Will speaking Japanese help me in any way?

I am a non-japanese (white guy) who just happens to speak japanese at a reasonable level (business level). Grew up in Japan for 7 years (military family).

IB in Tokyo is the natural move if I want to utilize my language skills, and although that could be something i'm interested in, there are a variety of reasons why I wouldn't want to (culture, me not being native, comp etc)

I am curious if me speaking Japanese will help me land SA/FT roles in Singapore/Hong Kong.

I've read that besides the obvious language (Mandarin), people who speak Korean have a shot at usually mandarin only roles because of their asset in Korean deals. Would this apply to me as well? Or does Japanese not open any doors? (Also curious about Singapore as well)

Also, I go to a UK low target/high semi target, so if anyone knows how i'd land for recruiting please let me know (i've heard that Asian markets like US/UK schools that are good)

Lastly, if anyone wants to give more colour on the IB/finance scene in Tokyo i'd love to hear it, as information is generally scarce on the internetThanks

Comments (47)

  • Analyst 1 in IB - Gen

No bank places Japan team in HK/Singapore. You will have to learn Mandarin for most IB roles there.

But there are quite some buyside/research roles covering Japanese equities/private markets out of Hong Kong and require Japanese skills.

  • 1
rubians, what's your opinion? Comment below:

The IPO activity is probably sluggish as there are very few unicorns and big-name startups in Japan but the M&A activity is much bigger compared to the 90s and early 2000s (see link below) and it even surpassed China a couple of years ago. Although the economy is not growing a lot, Japan's population has been declining for a decade and an incresing number of Japanese companies are targeting foreign companies to grow



axedcapital, what's your opinion? Comment below:

Currently working in a major M&A group in Japan as a non-Japanese. I would say some misinformation is posted above - although not completely inaccurate. PM me if you want to know something more specific. 

Engr2Bnkr, what's your opinion? Comment below:

Even if speaking Japanese wouldn't help you do your job in Hong Kong/Singapore, it could still definitely be an asset.

When I was interviewing, I would ALWAYS mention that I speak chinese in my answer to tell me about yourself (I'm black). Not because it had anything to do with the job or even my path to IB, but rather because some people would be like wait a minute that's dope as hell.

Once you convince the interviewer that you're competent, they really just want to know that you'd be a cool person to work with. And if you can spin speaking Japanese as one of your cool skills, more power to you.

  • 1
  • Associate 3 in PE - Growth

Regarding your school: while it is true US/UK schools are well received in Asian markets, for UK unis specifically keep in mind this only applies to basically Oxbridge/LSE and maybe UCL. Durham, Warwick and the other similar ones have no real advantage over locals.

Tokyo: Unless you really want to be back in Japan, I would advise against Tokyo IBD. Hours are rough (imagine banking hours plus having to do nomikai), there will be hafu discrimination, and you will not get paid as well as HK or NY (probably more similar to LDN). The PE recruiting market, while picking up steam in the last few years, is still nothing close to the size of HK let alone NY/LDN. But if you are set on Japan for lifestyle reasons then the above is all moot, because likewise it is hard to end up in PE/HF in Japan if you didn't do IBD there. 

HK/SG: In short, IBD roles will give little to no credit to your Japanese skills, since there is no Japan coverage from these offices. However, there is a silver lining: there are are a lot of HF positions in Hong Kong which ask for Japanese speakers to cover Japan equities. Historically speaking the lions share of Japan-coverage responsibilities for HFs are actually in HK offices rather than Tokyo. There is also an incredibly tiny amount of people in the recruiting pool who speak both fluent English and Japanese like yourself.  So what does this mean? Basically, if you manage to get into a top IBD role in HK (Tokyo/London might work too) and do your two years, you will have a pretty great shot at landing a top HF job in HK afterwards. The above also applies to a few PE jobs (Lone Star comes to mind, which did UNIZO out of HK office)

TL;DR: No, Japanese will not help you recruit for non-Tokyo IBD roles, but it will be a godsend for you in HK buyside recruiting post-banking

Source: Half Japanese Half Chinese, did IBD and went through buyside recruiting in HK.  

  • Business School in IB - Gen

This is incredible info. Thank you for the great insight.

I'm a little worried that the recruitment from London to HK for buy-side would be difficult do to location, are there any roles in HK on the sell side that done require mandarin? I've seen that in S&T language matters less but i'd rather be in IB or Equity Research (also on this point, is equity research a legit exit to HF in HK and/or do you need mandarin?).

If i'm being honest, working in HK would be something i'm interested in (especially after 2 years in IB/ER/S&T etc) on the buy-side and hearing my japanese language skills can be put to use is encouraging. If you'd be open to a PM I would love to ask some questions!

Most Helpful
odog808, what's your opinion? Comment below:

As someone with Japanese blood, but totally American and knowledgeable but not fluent in a few languages, I wonder what could have been if I could speak Japanese. 

Since my wife won't ever want to live outside the US or the West, I'm not missing too much.  I lament that I won't be able to be an "insider" when making relationships, or to be an insider, it would just take more effort.  But I think business can be done with the right relationships around you and you providing the missing piece.

Ever the optimist, is the 2nd (soon to be or already overtaken by the PRC) largest economy in the world  irrelevant?  If fewer people are paying attention, then I think there is an opportunity.  Most likely opportunities revolve around the export market (ie Japan competes with China/Korea in investing in emerging markets). 

I had some friends who worked at Prospect Asset Management.  In HK, Hawaii, Santa Monica.  I had friends who worked for Japanese companies in HK, in real estate/gaming (I almost moved there).  These were opportunities 15 years ago, and my friends are doing other things.  

Most of my ideas revolve around using Japanese money (Yen carry), products, or expertise but for an outside market, or travel related (I'm from Hawaii, can't resist).  

Anyways, I wish I had your brain.  I also don't and won't let macro road blocks (you have to speak Mandarin, period, 100%) get in your way.  There are opportunities, you have to look harder or be more untraditional.  That is if you want to be.  Granted you are in college, so most first jobs are traditional and you find yourself.

Ganbatte!   DM and hit me up on LINE if you want.  

Have compassion as well as ambition and you’ll go far in life
  • 6
odog808, what's your opinion? Comment below:

Also, I grew up partially in military.  Yongsan was where I was at.  Pretty awesome experience.

Have compassion as well as ambition and you’ll go far in life
rubians, what's your opinion? Comment below:

What do you mean exactly by IB? M&A? If so, Hong Kong is a tiny market compared to Japan and probably most of the deals involve mainland companies, I think Tokyo is a much stronger option. HK would be a better choice if you're into hedge funds, asset management or capital markets given the amount of chinese companies going public there

  • Business School in IB - Gen

The appeal of joining a buy side role post banking in HK is something i'm interested in and i'd like to learn more (especially with the fact that a previous post on here talked about value speaking japanese for HK HF recruiting). Any insight is greatly appreciated on such a topic.

but thanks for the insight on HK's smaller M&A group, seems like Tokyo has much more consistent deal flow with larger teams.

Jeannnnnnnnnnn, what's your opinion? Comment below:

Hi I am working with the largest domestic investment bank in Tokyo as a foreigner. Actually thinking to relocate to London or New York instead :)

Speaking Japanese in HK or Singapore IB won't be an advantage, cause all the international banks use HK or Singapore as their main AEJ hub to cover market of Asia except Japan. Japan market is always treated as a separate entity, and being covered from Tokyo.

PM me if you need any specific info.

  • Analyst 1 in RE - Comm

What is your ultimate goal after banking ? Is it to exit to the buyside? Have you considered management consulting in Japan? I had several classmates in my MBA program that went on to consulting gigs at Bain, McKinsey, and BCG. A few exited to PE shops in Tokyo. While the path may not be as distinct as banking>PE, it seems that the one advantage consulting shops had is that they are more global in thinking and culture. 

  • Business School in IB - Cov

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