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
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 dont 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
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.
ACTIVIST: Akiko Iwasa
Co-founder of Café Peace, Kyoto
Walking into Café Peace, you are instantly
aware of Akiko Iwasas 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. Ive visited slaughterhouses
and animal factories and I couldnt 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 hasnt 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 shes chosen. At first,
her family was angry with her. But theyve since come around.
And though Akikos former employer used to criticize her philosophy
(claiming that her business is disturbing Japans economic
stability and challenging the livestock industrys viability)
he has been seen dining at Café Peace.
Akikos 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. Dont do it for the money. Dont
do it because you think it will catch on. Dont 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 Aromatiques business focuses on massage treatments
and aromatherapy for expectant mothers.
My father is a gynecologist so Ive
met many pregnant women and Im very interested in taking care
of them. Some people ask me why I dont 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.
Its fantastic seeing newborns in our treatment rooms!
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.
Its great but its also difficult.
My husband has been very understanding but sometimes its hard.
I cant 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
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 husbands lunch box as just
Created in 1996, Krene was a brainchild spawned
from Yurikos 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 couldnt
stand the gap between the organizations 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 Krenes projects is the Business
Literacy Female Activation Program. Aimed at motivating and educating
female employees, this program teaches critical thinking, decision-making
Unlike male workers, females in certain
organizations were not fully trained or provided with their companys
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 Krenes virtual office, three employees
and 50 associates, Miyazaki values the freedom that comes with being
self-employed and in having her spouses full support.
I met my husband after I started my business and this is one
of the things he likes about me. He doesnt expect me to cook
for him and he recently arranged a housekeeper for us. Hes
my number one fan. My family also respects what Im 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 dont have to worry about old customs.
I feel its 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. Dont
make the mistake of short-term profit and forgetting your vision.
Learn more at www.krene.net
THE TRAILBLAZER: Kimiyo Koyano
& co-founder, Nihon Kosodate Advisor Kyokai, Tokyo
Kimiyo Koyano, 57, started Kinder-Network in 1982
simply because she needed a babysitter and couldnt 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 couldnt 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
In me, (my daughter) saw a life for a woman
in the future; have a social life and make money too. Im 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
The courses cover topics such as the relationship
between mother and child, childrens development and dealing
with awkward growth stages as well as counseling services for new
mothers. When shes not lobbying, Koyano searches for lecturers
for Kinder-Networks training school.
Koyano, who used to divide her time between Japan,
the Philippines and the U.S. because of her late husbands
career, encourages Japanese women to become more global. After
being abroad, women learn self-confidence, they gain more control,
they express themselves. Japanese people dont like aggressive
women, they dont 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