Shigeru AoiCEO of A-TOM Co. Ltd.

‘To provide drinks’, ‘To provide food’, and ‘To let the guest feel good about him/herself’ in an intentional way is not why I dine with my guests. Rather, it is a valuable opportunity to build a collective spirit.

There are only about 5000 times remaining to dine out.
What kind of opportunity lies there?

I was born as the third child of four children in the family. I have two elder sisters and a younger brother. My father had been a very busy man, however, he made it an important point for the family to have dinner together. In such times, we would engage in happy conversations. My sisters would talk about their daily lives and my father would talk on his views about society and economy. We would all talk in different directions and someone had to organize the flow. It was those moments that I found myself as a traffic-light in middle of a crossing, stopping one conversation while allowing another conversation to run. If I could say such role is benefiting me at the present, it would be at dinner times with guests. Whether from curiosity or work, I tend to eat out. I used to dine out three times in one evening, or even have dinner appointments in 2-hour blocks. Of course, such schedule would be harmful for health. These days, I try to make my dining-out once per day; however, I am dining out with someone most of my weekdays.

For work related dinners, my father used to dine out a lot as well. He knew exactly how to entertain guests in these occasions. My father would often please his guests with his hospitality. I would learn a lot from my father by going to dinner with him. How to choose restaurants, how to create an ideal flow of conversation, how to match cost with quality, and further, how to select the perfect gift for a guest. I do not know whether my father consciously taught me these elements, but I must say, they have supported me in every aspect. I have been increasingly seeing people from the point I became the CEO of my company with the start of the Reiwa Era. I often deepen relationships through dining together, whether it be lunch or dinner. From the point I make an appointment, my imagination of how to entertain the guest would start. Where should I choose? What should I order? What drinks should I select? What kind of conversation should I have? If there were 100 guests, there would be as many styles for entertaining them. There are three main elements that I feel is very important. First, I try not to mention about work during dinner. Could it be the sad nature of a Japanese businessman that once work-related conversations begin to flow, it cannot be stopped? Work related conversations can be done at office. During dinner, I would like to see the non-work-related aspects of the guest. Second, I try to be a good listener. I am fully satisfied with talking about myself through this Share the Real publication. If my guest does not drink alcohol, I try not to make an evening dinner appointment, but have a mid-day BBQ together or, watch a sport match together, or anything that would be enjoyable for the guest. This enables my guest and myself to deepen communication. Last but not least, I try to leave at least one strong impression from the meeting. It is like when you go out with someone. One would want to leave an impression, of course, a good one. The way to do this could be anything…a gift, a rare bottle, or even something really funny. The point is to leave an impression for the guest so that he/she could retrospect the moments spent together as something memorable. I do not make a specific scenario but feel that ‘improvising’ the moment like jazz music with the members dining together is something that could be appreciated by all. The moment I feel the distance closing between my guest, I feel a sense of great pleasure in life.

The kind of people I would like to invite as guests for such occasions are those who I think would have special relationships with me in the long term, and those who I wish to do teamwork. I always have dinner with those I want to work with. There is a Japanese saying, “to eat the same rice out of a same pot”, and this exactly expresses my philosophy. To eat is a primitive action. To eat together is an expression for a wish to get closer to the other person. It is about sharing an aspect of private life, and one can interpret the other holistically through such occasion. Accordingly, however times may change, eating together is a custom that will probably not change. Amid this COVID-19 situation, ‘on-line’ dinner is becoming popular; however, regardless of such moves, physically dining together will most likely remain as a custom. When Japan was moving upwards in economy, inviting guests to dinner would often include the three ‘to-do’s: ‘To provide drinks’, ‘To provide food’, and ‘To let the guest feel good about him/herself’ in an intentional way. These days, such approach to inviting guests would be very rare, and I would not choose such boring way. The foundation for my invitation approach is ‘horizontal’. The reason for why I want to invite guests is ‘to make friends’ or ‘to find connection’. It is not to create a ‘provider’ and ‘the provided’ vertical relation. If one is seeking for a friend or a connection, I believe that it does not start with providing drinks, or letting a guest feel good about him/herself in an intentional way. It is about finding a natural flow for deepening relationships through intuition and fate. Dining together creates such opportunities. If I were to understand life as an 80-year period, 40 years is left in my life. This means that there are about 5000 times left that I could have dinner for making friends. Is this a small or a big number of times? Either way, acknowledging there is a limit in time, I do not want to waste it even once to be some boring dinner time or a meaningless one. Life is full of so-called, ‘predetermined happy twist of fate (合縁奇縁 aienkien in Japanese). I look forward to each of my remaining 5000 dinner time and for the many wonderful connections that would be created from such occasions. I hope to go out looking for ‘a new something’ in today’s dinner time, too!