世界で活躍するグローバル・リーダーを bimonthly (隔月ごと）にYGCでインタビューしていきます。全て英語でインタビューが記載されていますので、是非最後まで頑張って読んでいきましょう！
- What made you decide to start mountain-climbing?
I joined the Wandervogel (Trekking) Club when I was in junior high school. Out of the many club activities, I just so happened to choose trekking in 7th grade. Never did I imagine that my life would forever be in mountain climbing, and up until then, I was merely involved in a club activity just for the sake of it.
I was also never confident with my physical strength, as I was asthmatic as a child. This is why I instead focused on my junior high school entrance exam to compete academically. But this changed when I actually entered Nada Junior High School and desired to become strong physically, so I decided to join a sports club. Nonetheless, I still had no confidence in competitive sports such as soccer or baseball: I remember that that was when I was drawn to the Wandervogel Club where I could train physically, but not worry about competing against others.
- Can you tell us what is alluring about mountain-climbing?
For me, mountaineering is in the same category as reading or traveling. It is something that I’ve yet to discover – an unchartered territory, if you will. I climbed Mount Everest with a sense of wanting to go to an unknown place.
Mountaineering is something that fulfills my curiosity rather than it being very special, per se. It is very substantial to me in that I can enjoy scenery that we do not see very often and experience things that we normally would not go through in everyday life. I believe that many people have desires to experience things they are unfamiliar with and in my case, one of the things that fulfills this is mountaineering.
- While a student at the University of Tokyo (UTokyo), you became the youngest person in the world to conquer the Seven Summits as a mountaineer. What determination did you hold to in order to accomplish your goal?
I did not have any, really. There is an athletic aspect to being a mountaineer, but you’re not really competing against one another, and so, it’s essentially dealing constantly with nature. Becoming the youngest in the world at the time was merely a race with others to break the record, but I was always facing nature. So instead of being determined to compete, accumulating skills to face nature is what perhaps enabled my accomplishment to become the youngest person in the world to conquer the Seven Summits.
My initial dream was not to conquer all the Seven Summits, but rather to climb Mount Everest. That dream turned into one of my goals in life and is now a reality. The accumulation of experiences is what ties my life to my mountaineering life.
In terms of preparedness, I have experienced matters of life or death where I was, at times, forced to make snap decisions on the spot. Mother Nature certainly exceeds human nature and I have learned how I ought to position myself within this framework.
- What kind of a student were you when you were at Nada Junior and Senior High School? Also, aside from mountaineering, what memories do you have as a student at the University of Tokyo?
It is very difficult to assess yourself. Having said that, looking back I get the impression that students who gathered at Nada Junior/Senior High School were ones who were academically talented, but still juvenile with limited directions in life and that how I positioned myself within the six years I was there would change according to circumstances.
During my high school years I was rapt in mountaineering. This probably was heavily influenced by the fact that I experienced the Great Awaji (Kobe) Earthquake disaster firsthand when I was in 9th grade: Cities were destroyed by nature’s great intensity, crumbled to something like burnt fields in the aftermath of war. After this grim experience, my mind was progressively moving towards the mountains, and through many articles and books on mountains and travel, my desire to go abroad grew stronger and eventually, increased to the point of wanting to aim for the highest mountain. This yearning continued even after I matriculated to UTokyo: This was conceivably when my life’s work began to revolve around mountaineering.
Additionally, Nada Junior/Senior High School seems to be a school associated with “freedom,” but I felt I was taught that “freedom comes hand in hand with responsibilities.” I believe that this school provided the foundation and environment for having the consistency to not do things out of obligation to others, but to become independent.
On the other hand, I probably was an underachiever at UTokyo by the school’s standards. I hardly went to classes. A role of a college student is that of a learner, but after conquering the Seven Summits of the World in my third year of university, I would say my main occupation was being a mountaineer. If anything, my life centered on mountaineering and I was learning whilst being in the university’s mountaineering club. I got serious about learning only after the mountaineering season.
Above all, seasons and timing were limited when mountaineering abroad, so scheduling it around my university schedule was impractical. Furthermore, I had to earn the money necessary for mountaineering so I spent my university years working part-time or as a mountain-climbing guide in-between classes to gather funds for overseas expeditions.
- When you went overseas, were you worried about speaking English?
I never really felt any obstacle (speaking English). It was, however, essential to prepare the bare minimum communication skills to at least convey my thoughts. I suppose studying for my English college examination paid off, and because my objective for English usage was unequivocal – communicating with porters, Sherpas, and other mountaineers – I never really struggled in this area.
- After graduating from university, why did you start working for a company instead of pursuing a career in mountaineering? Can you tell us why you chose to join McKinsey and Company (“McKinsey”)?
After conquering the Seven Summits of the World during my university years, I wanted to broadly share my experiences with as many people through working as an independent mountaineering guide. But I soon realized that there are limitations to what an individual can do. If I were to guide 20 people every weekend to convey the beauty of mountains, that would only be 1,000 people per year and 40,000 if I were to continue this for 40 years. Back then, the mountaineering population was around 6 million: Was it worth increasing this to just 6.04 million, I would ask myself.
It was then that I decided to acquire entrepreneurial skills to develop a business with a goal to broadly convey my experiences, thus entering a company. There are many things you can learn in corporate organizations, and if this would enable reverting to the mountaineering world, I knew this was something that I had to do.
Accordingly, it was indispensable to join an organization that I could learn within a short timespan. If an organization was to conduct B2C (Business-to-Consumer) operations in dealing directly with end-users, I felt that the growth speed of companies in Japan was rather stagnant. I was 24 years old when I started working, and if it were to take 15 years from there to learn and then start my own company, the timeline just would not coincide with my life plans.
I looked into trading companies and consulting firms, and I just so happened to receive an offer from McKinsey. It wasn’t something that I had coveted and rather merely one of the options I had at the time.
- Did you continue with mountaineering after you joined McKinsey and Company?
Naturally, I was busy at McKinsey, but I did go mountaineering every chance I could spare, usually in-between projects. To realize my next objective, I set a time-limit of “three years as a training period” soon after I joined McKinsey. Unlike my university years, I was determined to actually learn within this timeframe.
In spite of all this, I am not really the type of person who absolutely must be mountaineering at all times. I do, however, want to give back to the mountain world. This is because, in a broad sense, so long as I breathe, I want to contribute to society. In essence, it made sense for me to contribute to the world I am good at: Mountaineering.
There were times, however, when I was so busy that I would forget my initial goal. I think that wherever you go, whether you are with McKinsey or not, it would take at least three years to get used to working in society. Time was always against me during those three busy years.
- What were your thoughts on joining McKinsey and Company, a global company after obtaining a full Japanese education?
During most of my time at McKinsey, I was assigned overseas (in South Korea). I spent days contemplating my worth and existence in an environment with a team of international members: My superior was from the U.K., my manager from Hong Kong, and others from all over the world. There were times where my Korean colleagues communicated in their mother language with the local companies, but I needed translators, not in my first language, but in English, which further heightened the language barrier. This was a rather interesting experience – something I thought I wanted to experience much earlier in life.
At McKinsey, I was engaged in projects that you could choose from consultant recruitments the company released on a weekly basis. To be accepted, you really needed to put yourself out there, and to survive you needed to move proactively. I think that is how it is really meant to be in universities as well (in Japan), but back when I was at UTokyo, that was not necessarily the case as learning was seated (literally) on lecture-style with a large number of students shoved in a massive hall. Students were like Kintaro candies (cylinder-shaped candy where Kinataro’s face appears the same wherever it is sliced) which is why I was considered be an oddball from the simple fact that my life revolved around mountains. But this soon changed when I joined McKinsey. Diversity was a conventional thing. So when I wrote in my profile page that I was the youngest person to conquer the Seven Summits, many of my colleagues expressed their interest and approached me!
Diversity is such a natural perception elsewhere, but when I was at UTokyo, it was such a foreign concept to me. Things may not be meritorious just because a place may be diverse, but at McKinsey, you are inevitably drawn into a diverse world, so I often wished I knew more about the greater outside world.
In that sense, I wished I had studied abroad when I was a student. For the majority of my time at university, I was overseas, climbing mountains: Without this experience, perhaps I wouldn’t have survived at McKinsey.
- There are many political and economic issues that we face in Japan. What do you feel needs to be done in Japan to become change-makers of the world?
There are many strengths about Japan. Over 70 percent of our beautiful country’s landmass is mountainous. However, despite being a tourism-oriented country, I don’t see how our tourism strengths are being leveraged to the fullest. I suppose there are many ways from political, educational, or economic aspects to approaching this, but when I thought about how I personally could contribute to this matter, I realized there are ways to utilize the mountains and nature efficiently. Our underground resources are unreliable and cutting down forests for lumber isn’t utilitarian, so why not utilize the mountains and nature to promote tourism?
Specifically, although Japan is a small country, we have four World Natural Heritage sites, three (Shiretoko, Shirakami-Sanchi, and Yakushima) of which have been valued highly for their mountains. I think more Japanese people should be proud of their country for being praised by the international community for our natural beauty. Japan’s mountaineer population transitions between 5 to 10 percent of the total population, but my wish is to increase this. It can be done from feeling relaxed or being healed by going to Mt. Takao (in Hachioji, Tokyo), or hiking in Yatsugatake (between Nagano and Yamanashi Prefectures) – nothing invasive, just a simple walk would do to brighten up your daily life!
Admittedly, the people presently in Japan may not be looking at their country objectively so it would be difficult to communicate to the world the appeal of our beautiful country if we don’t appreciate it in the first place. I wanted to try and change this, which led to one of my current businesses of renting out proper mountaineering gear. If this helps contribute to my country in any way, then I am privileged.
- What is the primary business that the company you founded, Field and Mountain, Inc. conducts?
At Field and Mountain, there are two missions: One is, “To Increase the Mountaineering Population,” and the other, “To Promote Safe Mountaineering Practices.” Fundamentally, I believe that increasing the population of mountaineers would be advantageous to Japan. In turn, it is also essential to be cognizant of apprehensions in nature. When fatal accidents occur in the mountains, the mountaineering population declines. You must at all times have safety awareness, otherwise even if the mountaineering population increases, it would again decrease when it comes to the crunch. Accordingly, it is crucial to competently control the “accelerator” in spreading the appeal of mountaineering and “breaks” in lowering fatalities to gradually increase its population.
Furthermore, the three pillars of our business are mountaineering gear rental, information service, and opportunity provision. I believe that these three functions serve to initiate a person’s mountaineering interests so long as safety measures are secured. With my main business being the mountaineering gear rental, “Yamadougu Rental Shops” which tailors mainly towards Mount Fuji climbers, I would say around 20 percent of its climbers are our customers. And within our customer base, 20 to 30 percent are from overseas.
I have climbed Mount Fuji at least 300 times as a mountaineering guide and guided over 10,000 people. The majority of them were hardly equipped to go mountain climbing, with only vinyl raincoats and sneakers. This is due to the fact that they may lack knowledge of proper mountaineering gear and that it could get quite costly to gather a full set. My first step was to solve this problem by helping the mountain climbers get the best from a professional eye: I incorporated a mountaineering gear rental business, which actually was my very first entrepreneurship.
My next step was to provide information: I set up a free paper, “Sanpomichi” (Mountain Trail), published both on paper and online. We publish the paper two to three times a year with the goal of providing knowledge and information on beautiful mountains, other than the famous Mount Fuji or Yakushima, all over Japan. We print around 50,000 copies to be distributed to our customers who rent our gear, and to mountaineering gear stores across the country.
And my final step in my current business is to provide opportunities: I started a touring business, “Yamakara.” We provide domestic tours to popular tourist destinations as well as to new mountaineering trails and spots for many people to broaden their horizons.
- What makes you the happiest when you are working?
It is seeing people’s lives change from the business I have built. I am pleased to receive comments from my customers, such as, “I am able to enjoy mountain climbing because you provide a (gear) rental service” and “I get unexpected encounters and discoveries from taking part in the mountain tours.” I also have loyal customers who I have known for many years that especially take part in our tours. While trying to aim for our business growth, I strive to cherish each and every one of my customers at all times.
- Who do you respect as a global leader?
I don’t have one in particular. But I sincerely respect a member who was senior to me at the Mountaineering Club at UTokyo. I was also directly and heavily influenced by a famous mountaineer, the late Mrs. Junko Tabei, who was the first female to reach the summit of Mount Everest (and the Seven Summits of the World).
I consider myself to be an athlete, rather than a business person as I always think of ways to supersede my limitations.
- Please give a message to the younger generation who aspire to become future global leaders.
I would urge you to go abroad at the earliest time possible. Go abroad and experience many things, not just in the realm of education, but in many fields and challenge yourself to the fullest.
Many of my customers feel that they want to conquer all the mountains domestically in Japan first before going on overseas expeditions. But there are only so many mountains you can explore in the world, all unique in their own way. You don’t see the grand, spectacular scale mountains such as Mount Everest in Japan and, conversely, you won’t be able to find the delicate beauty of the four seasons that Japan’s mountain ranges have to offer elsewhere.
Once you experience climbing the mountains overseas, you will discover the positioning of mountains in Japan. By going abroad, you are not abandoning your country, but in truth, you would get to know the best of both worlds and reassess the positive side of this country and yourself. One day, you will also be able to convey the beauty of this nation to people abroad.
Going to foreign countries was once a challenging mission. We now live in a borderless world where not going abroad is an unrealistic option (COVID-19 situation aside). By being able to freely study or work abroad, we no longer need to create emotional boundaries, and I believe the world would become flatter than ever.