Japan | TopMBA

TopMBA.com looks at how and why international business schools have firmly established their niche in the Japanese educational market

They provide a viable solution both to foreigners and Japanese nationals who seek to remain in Japan for the duration of their studies, yet want to embark on a well-recognized, English-taught international MBA.

There are a number of reasons why foreign business people embark on MBA programs offered by foreign universities in Japan. Most students want to continue full-time employment, with an assured income, while upgrading their skills and improving their employability in the fiercely competitive Japanese job market.

“When I was put in charge of Japan operations for a subsidiary of a US-based production company, I had reached a plateau and realized that if I wanted to go higher I needed to improve myself,” says US national Edwin Tetsuya Omura who works for Universal Studios Japan in entertainment operations while pursuing an MBA at Temple University Japan Campus (TUJ).

“What’s more, I saw that growth in my field would be focused on Asia and it has already taken off since I started my MBA two years ago. Hence an international MBA gained in Asia seems most beneficial to my future,” he adds.

American Lance Shields, creative director and web strategist at branding and consulting business Blue Creative, graduated from the McGill MBA Japan this year. “Due to a job opportunity in Japan, I needed the know-how of an MBA. I benefitted a great deal from the McGill MBA as it balanced my creative web experience with knowledge in finance, strategy and entrepreneurship enabling me to lead my largest team yet in a new job at a major ad agency that I was able to get in large part due to the MBA.”

Tokyo is a ‘business laboratory’

The McGill MBA Japan, a weekend MBA over 18 months, focuses on global strategy and leadership as well as finance. The first class entered in 1998 and graduated in 2000. Their students, 40% Japanese and 60% foreigners, are in their mid 30s and typically in mid-career positions. The foreign students, mostly working professionals, include many long-term residents who already went to school in Japan.

“While our program is not specifically focused on Japan, it requires a lot of research work and study group projects and Tokyo is the ‘laboratory’ for our students,” says Philip O’Neill, director of the McGill MBA Japan program. “Out of the Forbes Global 2000, 253 companies are Japanese, many of which are based in Tokyo. These companies produce many innovative technologies and the question our students ask is why these are not being used internationally.”

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A gateway to Asia

Other students pursue their foreign MBA studies in Japan in order to improve their marketability on the international job scene when preparing for a career change which often entails moving on to another Asian country or moving back to their home countries.

German-born Lena Matz is in her second year on the TUJ MBA. “I was sent from my company as an expat to Japan. While I appreciate working here, I felt that there must be something else in addition to just working in Tokyo for a few years. The MBA gives me a really good general overview about business and the right vocabulary and tools to move up to the management league.” Matz works in business analysis and controlling at electronics manufacturer Siemens in Japan.

In the past, Japanese employees would look for sponsorship from their companies to go overseas for MBA studies. However, increasingly they look for options within the country and this is where international MBA schools come in.

“The reality of full-time study abroad, followed by re-integration into a Japanese work environment after returning home makes it difficult to apply MBA logic. I have found my MBA experience fairly busy but integrated. I am applying knowledge that I have learned during the course to my work on a weekly basis,” explains Masanori Nagaya, a manager Hitachi Ltd who is currently pursuing the TUJ MBA.

A minority of students come from abroad with the specific intention of applying for a job or setting up a business in Japan after graduation. They hope that completing an international MBA while based in Japan will give them the advantage of being well connected through the alumni network, in both the Japanese and the global business worlds.

“I came to Japan with the aim of going back to school at an accredited US university while looking for jobs here,” says American Kevin Washington who is in his first year on the TUJ MBA. “Through one of my MBA professors I got introduced to Walt Disney Japan where I am now an MBA intern.”

Fast Facts

  • The world’s third-largest economy, after the US and China
  • Currency: is the yen (¥ or JPY)
  • Capital city: Tokyo
  • Consists of thousands of islands, of which more than 400 are inhabited
  • The four largest islands, which make up 97% of Japan’s total area, are Honhū, Hokkaidō, Kyūshū and Shikoku