The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan

Over the past 10 years, there has been a clear shift in thinking in Japan regarding professional and personal development.

The self-help industry has made a particularly rapid influx here, evidenced by bookstores filled with advice from American writers such as Robert Kiyosaki and Jack Canfield, and local Japanese self-help guru Ken Honda.

Their reflections on themes such as leadership, globalization, work–life balance, and financial independence quickly struck a cord with Japanese workers in their 30s and 40s hungry for personal growth and improved lifestyles.

The popularity of this genre also helped increase awareness, among Japanese business professionals, concerning a Western invention, namely, the Master of Business Administration (MBA).

Several well-known Japanese universities launched flexible programs aimed at working professionals and offered classes in the evenings and/or on weekends under the generic names Executive MBA or Weekend MBA.

Foreign universities, meanwhile, tapped into the trend and either entered into partnerships with Japanese universities, or set up satellite campuses in the major population centers of Tokyo and Osaka.

Some programs promote globalization, with classes offered in English by professors who are native speakers of the language, while others offer a curriculum in Japanese—following Western pedagogy rooted in case study analysis, discussion, and critical thinking—which culminates in collaborative presentations.

The popularity of the MBA in Japan continues to grow, with an increasing number of Japanese and foreign universities launching hybrid programs, which allow for a combination of both virtual and face-to-face participation.

The increasing flexibility and variety of these programs have made them accessible outside the major urban centers and across demographics, extending their reach to young, aspiring workers and seasoned professionals alike.

Riding the wave of personal development, in May this year Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto partnered with the Japan Professional Football League (J. League) to launch an innovative program, designed specifically to train future professional sports general managers.

While not an accredited MBA, the competitive academic and hands-on program is specifically designed to produce competent, commercial-minded general manager-level candidates for the J. League.

Undeniably, one of the key motives for those who enrol in an MBA program is increased upward mobility, part of which is driven by the potential to receive a higher salary package—MBA holders on average are paid 15–20 percent more than colleagues in the same role but without the degree.

Increasingly, line managers include the MBA as a highly preferred qualification in job descriptions, meaning that the MBA holder has an advantage over other applicants at the screening process.

The latest data from the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Labour shows that there are 1.2 jobs per job seeker. This ratio increases significantly when the skill sets considered include experience, leadership ability, specialty knowledge, language expertise, and certifications.

Add an MBA to these qualities and a candidate can expect multiple job offers. Furthermore, experienced recruitment professionals are well aware of the leverage that an MBA provides at the contract negotiation stage.

However, the MBA is not an automatic ticket to the corner office. As with the items in a toolbox, a user’s effectiveness is judged according to the tool’s use.

It is common to see MBA holders wave around their degree as a status symbol, in an attempt to differentiate themselves from non-MBA holders.

Some go as far as to list the MBA credential on their business cards, to underscore their status. Others will quietly apply the valuable lessons learned in acquiring the qualification.

Regardless of whether the distinction is worn proudly on the sleeve or kept filed away on a bookshelf, the thought-effective processes and behavior that an MBA course of study can foster is key to leveraging the degree for success.

MBA graduates research and analyze; they make strategic proposals; they take leadership on necessary actions; they collaborate well with stakeholders; they pivot where required; and, they focus on the most crucial proof of the MBA concept—delivering results.