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Career Success
NOV 18, 2010

Potential of and Strategies for My Hometown Mito – A City of Emigrants and “Drunken Mad”?

By Yoshito Hori

Taking the Super Hitachi Express from Ueno Station, I went back from Tokyo to my hometown, Mito. The rural landscape went on and on as the train passed the Kuji River. An announcement for passengers blared as the express neared Mito Station, its first stop.

Out the window I saw the green of Sakurayama on my right. A white signboard for Kairakuen Park with a green drop-off caught my eye to the left. Then the tranquil blue water of Lake Senba spread slowly across the train windows on my right. There was a green elevated area in back of this lake. Instinctively, I looked for the roof of the house where I had lived until I enrolled at Kyoto University. The Super Hitachi slid slowly into Mito Station while I restlessly moved my eyes right and left. The views from the windows of this train excite me every time I come back to Mito.

In my own biased view, Mito is one of the most beautiful local cities in Japan. The city abounds with places of historic interest with high cultural value, including Kodokan, one of Japan’s three most famous schools established by the ruling clan in the Edo period, and Kairakuen, one of Japan’s three most admired landscape gardens. Mito’s also make its presence felt with the established reputation of joining Nagoya and Sendai as the three cities in Japan with the largest numbers of unattractive women (laughs).

I moved to Mito from Tokai Village, also in Ibaraki Prefecture, when I was a sixth grader, and I was there until I graduated high school. Seven years may not seem long, but the city became a place filled with valuable memories for me, because I spent the most impressionable years of my life there. My father was transferred from Mito when I was in college so my parents moved to Tokyo, leaving our Mito house behind. Since that day I’ve had very few chances to go back to Mito.

After leaving Mito, I graduated from a university in Kyoto, joined a trading company in Tokyo, studied in Boston, and started my own business in Tokyo. During those years I had limited chances to return to Mito, because I devoted 100% of my energy to my work, personal pursuits and studies. This whole time, private trips with my children (see: “What Made Me Glad [about My Child] ”– in Japanese only, and “A Trip with My Fourth Son”) and trips to deliver speeches have became my only reasons to come back to Mito.

My love for the city grew stronger precisely for that reason. I visited places like historical sites, art museums and history museums like a tourist, and I studied the city’s history and the Mito school of thought each time I went back. On this latest occasion as well, in the chilly rain, I chose to visit Seizanso, a retreat where retired Lord Tokugawa Mitsukuni compiled a book called Dainihonshi [Great history of Japan], and Zuiryusan, the family cemetery for the Mito branch of the Tokugawa family. Seizanso, reportedly visited by renowned educator Yoshida Shoin, embodied the Japanese virtues of simplicity and economy.

Mito boasts the Mito school of thought that can be traced back to Lord Tokugawa Mitsukuni’s compilation of Dainihonshi. The idea of revering the Emperor and expelling foreigners was extended from this school of thought, and led to the assassination of Ii Naosuke and the Meiji Restoration.

After starting a business before turning 30, I traveled around the globe, set up a joint venture with North American and European funds, visited investors overseas and took part in the Davos Forum and other international conferences. I realize the importance of personal identity each time I meet world leaders. As my scope of work becomes more global, my feeling grows stronger that having a philosophy and identity is more essential than an international mindset and English ability. It may sound paradoxical, but the strong awareness for my Japanese identity arises in my heart, whenever I leave Japan to go overseas. I keep asking who I am and for what purpose I was born. Whenever I think about this, I revisit my hometown Mito. The philosophy and identity that provide the foundation of my own thinking derives from this hometown of mine.

The thinking that evolved in Mito became a backbone for ideas and actions in my life. The following is a revised version of the preface for my book, Visionary Leaders who Create and Innovate Societies.

I attended the Sannomaru Elementary School located in the sannomaru (the third, outermost grounds) of Mito Castle. It stands at a site where the Mito Clan founded its own school called Kodokan. The renowned writer Fujita Toko founded this clan-sponsored school at the behest of Lord Tokugawa Nariaki of Mito. Tokugawa Yoshinobu, the last shogun, studied at this school.

I went to the Mito 2nd Junior High School in the ninomaru (the second outermost grounds) of Mito Castle. It was here that Lord Tokugawa Mitsukuni compiled Dainihonshi. In other words, ninomaru is the birthplace of the Mito school of thought that led to the argument for returning the Emperor to power and expelling foreigners, which gathered momentum in the final days of the Tokugawa Shogunate.

Then I attended Mito 1st Senior High School, located at a site where the honmaru (castle keep) of Mito Castle once stood. During the Tengu Party uprising, party members left for Kyoto from a place called Daigo, located in northwestern Ibaraki Prefecture, after failing to find an effective way to attack the castle keep. The party members ended up locked in a herring warehouse in the city of Tsuruga in Fukui Prefecture, where they met their ultimate fate. I spent my childhood breathing in the air of this birthplace of the Mito school of thought.

Activists from Mito were pioneers. They took the lead in the development of an ideology that acted as the backbone for the Meiji Restoration through the assassination of Ii Naosuke and the Mito school of thought. But the Mito activists were unable to achieve the Restoration on their own, partly because Mito was too geographically close to Edo (present-day Tokyo) and the last shogun, Tokugawa Yoshinobu, who hailed from the same area. Later, their thought and intentions spread from Mito.

Yoshida Shoin studied away from home in Mito, and experienced the school of thought that grew there. Deploring the state of Japan greatly, Shoin set up his own private school called Shokasonjuku after returning to Choshu. At his school, Shoin trained “activists loyal to the Emperor” who went on to realize the Meiji Restoration. Through their education, Shoin contributed to the modernization of Japan.

I developed a strong desire to live with spirit and ambition comparable to those of my forerunners in Mito through the course of soul-searching trips for rediscovering my hometown.

In the meantime, Mito cannot achieve its growth by its cultural heritage from its past alone. The main street in downtown Mito has become deserted as a result of motorization. The streets of Mito have lost their life. Major department stores and supermarkets such as Jusco, Daiei, Seibu and Isejin have closed their branches across the board. The properties they occupied became vacant lots or ghost buildings. There are fewer pedestrians. Such conditions have emerged right in the heart of Mito. I think this vicious cycle owes in part to the relocation of the city hall and the prefectural office. In my view these conditions are, to a certain extent, a natural result of misgovernment.

This time, I visited Mito to offer my help to Mr. Atsushi Kawasaki (I omit the honorifics for him from this point on to express my sense of friendship). Atsushi is a Mito municipal assembly member at the tender age of 32. I came to Mito to push him to run for mayor and help him achieve success in the April 2011 election. Mito must change from this point on. I felt the city needs a young mayor with no constraints or collusive relationships whatsoever in order to change itself. Based on this, I encouraged him to run in the mayoral race, and naturally I visited Mito to cheer him on.

I met Atsushi in a few years ago in a car arranged for taking me to and from Mito Station when I visited Mito two or three times to deliver a campaign speech in support of Mr. Nobuyuki Fukushima, an incumbent House of Representatives member elected from the Mito constituency. I became close to Kawasaki because he drove to the station to pick me up each time I visited Mito to speak. Without giving it too much thought, I encouraged him at that point, saying, “Why don’t you become the mayor? Believe in your potential. Exercise your entrepreneurship.” The House of Representatives elections were long passed and the advice had almost slipped my mind. Then Atsushi gave me a call about two months ago and told me the mayoral election in April 2011 was drawing near.

I immediately said I would go to Mito to give my assistance, because I was the one who prompted him to do this. That’s how this visit to Mito came about. I don’t know if Atsushi could run in the race at just 32, but the mayor of Chiba is the same age, and Chiba is far larger than Mito. People in Mito should be able to do what their counterparts did in Chiba. Atsushi is my junior, and we came from the same senior high school. He studied at a university in Kyoto, too. I wanted to do something for him.

The theme for my speech that day was “Mito’s Potential and Strategies.” A car came to Mito Station to pick me up after I visited Seizanso in the rain. This time, a volunteer staff member for Atsushi came in his place. We arrived at the venue, the Mito Civic Center, right away. Close to 200 citizens had come out in the rainy weather, way more than I had expected. All of a sudden I felt motivated.

“Strategies” was the main focus of my speech. I was asked to discuss the following: “What is a strategy? It means throwing away things. It also means choosing things. Accepting all things is not a strategy. What should we do when Atsushi becomes the mayor of Mito? You can choose only one policy. What shall we do for dramatic reform, instead of mere improvement?”

I kept thinking about the “best policy” for Mito after receiving the subject of the speech. I recalled one idea that came out in the course of my discussions with Atsushi, and I decided to expand on it. I thought Atsushi should rebuild Mito’s downtown district amid these sad conditions. Vitality returns to no organization when its center has no energy. Energy does not flow in a city whose heart is dead, even if its suburbs are thriving. Mito is located on a tableland and a main street cuts through this terrace. My proposal was to build a streetcar line on this main street, make the street free of all other vehicles and create a large everyday crowd reminiscent of the Komon Festival there. We might be able to bring more people to the street by naming it Komon Street.

My idea was to invite all outside retailers, from Don Quijote to UNIQLO, to set up stores along this main street, as if it were a traditional Japanese free market, and to allow entrepreneurs believing in their potential to open small stores. I believe an incentive of some kind must be offered to people who shop in urban districts. Parking lots should be provided to bring people in. The city hall should naturally be moved back to downtown Mito. Facilities like art centers and schools should be linked with each other organically. All resources should be concentrated on the single point of offering incentive. Money is naturally needed for realizing such activities. My proposal was to secure a source of revenue for the activities by throwing things away, so to speak. Put another way, my idea was to generate required funds by reducing the number of policies that are providing financial grants ,based on the spirit of the venerable Sontoku Ninomiya. (see: “Unequal Society? – Learning from the Spirit of the Venerable Sontoku Ninomiya”.)

The idea was for all people in Mito to exercise a little patience and lead their city to future prosperity. This is a realistic dream. The strategy I proposed was to carry this through with Atsushi.

Another point I made in my speech is this: “Distinguished individuals leave Mito for good.” The majority of outstanding individuals raised in Mito never return home after they move away to attend universities in other areas. This situation comes as no surprise. There is no place for intellectual employment in Mito other than schools, the prefectural office and regional banks.

Yet there is nothing wrong with this. Overseas Chinese who had left China contributed to their country’s reconstruction. Mito must be able to benefit from a network of its native sons who similarly moved away. I came up with the idea of calling such people suikyo (Mito emigrants) after kakyo, a Japanese word for overseas Chinese, and applying their talent to Mito’s development. I think suikyo is a fun name because it is a homonym for “drunken mad” in Japanese.

From the perspective of starting where I can, I’d like to first set up the Suikyo Club and recommend its members to choose to divert part of their residential tax payment to the city of Mito. Tax revenue for Mito could increase by 400 – 500 million yen if this is successful. As taxpayers, suikyolose nothing in exchange because the amount of their total tax payment remains the same. It should be natural that overwhelmingly more emigrants think about making their tax payment to Mito, instead of Tokyo, as long as they have to pay a certain residential tax.

I’m thinking about taking the leadership for this campaign as the first chairman of the Suikyo Club. My ulterior motive is to empower the reconstruction program for Mito by applying this emigrant network.

Thus, I drew a blueprint for Mito’s revival. I believe the 200 participants in the meeting went home with a new dream in their hearts. All I need to do now is to ask Atsushi to announce his candidacy and become the mayor. I anticipate more chances to return to Mito from now until the election in next April.

Eisaku Kikkawa was at this meeting. Kikkawa was my senior high school classmate, and he was quite mischievous in his senior high school days, as was I. But he became a teacher at our alma mater, the Mito 1st Senior High School, after graduating college. Hearing that, I said to myself, “Wow, I can’t believe that guy is teaching now.” Kikkawa moved from our senior high school to the prefectural board of education and then, he is currently working in the planning office for the governor of Ibaraki now. Believe it or not, this guy, Kikkawa, planned and produced a movie called Sakuradamongai-no Hen [The assassination of Ii Naosuke] in his position as a local government employee.

This movie is showing in theaters across Japan now. I recommend all my readers see it, at any cost. I myself took time out of my busy daily schedule and went to see it. The film tells the story of 18 patriots who fought against the tyrannical rule of Lord Ii Naosuke, the chief minister of the shogun. The masterless warriors from Mito were left on their own when Saigo Takamori failed to carry out his promise of sending 3,000 activists to Tokyo. What was the fate that awaited them? What was the historical significance of Ii’s assassination outside the Sakuradamon Gate of the Edo Castle? The activists from Mito died a noble death as forerunners to the Meiji Restoration. In the end, activists royal to the Emperor from such “remote” regions as Satsuma, Choshu and Tosa realized their intentions.

I can’t help smiling when I think of the fact that a public servant produced this movie. What he exercised is entrepreneurship, or the sprint of “believing in potential.” In fact, the name Eisaku Kikkawa appears as the “producer” in credit titles for the movie shown at its end. Kikkawa made a personal appearance in the movie as an actor, too. I love ambitions of this kind. After making the speech, I went drinking with people I met at the meeting. We had a great time, making a call to Mr. Hiroyuki Watanabe, an actor from Mito who also appeared in this movie.

Feeling affection for one’s hometown is a nice thing every once in a while. I ended up drinking in downtown Mito until three o’clock in the morning. It’s good for an emigrant to squander his money in Mito. Ultimately my speech returned to the Ibaraki dialect and I became a “Drunken mad” in the true sense of the word “Suikyo”.

October 31, 2010
Yoshito Hori
Written at a traditional inn in Izu