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Tuesday, Aug. 8, 2006

WORDS TO LIVE BY

Setsuko Hashimoto


Setsuko Hashimoto, PhD, 52, is Director of Marketing at Biacore K.K., a global supplier of instruments for academic, pharmaceutical and biotechnology research. A top class scientist with keen business sense, she formed the Swedish company's Japanese subsidiary, and has been the driving force behind it's success ever since.

Setsuko Hashimoto
Setsuko Hashimoto PHOTO BY JUDIT KAWAGUCHI

Sitting in the boardroom and standing at the ironing board aren't that different. Both entail long hours of work and lots of stroking: either men's egos or their shirts, and sometimes both. And just when things look smooth and uniform, one clumsy move and you are back to square one: wrinkles everywhere. Things slip, especially from an iron hand.

With old friends, I behave as I did when we first met. When I see high-school mates from Kyushu, we giggle and act silly like we were as teenagers. My university friends and I still have long discussions about biology. With different people, I return to the age when we met and forget my current frustrations.

We talk about equal opportunity, but the only thing equal is the opportunity to talk. Glass ceiling? I don't think so: then we could see the ceiling and break it.

Business women have to suit themselves. Although stores carry suits for women, they either fit skinny 22 year-olds, those out on midnight escort duty, or are the type that ladies who lunch would feel comfortable in.

Some housewives behave as enemies of working women. When my children were younger, I often met women who were convinced that they had sacrificed their potential on the altar of motherhood. I understood their feelings because I was a housewife, too, but they could never relate to me.

Women are on strike. Unless they are offered "incentives" to give birth, they will just work, shop and have fun.

One is often judged by education level or job, but I find it best not to mention either. I learned that revealing my background doesn't help me in any way, but it can cause lots of trouble. If a man graduated from Kyushu University, had gone to Dartmouth Medical School and had a PhD in molecular biology from Heidelberg University, as I have, it might be considered an achievement, but for a woman it is somehow seen as shameful pushiness and creates an image of toughness, which is not considered attractive.

MBAs are great for making nice PowerPoint presentations. In the business world, the person who has an MBA from a famous university has all the power, but in reality there is really no point to it.

Languages are communication tools but many Japanese mistake them for content. Those who choose English majors are often not interested in English literature but just want to talk in English. The problem is that without studying something else, they will have nothing to say in any language.

Now that I'm older, I finally get business cards. Scientists, engineers, business leaders tend to be men. When I was younger, even as a project leader, I often did not get name cards because everyone assumed I was a secretary or interpreter.

Sadly, Japan's image is rather bad around the world. This is largely due to our inability to present ourselves in a positive light, while other nations are very good at spreading negative information about us. I try to educate others about Japan's achievements.

They say the busier one gets the better time management skills one develops. It is so true. I bake while listening to Bach, visualizing the molecular interactions of estrogen receptors and endocrine disruptors and talking to my parents on the phone. And there is only one thing constantly on my mind: my two children.

I played the role of the bad guy in the divorce procedures. I had a career and was making more than my husband, which put me in the unfortunate position usually reserved for men. Like most men, I lost custody of my children.

In important decisions, don't talk just to your parents and best friends because they take your side. Ask advice from experts, too. Look at the issue from different angles.

Once one is pampered by Japanese service, there is no way to be satisfied anywhere else. Japanese are the world's most demanding customers, and companies that can meet their requirements are way above the competition.

It is comforting to know the end of a story. Traditional Japanese theater has strict forms which hold no surprises in terms of storyline, so we can relax and enjoy the spectacle.

What's good for the individual is not necessarily good for the group. Sounds cold and mean but there must be reasons why some people are not able to reproduce. We do not fully understand biology, so manipulating reproduction may end with unexpected results. Although the impact may currently be small, when you look at the whole population, once artificial insemination turns into a routine procedure, we may influence evolution, which is dangerous.

The only cure for culture shock is time. It also helps to talk to others who feel lonely and out of this world.

We need to increase our Gross National Happiness, not just our Gross National Product. As Bhutan's King Jigme Singye Wangchuck puts it, the quality of life doesn't just depend on economics but on spiritual values, too. I sensed it in Bhutan and wish we could get some more of it here in Japan.

Judit Kawaguchi loves to listen. She is a volunteer counselor and a TV reporter on NHK's "Weekend Japanology" www.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/english/japanology_e.html


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