Rakuten headquarters in Tokyo Behrouz Mehri/Getty Images

Japan’s “Land of Opportunity”

Donald Trump's policies on immigration and foreign investment in the United States have striking parallels to Japan’s historic aversion to welcoming outsiders. But as the US moves to close its doors, Japan must go in the other direction, by creating an alternative land of opportunity for talent fleeing the West.

TOKYO – Not many companies headquartered in Tokyo can boast about their diversity. Twenty years ago, when I founded Rakuten as an ambitious Internet and e-commerce startup, we were just like most Japanese firms – small, and dominated by mostly male Japanese talent. But today, with over 10,000 employees – 40% of whom are women – from 70 countries, we are among the largest online retailers in the world. It is our diversity that has made us so successful.

As recently as five years ago, Rakuten was still predominantly a Japanese team. But in March 2010, in a move I believe was key to our subsequent growth, I announced “Englishnization,” a plan to make English our corporate language within two years. The goal was to lay the groundwork for global expansion in an industry that competes aggressively for Internet-savvy talent.

When I announced Englishnization, only 10% of our workforce was proficient in English. Unsurprisingly, some on my team were apprehensive; others, especially those outside the firm, thought I was a little crazy. But, just seven years later, titans of corporate Japan are seeking our advice in how to build a global brand headquartered in the Japanese capital.

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