Home > Life in Japan > Features
  print button email button

Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2008

WORDS TO LIVE BY

Yuzo Narumiya


Yuzo Narumiya, aged 71, is the founder and president of Narumiya International, Japan's No. 1 children's apparel maker. The company's products are beloved by kids and adults for the characters on them that scream ''Kawaii!!!'' Sold in more than 900 shops in Japan and 20 abroad, mezzo piano, pom ponette, Angel Blue and Daisy Lovers are just a few of the brands created by its 200 designers. The company's 1,350 employees, whose average age is 26, are encouraged to stay childlike, as Narumiya believes that only the innocent can design beautiful things for children. A contrarian at heart, Narumiya always focused on them, even when no one else shared his vision: While others worried about the graying Japanese population, he made juniors major in a country of seniors..

Takahiko Nakayama
Yuzo Narumiya JUDIT KAWAGUCHI PHOTO

If 90 percent of the people disagree with you, your chance of succeeding is a lot higher than if 90 percent of the people are on your side. One must have unique ideas -- what is more proof of being original than being thought of as a fool? Everyone laughed at me when I insisted on creating lovely, pricey brands for children when Japanese were barely having any kids anymore. But I figured that fewer kids meant that more adults would be buying nicer things for their little ones.

Good products don't need advertising: They sell themselves. I'm frugal and don't buy into the power of ads. We spend less than 1 percent of our sales income on advertising -- and even that's too much.

Creativity is killed in schools and nobody gets arrested -- only our children's development. Students who are considered bad by teachers' standards are always the creative ones. They are the ones who don't listen to adults and are fiercely independent. Since teachers don't nurture their artistic spirit, their talent disappears. Only teachers who have had real jobs before becoming educators are smart enough to save such kids, but nowadays so few teachers are like that.

Shock has great value. I was always yelled at by my teachers and used to fail all my tests. My parents thought I was an idiot. I didn't mind until I was in the second grade of middle school and saw the dumbest guy on earth score higher than me. That changed me into a better student because I knew if I kept up my act, I would end up a loser for life.

Marriage should not be the end of a woman's career. Independent women fall in love with dependent guys, and then, once they marry, bye-bye career — these talented, hardworking women just quit. What a waste, especially since their dreams soon turn into nightmares! They think that marriage is playing house in cute aprons as they cook dinner for their smiling husbands. But such men are usually too weak to do much more than grin, and that's not fun or funny. And because they can't support their wives, they get divorced. It's tragic.

Life is not a quiz show: We can live without knowledge and still be winners. All the wisdom one needs to succeed in life can be learned playing sports such as soccer. School is for information, which can be attained later in life -- common sense can't be. That is what Japanese schools must teach kids now.

If you follow a business model, you will never make it big. I do what nobody does, and so far it has been paying off.

If I hadn't gone to the United States, I would not be here today. I worked for the Takashimaya department store in New York in the mid-1960s. I met lots of entrepreneurs who possessed great individual power there and learned to respect others' ideas.

Humans essentially don't change with age. Elderly people and kids are the same — ''maturity'' is just the process of collecting a lot of unnecessary knowledge.

Nobody can predict if they will make money or not. It is impossible to know who will succeed because some people make money in areas where nobody else does. How come? Their way of looking at things is different. They see ahead.

I'm not interested in things that have a good reputation. What looks bad is what excites me. When the number of kids being born in Japan started to decrease in the early 1970s, businesses stopped focusing on children. To me that meant a great opportunity: Less competition means it's easier to succeed.

My suit doesn't fit another person — nobody can walk in my shoes. Even if they could, where would they go following in an old man's steps? Not too far. I want my successor to go beyond expectations and borders and not just circle the neighborhood like I am. That is why I will give my company to the person who has the most original ideas. Just passing it down to my family would not be good enough. The search is on.

Kids need dreams, and adults must help them to find them. We always ask our little customers to fill out questionnaires. The most shocking result was about their dream job — some 30 percent of children between the ages of 5 and 13 had none. So we made a Dream Project to inspire them. With their parents — especially dads — they could play soccer with the Yokohama F Marinos and baseball with the Tokyo Yakult Swallows. They could take ballet lessons with the stars of The Tokyo Ballet, learn cooking with Yutaka Ishinabe, the Iron Chef, and go to the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.

Be frugal with yourself but generous to others. My parents hated narikin (the new rich). So they always rode the cheapest train from Hiroshima to Tokyo and never took a taxi. But though they were economical when it came to themselves, they donated whatever money they could to schools.

There are no right answers in business. Rational people don't make hits.

Being first is hard. I release my stress by taking the subway and listening into people's conversations. That way I both get a glimpse into their lives and come up with ideas.

Life is not about making money, but making others happy. One's goal must be bigger than just getting rich, which in itself is a poor idea. My first big influence was American President John F. Kennedy's quote, ''Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.'' After I heard that, I started thinking about society and what I could do for others.

Being copied is a business opportunity. The Chinese copy our characters and clothes, and it makes us famous for free. We just have to make better clothes than their copies.

Judit Kawaguchi loves to listen. She is a volunteer counselor and a TV reporter on NHK's "Out and About." Learn more at: juditfan.blog58.fc2.com/


Back to Top

About us |  Work for us |  Contact us |  Privacy policy |  Link policy |  Registration FAQ
Advertise in japantimes.co.jp.
This site has been optimized for modern browsers. Please make sure that Javascript is enabled in your browser's preferences.
The Japan Times Ltd. All rights reserved.