Takashi Katsuragi learned English the hard way. He didn’t go abroad for his studies. At his alma mater, Waseda University, Katsuragi majored in mechanical engineering. He loved trains and had a strong interest in public infrastructure.
“I had this desire to make people’s lives better,” said Katsuragi. “To this end, I felt that public transport was the way to go, so after graduation, I got a job at JR East.”
With the privatization of Japan National Railways, Japan’s train industry seemed brimming with possibilities. But in October of 2000, Katsuragi took the big leap from trains to the internet, going to work for Rakuten.
“I still wanted to make people’s lives better, but I had the gut feeling the internet was the next big thing in infrastructure, that data and information would dash around like trains on the railway.”
The turning point came in 2007, when Katsuragi went to Bangalore, southwestern India, to attend an international conference.
“I had never attended such a large function before and was overwhelmed by the massive turnout and diversity of the people. The common language, of course, was English. I could make out what the others were saying, but when it was my turn to speak, I couldn’t string together sentences though I had plenty to say. I’d come all the way from Japan and couldn’t express my opinions. It was a bad moment for me.”
Katsuragi decided to master the English language, at least enough to communicate and be productive on an international business level.
“For this, I actually read The Japan Times. I pored over the pages every day. I’m a news junkie so combining English studies with my passion for the news worked. I also listened to audio material during my commute,” he recalled.
Gradually, like fog lifting from forest trees, Katsuragi could see improvements in his English skills.
“I picked up my English skills a little later in life, as a full-fledged businessperson, but it has enabled me to think beyond the Japanese market, and to view business from a much broader perspective.”
Katsuragi’s personal pursuit also became a corporate one when he was assigned to lead the “Englishnization” of Rakuten, a companywide project initiated in 2010 that mandates English speaking and writing in every official facet of the company’s corporate culture.
“The Japanese market will shrink and we can’t just do business among ourselves anymore. We have to step outside the box, and English is THE tool to help you get to the next level,” Katsuragi said.
Katsuragi juggles two jobs: He’s general manager for Rakuten’s Education Business Department, as well as the director and president of ReDucate, a Rakuten joint venture specializing in educational services.
About the “Englishnization” of Rakuten, Katsuragi says: “I wanted to make sure everyone in Rakuten has the opportunity and the means to learn and speak English on a daily basis. No one has to be perfect or to suddenly start speaking like a native, but we should all get the chance to practice. I know few people have time after work to devote to studying English. But 20 minutes while you’re riding the train in the morning or half an hour on a weekend can work wonders. Once you get the hang of writing business emails in English, or voicing your opinions in English during meetings, you’ll become a different person. Learning a foreign language can be life-altering.”
And he insists that The Japan Times is useful to English learners:
“I think The Japan Times is a very good tool for Japanese people to get a perspective on what foreigners are saying about Japan,” said Katsuragi. “When you’re in a business environment, you have to be able to talk about your country in a way that’s engaging and interesting to people from different cultures.” (Kaori Shoji)
Words I tell myself
葛城 崇（かつらぎ たかし）