Shigeru AoiRepresentative Director of A-TOM Co. Ltd.

Work is a cluster of personal interest and dream.

The equation of making work interesting is ( 1% luck + 99% encounter ) × dream

It is 30 years since the yellow labelled nutrition drink became a trend with the phrase, “Can you fight for 24 hours?” The TV advertisement depicted a tired businessman from overwork, who would bump into a statue in a clumsy way when walking on the streets, would forget to go off the train at the right station, and would throw away his business bag mistakenly for a rubbish bag. There was indeed some exaggeration to this illustration of a tired businessmen, but, it has been a fact that the common Yamanote Line train carried these kinds of businessmen every morning, and that on Friday nights, the bars and restaurants at the “under-guard” of Yurakucho and Shinbashi were filled with such drunken businessmen in their business suits. It has been 30 years since then. Smartphones and Personal Computers have evolved in a matter of years, and the lives of the Japanese have changed drastically. It is a wonder why the crazy crowdedness of the Yamanote Line train remains the same.

I used to work at a consulting firm in my early 20s. My grandfather was the founder of a Monthly Department Store, Marui, but I was never told to take over the business nor did I plan to. I worked very hard in the consulting firm. My daily hours started from cutting out newspaper articles that relate to my work, and I often struggled with keeping up with the jargons in meetings that I had to attend. However, I remember with fond memories how delicious the taste of beer was that I truly deserved on a Friday night (“Hanakin” Flowering Friday, as we call in Japanese, or TGIF Thank God It’s Friday, in English). After those years, I moved on to a new job, a kansei (governmental) fund’s business revitalization company, and again worked full hours on end. I often worked until the next morning, but still enjoyed my work thoroughly. I wonder why? There were such ridiculous and unbelievably crazy times. We were often faced with difficult questions to solve. However, these moments of trying to come up with a creative idea (not forgetting to relieve stress by complaining with colleagues along the way!) were even so enjoyable as well!

Amidst such enjoyable times, in my 30s, I got injured in middle of a baseball match. I had to have several operations, and had to walk with crutches for over a year. I could not go to work, so I stayed home. Amazon was the only friend for me, and the books delivered from this company connected me to the world. I read from picture books to literature, and even encyclopedias. Strangely, I did not touch on any business books then. As I recovered from my injury, I was able to return to my positive thinking, and started to consider what kind of work I will be doing in the future and how I would live my own life. Until then, I was too occupied with the matters in front of me, but, this unexpected accident led me to think of my future in this way, and even to think how I will end my life.

Since I happened to read a biography of my grandfather when I was a teenager, I decided to start working in one of the companies that he had founded, ATOM. I had no experience of working in the real estate industry until then, but, perceived that all my former experiences as a businessman will become in use. Most of all, I felt more responsible than I had imagined and was very inspired by the fact that I was able to work in a company continuing with my grandfather’s DNA, and that I was able to feel him close as I worked. My grandfather issued the first credit card in Japan, and this was based on his trust toward his customers. I also imagine that he wanted to pay back to his employees who contributed to hard work in expanding my grandfather’s business. My grandfather treated his employees and even rival companies well, and is said to have been “a man of all men”. Unfortunately, he had passed away before I was born, so I have never met him. However, it is my habit of extending my thoughts to him and saying in my heart, “What would you do, grandfather, if you were me?”

The social structure is totally different from my grandfather’s time. People’s lifestyles, trends, values, they are not same at all. The world is constantly changing, and the infrastructure and the IT environment are now all set. The city, the economy, and the social rules have, for the time being, reached the PASS line. If I were to think of something that was in my grandfather’s time, and something that does not exist in our time, I think that would be “a dream”. In my grandfather’s time, Japan had to start from scratch after the WWII, and everyone worked, worked, and worked for recovery. This “recovery of Japan” was in a way, a common dream shared by the nation. However, in our time, the goal that was launched in those days is now achieved. With the development of IT, people’s perspectives have become near-sighted, and the view, very narrow. In our time of instability, when today’s common sense may be overturned in the next, it is indeed difficult to imagine a bright future. Nevertheless, perhaps because we are in such a time, we should have a dream. It may sound naiive, but, if we do not have a dream, we would likely to come to a deadlock. It is understandable that a person’s legs are inclined to cringe in the darkness spreading before him or her. However, it is important even more so in such situation that we shed light in front of us to light up the darkness by having a dream.

We have experienced different social phenomenon in different generations such as the “dankon generation” (a social concept to describe the people who were born between 1947 and 1950, and this generation happens to be the most populated in our post-war era), “bubble economy”, “yutori education” (yutori meaning relaxing, which was used to refer to the relaxation of the educational content of the school subjects. The typical example would be that the circle ratio was then, at that particular period set as “3” instead of the traditional “3.14”) . Individualism became respected in the society, and selfish individuals and anonymous groups became to take over the society rapidly. However, it is quite understandable that tastes and thoughts change according to different generations, and the chemistry of the different encounters indeed function as the power to change the society. It is said that it is 1/24 million to meet a person who one can chat with on friendly terms, and is 1/240 million to encounter a person who one can call a “friend”. The astronomical number for describing the drama behind each encounter is extraordinary! In order not to miss these precious encounters, it is important to wave one’s “flag”. If one waves his or her flag by saying, “I have a certain dream! I want to live my life in such a way!”, people who sympathize with you will surely gather around you. Conversely, there may be instances where I find a person waving a flag, and I may get in touch with that particular person. Indeed, Courtyard HIROO, which I am the owner of, is a collective entity of such people. I feel that in a truly individualized society, people with common dreams gravitate towards each other.

We have progressed since the “Can you fight 24 hours?” generation. We know that it is not exactly an ideal situation where you have to give up on your private life for work. However, it is a fact that it is enjoyable to work in teams and to concentrate together towards a common dream. If I think of why I had enjoyed work so much during my 20s despite the heavy work load, I think that it was because I was able to have a dream. We, the young generation, were given the responsibility and the right to act according to our own decisions. Though we may have had the inconvenience of being judged by numbers as to whether we were “highly skilled” or not, we all had a dream and were able to share it among ourselves over a glass of wine or sake (Japanese rice wine). Such days may have brought us much happiness than we had imagined. It is important to share the “real” company in front of us. However, it may be even more interesting to share with someone a future which is not currently in shape.

I consider that the motivation to work or one’s dream could be extremely personal. Even if this meant mixing selfishness and work, if there is the encounter with another person with a common dream, and that particular encounter led to a creation of something new, that would be absolutely terrific! By the way, my dream in the future is to become an owner of a baseball team. The very thought of making a baseball ground, gathering the players, and cheering them in the opening of the match brings me much excitement and joy. My grandchildren or the further generation ahead may not believe that I had created the baseball team, and may say, “You must be kidding!” However, when they find out that their “grandfather (or, great-grandfather)” had actually made the baseball team, they may exclaim, “Wow, grandpa (or, great-grandpa)! You’re SO cool!” These are the conversations that I dream of having in the future, and this may be the yellow-labelled nutrition drink for me to keep on working hard.