Two international conferences with overlapping schedules took place during Japan’s consecutive national holidays in May. One was the St. Gallen Symposium held at the prestigious University of St. Gallen in Switzerland. The other was the World Economic Forum on Africa, organized by the World Economic Forum (WEF). Also known as the African Economic Summit, this conference had been held every year in South Africa, but it was scheduled to take place in Tanzania for the first time this year as South Africa would host the 2010 World Cup in June. Meanwhile, the symposium in St. Gallen is known as the “Davos Forum for Students.” I had to choose one from the two because of their conflicting dates.

I had an invitation from the St. Gallen Symposium to participate in the event as a speaker at a breakup session. Meanwhile, the African Economic Summit had novelty that stirred my curiosity. I had visited Morocco and Egypt in the past, but I had never been to sub-Saharan Africa. Moreover, entry was free of charge for me as I am a member of the Global Growth Companies (GGC). It was free because I had prepaid the participation fee for the event together with the fees for the Annual Meeting of the New Champions, also known as the “Summer Davos,” and other regional meetings in the form of the annual WEF membership fee.

The secretariat for the St. Gallen Symposium invited me with strong enthusiasm, which I would like to express my sincere respect for their efforts. The only thing that bothered me was that I was invited to participate as a speaker at a small break-up session. That status allowed me to contact a limited number of people only because the small break-up session was one of more than ten such sessions at the symposium. The fact that the Japanese speaker had already been decided to be present at the plenary session in advance gave me mixed feelings, as well.

The presence of a keynote speaker from Japan should be a positive situation for Japan. At the same time, I understood well that the symposium was unable to present two keynote speakers from Japan. I was also aware of the great significance of break-up sessions as I also organize G1 Summit and ASKA Meetings myself. But something made me feel reluctant to take part this time.

I take a certain level of pride in what I have accomplished up to this point. (Though, at the same time, I feel what I’ve accomplished amounts to only 20% of what I should be doing in my lifetime.) No one in the world has created No.1 MBA program in a major country, such as Japan, from scratch. And no one in the world has started a leading venture capital firm in addition to creating a top business school.

I value educating many people and giving birth to many companies to create value to the society more than becoming an instant billionaire using internet. Unfortunately, I have to admit that my personal evaluation differs from societal evaluation. I cannot do anything about the gap, because my global visibility is still low. Even though I may be well known in Japan, very few people in the world know about me at this stage. Maybe I was not convinced about the gap between how I felt that I should be rated and how I had been actually evaluated by the public so that something about the symposium made me feel reluctant to join.

It doesn’t happen to me very often, but I could not make up my mind until the very last minute. I believe my procrastination caused a lot of trouble for the organizers. In the end, I declined the kind invitation to visit Switzerland, and decided to jump into unknown territory. I would go to Africa.

The only problem was that the early May happens to be on Japan’s Golden Week, i.e. a week long national holidays. I have divided the Golden Week into two segments. I planned to spend the first half with my family and the second half in Tanzania. I was hoping to go on safari at my own expense, bearing in mind that I was traveling all the way to Tanzania in Africa from Japan.

This would be my first trip to Sub-Saharan Africa. I didn’t even know where Tanzania was in Africa. A travel agency told me I needed to inoculate myself against yellow fever before entering the country. “What is yellow fever? Is malaria a risk, too?” That was the level of my knowledge. I received vaccination against yellow fever in Tokyo’s Odaiba area and obtained a prophylactic against malaria in Hibiya, Tokyo, during breaks from my busy work day.

As planned, I spent the first half of the Golden Week with my family, playing the game of Go and visiting the park with 5 kids of mine, then I took off for Africa in the second half. My only regret during Golden Week was that I was unable to fly the traditional carp-shaped streamers called koi-nobori. It had been my annual Golden Week practice to display five dolls for the Boy’s Festival for my five sons and fly the same number of koi-nobori as the number of my family members at a mountain lodge. We could not visit the mountain lodge this Golden Week because of my overseas trip, of my children’s Go practice, and of a School Festival at my oldest son’s junior high school (for reasons unknown, the festival takes place during Golden Week).

With painful reluctance, I left my house, boarded a plane at Haneda Airport, and made a connection at Kansai International Airport to fly to Doha, Qatar. From Doha, I flew to Dar es Salaam, the capital of Tanzania. The spirit of Shosha-man, a trading company mentality starts to stir whenever I travel to a developing country like Tanzania. Developing nations excite me more than advanced ones.

I arrived in Tanzania 24 hours after departing from Tokyo. I felt as if I had been inside airplanes the entire trip. Stark white thunderheads spread magnificently across the blue sky as I stepped out of the airport building in Dar es Salaam. Before I even knew it, I had dispensed with my long-sleeved shirt and I was just in a T-shirt.

May 5, 2010
Yoshito Hori