College students in Japan placed their future on the gambling table on Friday (June 24) at a mahjong tournament organized by companies looking to employ fresh graduates using unconventional means.
Fifty students and six companies took part in the game held in a crammed mahjong shop in downtown Tokyo.
Mahjong, which originated in China, is similar to the western card game, rummy, requiring skill, strategy, calculation and a degree of chance.
Participants at the tournament worked their way up the ladder to gain an opportunity to compete against job recruiters.
"It's very fun and rare that you get to talk and play mahjong with so many different people while job-hunting. You also get to communicate with people from different companies. It is a very valuable opportunity," said Shohei Sano, a fourth-year undergraduate student who came from Aomori prefecture, the northernmost part of Japan's main island, to participate.
"Mahjong is a very strategic game, so I think people who are good at it would be good at marketing. This is a new approach and I find it really interesting," another student, Tomoko Hasegawa, who is aspiring to become a designer, added.
Some students expressed their woes regarding Japan's usual job-hunting process where each student typically send up to a hundred or more handwritten applications, attend dozens of presentations and endure multiple interviews with 20-30 prospective employers, throughout the 'job-hunting season' which typically begins end of the third college year and lasts four to six months.
"It (job-hunting in Japan) is very suffocating. They always tell you your resume has to be handwritten, and things like that, which I find really stupid," Kota Iwai, a fourth-year philosophy major, said.
But many students find it hard to stray from this conventional process because job offers for full-time positions would be much harder to come by once the job-hunting season is over.
A job recruiter, who had hired a mahjong winner in the past, expressed high hopes toward this year's participating students.
"Even just observing them during their job training, I can see that they absorb and understand (what is being taught to them) really quickly compared to other students. There is definitely a clear distinction. I have very high hopes," Shino Agata, a job recruiter of a pinball chain, said.
Organizers said these tournaments first began in 2012, but slowly gained popularity, mostly among male students, in the past years.
Companies present at the game varied from fitness, education, IT, and real estate, but their interests overlapped when it came to wanting to see the students' true colors.
"Your real self does come out (when you play Mahjong), not something that would be seen at a job interview. You get to see that person's true character, or that person's intelligence, and communication skills. These become very visible, so I think this method is very effective," Hikaru Nakanishi, a job recruiter, and an organizer of the event said.
On Friday (June 24) eight students were picked out of the group and made it to the next round of the selection process.
Usually about five to ten students are recruited by participating companies every year, since the founding of the tournaments.
Reporting by Reuters TV http://reut.rs/28YAS7H
Editing by Patrick Johnston, Reuters