South Korean interns head to Japanese companies
Political differences put aside in favor of economics, cultural affinity
While comfort women and other historic issues have strained relations between Japan and South Korea, college students from the peninsula apparently now see promise in working for Japanese companies.
The Japan-Korea Economic Association has conducted internship programs since 2015. This year, some 466 South Korean students applied for internships through the South Korean units of Japanese companies, nearly triple last year's number.
Today, many South Korean students are wary of the prospects for South Korean companies and see Japanese companies as stable employers.
At a June 29 internship briefing that the association hosted in Seoul, 52 students out of 466 applicants who passed screening and interviews introduced themselves in fluent Japanese.
A female student who will intern at a unit of Japan Airlines said becoming a cabin attendant is her dream and that she wants to learn about Japanese hospitality. A male student who will work at a Hitachi unit said he is thrilled for the chance to support the company's salespeople.
For a number of weeks spanning July, August and September, the interns will work at South Korean subsidiaries of 26 Japanese companies, including Toyota Motor, Mitsubishi Corp., Mitsui & Co., Fuji Xerox and Toray Industries.
While internship programs are closely linked to recruiting activities in South Korea, the association emphasizes that it merely provides students with an opportunity to learn by working at companies. That said, the program is well received by Japanese companies as some of the students later apply for full-time jobs.
In the past, Japanese companies were not the most preferred employers among South Korean students. The country's top minds would apply at South Korean conglomerates, such as Samsung Electronics and Hyundai Motor, financial institutions or Western companies. Japan Inc. was further down the list of possibilities.
But that is changing. The association's South Korean staff thinks South Korean companies are becoming less popular among students. Young South Koreans are concerned about the future of their own economy, which has grown 2% or so for two years in a row.
Also, South Koreans are now growing up with Japanese anime and manga. Their familiarity with the culture could be making some of these young people more open to getting jobs at Japanese companies.
At least the number of applicants is growing; the association had 162 last year and 179 in 2015.
Taizo Chigira, a former president of Toyota Motor Korea and the association's director in charge of the internship program, said he hopes South Korean interns come to appreciate Japan's corporate culture, which emphasizes teamwork and nurtures human resources with a long-term outlook.