Fumiko Hayashi

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Forum for building networks of working women in Yokohama Forum for building networks of working women in Yokohama Photo courtesy of the City of Yokohama

Leading a Revolution in Equality & Sustainability

Yokohama Mayor Fumiko Hayashi Sets her Sights on Making Yokohama the Most Progressive City in the World

How does one go from an entry-level sales position at a Honda dealership to president of Volkswagen, BMW and Nissan Auto Sales in Tokyo, chairperson and CEO of Daiei (one of Japan’s largest supermarket retailers) and now mayor of Japan’s second-largest city, Yokohama? How do you do all of this despite traditions that cast men as the salary-earners and women as domestic caregivers? And while being only a high school graduate in a society that places extreme importance on university qualifications? Break all the precedents, says Fumiko Hayashi. She has dominated both the corporate and political worlds in her long and ground-breaking career, a career that she forged for herself despite – and at times because of – her gender. Fumiko Hayashi has been listed as the most powerful woman in Japan and 39th out of the Forbes 2006 list of “The 100 Most Powerful Women.” Tokyo Journal Executive Editor Anthony Al-Jamie first interviewed Fumiko Hayashi for TJ while she was still president of Volkswagen in 2003. Now over a decade later, he catches up with Japan’s corporate icon and current mayor of Yokohama to find out how her views have developed and what she has to say about gender equality, economic success and the future of Yokohama.

TJ: You’ve been very successful in your corporate career. Why did you decide to leave the corporate world for government?
HAYASHI: To begin with I hadn’t expected to run for mayor at all, so the change surprised even me! But I was told that the Yokohama government required two things: the experience of being a manager and the experience of being an ordinary female citizen. I had experience in both areas, and so I thought that it might be destiny for me to make use of them. I started working at the age of 18 in a male-oriented society – more than two decades before Japan’s Equal Opportunity Act. Jobs were completely different for women than for men back then. Companies never valued women’s thoughts. But I realized that co-operation between men and women makes good business sense. Men and women working together can utilize their respective strengths to energize an organization and achieve better results. So as a manager I always felt despair when female workers were forced to choose between childbearing and a career. Then the election came and I was asked to move from the corporate world to managing the large and populated city of Yokohama. I was asked to run on the behalf of women and finally I decided to take on this challenge.

TJ: Has your experience in the automobile industry helped you as mayor?
HAYASHI: Yes, of course. If I hadn’t found a car sales job at the age of 31, I wouldn’t be who I am now. To begin with I was the only saleswoman, but using the Omotenashi spirit [the spirit of Japanese hospitality] and female strengths of receptiveness and empathy I was the top-performing salesperson and was promoted to branch manager. Immediately, I focused on raising my employees’ motivation by caring for and praising them. In six months the business performance of the branch went from rock bottom right to the top. A competitor who observed my management style asked me to become their president. The most important thing I learned was that human relationships and trust is everything. Hands-on management brings out the maximum potential of employees. Now I utilize this management style in government, and it is thanks to this that significant results have been achieved, such as no waiting lists for entrance into nursery schools in 2013.

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TJ: I understand Yokohama has been designated as “Culture City of East Asia 2014.” Can you tell us how Yokohama will be collaborating with cities in China, South Korea and other Asian countries?
HAYASHI: Yes, Yokohama was designated as the first host city of “Culture City of East Asia” along with Quanzhou in China and Kwangju in South Korea. Our plan is to showcase the attractiveness of these East Asian cities to the world by holding various culture and art events under the theme “Crossover of human, art and culture.” In February and March, all three cities held opening events. Yokohama sent the Japanese idol group Denpagumi and traditional musical performers to Quanzhou and Kwangju as ambassadors of our friendship, and like-wise, representatives from Quanzhou and Kwangju visited Yokohama, where a concert and exhibition of art and culture were successfully held. So audiences in China and South Korea were able to see our culture, and our audiences were thrilled to see a Chinese erhu soloist and South Korean opera singer. The actual coming and going of people through culture and art will deepen our understanding of and interaction with each other. We are going to continue these collaborations with Quanzhou and Kwangju through exchange programs, for example the mutual dispatch of artists and cultural and youth exchange.

TJ: Yokohama has a number of sister city relationships. Can you tell us your thoughts on the sister cities program?
HAYASHI: Challenges such as economic growth, promotion of tourism, women’s participation in society, environment and energy cannot be resolved in isolation, and so Yokohama has aggressively promoted international exchange, aspiring to be a global city under the slogan of “Open Yokohama.” So far, Yokohama has a relationship with 18 cities, including eight sister cities, seven partner cities and three joint alliance cities. Since the first relationship with San Diego in 1957, the sister city program has fostered mutual understanding, trust and friendship based on accumulated exchanges in culture, sports, the economy, youth and academia. It is our irreplaceable asset. In Yokohama at the time of the Great East Japan Earthquake, the heartfelt sympathy expressed by many cities all over the world encouraged us very much. I hope that we can deepen our bond with “friends” abroad for mutual growth as well as for the stability and development of the world.

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TJ: Can you tell us about Yokohama’s efforts to be an environmental “FutureCity” and its electric-car sharing system?
HAYASHI: Yokohama was designated as the environmental “FutureCity” by the Japanese government in December 2011 in a national project to promote urban development and new creative industries which respond to the challenges we face today; challenges such as the environment, energy, and a super-aged society. Yokohama has resolved many problems through the balanced involvement of citizens and private companies, and I strongly believe that this co-operation is our city’s strength. For example, the public and private sectors worked together to reduce waste and introduce solar power. There is balance, too, in the cityscape. Yokohama is proud of its combination of urban waterfront areas such as the Minato Mirai 21 district, abundance of green areas in the suburbs, and quality resident areas. The city is home to great sightseeing and commercial facilities, which attract people from across the nation, but also to the major production areas of the Komatsu-na [Tendergreen] vegetable. The strong bond between citizens and companies is crucial for our plans to further develop this urban environment, and this bond has already been utilized in the “Choi-Mobi Yokohama” car-rental experiment. The concept of “Choi-Mobi Yokohama” car rental is easy mobility for everyone, so the membership and registration fee is free. Many companies and organizations co-operate in the location of stations, and we have set up 60 stations in urban areas of Yokohama. Now we plan to maintain this scheme as a sustainable one-way car sharing/rental service, which will allow people to move around the city in ultra-compact electric vehicles that they can rent for one-way trips to wherever they want to go in the city.

TJ: You have said that the biggest obstacle in your career is the “no-precedent” factor. Can you tell us about this?
HAYASHI: Well, throughout my career I have always had unprecedented positions such as the “first saleswoman,” “first female branch manager” and “first female president.” Each time I reached a crossroad, since there was no female senior who could give me advice, I always had to think for myself and challenge a new world alone. Challenges galvanize me, but stepping into a no-precedent environment really requires courage. In Japan, many women used to limit their own goals or had them limited by their family, giving up their careers purely because no precedent existed of women succeeding in them. But now women have made leaps forward in society, and so the opportunities to find female role models and colleagues have also been increasing. I will support women to help broaden their network and career.

TJ: Have you seen the situation with discrimination towards women in the workplace improve since you started in your career?
HAYASHI: In Japan more women work these days, and their position has been improved as more companies have started to support women’s participation as a “business strategy.” But there is still a long way to go: few women hold important, decision making positions; women make up just 1.8% of executives in listed companies and 1.5% of mayors; and 60% of women still resign because of marriage or childbirth. So the government needs to urgently create a social security system that will enable mothers to continue working, and also has the flexibility to eliminate long working hours. Using strategies such as the zero-waiting list for nursery schools, support for re-employment and entrepreneurship, and through raising awareness of these issues on a managerial level, we can achieve success.

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TJ: Can you tell us your thoughts on Prime Minister Abe’s Womenomics?
HAYASHI: Prime Minister Abe is strongly promoting women’s participation in society, and this is unprecedented in Japan.

TJ: In your role in government, are you able to work toward making changes for the next generation of Japanese women?
HAYASHI: Now it is the time to act. If we pool the strength of men and women, we can energize society to achieve success. Through the joint participation of men and women, I want to make Yokohama “a city pleasant to work in and worth working in for women,” and by achieving this Yokohama will be a model for the world as a city enjoying economic growth that provides a superior lifestyle for its residents. tj


The complete article can be found in Issue #275 of the Tokyo Journal. Click here to order from Amazon.

Written By:

Anthony Al-Jamie

Dr. Anthony Al-Jamie lived and worked as an educational administrator and journalist in Tokyo for over 20 years. His in-depth understanding of Japanese language and culture has allowed him to carry out interviews with many of the most renowned individuals in Japan. He first began writing for the Tokyo Journal in the 1990s as Education Editor, later he was promoted to Senior Editor, and eventually International Editor. He currently works in higher education publishing and serves the Tokyo Journal as Executive Editor.



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