THE Institute of Social Human Capital in Tokyo is an unusual sort of business-training school. Those who attend it (two-thirds are men) have mostly quit or taken redundancy packages from big Japanese firms, and are trying to start again. Shedding the habits of a lifetime begins by breaking down barriers: former salarymen laugh nervously as they share a bento-box lunch with strangers, blindfolded (the idea is that they must use their other four senses to communicate).

The way to prepare them for a second career is to get them interacting as individuals, not as corporate workers or business partners, says Matsuhiko Ozawa, a director of the Institute, which specialises in this sort of course. In a country that sets great store by formal introductions, the students have not even exchanged business cards. Names, titles and personal information are banned (the ex-salarymen use made-up names) to avoid reproducing the old office hierarchies that exist outside the classroom. “We start from scratch and help these people find themselves again,” says Mr Ozawa.

For years, the salarymen rode a career escalator that rewarded them less for skills than…Continue reading