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Why Isn’t Japan as Tech Savvy as It Should Be?

Despite your favorite films and anime, Japan isn't the high-tech future world you think it is.

By 3 min read

Computer literacy is basic, nontechnical knowledge about computing and software. However, it should also include digital literacy, such as knowing what websites may be harmful or how to interact with others online.

Japan is at the forefront of creating cutting edge technology to solve societal problems, and anyone looking for work in Japan has likely encountered the standard IT job posting. But while the country often stirs images of Blade Runner, many people in Japan are actually not very tech-savvy.

Both the young and old seem to struggle with basic computer skills. So, why is this? Is there anything being done to change it? What does this mean for those searching for jobs in Japan?

After looking at the research and reporting over the last few years, things in the present start to make a little more sense.

A look inside some of the research

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Your average input for one email in Japan.

An article published in the Shonan Journal noted that “Japanese youths’ digital literacy is falling behind other developed countries.” For example, many students in Japan may have been taught how to use PowerPoint but rarely sit down and make a presentation.

Does this sound a bit strange? Well, there may be a reason as to why this is. In Japan, a traditional lecture style of education is still the norm, whereas an active learning style is adopted in many other countries.

So it appears that the nation’s youth are technically being educated on using specific programs, they lack the opportunity for actual hands-on experience. Essentially, this means students may not be be pushed to take an active role in their education. Japan’s low computer literacy skills seems to be an unintended consequence of this style of education.

Young and old alike

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No pressure.

In a survey of Japanese university students, in the JALT Call Journal about 70% of respondents knew how many characters were allowed in a tweet, but only 6% of them could correctly identify poor email etiquette.

Additionally, the survey found that only half of the respondents could correctly distinguish between what is and is not a search engine. An additional third of them responded, “I don’t know.”

An article published in Newsweek Japan stressed that “in other countries, IT skills of those aged 16 to 34 years old are almost the same level. But [compared with] Japanese people’s [IT skills], a sharp decline is seen among those that are 24 years old or younger.”

Furthermore, elderly people in Japan use their age as an excuse to not learn about computers or the internet and they are hesitant to even try.

Tech and education

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Prepping to fix their parent’s computers at home.

So what is currently being done to address this issue for future generations?

There has been a push for educational reform in Japan to increase the number of Japanese IT workers in the coming generations. As of 2020, Japanese policymakers have made computer programming education compulsory for elementary schools.

However, the issue of teacher education remains elusive, as elementary school teachers typically teach all subject areas to their students. Put another way, all elementary school teachers have the possibility of teaching programming classes. There has been a push for an interactive online space for teachers to learn, voice their struggles and support each other through what appears to be a significant shift in educational requirements.

A changing job market

As of 2021, there were 1.73 million foreign workers in Japan. Over the last decade, there has been a 250% increase in foreign workers. However, research shows that many more will be needed for Japan’s continued economic growth.

This sounds reasonable, sure. But, exactly how many foreign workers are we talking about?

By 2040, according to the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), that figure is sitting at 6.74 million foreign workers. Since international competition for work in various fields, such as technology, is getting more fierce, Japan has to appeal to a general international workforce to accomplish its economic goals. Only time will tell if all of these large goals will come to fruition in the coming era.

Have any stories about the IT and tech world in Japan? Let us know in the comments!

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