Shigeru AoiRepresentative Director of A-TOM Co. Ltd.

You can't be what you aren't. I would like to continue pursuing for the essence of things without hesitation.

There is one pillar that has been placed upside down in the Yomei-mon Gate at the Nikko Tosho-gu, a World Heritage site that represents Japan. The pillar is set in such incomplete condition to express the philosophy that “an architecture begins to collapse from the moment it has been completed”. Even if it is the wooden architecture, we can understand well this philosophy through the belief of animism where spirits reside in all things. All things live on forever because they will never be completed. All incomplete things are beautiful as long as there is future.

No man is complete however great they may be. No matter how wise they are, or, how well balanced they are in both academic and sports, every man has a part that is incomplete. When I look back to my past, I remember my child-self doing well academically, and receiving the spotlight in sport festivals. This continues right into my adulthood, where in many cases, I have been held responsible for important roles. Now, I am the representative for A-TOM, a company that was founded by my grandfather, the founder of Marui Department Store. If I were to say this without any fear of inviting misunderstanding, people may say to me, “You are so perfect, and you are so far from having inferiority complex.” However, without saying, I too, have such inferiority complex and concerns. If I were to highlight such feelings, it would be the fact that I am a third generation.

There is a saying, “Uriya to karayou de kaku sandaime”. This means, “Though the first generation may struggle to make a great living and pass the asset down to the second generation, the third, may end up selling that grand house, having lost all its money. Nevertheless, the tag the third generation writes is in the karayou design, and is fashionable.” This is a satiric expression that the third generation indulges in playing and neglects business. [The English version of this saying would be “Father buys, the son bigs (=builds), the grandchild sells and his son thigs (=begs).”] Fortunately or unfortunately, I do not have a fancy handwriting, so, even if I had to write a tag to sell my house, this would not be possible. Not only do I not have the skill to write in a fancy writing, I have never experienced making a new company. I must say that it is difficult for me to go beyond “the grandson of the founder of the Marui Department Store”, and I am always situated back to back with this pressure.

What can I do as a third generation? This is a never-ending theme for me. A founder creates companies. The second generation witnesses how the first generation founded the company, so, the passion towards the company is the same, or, even above what the first generation holds. The direction of the company is clear, and there would still be passion and philosophy strongly engrained in its members. Then, what would the role of the third generation, who already has some distance between the founding days? What is the meaning for my existence? The baseball hero, Mr. Katsuya Nomura has left a quote, “Katsuya Nomura minus baseball is zero.” Then, how would I become zero? Having got married and created a family of my own, the formula, “Shigeru minus family is zero” has been made. However, when it comes to just myself, I cannot think of “the thing” that would make me zero if subtracted from me. This is the biggest concern, and the challenge of life for me.

When I observe the people who are so called “founders”, I see that in many cases, these people have cool, logical and computational power. Also, I find that such people have extraordinary imagination that enables people to dream. Elon Reeve Musk is a typical example, and his words, “We will send people to Mars” makes me truly excited! He has also been very successful as the world’s most aggressive entrepreneur. In a word, his charm is his logical computational power and his imagination. I think that great entrepreneurs more or less have both these abilities.

In the past, my grandfather founded the Marui Department Store. Also, he issued the first credit card in Japan. While cash exchange was the main stream, his idea was at times laughed at with people saying, “Such business won’t succeed.” However, looking back from now, I feel that it is a wonderfully big romantic adventure of being able to build a community where large amount of cash could be exchanged with sole credit. I wonder if my grandfather was able to envision a world where the credit cards prevailed. I wonder how many years he calculated for such phenomenon. The speed of societal change would have been totally different from our mature modern society from the one which aimed at recovering from the war. Unlike the present, it was a minus start due to the immature infrastructure those days. The world does not change largely in a matter of 10 or 20 years. The change occurs only after 50 years, and it takes at least 100 years for it to completely find root. I imagine my grandfather envisioned the future this way. The world in 100 years to which my grandfather imagined is the very generation in which I currently live.

Our A-TOM has recently put up a slogan, “Imagine 100 years”. What would a community that would survive 100 years look like? What would a culture that we hope for to continue look like? We are always searching for the answer and planning business accordingly. This challenge may perhaps leave footsteps on the world 100 years later. The footsteps that we leave behind are not dead fossils. They will continue to live continuously in a community 100 years later and bloom as big flowers. We wish to plant the seeds in this generation. The great politicians in the past have governed by envisioning the future, and have nurtured culture. The challenges that they had endeavored must have involved risks, and perhaps may have caused misunderstandings and at times could have caused oppositions. However, I feel that every achievement involves the concept of “no pain, no gain”. Nothing can be achieved without pain. Even if you pretend to be something, the surface will peel off. If this was the reality, I would like to challenge without hesitation even for the most difficult of challenges, though that may involve pain.

Life has no meaning if there is no challenge. I became the President of A-TOM starting from May 2019, with the start of the Reiwa era. In other words, the challenges of A-TOM has become my own. What would remain if “the something” is subtracted from Shigeru Aoi? I may not have the rare quality of the entrepreneurs who have the logical computational power, or, the magical imagination, but I do have the DNA of “a challenger” passed onto me from my grandfather. When I eventually close my curtain of life, I would like to be regarded, “Shigeru Aoi minus challenge had been zero”. I perceive that this is the mission for both A-TOM and myself. I feel that this “challenge” element is a essential means to overcome my high wall as a third generation.