JFTC Essay Competition

Remarks by the Selection Committee Chair, Mr. Atsushi Nakajima

This year, we mark the 11th annual Japan Foreign Trade Council (JFTC) Essay Competition. As has been the case in past years, many applicants, mainly from abroad, have put in their optimum effort into their works and contributed to this competition. This year, we received as many as 174 essays, of which 75% or 131 were from overseas. In addition, 91 (more than half of the total) were works by people in their 20s, which indicates a growing interest among young people in our essay competition. This is something we are very proud of.

The competition’s topic this year was, “Promoting Globalization within Japan: An action plan to attract overseas investment, human resources, and other resources.” Global views and awareness have been slowly sinking into the Japanese minds, and we see increases in foreign direct investment (FDI) as well as foreign labor within Japan. Both have contributed to the globalization within, however, we cannot deny that progress is slow. In the background, there is the language barrier for the Japanese and the various restrictions and living environments within Japan that do not necessarily accommodate the companies and people from abroad. These are barriers that cannot be improved overnight.

With these circumstances in mind, many of the essays give various suggestions on how to better achieve globalization within Japan. Many of them referred to the globalization of human resources through education. Some even mentioned the globalization of academic institutions.

Although there were more well-balanced, high-quality essays than usual, there seemed to be few eye-opening suggestions that grasped our attention. This reflects once again the degree of difficulty facing Japan’s inner globalization, rather than the issue of the writers themselves. After all, there seems to be no clear-cut solution to Japan’s inner globalization. Instead, what is most important is to be increasingly attentive to the world’s movement, and for the Japanese people to make a slow but steady effort at building an economic society that is open both domestically and globally. This seems to be the overall conclusion.

This year, as in previous years, many strong essays made it to the final round. Unfortunately, there was no Grand Prize, but three were selected for Prizes for Excellence. All of them were fine essays, with clear arguments that were easy to read and logical. We would like to thank the vice chairs, the Selection Committee, and the people of JFTC for their time in reviewing a large number of essays and providing constructive and fair evaluations.

The Prize for Excellence
Mr. Kieran Hull:
Taking the lead : Establishing new channels providing investment yield, high wages and skills development in order to attract foreign resources

Referring to the low inward FDI in Japan, the author points out that Japan should appeal more strongly to foreign resources by increasing its profitability and wages and by offering skills development. With that point in mind, he says that in order to attract foreign resources, Japan needs to establish new channels besides the existing ones, and then continues to discuss three sectors: agriculture, manufacturing, and services.

In agriculture, he argues that Japan could attract foreign labor by offering skills development, and suggests agritourism, which can also take advantage of young students’ “gap year.” In manufacturing, he mentions the need for further implementation of corporate governance valued by investors in order to maintain its competitiveness. It is also stressed that skills development and innovation by Japanese firms will attract FDI. As for services, he points to the fact that there are many services that could be developed in Asia via Japan, such as the stock exchange and the SME Credit Risk Database. He asserts that these can become factors for inducing FDI from foreign firms.

The arguments are clear-cut, refined, and well substantiated, and deserve recognition. It is well researched, and the individual references of the sectors are unique and interesting, resulting in very rich content. On the other hand, many of the ideas were much too detailed such that the actual effect may be limited. Had there been a more comprehensive suggestion in these areas, it would have been perfect.

The Prize for Excellence
Mr. Manuel Jeffrey Sistoso:
Globalization and Ways to Reinvigorate the Japanese Economy in the 21st Century

Placing education, research, and innovation as the three pillars for economic revitalization, the author states that Japan should focus on these three areas that support the Japanese economy in order to achieve globalization within Japan. With that in mind, he introduces the situation surrounding the Japanese government (Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology, MEXT) Scholarship Program and examples of foreign students declining offers to study at the University of Tokyo, and continues with his suggested action plan. In this action plan, he proposes (1) increasing the number of English-taught degree programs, (2) improving the MEXT Scholarship Program by increasing scholarship allowances, (3) increasing the number of foreigners in private companies, and (4) creating an innovation zone that imports startup ideas from East Asia, acts as an incubator for these ideas, and from which goods and services are exported to Asia.

It appears that the findings are supported by personal experience, and the issues of education and the direction in which reforms should be made are well researched and argued. The arguments are clear and proposals are specific and easy to understand, resulting in an excellent and persuasive essay.

On the other hand, it was regrettable that too much space was allocated to the description on education, and not enough reference was made to the research and companies sectors. Also, while interesting points were made on education and the innovation zone, it would have been better if there was more breadth in the action plan suggested.

The Prize for Excellence
Ms. Shuangyu Ma:
STEMming the tide : strategies for promoting globalisation in Japan

The author argues that for Japan’s inner globalization, the key is for educational institutions and companies to attract foreign resources through STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), in which Japan has a comparative advantage.

Demonstrating the low rate of foreign students registered in STEM areas in Japan’s universities, and giving concrete examples in Australia, the author suggests a relaxation on language requirements for foreign students, and support for their employment and integration in Japan.

Meanwhile, on inward direct investment, the author suggests offering special incentives for foreign STEM companies to invest in Japan. She argues that in Japan, with its STEM skills and aging population, demand for pharmaceuticals and human support robotics will grow. Taking this into consideration, together with Japan’s proximity to South Korea and China whose population will also be aging, this could be an important area in the near future.

It was argued that policies aimed at attracting foreign resources should be focused on a single area, STEM, in which Japan has a comparative advantage. This single focus on STEM, reinforced by its easy-to-remember acronym, resulted in a favorable essay with a strong message. The author has carefully studied the overall Japanese situation, which deserves appraisal. Had there been a separate proposal for the mathematics area of STEM, where little explanation and reference were given, the essay would have been much more improved.