Yoshito Hori speaks about leadership lessons with enthusiasm in a suit and tie

Just as the G1 Summit board meeting was about to agree on the venue for next year’s G1 Summit—“So, are we all set on Aomoriya next year?”—Mr. Takuro Tatsumi made a suggestion: “When we held the first G1 Summit at Alts Bandai, we made up our minds to hold the summit every year for at least 10 years. If feasible, how about considering a different venue for each summit for the first 10 years?”

Mr. Hoshino, who for some time had been recommending Okinawa as the next venue, made a strong argument for the Yaeyama Islands. In response, I offered then and there to go and take a look, saying “I’m available from March 28.” Hoshino-san immediately sent an email to his staff overseeing the G1 Summit, and my inspection tour to the Yaeyama Islands in Okinawa was arranged. How speedy is that!

Among the members of the newly created G1 Summit group on Facebook, there were also opinions in favor of the Windsor Hotel Toya in Hokkaido. In light of this, we decided to carry out two inspection tours, by northbound and southbound teams. As I had stayed at the Windsor on a previous occasion and had a general idea of what it was like, and because I felt an obligation to Hoshino-san, I decided to go on the southbound tour.

I took a direct flight to Ishigaki Island, departing at 6.30 a.m. on March 28, and arriving at the new Ishigaki Airport, which had just opened on March 7. After a taxi ride to Rito Terminal (for ferries to outlying islands), I joined Mr. Sakurai and Mr. Keigo Hori from Hoshino Resort on a ferry to Uehara Port, Iriomote Island. The trip took just under 50 minutes one way. The sea was quite choppy.

Staff from Hoshino Resort Nirakanai Iriomote then picked us up at Uehara Port. We arrived at the hotel, had lunch, checked in, and our inspection tour began in earnest. We toured the premises, inspecting potential venues, and then headed for the local community center, “Wai Wai Hall,” on a microbus.

After returning to the hotel, we took a look at the sandy beach, took some photographs and posted them on Facebook, starting a series we dubbed “(Pretending to be) at work.”

At this point, I honestly didn’t think it would be possible to stage a G1 Summit here because the islands had next to nil conference facilities. So why did I go, you might ask. To that I can only say, “It was the atmosphere of the board meeting that made me.” “It’s definitely going to be Yaeyama, Okinawa next year,” Hoshino-san had enthused time and again, “What about one night each on Kohama and Iriomote islands?” And the consequence of that, along with the desire to mask a sense of embarrassment, was the “(Pretending to be) at work.”

After “inspecting” the beach at Shirahama, we left the hotel at dusk, this time to check out the Yaeyama fireflies. After parking at the foot of a hill, we hiked up a mountain path, the darkness gathering around us. “Yaeyama fireflies emit a light-green glow, which is stronger and flickers more rapidly than the glow of Genji fireflies, the variety found on mainland Japan,” we were told as we walked. When we arrived at one of the viewing spots, a few were already starting to flicker. By the time it was completely dark, there were hundreds of fireflies. It was stupendous; an illumination show created by nature. I caught a few that were flying in my direction and took a closer look at them on the palms of my hands.

After frolicking with the fireflies for about an hour we returned to our hotel, freshened up and changed for dinner, at which a delightful surprise awaited me: my birthday celebration—I was very flattered.

Here’s what I tweeted. I am truly appreciative.

“Thank you for the more than 100 birthday greetings sent to me on Facebook. Since I can’t reply to all of them, I wish to take this opportunity to express my heartfelt appreciation. I turned 51 today. I hope I am a better person than I was at 50. I am enjoying each day of my life. Let us celebrate the wonders life offers.”

(Tweeted the following day)
“I read every comment received on Facebook on my birthday, responded to them with “likes” and also went through all the messages as well. I was reminded of the fact that I am the person I am today because of the many friends I have and their great support. Although I haven’t seen you in person on my birthday, I am happy that I am connected to you through Facebook and other means. Thank you all very much.”

At 9 a.m. the following morning, we commenced our tour of Okuiriomote. Starting with a visit to Ida Beach, which is almost like Hoshino Resort’s private beach, we admired the coral reefs by boat, and explored the Nakara River and its wild mangroves by canoe.

(Pretending to be) at work 2: Inspecting Iriomote Island’s mangroves. Here we could have a canoe race instead of a snowball fight.

We traveled through a tunnel of mangroves and after returning to the landing, we went back to the hotel, checked out, and headed for Yubu Island, famous for its water buffalo-drawn carts which take tourists across the shallow stretch of sea between the two islands.

(Pretending to be) at work 3: Taking a water buffalo cart to Yubu Island, the prospective venue of the G1 Summit dinner.

The island showed glimmers of potential as a dinner venue. But what good would that be if we couldn’t have the conference on these islands in the first place? I brooded over this question as we departed Iriomote Island’s Ohara Port for our next destination, Taketomi Island.

On arrival on Taketomi Island we had lunch, courtesy of Hoshino-san, then took a tour of the facilities at Hoshinoya. Normally Hoshinoya does not admit facility tours of any kind, but we were granted the privilege because a number of past G1 Summits had been held at Hoshino Resorts elsewhere.

The lunch was finished off with Hoshinoya’s original awamori. (Pretending to be) at work 4: Tasting Hoshinoya’s original awamori on Taketomi Island.

We then went on a sightseeing tour of Taketomi Island. The island’s greatest tourism asset is its culture: the island has a “Taketomi Island Constitution” and a “Taketomi Island Scenic Landscape Preservation Manual,” which dictate the style of all the houses on the island. They invariably feature stone talismans known as ishiganto, perimeter walls made of coral blocks, and red tiled roofs topped with shisa figurines.

We also went to see the white sands of Kondoi Beach.

(Pretending to be) at work 5: Pondering the Summit’s beachside activities@Kondoi Beach, Taketomi Island. “Beach volleyball, perhaps?”

We left Taketomi Island and headed for Kohama Island via Ishigaki Island. Having been to four of the Yaeyama Islands so far, I found transportation between the islands unexpectedly good. Someday I would definitely love to have a G1 Summit using the three Hoshino Resort facilities on Taketomi, Kohama and Iriomote Islands. However, at present there are no suitable facilities for the conference sessions. That’s the problem. Incidentally, the Senkaku Islands are located just 100 km north of the Yaeyama Islands. This only adds to my desire to hold the G1 Summit in Yaeyama.

We arrived on Kohama Island and headed for Resonare Kohamajima by bus. Kohama was the fifth island we had visited this day after Iriomote, Yubu, Taketomi and Ishigaki. This was the first time I had visited this island in 29 years. I fondly remembered my last visit—I was in my fourth year at university and came here in the company of, among others, Miss Towako Yoshikawa (now Mrs. Kimijima), who hadn’t debuted as a model yet and was still in high school. I may be a fun-loving person, but I am sorry to say that absolutely nothing romantic went on between Towako-san and me. I am prepared to give a full explanation if and when opportunity presents.

For dinner that night we had Italian at the hotel. We savored Hoshino Resort’s exquisite offerings.

The next day, March 30th, was the last day of the tour. After getting out of bed, I thought I’d try and get some work done. I wandered around the room in search of a better Internet connection, and in the end found myself typing on the keyboard outside on the balcony, stark naked. That’s what a resort does to you!

We took a small boat to research activities on an island called “Maboroshi-no-shima (lit. Phantom Island).” The sky was overcast, the sun was only occasionally out, which made for ideal weather conditions: neither too warm nor chilly, and less exposure to UV rays. The boat took us to “Maboroshi-no-shima” or Hama Island in about 15 minutes. When I was there 29 years ago the island hadn’t yet been nicknamed “Maboroshi-no-shima (lit. Phantom Island).” It’s so-called because the island—a stretch of sandy beach—disappears under the water at full tide and reappears at low tide. Perhaps there was more sand on the island than there was 29 years ago, but it was still as beautiful as ever.

(Pretending to be) at work 6: Researching activities on Hama Island, a “phantom island” off Kohama Island. My first landing here in 29 years.

We chatted a while with the boatman before heading for the “Osakana-batake (lit. Fish Fields).” Another apt appellation; I learned that both were devised by local boatmen who work in tourism.

(Pretending to be) at work 7: Viewing coral and tropical fish at the “Fish Fields” off Kohama Island. I can almost hear someone retorting, “Who calls that work?”

The coral formations are truly beautiful. I have dived in the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, in the Caribbean and elsewhere, but in my opinion the coral reefs here are the most varied, colorful and beautiful in the world. Above all, they offer tremendous fun. Here I got to swim for the first time on the tour. Swimming, playing with fish while admiring coral, and doing (or pretending to do) inspection work—that’s killing three birds with one stone.

I gather that the waters between Ishigaki and Iriomote Islands—named Sekisei Lagoon—host the largest concentration of coral in the northern hemisphere, second in the world only to Australia. Wonderful stuff.

The Yaeyama Islands are the most southwestern of Japan’s inhabited islands. The southernmost island is Hateruma Island, and the westernmost, Yonaguni Island. Both are part of the Yaeyama Islands. The climate is mild, and the configuration of the islands is somewhat reminiscent of the Hawaiian Islands (Ishigaki, Iriomote and Kohama very roughly corresponding to Oahu, Hawaii and Maui Islands). Yaeyama’s geographical proximity to China and Taiwan will most likely bring further growth to the islands in the future.

We returned to Kohama Island and inspected Resonare Kohamajima before and after lunch. But we were still without a suitable venue for the conference sessions. With the last-ditch suggestion of using an elementary or middle school gymnasium rejected, we were completely stuck.

Having finished our inspection of the three outlying islands, we departed the port of Kohama Island for Ishigaki Island.

(Pretending to be) at work 8: Trying beni-imo (purple sweet potato) ice cream—produced locally for local consumption—en route to Ishigaki after finishing the tour of Kohama Island. Delicious!

Looking at the twinkling emerald green sea from the ferry back to Ishigaki, I started thinking, “Can’t I apply some lateral thinking here?” To begin with, I wondered if it was totally out of the question to hold the conference outside the three islands? Couldn’t we use this excellent inter-island ferry network? Couldn’t we use these three unique islands advantageously as off-site venues?

It was then that I hit upon the idea of using the three islands as off-site breakout session venues. Taketomi Island could host a breakout session on culture, Iriomote on nature, and Kohama on marine sports. Each is highly unique and interesting. Leaving Ishigaki at 11 a.m. or so in the morning, participants could engage in activities of their choice during the day, and attend a night session after dinner. For breakout sessions, with fewer participants than a general or plenary session, restaurants and other smaller venues could play host. Participants could then take the first ferry back to Ishigaki the following morning.

Ideas started to take shape. How about “Discussing Defense, Tourism and Japan’s Future on the most Southwestern Islands in Japan” as the overall theme? The main venue could be on Ishigaki Island, with the three outlying islands as off-site venues. If it’s Ishigaki, we could surely find a hotel large enough for both plenary and breakout sessions. The schedule would look something like this:

Day 1
Travel to Ishigaki. Dinner reception at a hotel on Ishigaki.

Day 2
Sessions all day. Plenary session in the morning, garden lunch buffet, then breakout sessions in the afternoon. Dress code for the evening is kimono (yukata also permitted), respecting Japanese tradition, followed by around 15 breakout night sessions.

Day 3
Breakout sessions on Ishigaki Island from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. Participants then head for the three off-site island venues on board ferries departing around 11 a.m.

Taketomi Island
Day: Under the theme of “culture,” participants tour the island on water buffalo carts and spend time at Hoshinoya (overnight accommodation at Hoshinoya Taketomijima).
Post-dinner night session: Themed on politics?

Iriomote Island
Day: Under the theme of “nature,” activities include water buffalo carts to Yubu Island and taking canoe down the mangrove river. Walks to Yaeyama firefly watching spots in the evening (overnight accommodation at Nirakanai Iriomote).
Night session: Themed on economics and/or business management?

Kohama Island
Day: Spent at sea, visiting “Phantom Island” and the “Fish Fields” to appreciate the coral and tropical fish.
Night session: Themed on culture and/or society? (Overnight accommodation at Resonare Kohamajima)

Participants spend the night at respective hotels, participating in debates on respective themes, before returning to Ishigaki on the morning of day 4, on board ferries departing the outlying islands around 8 a.m.

Plenary session from around 10:00 a.m.
Summit finishes around 3 p.m., after which participants head back to Tokyo, Osaka or Nagoya.

Although we do need to consult flight schedules, a timetable like this would give us roughly the same amount of discussion time as previous G1 Summits. As an added bonus, we can bring some of Japan’s leading figures to Japan’s most southwesterly islands. This will have a positive impact on local tourism. The Senkaku Islands are only 100 km to the north. Naturally, national defense will be on the discussion agenda, as will tourism. This is going to be exciting!

This gave me added zeal at the meeting at the hotel on Ishigaki Island.

(Pretending to be) at work 9: Taking part in earnest discussions on Ishigaki Island.

On the way back to the airport, I asked the taxi driver to make a detour to the port, where I saw a Japan Coast Guard patrol boat.

(Pretending to be) at work 10: Touring and cheering on Japan Coast Guard patrol boat Mizuki, part of the fleet patrolling the waters near the Senkaku Islands.

I arrived home from Ishigaki shortly after 10 p.m. If next year’s G1 Summit does take place on the Yaeyama Islands, my inspection tour will be justified, at least in part. “Pretending to be at work” was perhaps camouflaging a very serious undertaking.

Next year’s venue will be decided by an extraordinary board meeting, following a vote by G1 participants. I am excited to find out where it is going to be. The candidates are Hokkaido, Aomoriya, and Yaeyama Islands.

Where would you like it to be?

April 1, 2013
Written on board a plane to Vancouver
Yoshito Hori

Postscript: The matriculation ceremony for the English MBA program took place the following morning. Thirty-five students from 13 countries have enrolled. I gave a speech in English, wearing traditional haori and hakama. The students are all outstandingly excellent. From 1.30 p.m. the same day the matriculation ceremony for the MBA program in Japanese is scheduled. A total of over 300 students have enrolled. My speech this time is going to be in Japanese. Students, let’s work together in support of creativity and change!

(Pretending to be?) at work 11: GLOBIS English MBA program matriculation ceremony. The photo was taken before the ceremony, wearing haori and hakama.

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