Japanese online retail giant Rakuten is undergoing a language overhaul. As part of its efforts to expand into the global market, the company is making English its official language - and staff have until 2012 to become proficient.
Japan's top on-line retailer plans to make English the company's official language, as a number of the nation's firms tell staff to go international or prepare to go home.
Rakuten CEO Hiroshi Mikitani says he wants a "world company", not a Japanese firm, and his staff must be proficient in English by 2012 or face retrenchment.
Speaking at the company's earnings announcement on Thursday, Mikitani said Rakuten aims for 70 percent of revenues to come eventually from overseas e-markets, and that means everyone needs to speak English.
Hiroshi Mikitani, CEO of Rakuten said "This is an all-company initiative, not just the board or management level. It's for every single member of our company as a full-time worker."
Auto giants such as Toyota and Nissan have announced moves to make English more a "working" language, while one auto parts firm has gone so far as to advertise for an English-speaking Japanese CEO.
On average Japanese have performed worse than almost any other nationals in English testing, tieing with Tajikistan for 29th place of 30 Asian countries in a 2009 survey.
Mikitani, who holds a Harvard MBA, says English is essential for a company that recently aquired U.S. online retailer Buy.com.
Hiroshi Mikitani said "Obviously some of our members are struggling, but yet their English skills are improving dramatically in the last six months."
Rakuten also bought French e-mall PriceMinister in June for $246 million, while operating an on-line mall in China, and planning to be in ten foreign markets by the end of this year.