Rakuten, the largest Japanese shopping mall that recently bought buy.com for $250 million has now decided that all internal meeting should be held in English. For a company that is 95% Japanese, this is a surprising move.
I know they want to focus on their international efforts, but mandating English in a company that still has a 95% Japanese workforce is extremely premature and will undoubtedly significantly impact efficiency. I suspect this was a decision taken in a late night meeting with a healthy amount of shochu. :-)
Nissan Diesel is facing a similar upheaval since being bought out by Volvo. I don't what the policy is at their other wholly-owned subsidiaries, but when I was working at their IT firm, it was generally known that some people would be facing layoffs because they lacked English communication skills. I suppose this is to be expected at a 'gaishikei', but it still seemed unfair and ill-considered to me. I've been in enforced all English meetings, and they didn't run too smoothly. Not surprisingly, people become very self-conscious, and the proceedings can deteriorate rapidly (after everyone's done giggling, things revert to Japanese).
The culture was a little bit parochial where I was -- they didn't sign up to work for Volvo (they signed up b/c they lived in Saitama and it was close to home) -- and Rakuten is clearly a different animal, but what always seems to get lost in this discussion about language is that communication problems are mostly about collisions of conflicting values. The language barrier is often the least of it.
Those are interesting thoughts Paul. I think this is a really crazy decision. It is going to make most meetings very inefficient. Its also not fair. Lets say you are a very good system administrator. You work hard and you are good at your job. One day your company tells you everyone has to communicate in English, and you are fired because that isn't one of your strong skills. Is that fair? Is that a fair thing to do to your hard working employees who never knew this was a requirement when they joined? Telling Japanese people working for a Japanese company in Japan that they can't communicate in Japanese is a very bad idea. Its going to be inefficient and its going to make people angry.