I decided to join the company as its 2nd president for reasons that are probably somewhat unique. I think that most people think a business plan looks like a spreadsheet, with numbers at the top, in the middle, and at the bottom. The numbers at the top should be big, the ones in the middle smaller, and if the numbers at the bottom are on the positive side, then it’s a good business to be in. I think business plans like these are just good looking sheets of paper.
I spent the first half of my life in the United States. Born in Hollywood ? really ? raised in East Los Angeles, university in the San Francisco Bay Area ? my heart is still there, lost ? and, in the 2nd half (I hope it doesn’t end soon, though) I’ve been living and working in Japan as my home. Many people would say I came here to discover my roots. What I found, though, is not so much my roots, but the seeds of a diaspora, that I hope will grow fruits that provide nourishment throughout the world.
When I was growing up in California, I had my share of fights. They nearly all came down to one thing ? I was called a Jap. That is the one thing that really gets to me, in my gut, because I know that it is not just a racial epithet, but also one that is trying to say that I am a lesser person for my ethnicity.
When I hitchhiked across the United States in 1984, I was often asked, “Where are you from?” My answer, “California,” was met with a sneer (especially in Texas) but usually followed up with, “No, where are you REALLY from?” “Well, I was born and raised in Los Angeles, but I’ve been living in San Francisco.” “Um, no, I asked where are you, well, you know, FROM?” “Oh, my grandparents were from Japan.” “Oh, so you’re Japanese. I like Datsuns. And I have a SONY Walkman. You guys make good stuff.”
It was sometime around then that I decided that if I'm going to be called a Japanese, I'd better find out more about Japan than what I knew about Japan ? small cars, calculators, and Walkman.
After 27 years in Japan, I’ve realized a lot more about Japan than back then. But I've realized that I’m much more non-Japanese than Japanese. My grandfather went to the US on a freight ship, much like John Manjiro, but in Japan, I’ve been told directly in Japan that the mostly poor Japanese that abandoned their homeland in the Meiji Era were pretty much scum. That they couldn’t hold their own here. We Nikkei are, they said, basically the dregs that washed away during a difficult period in Japan’s history.
I've been to many business meetings in which the Caucasian I was with was praised for his ability to speak good Japanese or use chopsticks, while I was told that my accent was unnatural and my use of some word was improper and that it could be construed as impolite or worse. I’m used to the insults - or, at least, the politely condescending comments. I’ve grown very thick skin in this environment.
What I know as an international Japanese person is that Japanese people are often ostracized from many discussions and generally “not invited to the party” because they are seen as cliquish, closed off, non-communicative, and just not fun. People will often tell me that, “You are not like most Japanese.” I have an opinion, most of the time, I am decisive, and I do not hesitate to give and take advice, make a complement, or ask for the other person’s number. When asked who I am, I don’t just say my company’s name. I am who I am.
It isn’t just about the ability to speak English. Knowing who you are and why you can and should be an important contributor to the group and how to make everyone comfortable and appreciative is something that is not merely a language skill. But it certainly cannot be accomplished if you have to always rely on an interpreter. Good business is like a marriage, if you need someone in between to resolve every conflict that arises, your marriage is merely an arrangement, not a relationship.
So Japanese Greats is about making the great things that I know, love, understand, believe, and am passionate about meaningful in the world - to make these great things have an impact, a positive impact on our world’s future. Our world needs ideas, commitment, direction, and solutions that impact our environmental sustainability, resolution of conflict, and enhance fairness. I think that Japan can make important contributions in this regard. More that 2000 years of life on a mountainous rock, with little in natural resources other than its abundant agriculture, forestry, wildlife, and fishery, taught this nation the essence of sustainability. For most of this period, the population remained fairly stable. Its wars were waged within and rarely without.
The cultural wealth that flourished in this historical climate withstood the 400-year Edo isolation and the industrialization and military expansion of the Meiji, Taisho, and Showa Periods. 60+ years of Peace, since the end of World War Two, has kept many of these elements alive. Japanese Greats exists to share the wealth to better our world, to have a lasting impact, to give our children the fruits of a peaceful and rich future, and so that our ancestors can rest in the knowledge that their lives and the culture they nurtured doesn’t die in vain.
Yours very truly,Mike Kato
Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo Kojimachi 1-3 Diane Kojimachi Bill 202 "Kojimachi Business School" Tokyo 102-0083, Japan TEL : 03-5482-9033 FAX : 03-6745-1525