The title started with a sensational word and an exclamation mark. The word 凄絶 means 'fierce' or 'life-and-death'. Using such a strong word showed that the article was not serious. In fact, it was a kind of a promotion to sell a magazine. The feature of the latest issue of the magazine is about English learning. In order to sell the latest issue, the article was going to cultivate the sense of crisis about Japanese people's English skills.
Aside from the advertising bias, I found the story was interesting. It was a case study that a Japanese company, Rakuten, had been struggling to change itself to a global company.
Rakuten is one of the biggest internet related company in Japan. It runs an internet shopping mall, Rakuten Ichiba. It also runs credit cards, securities, travel agents and even a professional baseball team. Currently its business is mainly in Japan but it is going to expand to other countries.
According to the article, about one year ago, on Feb. 1, 2010, Hiroshi Mikitani, founder and CEO of Rakuten greeted all employees at a morning meeting saying "Good morning" in English. At this moment Rakten started changing its official language from Japanese into English. This summer, after one year and half of a transition period, the official language will become English completely. All documents will be written in English. All full-time employees will make discussions in English at every meetings. Even for casual conversations at office using English will be encouraged.
Rakuten decided TOEIC score requirements for each positions:
board member 800
senior manager 750
mid-level manager 700
junior manager 650
assistant manager 600
other employee 600
In order to promote to a position an employee must satisfy the position's requirement.
As for new employees, Rakuten asked them to get a score more than 700 this year and more than 650 last year before joining the company. Last year about 600 new employees joined the company. Among them over a hundred employees could not satisfy the requirement at the entrance. After joining the company they had not been working actually. Instead they had been studying English as their work until getting requirement scores. Almost all new employees could reached to the requirement.
I'm not sure whether Rakuten's strategy is effective or not. But Rakuten is serious. Some other companies in Japan also become serious about English. Needless to say, employee's English skill is not a sufficient condition but it will have to be a necessary condition in the near future.