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Jan 2004
Issue 044

KS Classifieds combined with Kansai Scene this issue!

Women On Top

Behind closed doors, Japanese women run their households like Fortune 500 companies. No longer content to keep their business savvy at home, women are breaking down the doors to earn their own Louis Vuitton briefcases. Move over, boys.

When PM Junichiro Koizumi came into office, he encouraged Japanese women to start businesses in response to the decreasing number of women-run organizations here. Ministry of Labor statistics declare that in the years between 1975 and 2002, the number of women entering the labor force grew by only 8.37%.

In a country where women are generally expected to remain at home, the entrepre-neurs who don’t conform tend to start up businesses that cater to men. According to government numbers, in 2001, 126,529 women started nightclubs or hostess bars. Hair salons came in close second with 122,342 and beer hall owners rounded out the top three in a distant 65,616 grand openings that year.

Though dismal, there are glimmers of hope for change. Women between the ages of 25 and 29 have been entering the work force in greater numbers, jumping 29.2% since 1975. Numerous government programs and loans are now in place to stimulate prospective women business owners. Here, below are women who have risen to the challenge and spun their ideas into gold.

— Co-founder of Café Peace, Kyoto

Walking into Café Peace, you are instantly aware of Akiko Iwasa’s dedication to animal rights and vegetarianism. Brochures, posters and flyers adorn the entrance of her restaurant. Bookshelves are lined with an eclectic mix of animal liberation, pet care and Lonely Planet tomes.

Since opening its doors and serving its first organic, vegetarian dish in July 2002, Café Peace has grown in reputation. Though vegetarianism and animal rights activism is still very much in its infancy in Japan, Iwasa, a petite and passionate ex-veterinarian, was not deterred. “I’ve visited slaughterhouses and animal factories and I couldn’t stand what I saw. I stopped being a vet because I believe that vets are ultimately for the people and not for the animals. Vets help pet shops and pet shops are just making ‘artificial’ dogs.” Two years ago, Iwasa became a vegetarian and hasn’t looked back. She aims to spread the word on animal abuse and believes vegetarianism is the best remedy for humans, animals and the earth.

Giving up a stable veterinary career, Akiko makes no apologies for the unconventional path she’s chosen. At first, her family was angry with her. But they’ve since come around. And though Akiko’s former employer used to criticize her philosophy (claiming that her business is disturbing Japan’s economic stability and challenging the livestock industry’s viability) he has been seen dining at Café Peace.

Akiko’s influence is making a difference. In early September, she founded and organized a Veggie Festival in Kyoto. There, like-minded businesses pooled their resources to spread the word on vegetarianism and animal rights. The event was such a success that she is planning another for next year. In the meantime, Iwasa is busy moving the direction of her restaurant from vegetarian to vegan and speaking on animal rights/vegetarianism issues in a weekly half-hour radio program on 79.7FM.

She is also working with animal rights groups to find alternative, more humane activities to the Ageuma-shinji Matsuri in Mie Prefecture, a festival that has horses beaten and forced up a steep hill. With Danai Kuangparichat, semi-vegetarian, significant other and silent business partner, she hopes to open another Café Peace in Osaka in the spring of 2004 and eventually in Tokyo two years from now.

“I think that men and women are being educated equally nowadays. And this looks favorable for entrepreneurial women. Most women I know have stronger willpower than men so they are more likely to be successful. Don’t do it for the money. Don’t do it because you think it will catch on. Don’t do it to become famous. Enthusiasm, passion and desire are important. Take it there no matter what,” she says.

Visit Café Peace online at www.cafepeace.com

THE HEALER: Azusa Futagami
— Founder of Aromatique Ltd., Tokyo & Aomori

Azusa Futagami, 30, is very busy these days. Between aromatherapy and reflexology appointments, attending meetings and creating new offerings for her product line launching in Roppongi Hills in December, she is hard-pressed to find time to breathe the heady aroma of her own scented oils.

With a business that takes her to London and back on a frequent basis, Futagami is building an empire that believes “a warm touch is a prerequisite to a warm heart.” Since its inception in 2000, Aromatique - an aromatherapy school and reflexology treatment center for women – has grown 200%. A haven for the weary, 40% of Aromatique’s business focuses on massage treatments and aromatherapy for expectant mothers.

“My father is a gynecologist so I’ve met many pregnant women and I’m very interested in taking care of them. Some people ask me why I don’t do aromatherapy for sports athletes but I want to focus on the care and support of these women because I myself am a woman. I love performing baby massages or giving (lower back or leg) treatments to mothers during labor. It’s fantastic seeing newborns in our treatment rooms!” she says.

After studying aromatherapy at the Institute of Traditional Herbal Medicine and Aromatherapy in London, Futagami combined this philosophy with her Physical Education and Reflexology background and Aromatique Ltd. was born. Now, almost four years later and with 10 people in her team, Azusa plans to continue growing her company and educating people about the benefits of aromatherapy.

“It’s great but it’s also difficult. My husband has been very understanding but sometimes it’s hard. I can’t always take care of my house… I think in about five years or so, (Japanese) society will accept women having their own businesses. Until then, I think we need to conquer many things.”

For the aspiring entrepreneur Futagami has this advice, “I think to start a business, you need to meet many people and having good business contacts are important. Running a business is very stressful so you need a very clear purpose and a strong passion.”

Relax online at www.aromatique.com

THE TEACHER: Yuriko Miyazaki
— Founder of Krene Inc., Tokyo

Yuriko Miyazaki is an inspiration. As the woman at the helm of Krene Inc., a corporate training and personal career counseling company based in Tokyo, she counts speaking engagements, training workshops and making her husband’s lunch box as just another day.

Created in 1996, Krene was a brainchild spawned from Yuriko’s earlier years as a business trainer for a small consulting company. “I delivered training to different companies in areas such as business manner, communication, management of subordinates and leadership. I was a very popular trainer but I couldn’t stand the gap between the organization’s logic and my own philosophy in human resource development,” she says.

Miyazaki takes pride in her support of women in the workforce. In fact, one of Krene’s projects is the Business Literacy Female Activation Program. Aimed at motivating and educating female employees, this program teaches critical thinking, decision-making and communication.

“Unlike male workers, females in certain organizations were not fully trained or provided with their company’s critical information. The same expectations were not given to them. Really smart women are recruited in an established organization but were never utilized as human capital.”

With Krene’s virtual office, three employees and 50 associates, Miyazaki values the freedom that comes with being self-employed — and in having her spouse’s full support. “I met my husband after I started my business and this is one of the things he likes about me. He doesn’t expect me to cook for him and he recently arranged a housekeeper for us. He’s my number one fan. My family also respects what I’m doing as well as my friends,” she reports.

In the future, she foresees an easier time for female business owners as they are removed from “the Japanese male-dominated society. We don’t have to worry about old customs. I feel it’s much easier (now) than when I started in terms of dealing with the bank or customers and other businesses. Having a firm philosophy and values for your business is critical. Don’t make the mistake of short-term profit and forgetting your vision.”

Learn more at www.krene.net

— Founder, Kinder-Network & co-founder, Nihon Kosodate Advisor Kyokai, Tokyo

Kimiyo Koyano, 57, started Kinder-Network in 1982 simply because she needed a babysitter and couldn’t find one. Now, over 20 years later, the childcare service provider and training company based in Shibuya, has grown to four nursery schools in Tokyo.

At the time, there were no financial aid programs in place so the plucky entrepreneur took the money she made from the stock market and changed her life.

“For two years, I couldn’t pay myself because of employee salaries and rent. After three years, I started a training school for babysitters,” she recounts.

Eventually, she became the authority figure on childcare garnering media coverage in the Daily Yomiuri, the Asahi Shimbun among others.

Koyano believes mothers should have a sense of balance in terms of their own time – a somewhat revolutionary notion for Japanese women. She should know, Koyano juggled her time between entrepreneur and mother at a time when this was unheard of.

“In me, (my daughter) saw a life for a woman in the future; have a social life and make money too. I’m very independent, very selfish and stubborn.”

These days, her efforts are spent lobbying for government aid in support of the non-profit organization she helped start. Its co-founders include a childcare worker, a pediatrician, a Montessori educator and Koyano herself. Now four years old, the Nihon Kosodate Advisor Kyokai provides training for prospective childcare advisors.

The courses cover topics such as the relationship between mother and child, children’s development and dealing with awkward growth stages as well as counseling services for new mothers. When she’s not lobbying, Koyano searches for lecturers for Kinder-Network’s training school.

Koyano, who used to divide her time between Japan, the Philippines and the U.S. because of her late husband’s career, encourages Japanese women to become more global. “After being abroad, women learn self-confidence, they gain more control, they express themselves. Japanese people don’t like aggressive women, they don’t like opinions,” she says.

“In the future, I think Japanese women will become more expressive, more worldly. I think women should be the leaders here as Japanese men are slow to change. Know that you will be upset a lot in the beginning. Someone may steal your (business) idea. Many men will be jealous but be strong. Keep learning new things. You just have to keep believing in yourself.”

Find Kinder-Network at www.kinder-network.com

Text & Photos: Pia Musngi


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Festivals, performances, shows, gallery openings...your guide to what's coming up in the next few weeks.


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Chikada Yamada Life in the Bus Lane.

A Modern Day Case of Kaiseki-Ryori —

Yoshida, Higashi-Ginza

Masuo greets us fully attired in the fashion of the season. Wearing traditional Japanese garb he cuts a strange contrast to the cool, concertina-like buildings that fan this muggy Tokyo interior, but this a typical Kaiseki resteraunter and we're meant to embrace the opportunity to lose ourselves in relaxation so we gladly surrender ourselves to a Japanese robe or "Happi" when its offered.

A lowered door frame forces us to stoop at the entrance of the tea-room before we can be admitted so as to humble all participants in the spirit of the tea ceremony or "Cha-no-yu" from whence Kaiseki-ryori arose. Inside this candle-lit chamber of calm the heady scent of Japanese cedar greets our senses as our feet glide over the 200 year-old pathway from the” consecrated world" outside (to coin a 15th century Buddhist phrase).

Named a "Roji-sen" after the eminent teacher Sen no Rikyu its function is to induce the guest to throw off all worldly cares in preparation for the meal ahead, but as the walls reverberate faintly with the mish-mash sounds of the street, this is no easy task. Perseverance however rewards the guest with an elevated state of mind; the ultimate goal of Kaiseki-ryori.

Once behind closed doors Masuo treats us to his 22-carat recollections of boom-time Tokyo when rich Company Executives kept quiet council between these discreet walls with kimono-clad companions.

After kneeling to receive the contents of the cleansing tray our legs are relieved to find heat at the base of a concealed drop, a feature of traditional Japanese inns that dates back to the days of Zen Buddhism and reduced living space.

A glance around the dark wood interior renders up the appeal of the sixteenth century antiques that glow eerily from candle-lit recesses. Amongst them sits a rare female Buddha and an Iron Kettle suspended precariously over a sunken hearth to warm guests in winter.

Afternoons at Yoshida we're told, are spent flitting between meditation and food preparation in the lulls afforded by the inconspi-cuous nature of this two-room hideaway. Small enough to be staffed single-handedly Masuo simply locks up when he needs to step out to Tsukiji Fish Market at daybreak for the freshest cuts.

Twelve courses later, feeling warm and nourished we stumble on to the pavement outside with eyes enlivened by secrets and folklore.

The proof of the pudding...
A typical modern-day kaiseki restaurant that offers a combination of fresh wholesome dishes unobscured by sauces and crowned off by Japanese tea; a modern day substitute for the hot water pale and ladle or "Yuto" used for cleansing in 15th century Monasteries.

An experience that has taught us to appreciate home-cooked, nourishing food once more and a place to return to for a relatively inexpensive bolt from the City. But deeper than that, Kaiseki-ryori is about looking outside of ourselves once in a while to realize what peacefulness can be attained from the simple things in life.

Options range from ¥13,000 to ¥18,000 / ¥10,000 lunch-time