Photo/IllutrationCollege students assemble at a job fair in Fukuoka’s Chuo Ward in March. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

“Aota-gai,” which translates literally as “buying green rice paddies,” originally denoted a form of speculative investment in rice in pre-modern Japan, whereby merchants would buy rice from farmers while the crop was still green.

Today, it refers to the corporate practice of promising jobs to students before they have even taken employment tests. When this “speculative hiring” takes a more extreme form, it may be referred to as “sanae-gai” (buying rice sprouts) or “tanemomi-gai” (buying rice seeds).

In a move that may enable corporations to pull out all the stops in their pursuit of speculative hiring, Hiroaki Nakanishi, chairman of Keidanren (Japan Business Federation), has decided to scrap its student recruitment guidelines.

Nakanishi intends to kill the current rule that bans companies from holding explanatory sessions for job-seeking university students no earlier than one year before the students are due to graduate.

The lifting of this ban means it will be up to the discretion of each company to decide when to hold such sessions.

This also implies that companies can start recruiting students in their second year.

It is a fact, however, that with the job market becoming a “seller’s market” in recent years, the Keidanren guidelines were becoming mere formalities. Some companies have been making de facto employment promises to students quite early, albeit unofficially.

Moreover, the guidelines never really applied to some foreign-affiliated companies, which has not gone down well with companies that play by the Keidanren rules.

But once all guidelines are gone, would this not force students to start job hunting as soon as they can, even in their first year at university?

What disturbs me is not only what this will do to their studies. It will inexorably cut into the time they need to “find themselves,” which is usually what being a student is really about.

Students who are currently in their second year will be engaged in job-hunting activities in 2020, the year of the Tokyo Olympics. Apparently, the Keidanren chief’s decision to scrap the current guidelines has something to do with his concerns about the difficulty of securing facilities for explanatory sessions in central Tokyo in summer 2020.

Are the Olympics of such paramount importance that the idea of introducing daylight saving time during the Games is not enough of a controversy?

There is also the expression “aota-gari,” which translates literally as “harvesting the green paddy.” A Japanese dictionary I consulted defines it as “an act of rushing prematurely into harvest by reaping rice before it fully ripens.”

I can only hope that the Keidanren chief’s decision will not prematurely ruin or deprive students of their chance to mature.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Sept. 5

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.