That headline for the interview in the Nikkei Business online magazine with Softbank caught my eye partly because for the first time we are about to provide some cross cultural training on Korea for a client in the UK, and it turns out it caught the eye of other Nikkei readers too, as it came top of the ratings for most viewed article for last month.
The question that triggered his remark was asking why he chose to use his Korean surname, Son, instead of the Japanese name, Yasumoto, that the rest of his family used. Son said he chose to adopt the surname when he was 16 and moved to the USA. As a child in Japan, despite going by his Japanese surname, he teased for being a “Chosenjin” (old fashioned term for Korea, implying North Korea) and even had stones thrown at him. To this day he is attacked online for his ancestry.
When he returned to Japan and founded his own company, he had the choice of using his Korean surname or his Japanese surname, as both were on his passport. “To live in Japanese society, it would have been better to use Yasumoto. There are many celebrities and sportspeople [of Korean ancestry] who do this. I’m not criticising them for that. But even now there are still various invisible handicaps [to having Korean ancestry] which are causing pain and anguish to people, even small children. When I was at primary school and junior high, I even thought about killing myself, quite seriously.”
“My family were opposed to me doing it… but I thought that those children in Japan who are having a hard time should see even just one example of someone using their ancestral name and overcoming all those handicaps to succeed. My family were worried of course that if I used the Son name then they would all be exposed…. called “Kimchi eaters”. I told them they could pretend I was not part of their family. They are strong adults and can cope with a bit of discrimination, unlike children, who need some rays of hope.”
“Japan’s industries have lost their confidence, are collapsing or turning in on themselves. I wanted to make sure that at least one company took on the big enemies in the USA – that way I could contribute to society. It’s not just our company now, but also Yanai (of Uniqlo/Fast Retailing), Nagamori (of Nidec), Rakuten, DeNA – there are signs that Japan can come back to life. It’s important to look after those who have fallen by the wayside if you are opposing discrimination, but it’s also important to have success stories that are rays of hope – to be praised as a Japanese Dream, Japanese Hero by society.”
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