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Saturday, April 19, 2008
Looking in the same direction for four decades
By JUN HONGO
As president of Triumph International Japan Ltd., Koichiro Yoshikoshi helped the women's lingerie maker post revenue and profit growth for 19 straight years by introducing strategies focused on efficiency and swift decision-making.
Since his retirement in December 2006, Yoshikoshi, 60, has published best-selling business books and given lectures to entrepreneurs throughout Japan.
In his latest book, "Zangyo Zero no Shigotoryoku" ("The labor power of no overtime work"), he explains how successful work conditions can even help create a healthy relationship with one's family — an intricate task but one he achieved with his French wife, Daniele.
The romance between the celebrated businessman and his wife began in Germany in 1970. The two tied the knot in southern France two years later, and the relationship has flourished for nearly four decades. The couple today reside in Hiroo, Tokyo.
Where are you from and how did you two meet?
Koichiro: I studied German at Sophia University in Tokyo, but there was a lockdown at our campus in 1969. I enrolled at the University of Heidelberg that year, where I met Daniele at a tour organized for foreign students. We returned to Japan together in 1971.
Daniele: I'm originally from Montpellier in France, about a 10-minute drive from the Mediterranean Sea. It's a beautiful city.
What language do you speak at home?
Koichiro: Mainly English. We used to speak in German when we first met, but after our son was born in 1976, Daniele began speaking to him in French and I spoke to him in Japanese. I was working in Hong Kong then, and we hired an English-speaking maid — making our home a quadrilingual environment. We felt it was not good for our son and decided not to use German.
Daniele: We got used to speaking in English because we stayed in Hong Kong for a combined six years.
What was the most difficult thing about coming to Japan?
Daniele: Learning the language wasn't an easy task. I speak French, German, English and Spanish, but Japanese is so different. I was like a child when I first came. I couldn't even use trains because the stations had signs only in kanji and hiragana. But I studied at a language school and watched Japanese television because I was motivated to speak with Koichiro's parents in Japanese.
Koichiro: On the other hand, the only French I know is "je t'aime."
Were your parents ever concerned about you marrying a foreign national?
Daniele: My father wasn't concerned, but he told me it would be sad not to be able to see me so often. Back then we couldn't travel back and forth frequently between France and Japan.
What factors played a role in deciding to marry your partner?
Koichiro: There wasn't much thought, but under the circumstances it just felt like the right thing to do (laughs).
Daniele: You don't really think much about such decisions, especially when you are young. Everyone around me was surprised that I would marry a Japanese, but to me nationality wasn't an issue at all. I was in love with him and that was that.
Could you describe your wedding?
Koichiro: We got married at a very old church near Montpellier in France.
Daniele: French weddings are different from formal Japanese wedding ceremonies. They're more casual and we only invite family members and friends. The church priest was a family friend who had known me since I was 7.
Koichiro: I was instructed to read my vows in French during the ceremony, but mistakenly read Daniele's part and pledged to become her wife (laughs).
Did you feel any cultural difference during the wedding ceremony?
Koichiro: It's a tradition in France that the groom's parents pay for the bride's dress, but the rest of the fee is provided by the bride's family.
Daniele: Yes, but I've heard that the custom has changed and now the bride and the groom each pay for their own guests.
What do you like/dislike about Japan?
Daniele: I like that Japan has a low crime rate. Whenever I'm returning to Japan from Europe, I feel relieved to some extent. I dislike that Japanese men are not so considerate of their families, and they don't really take good care of their home. But Koichiro worked hard on that.
What is the secret of keeping a healthy relationship even after marriage?
Koichiro: It's important to stay close to your partner and maintain a certain level of intimacy. Communication is also imperative, but so many Japanese men prioritize their work over their families. That's not good.
Daniele: A couple has to have a private life and be able to exchange their thoughts. But I feel that Japanese men are simply too busy with their work to do that.
What is your definition of love?
Daniele: I read somewhere many years ago and I feel that this is a good definition; Love is not looking at each other, but looking together in the same direction.
Koichiro: I believe that, too.
But then again, you learn to adjust your view with your wife as time passes (laughs).
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