Does “Gap Year” Benefit the Japanese Society?

 Once I read some English article about the Japanese corporate culture. According to it, “ If it can be said that the American just have a date with companies, the Japanese marry companies.”  And, just like a marriage in Japan, many Japanese people do not leave their companies, even if they are not satisfied.

        To make matters worse, Japanese young people have to decide in hurry on which company they marriage. The statistic of a Japanese institute “the Labor policy laboratory” says that 88.0% of Japanese university students start searching for a company they work for when they become a junior. It is very high compared with European countries, whose average ratio is 39.1%. This is because Japanese companies give priority on recruiting people who have just graduated from a university. Japanese companies educate young people to be a good employment peculiar to them. It worked very much while Japanese companies were full of energy. However, reflected by the recession lasting for two decades and the maturity of the Japanese society, some people say we have to reconsider it. Especially, these days, we discuss whether Japanese companies allow a sort of a “gap year”.  In general, a gap year means a free year between graduation from high schools and entering universities. It is common in the UK or some European countries. But in this essay, I talk about the gap year extendedly interpreted that Japanese companies should treat the youth equally unless it has been more than three years since they graduated from universities.

  I agree with this idea for three reasons. First, it would help Japanese young people widen their way of thinking. Now, Japanese children always have to pursue the expectation of others.  They often make up their mind on their ways just because of obsession. The gap year would enable them to ponder what they really want to do. It would contribute to lessening their uneasiness. Second, the gap year would provide them with more opportunities to attain special abilities. For instance, if someone wants to go abroad to study English, he or she can do it in the gap year. At present, in Japan, undergraduate students cannot necessarily focus on what they are interested in. This is because they have to spend their time in not only studying but also job hunting.  Finally, the gap year would benefit Japanese companies. In this globalized era, they need young people who are active and good at a communication skill.

At the same time, however, there are also a lot of people who oppose this reform. For example, some people point out that the gap year is just a superficial change, which practically has no impact on the Japanese society. Even now, some Japanese companies have space for people who graduated from universities less than three years before. But they avoid taking the gap year, because they have to be ahead their friends. Actually, also in the US, university students in a business department often start job hunting when they become a junior. Therefore, some people say the gap year is useless.

    It is true that we are not sure how much this reform will substantively change the Japanese hiring system. But, in my opinion, the point is letting the Japanese young people less feel obsession. In Japan, equality is emphasized and we are forced to compare ourselves to others. That way of living looks like a one-way railroad track. We always study hard to enter famous junior high schools, popular high schools and prestigious universities. Then once we start working for companies, it is common to work for the same company all day until retirement. In this way, the road is fixed so that it is incredibly difficult to get back if you step out from the railroad. Ken Mogi, who is a senior researcher at Sony Computer Science Laboratories, criticized this system when he met some British young people who was just graduated from a university and enjoying travel in his gap year.

 “Japanese University students start the activity of searching for a company to work for more than one year before graduation. Some people even remain in the same grade on purpose to keep that they can enter companies just after graduation. The Japanese like equality. I can see who is engaged in this activity because they are all wearing the same kind of suit. “(Ken, 2010)

   The gap year may relieve this stress. It might become an assurance that the young people can choose their way by themselves and it is all right to fail in their life several times. The Japanese companies can brace it by supporting the gap year. Even if it would not change the substance of the recruiting system, it may reduce the obsession the Japanese young people are feeling.

                 Another argument objecting to the gap year is that some students might spend their gap year in playing. Human beings get lazy without competition, so the gap year just would deteriorate the international competitiveness of young people. For example, in 2002, Japan rethought about its educational curriculum from an elementary school to a junior high school. The amount of the curriculum was reduced to give children more free time. However, it resulted in the drop in scholastic ability. Japanese grade of international student assessment significantly worsened. According to the poll taken by Jiji press in March 2007, 79.1% of Japanese people said that the curriculum needed to be reviewed again. In this way, some people are worried about that they will lose professional knowledge or competent ability of young people because of the gap year.
                    I think they make a valid point. Competition is indispensable for capitalism. I do not deny it. However, my question is whether the current Japanese circumstance is appropriate for competition. Of course, it is very competitive but it does not necessarily result in help with gaining competitive ability. For example, Japanese university students cannot concentrate on their study because of job recruiting. Japanese university students usually play in their first year of a university. When they come to want to study, it is time to prepare for looking for a job. And the Japanese companies do not care at all about grades of a university. Therefore, some university students spend their academic years just in playing and job hunting. Moreover, thanks to an exhausting rat race, we have enough opportunity to be good at everyday routine. But this “keeping up with the Joneses” mentality often prevents young people from thinking independently. Besides, in Japan, there are not many foreign people, so it is difficult to find chances in communicating with people from various countries. As the Japanese domestic market shrinks, it is useless to get capability of routine things that worked only in Japan.

       Some people are against the gap year because they are concerned that the gap year would destroy the Japanese corporate culture. Japanese companies are famous for emphasizing equality. And they prefer keeping employment to retaining their profitability. For instance, in November 2011, Japanese unemployment rate is 4.7%, which is relatively low compared with that of the US. This stability partly comes from the Japanese corporate culture. If they enforce the gap year, they get unable to treat every new employee equally. Then, they come to think that it is more important to hire plug-and-play people instead of potential young people, which would result in a higher unemployment rate.
                    However, the idea that only just graduated students are preferable is in fact totally unfair. If the economy is well-off when you become a junior, you do not have difficulty in finding jobs. But, in contrast, if the economy is weak when you become a junior, you have painful days to get a job. And once if you fail to enter a good company, it strongly affects your career forever. The gap year would make this unfairness improve. In addition, the stress on hiring new graduation students does harm to the Japanese companies, either. Nowadays, Japanese companies actually need people who can make an immediate impact. This is because they cannot afford spending much time and cost in educating them. However, the present way of recruiting dose not give both companies and students time for thinking whether a company really matches a student. According to Yuki Honda, who is an education professor of the University of Tokyo, many young people feel depressed after entering a company because of the lack of information before getting a job. And she also indicates that it is a serious problem for Japanese companies that young people leave them or cannot perform well.

“At present, the majority of Japanese companies thinks that they have to recruit university students while they are juniors to keep competent human resources. But the reality is that it just increases cost and time and it probably causes the mismatch between recruits and companies.” (Yuki, 2010)

The gap year would prevent the mismatch because it provides university students with enough time for taking part in long term internship programs, studying what they are really interested in and broadening their mind by extracurricular activities.

                   Once Charles Darwin says, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.” As long as running on a one-way railroad track made by someone else, a driver cannot avoid obstruction even if he or she recognizes it. Now young Japanese people need to be the driver of their yacht. They need to think independently about how they are sailing. They need to be so ambitious that even a head wind is used to accelerate them. At the same time, they need to be always careful of shifts of the weather. And if they find something they should avoid, they can take measure and change their route flexibly. Though it looks dangerous than a train trip, eventually it would be a better way to survive the fluctuating world.

            The gap year would be a great voyage for young sailors.

Ken, M. (2010, 04 01).
the qualia journal.
Retrieved from

Yuki, H. (2010, 11 20).
The Japanese job recruiting system is being forced to change.
Retrieved from http://hr-recruit.jp/articles/interview

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