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Woman to Watch: Fumiko Hayashi

ACCJ 2014 Person of the Year

By Elizabeth Handover

Portrait photos by Alfie Goodrich

After a celebrated career in the private sector, it would have been no surprise if Fumiko Hayashi had chosen to rest on her laurels. As president of BMW Tokyo Corp., chairperson and CEO of The Daiei, Inc., and operating officer of Nissan Motor Co. Ltd., she was selected by Forbes in 2005 as one of “The World’s 100 Most Powerful Women.” She had surely reached the pinnacle of success.

Yet, in 2009, Hayashi took on the even greater challenge of becoming mayor of Yokohama, a city with a population of 3.71 million. The breadth and depth of Mayor Hayashi’s vision for Yokohama, as well as the extensive range of initiatives that are constantly being carried out, are astounding.

The American Chamber of Commerce in Japan (ACCJ) recognizes the mayor’s tireless dedication to, and actions promoting, women’s advancement, the improvement of US–Japan ties, and support for the growth of foreign business.

It has selected Mayor Hayashi as the 2014 recipient of the ACCJ Person of the Year Award.

The ACCJ launched the annual award in 1996 to recognize individuals who have made a major contribution to business, commerce, and the US–Japan relationship. The 2013 recipient was Fujio Cho, honorary chairman of Toyota Motor Corp.

ITU World Triathlon Yokohama and Yokohama ITU World Paratriathlon Event

ITU World Triathlon Yokohama and Yokohama ITU World Paratriathlon Event

Yokohama’s history is distinctively connected to Japan’s opening to the West. Formerly a sleepy and relatively isolated fishing village, Yokohama was selected by the Tokugawa Shogunate in 1859 to be the chief port of entry for foreign trade.

The city experienced ups and downs throughout the 20th century, including destruction by the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake and World War II bombings, followed by chaotic development, overcrowding and, starting in the 1950s, pollution.

However, the 1980s marked the start of a lasting turnaround. Several huge urban redevelopment projects were undertaken, including the relocation of industrial shipyards away from the city center and the construction of the extensive ocean side district of Minato Mirai 21, deemed the “future port city of the 21st century.”

Yokohama recognized the value of its history and invested in renovating important Meiji era buildings, such as the Red Brick Warehouses, which have become a major city attraction.

Aesthetically pleasing residential areas surrounded by greenery were created with convenient access to transportation, while farms and parks have been preserved as an essential part of the city environment.

The educational diversity offered by 10 international schools in and around the city also helps attract foreign residents.

Yokohama was designated as the chief port of entry for foreign trade in 1859.

Yokohama was designated as the chief port of entry for foreign trade in 1859.

Urban renaissance
Today, the City of Yokohama is enjoying a renaissance under Mayor Hayashi’s leadership.

“Through the collective power and wisdom of many, I want to make this city a place where everyone who lives, works, and studies here can shine, where people say, ‘I’m glad I’m here.’ I want to rely on everyone’s strengths—seniors, women, and youth, which are the key to our future—and connect them all with the vitality of society as a whole,” Hayashi said.

With her expertise in the private sector, Mayor Hayashi knew that attracting new industries to Yokohama was essential to revitalizing the city’s international business environment. She has worked tirelessly to market Yokohama as a premium business center.

“When I go abroad for a conference or when foreign business executives come to Japan, I am the [city’s] top salesperson. I visit them myself to invite their business to Yokohama or to brief them on the city,” she said.

Hayashi has also substantially changed the overall philosophy of the Yokohama government.

“A sense of sales was not in the culture of the city government, but my persistent encouragement has been changing each officer into a salesperson. Information should be  sent out not only from the PR department, but from each one of us, for every project.”

Another successful marketing strategy has been offering foreign companies a wide range of support and subsidies.

With office rents priced at about 60 percent of the average rate for Tokyo office space, as well as a convenient multifunctional convention complex, Yokohama has attracted leading firms such as Nissan Motor Corp., Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Ltd., Fuji Xerox Co., Ltd., Accenture plc, and Lenovo Group Ltd.

This spring, Apple Inc. will be the latest high-profile corporation moving into the city, with its planned Technical Development Center.

In 2014, Yokohama’s investment in sustainable urban development earned it a special mention by the prestigious Lee Kuan Yew World City Prize, which honors cities and their leaders for outstanding urban development achievements.

Through an international development partnership program, called Y-Port, Yokohama now works hand in hand with the private sector to support sustainable urban growth in developing countries.

Creative focus
One major initiative close to the mayor’s heart is making Yokohama into a creative city. “People need opportunities to experience emotional excitement and enrichment through the arts,” she said.

“After taking office, I separated the Cultural Tourism section from the Economic Affairs Bureau, and appointed a female director. I am confident that culture and the arts are extremely important policy areas to enhance our presence in Japan and abroad.

“In 2014, we received praise for our Yokohama Triennale exhibition of contemporary art and for being selected as Japan’s first Culture City of East Asia, a designation awarded at the Japan-China-Korea Cultural Ministers Meeting to promote the sharing of diverse regional cultures through intercity exchanges. The city’s art and cultural initiatives brought a total of 800,000 visitors to Yokohama last year.

“This year, we will stage a dance festival called Dance Dance Dance @ YOKOHAMA 2015. The richness of heart that culture and art bring is the legacy that I would like to leave the citizens of Yokohama,” Hayashi added.

“Richness of heart” is an apt description of Mayor Hayashi’s contribution to any project in which she is involved. Even after the first meeting, her conviction is clear: people matter most. Hayashi constantly upholds this value by listening to, respecting, praising, and encouraging her colleagues and everyone around her.

When asked about her people skills, she only laughs and says, “Well, women are naturally better at this than men, don’t you think?”

Hopes for the future
“2020 is the year of the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics. I am investing great energy in preparing to welcome guests from all over the world with our traditional omotenashi hospitality, and to introduce them to the many charms of Yokohama,” Hayashi said.

In addition to her dedication to sales, people skills, and Japanese hospitality, the mayor is passionate about women’s empowerment.

Progress toward reaching her goal of creating “the most supportive and motivating city for working women in Japan” is well under way. By April 2013, she had already accomplished her goal of eliminating waiting lists for nursery schools.

But, as she said, “This only served as a way station on our journey to defeat every barrier to women’s full participation in society.”

“We have clearly stated that we aim to reach the national target of 30 percent women managers in the city office by 2020. Before I assumed my current duties, the rate was only 8.3 percent. At the beginning of 2014 it was 11.6 percent.

“Reaching our goal of 30 percent by 2020 will be challenging, but I believe it is very important for the local government to provide public services that incorporate women’s ideas, perspectives, and innovation.

“Women’s social advancement cannot happen without eliminating the excessive working hours [prevalent in Japan] and changing our work habits. Workplaces where long hours are normal and managers do not model inclusive management behaviors are not sustainable.

“Private companies and local governments should work seriously to provide both men and women with leave for childcare and nursing care, so that men can also share in the responsibility of family life.

“Yokohama has started giving subsidies to companies that introduce systems to support the continued employment of women and promote work–life balance. We give the Yokohama Good Balance Award to companies that create an environment in which both men and women can comfortably work and raise children together.

“Now that the Japanese government has become serious about supporting the advancement of women, we should speed up efforts to raise awareness and change the mindset in every sphere of life, including education and human resource development.

“We are committed to innovative changes. We are determined to carry out a series of concrete and effective measures, to gather and analyze the results, and then to use these results to become a driving force of growth and development for women.”

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has dubbed Mayor Hayashi’s pioneering work on childcare the “Yokohama method,” calling it the model to be replicated across Japan.

Mayor Hayashi, we salute your trailblazing achievements and wish you and the City of Yokohama many more innovative successes in the years ahead.


Elizabeth Handover is co-chair of the ACCJ Women in Business Committee and president of Intrapersona K.K., Lumina Learning Asia Partner. elizabethhandover@
Hayashi was selected by Forbes in 2005 as one of The World’s 100 Most Powerful Women.