in equally careful consideration?

In the West everybody is simply spamming everybody, I wish recruiters went through similar exercise before sending me an e-mail or calling me just because a keyword search match my CV.

I did shukatsu 10 years ago using printed resumes. Had my fair share of rejections but I still got interview offers anyway. No way to tell if rejection was because of printed resume or some other reason, though I find it hard to believe that anyone made an exception for foreigners.

I did ask my manager about printed resumes at my new job and he mentioned that he preferred handwritten ones but a large number submit printed, even digital ones so they had to adapt.

So, presumably you find the nearest teenager and give them 100K yen or whatever to write up some resumes? :)

If an employer were to expect a handwritten resume. I wouldn't even consider applying to them. If they had such a bad policy on that, I can just imagine how terrible it will be to work for them.

People ain't programming on whiteboards nor doing dumb test projects either. Yet vast majority of people are fine with such indirect testing.

That does seem like a lot of work, but surely there's a benefit in terms of signaling? If you apply to a job, it shows more than a bit of interest.

...as would getting a tattoo of the companies name.

If everyone is expected to do it, it doesn't stand out.

It's not about standing out. It's about signalling that you're genuinely interested in a job.

What makes it a signal if it's a rather uniform thing?

Signal doesn't have to be unique or non-uniform.

If a signal helps to remove all noise and there's only the signal left, does it become the new noise?

I actually went through this system several years ago.

Basically, the system favors famous universities' graduates. Since "big" companies (Toyota, Panasonic, NTT, etc) are in competition with each other during the tight recruiting schedule, they tend to focus recruiting effort on few "good" universities. However, even then, obtaining the best talents are not guaranteed.

Therefore, their solutions are an agreement with those universities, where a number of hiring slots are reserved for graduates from those universities. The universities decide who get the recommendation to which companies.

The catch is, once you are selected for this recommendation, you are STRONGLY compelled to accept offer from that specific company, and withdraw application from all other companies. The students submits their preference to the career councelor and it was considered, but there are cases where people ended up at strange companies. I know someone who was an excellent researcher on image processing and wanted to do DSLR camera development in Canon, ended up as automotive engineer at Toyota because he was afraid of missing out once in a lifetime opportunity, due to the lifetime employment system. (To be fair, due their recent focus on autonomous driving, it worked just fine for him)

I actually managed to secure one of those slots and obtain my first job this way. I have since moved to another company since then as I didn't believe in lifetime employment, but in my case, I actually liked the job. So, it was all good for me.

The paradigm of the Japanese "salaryman" is one of the most miserable existences I can imagine that doesn't involve physical abuse. Until now I thought that was just me, and that cultural differences meant it was a much more fulfilling career for Japanese people. Interesting to see that might not actually be the case.

My sister-in-law who is just a regular, every day mid-twenty-something Japanese woman that works roughly in graphic design mostly gets home past 11pm. She's not the typical image of a "salaryman" but it all still applies. I feel sorry as hell for her.

Ha ha! In Japan, nothing ever changes: until it does. And then it changes immediately with no transition period. All of a sudden everybody agrees to do things a different way. It floors me every time it happens.

It's like the 3rd biggest economy with a large population, and basically the closest thing Asia has to the West while at the same time being so not Western.

Interest in Japan is higher than average among the software developer crowd. My wife teaches Japanese and her biggest clientele demographic is single, male engineers in their 20s.

I'd argue Korea is as close to the west, potentially closer.

A fascinating tool for comparing countries is Hofstede's cultural dimensions theory, which looks at power distance, individualism vs. collectivism, uncertainty avoidance, masculinity vs. femininity, long-term orientation, and indulgence vs. restraint.


I computed the cosine similarity between Japan, SK, and the USA to get:

Japan-SK: 0.933

USA-Jap: 0.8315

USA-SK: 0.670

So it does appear that Japan is more similar to the US than South Korea using this metric.

Well, the Japanese were once called Yankees of the Orient...

I think the least surprising result of all is that Japan and South Korea are both more like each other than they are like the United States.

Pretty much. They both are. They stand in stark comparison to everywhere else in Asia.

You mean South Korea. There is no country called Korea.

Strictly speaking, there's no country called South Korea - there's the Republic of Korea and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, both of which make a territorial claim over the whole peninsula.

You mean the 'Republic of Korea'?

I'd bet a lot of them also like anime.

I think you replied to the wrong thread.

One day there are rubbish bins around the city. Next day there aren't. Boom. Yeah. They're a curious bunch of people.

There was a legitimate reason for that. And calling any group "a curious bunch of people" has weird implications.

I can imply weird things if I want. What if that's what I was going for? They are, after all, a curious bunch of people.

edit: Also, I challenge the notion that the reason was legitimate. I know the reason. But I wouldn't make that trade-off.

They, really are not "a curious bunch of people". I'm calling it a weird implication because it's reductionist and kind of fascistic to try to write off huge groups of people as being inherently different.

Cultures can be wildly different, and 2 different huge groups of people can have different cultures, and as a consequence be inherently different to one another, so there's that...

For all the talk of individualism, for example, it's pretty easy to blindly tell a random American from a random French with great statistical success just for their opinions on things. And those two cultures aren't even as different as each is with Japanese culture...

Whats weird is you implying I think liberal democracy has had it's day and that the state should be all powerful and led by a strong-man based on a summation of my decade of experience interacting with people from Japan noting the individual differences and aggregate similarities are something I find, and I quote, "curious".

Any examples?

For me the biggest one was not smoking on the street. Possibly it's because it happened just when I arrived (2007). Everybody and their dog would be smoking while walking down the street. One day a sign went up that showed a picture of a person with a cigarette and a child. It had a caption that read, "A cigarette butt is held at eye level for a child". Literally the next day smoking on the street stopped. I very, very rarely see it any more.

Interestingly, perhaps bouyed by the success of the cigarette sign, on the train they had signs of "Do it at home" with pictures of people doing makeup, or whatever. Everybody ignored it :-).

More generally, apparently sexual harassment used to be common in the workplace. I never actually saw anything extreme, but I did see a massive change in attitude. One day guys would be talking about inappropriate things at work without anyone ever saying anything and the next day when the same thing happened the section chief would be yelling at them about sexual harassment. It was literally night and day and it wasn't like there was an announcement or anything. It just went from being tolerated to not being tolerated.

I often see things on TV that makes me wonder if the government is kind of sounding people out on stuff. For example, one day they had a piece on Korean schools for ethnic Koreans whose family members were essentially abducted to Japan during WWII. The children and grandchildren (and probably great grand children now) for many of these people are still in Japan. Because the Japanese law doesn't allow dual citizenship, these people have to choose between Korean and Japanese citizenship. If they decided to choose Korean citizenship, they get permanent resident status, but not citizenship. This is considered a pretty big problem with a lot of people and so it's been a question for literally generations about what to do: should these people be granted dual citizenship? What about school systems that include Korean culture? How much should be paid by the government etc? It's a horrible mess and, of course, in Japanese style virtually nothing has been done about it (very weird to be born in a country and not have citizenship of that country)! But this NHK program was very sympathetic to the plight of these people, so it made me think that maybe a move was afoot (the NHK is not as arms length from the government as the BBC is from the UK government...). But not so far anyway.

The USA is one of the few places which confers citizenship based on place of birth. Most countries confer citizenship based on the citizenship of the child's parents.

Jus sanguinis is more common than jus soli, but the US is far from unique in conferring citizenship by birth.


Almost every country in the Americas works this way, Colombia is the only big exception. It is certainly not "one of the few".

Mobile payments is a good one, PayPay signed up 9MM users since May last year, leading to what seems like every company in Japan starting their own payment app, with one spectacular disaster already (7pay).

It's easy to gain users, when you give away money.

When you used PayPay during the original campaign period they discounted purchases by 20%. At random, they would also pay the whole price, without deducting your balance.

I've been told they had a 100MUSD budget for that campaign.

Essentially they threw money at user acquisition. By using PayPay you were getting free money... it was kind of nuts not to use it.

So, it's not surprising that they gained so many users. On top of that, digital payment systems were already popular in Japan (as well as being able to use your railcard for payment, there's a bunch of store cards/other digital payment cards).

Meiji restoration and industrialization. End of World War II. Flip phones to iPhone. Using Facebook.

> Non-Keidanren members, not bound by the guidelines, have been snapping up promising students before member companies have even started recruiting.

Wait, shukatsu happens 1 year before graduation. Does that mean other companies start recruiting even earlier?

When I read that shukatsu was changing I expected it to become more like western societies, not even weirder

I majored in industrial design and the large automotive companies and several makers begin recruitment during our 3rd years summer holidays. They call it internships or summer workshops, but having attended those gives you a leg up in the process. I attended the Honda’s winter internship/official recruitment and the summer participants were on very friendly terms with the recruiting staff. Not HR, but regular employees roped in to interview and judge their worthiness.

I am wondering: why so many news about Japan on this site? Do many readers live here?

There are changes in every society in the world right now, yet I have the impression that Japan gets a big part of coverage while having little relevance to the rest of the world...

The site is hugely US-focused to start with; I wouldn't say there was "many" news articles about Japan. There are a few high-profile posters who live there such as Patio11.

> little relevance to the rest of the world

That's .. an opinion.

Is it disproportionate ? There are still a overwhelming number of US centric news, on subject that arguably would be more thought provoking if it was on other countries (that is arguably not that interesting, even to a US reader (I am thinking about the plastics piece by NPR on the front page for instance, it's a decent article, but would be much more interesting if it was about plastics in China for instance)

Japan is the closest (for westerners) to alien civilization, that's why it's so interesting.

Not really, it's just the one with a reputation of being alien. There are just as alien societies but without the reputation.

I'd say several things contribute to that reputation. It's historically remote (hence exotic and alien), it was never so consistently powerful as to be a great power and share in what is considered normal (like China is), yet not weak neither and experienced modernization very early, hence contributing to its influence and thus reputation.

HN community in Japan is quite big, there's also some good meetups e.g. HN Kansai and HN Tokyo

Japan has deep philosophical and business traditions that appeal to the rest of industrial world.

Personally I adore Japan. It is surely a country from the future. It has so many lessons to give for the rest of us.

Had a good laugh at this.

Japan is firmly stuck in the 80s. The only major change is now most people here have smartphones.

Japan does some things very right, and some things horribly wrong. Not too different from most other developed countries.

As a foreigner to Japan you'll pick up on lots of things, habits, and systems that work really well and could serve as examples for other countries. But study the country more in-depth or live there for a longer period of time, and you'll see the parts that make you wish Japan would adopt some things many of us take for granted.

In Europe having five weeks of paid vacation is pretty much standard. Employers are well aware that holidays benefit both employer and employee, because a well-rested and refreshed employee soon has those missing hours made up for in inspiration, efficiency, and a much lower sick-rate.

In Japan this is unachievable not because the government doesn't desire it (on the contrary) but because of inertia in the workplace. As a Japanese friend recently explained to me: you can't take off many more days beyond the public holidays like in the golden week, because your senior colleagues didn't get to do that when they were younger either. With the strict hierarchy of seniority in Japanese companies and institutions, that basically means the end of that discussion until the desire for change becomes so great that it happens on a national scale.

On the other hand, they have warm 缶コーヒー from vendingmachines, so they are living in the future. At least a bit.

> In Japan this is unachievable not because the government doesn't desire it (on the contrary) but because of inertia in the workplace.

Also: working hours. (From what I've heard.)

Spending an ungodly number of hours in the office, even if half of them are unproductive, and where you can actually fall asleep from exhaustion--but that's okay, as long as you're at your desk.

I honestly believe that Japan is stuck in the 50's if you want to use that kind of imagery. It's like "Leave it to Beaver" here. Of course that's a gross over-simplification and there are a lot of things that contradict it, but it's the way I feel. When people think they want to retreat to a simpler kind of lifestyle where things are more cut and dried -- that's really like Japan. Of course I live in the country side which is very different than living in Tokyo, Osaka or Kyoto.

What really matters is that they do things differently, with different successes (and failures).

"Genetic diversity" of ideas is an important part of making the world a better place.

Having spent a year in japan, it’s not the country of the future nor is it the one west should look advice from. Nordic countries are much better on almost every aspect, but they’re not as ”exotic” as the mythical land of the rising sun.

>It is surely a country from the future. It has so many lessons to give for the rest of us.

I sincerely hope we're learning not to repeat many mistakes that have been made there regards work culture, xenophobia and racism and crippling pressure to conform.

I feel this a little too. Living in Japan, I don't think that much people read HN here (relative to other countries) , even in the software industry.

It's so different. To me it's a constant reminder that many things I take for granted, actually don't have to be like that at all.

It serves to me a similar role as sci-fi for me, in reminding me of that.

Except Toto toilets and the Shinkansen (which other countries like China now have) it’s not so different.

And the banking system is ass backwards compared to the rest of the world.

The “country of the future” trope is not actually very accurate, but the structure of society has many major differences from any other country I’m aware of. The shūkatsu system is one decent example of that.

All anyone said in this thread was it is different. There was no implication of superiority. Why assume otherwise?

Who said anything about superiority? I merely stated the main differences I have seen since living here. Japan isn't much different from the rest of the world, yet people here on HN seem to treat it as some kind of exotic alien world.

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