Englishnization at Rakuten: The Issues, Options & Recommendations

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Table of Content

Accepting change: It was extremely challenging for the majority of Japanese employees to adjust to the practice of transforming organizational culture via cross-border communication. They were unaware that they would need to acquire an entirely new language for the purpose of globalization.

Performance and payment connection: Rakuten employees’ compensation was linked to their TOEIC score, which greatly surprised them. Failing to reach a certain score level would also lead to demotion.

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Less relevant: Diligent and hardworking employees would face limited advancement opportunities due to the lack of importance given to English. Even if these employees excelled in their job and put in extensive hours of effort, they would not be promoted without English proficiency. This primarily affected employees who had to interact with local individuals such as merchants or salesmen.

Learning capability: Most members, particularly those in their 40s and mid-40s, faced difficulties when it came to acquiring a new language at their age. However, minorities were an exception as they did not struggle as much. The majority of individuals displayed negative attitudes towards English and some even experienced feelings of shame for having to learn a foreign language within their own country.

Poor negotiations: The inadequate negotiations in the company were caused by incorporating English language. This occurred because one party had superior English skills, while the second party was unable to effectively communicate their arguments. As a result, subpar opinions were accepted.

Demotivation and inferiority complex:

Employees across different departments, including Human Resources, Finance, and Developer, experienced feelings of inferiority complex and demotivation. Some employees perceived this as another method of downsizing the workforce.

Decreased productivity: All of these reasons directly impacted the productivity of employees and Rakuten as a whole. Employees spent more time composing a simple English email compared to a Japanese email, which resulted in increased time and cost input, ultimately leading to reduced productivity.

Options: Englishnization has gained supporters in the form of enthusiastic and ecstatic younger workforce, excited foreign staff, and native speakers. This has increased Rakuten’s options, as global knowledge is easily shared and merchants are empowered. Executives in Japan can now better understand competitors’ strategies in the U.S. Englishnization has also provided Rakuten with the option to hire global talents by incorporating English in every group they acquire.

Initially hesitant, certain managers eventually grasped the rationale behind Mikitiani’s vision, recognizing that Rakuten must adapt on a global scale in order to achieve success. Additionally, Mikitiani’s chosen course of action garnered unprecedented media coverage for Rakuten.

The successful rebranding of the company is a significant step forward for Rakuten. It enables them to effectively leverage their resources and work towards their ultimate goal of becoming Japan’s top company, and potentially even a global leader. To achieve this objective, it is imperative for Rakuten employees to collaborate and consistently strive towards success.

Recommendations: To achieve a long term vision for Rakuten (and Japan) and adapt organizational culture through cross border communication, it is justified to acquire proficiency in a global language. However, the current English proficiency testing method is incorrect.

Mikitiani set a two-year deadline for all employees to reach a specific English proficiency level. However, individuals vary in their mental capacity to learn and adapt to new concepts. The TOEIC score does not accurately determine one’s English level. What truly matters is how effectively one can express ideas and opinions during discussions.

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Englishnization at Rakuten: The Issues, Options & Recommendations. (2016, Jul 24). Retrieved from


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