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Itochu celebrates 1,000 Chinese-speaking employees

Language fluency aimed at boosting trading house's operations in China

Itochu Chairman and CEO Masahiro Okafuji spoke at a ceremony recognizing the company's 1,000 Chinese-speaking employees, likely the largest agglomeration of Chinese speakers at any Japanese business. (Photo by Yuji Ohira)

TOKYO -- Itochu has hit its goal of 1,000 Chinese-speaking staff members, apparently the largest such count for a Japanese company, as the language-training program the trading house launched in fiscal 2015 starts to bear fruit.

To commemorate the feat, Itochu held an event on April 13 at its Tokyo headquarters, where in addition to 700 of its staff, the Chinese ambassador to Japan, Cheng Yonghua, and other guests were in attendance.

"If you look at businesses across Japan, you probably couldn't find one with 1,000 employees that can speak Chinese," said Masahiro Okafuji, Itochu's chairman and CEO, in his opening remarks. "With smooth communication, we hope to expand our business in China."

In 2015, Itochu invested 600 billion yen ($5.57 billion) in Chinese conglomerate Citic Group. The two now work together in the apparel, medical and e-commerce sectors. With the launch of the partnership, the Japanese company in fiscal 2015 set a goal of having 1,000 Chinese-speaking employees.   

Itochu began offering its younger staff free Chinese lessons and sent 140 employees to Chinese-speaking countries for language and professional training programs. Over the past three years, 682 of its employees passed various levels of the HSK Chinese-language proficiency test. By adding staff members who were already fluent, Itochu's Chinese speaker tally has now reached 1,043.

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