Downturn in Japanese Economy Constrains Employment Prospects for Students, Alumni

For a person wanting a business job involving Japan in the late '80s to early '90s, getting work with the Japanese seemed all so easy and lucrative.

The Feb. 2, 1987 cover of Newsweek--"Your Next Boss May Be Japanese"--blared the American perception of fear and opportunity that Japanese economic growth seemed to represent.

During the last half of the 1980s, Japanese companies based much of their expansion on the wildly inflated values of the Tokyo Stock Exchange.

This "cheap cash" fueled Japanese efforts to fund costly research, new manufacturing facilities and such trophy purchases as Rockefeller Center, Columbia Pictures and automobile plants in the U.S. and England.

But as Japan's euphoric economy began to take a downturn around 1992, prospects for recent college graduates also got tougher. Today's graduates face considerably higher standards and requirements in finding jobs in Japan, aside from teaching English. Still, at Harvard, many current East Asian Studies concentrators maintain that job availability is still high--although students have to hustle for jobs more fervently than before.

Enduring Enrollment

Harvard students studying Japan today who are interested in Japan-related business jobs insist that Japan should not be written off--at least not yet.

Ken Takasu '98, a concentrator in East Asian Studies (EAS) and economics, worked for the U.S. investment bank Goldman Sachs in Tokyo last summer. He says that Japan is actually a very exciting place to work right now.

"I think that anyone who is interested in finance would be interested in the developments going on in Japanese finance right now," Takasu says.

Takasu, who is considering returning to Goldman Sachs after graduation, insists that there are "tremendous" opportunities for Japanese and non-Japanese interested in Japanese finance.

Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto last fall set up a series of deregulatory reforms that by 2000 would make the Japanese capital markets competitive with other foreign investors, according to Takasu, who is studying the topic for his senior thesis.

Furthermore, Takasu says, the post-bubble economy has actually been beneficial to the financial sectors he has been involved in.

"What the 'bubble burst' really means is that over-inflated asset prices came down to less inflated levels, Takasu says. "In this type of environment those most affected are entities which have these assets on their books, most notably banks, trusts, insurance firms, securities firms, etc."

As for report of China's economic growth, Takasu insists that Japan still comes out on top.

"One must remember that regardless of what one hears in the news, Japan has the largest pool of liquid savings...there's a lot to be done in our lifetimes," Takasu says.