Riarumi was very happy to meet 30 year-old Tomoe Hashimoto. Tomoe tells us about her career so far with Sony Computer Entertainment, her future goals and her attitudes towards achieving them, things she’s learned from the tougher times in her life, and her thoughts on the current state of gender equality in Japan.
Who is the riarumi?
My name is Tomoe Hashimoto and I’m currently living in Tokyo. I love traveling to new places, discovering beautiful natural locations, unique cultures, and inspirational people around the world. I believe that going to new places and doing new things always give me good opportunities to learn.
You’ve been working with Sony, since graduating from university in 2007. How did you first land a job with them?
I started my career as a sales representative selling consumer electronics products to electronics retailers in Yokohama. In the beginning, I had difficulty adapting to the working culture as there was a slight gap between what I initially expected and the reality of it. As a salesperson, I was responsible for driving to several stores and then getting back to the office right after. There were always numerous meetings to discuss product launch plans, and so on. Every day was tough, and as time went on, gradually my motivation lowered.
However, I started to get through the situation when I noticed that the more I devoted myself to contributing to helping the clients’ needs, the more appreciation I was given in return. Through those interactions, a positive cycle was generated and relationships could be kept strong. I realized that it was more meaningful to sit down together to communicate and try to understand each clients’ needs until they became clear. Then if I found out what their needs were, all I focused on was doing whatever I could do to the best of my abilities for them.
“Meet the needs of customers, in whatever position I may be in”, is the first thing that I learnt working at Sony. It’s very simple but still remains my core belief towards work.
Your current position with Sony is as a Business Product Controller. Could you tell us a little about that? What does your day to day work involve?
I am currently responsible for sales and inventory control of Sony’s game hardware products (PlayStation) in Asia. I establish each sales branch’s KPIs for the product and monitor progress on a daily basis, while working closely with colleagues across Asia. The market in Asia has a lot of potential to grow, especially China and Southeast Asian countries, as we develop each country’s sales channels.
Also, it’s very interesting to work in the entertainment industry, since the market sometimes changes drastically if a game becomes a hit. Users’ interests also vary from country to country in Asia, so the trends in hardware products are all different.
What are your personal goals and dreams for the future?
My entire life’s work is dedicated to nurturing more talented people from Japan to play an active role globally. In particular, I would like to encourage Japanese children to acknowledge that the places where their future potential exists are not limited to Japan but are throughout the world.
In order to make that happen, I hope I will be able to offer Japanese children opportunities to collaborate and enhance their studies in communities with children who have different backgrounds but have common interests. Through those experiences, I hope the children will simply make friends around the world and that their critical thinking skills will grow and they will naturally become open-minded to diversity. Then, in their future careers, they will be confident interacting respectfully with various people, regardless of differences in nationality, gender or background.
How and when did you first realise these goals and what are you doing to achieve them?
I had my first experience living outside of Japan when I went to Australia for a year as an exchange student during my high school days. While that experience taught me a lot of lessons about coping with cultural gaps, it also definitely broadened my views and allowed me to realize that we are all the same human beings, despite differences in nationalities. In my case, I was fortunate to have that chance relatively early in my life, so that I became open and fearless to cross-cultural experiences ever since, making the most of my potential. For example, I later went to India to undertake a university internship, working with Sony to develop the global business. So, in other words, I want to support more Japanese children to make this same discovery early in their lives. Personally, I feel that the younger age the better, since young children are very adaptable to new things. Also, these days as technology develops, it becomes easier and more affordable to collaborate across countries. I believe that in near future, it will become possible to utilize technology in the field of education to enable children to have more opportunities to collaborate with other children in different parts of the world more easily.
This summer, my husband will start a new assignment and move to San Francisco, so I’ve decided to go with him and leave my current job, starting my new career in education and pursuing this goal of nurturing more talented people from Japan to play a more active role globally.
Are there any future goals you currently feel uncertain of, or that seem ‘cloudy’ in your mind?
I can think of a few things, but I would rather do my best to focus on what I want to accomplish. I believe that taking action is the best way to combat “cloudy” thoughts.
That’s a great attitude to have, and a very constructive one. Out of curiosity, could you offer us an example of one of those uncertainties you have felt?
Well, it’s not something that I have concerns or worries about. But I feel one remaining uncertainty is my plan for having children. I am now 30 years old and I feel I want to still continue to build up my career in the education field and concentrate for now on making a solid start in it. After that, hopefully my husband and I will want to have children but I guess we’ll see!
You studied your Bachelor of Liberal Arts, International Relations and Affairs at Tsuda College. How was the university experience for you?
My university was a women’s-only school. One thing I really cherish from my university life is that I could make lots of female friends who are independent and have their own interests regarding their studies or life’s work. It seemed that most of them liked to be alone in the library or canteen, which I also felt very comfortable doing.
And your classes?
I also enjoyed the lessons, but my university was quite intensive and with fewer students compared to most other universities. In most of the classes, there were only ever 10 or 15 students, so we had to concentrate hard on studying – that was how the environment was. So for the first two years, we had study English so hard and had English classes every day. But after the second year, we could choose which themes and subjects we wanted to study. So then it became much more enjoyable. But in my case, I always preferred the more practical experiences, like going to India for my internship.
Generally speaking, what are your opinions of non-profit work or volunteering?
It would be nice and fun to work in an environment towards which you can put 100% of your passion. It would depend on what you choose to seek from the work you do: passion or money. My own dream is to find a job that allows me to have a well-rounded life, without a ‘border’ between work and life.
How did you come to learn English?
To be honest, I still feel frustrated using English when I try to express my subtle feelings.
Through my experience living abroad, I realized the best way to learn a language is to simply speak that language at every opportunity, even if it’s not perfect from the beginning.
Have there been any especially difficult moments in your life when you’ve been working to fulfill your ambitions?
Of course, I’ve faced many difficulties throughout my life, but all those things ultimately became good lessons to shape who I am now. The first one was when I was in Australia to study at a local high school. I struggled a lot with English because I wanted to make friends.
What did you do to cope during this challenging period of your life?
Well, I don’t clearly remember those hard times, but I think I tried to look happy on the outside at least, because I thought no one would talk to someone who looked sad!
Did you have anyone to talk to about this, at the time?
I don’t clearly remember actually. I had friends back in Japan, but I didn’t really have friends who I could easily share everything with in Australia. So, at that time, I had this isolated feeling inside myself and tried to hide those feelings and to look happy from the outside. But I remember that sometimes I called my mum and spoke with her and shared how my day was. For example, I would let her know “it’s quite hard, and I have no friends” and so on. Those things, I sometimes shared with my mum and my friends. At that time, email or social media was not that common and so I would write letters to my friends back home about how I was feeling and how I was trying to deal with it.
It must have been very tough.
Yeah, it was quite tough but gradually, I was able to feel better and better. I really appreciate those hard times because it made me stronger.
What has been your proudest or most encouraging moment so far in life?
I believe the proudest or most encouraging moment so far in my life was my wedding party. We invited all of our close friends, colleagues, and family members, and they celebrated the start of our married life with us. I had never felt so connected to loved ones as I did on that occasion.
Also, what struck me the most was that my aunt and uncle performed a song on the piano and hand bell for us as a surprise. They live next to my family’s house, and they had always treated me as if I were their own daughter. I will never forget the songs they played.
Have there been other difficult or disheartening moments so far? How did you deal with them?
I would say a difficult experience was when I went to China for a training program. It was the company’s first program to send young talent to an emerging market. I went to university in Shanghai for two months to take an intensive Chinese course. Then soon after that, I joined the sales team to work with local colleagues. I had not been familiar with Chinese at all until then, so it was extremely tough work to learn the language quickly and then work on the frontline. I made a lot of mistakes at first, and things didn’t work out so well for a while.
After a while, I learnt that this was happening because of my lack of skill in adapting myself to the work culture in China. Forming one’s own opinion clearly and getting involved as part of a team is important; however, I wasn’t able to assert myself enough since, mainly due to the working culture in Japan, I was too used to following the supervisors’ guidance and hiding my own opinion, just because I was still junior.
Over time and bearing these points in mind, I started to take ownership towards each task I was assigned and sometimes I’d even defend my position to my bosses. This factor of taking ownership is very important when working with an international team, especially with people who have different values and backgrounds. Now, I appreciate those hard times as opportunities to learn an important lesson.
What inspires or motivates you to keep going?
My husband and my grandma.
My grandma was a school teacher and she dedicated herself to the local community, even after her retirement. She was quite an active working woman, and was raising three children at the same time, with the support of having a helper and babysitter at home, which was quite rare in Japan those days. We always share and talk about everything. I’ve always wanted to be a woman just like my grandmother and hope I will be.
As for my husband, he can be my mentor, my best friend, and even a rival sometimes!
How’s life outside of work (home life)? What do you do to relax?
I try to take yoga lessons as often as possible, which usually means at least once a week. I also like to walk in the park to get some fresh air.
How do you ideally imagine yourself and your life to be in, say, 5 years?
Since my husband and I will move to San Francisco this summer, I would like to build a solid career in the education field there over the next 2-3 years.
After that, I hope to become a mother while continuing my career.
Do you feel that young women in Japan are forced to make a choice between personal life/family life and career? What are your opinions on this?
I would say both yes and no. I would rather say that young women now have many options – in a positive way – and society has more opportunities for women.
Basically, I think it is important to clarify one’s own life’s work and goals – regardless of one’s sex – in this day and age, since we are facing many uncertainties for the future. Luckily, I have found my personal life’s work, so that I can have more flexibility mentally and be willing to move anywhere, even outside of Japan or within any industry, as long as I can work towards that goal. These days, society is definitely more open and supportive for young women to take on active roles in many aspects, compared to in the past. So what excuse is there not to try to achieve one’s own life and work ambitions?
Is there a gender equality imbalance in Japan?
I personally think there is gender discrimination in the business world. However, I think it developed naturally, because the number of working women is a lot fewer than working men, so many men are simply not used to working with women. However, luckily, a lot of senior men at Sony have mature thoughts towards these gender issues, so personally I have never felt any ill will aimed towards me as a working woman.
In fact, I have a lot of role models within Sony, and one common factor among them is that they do not judge an idea or comment on the basis of who says it. Rather, they respect the statement itself. Therefore, even when I was a junior female employee, they were willing to listen to me and consider what I had to say. I hope more and more people and organizations across Japan will be like that in the future.
What can young women like yourself do to address this inequality? What can men do?
As I mentioned above, to have one’s own life’s work and goals is important for both men and women. And I hope men will respect women as they too pursue their dreams.
At Riarumi, we usually end with an inspiring quote. Are there any quotes or philosophies on life that you particularly like and would like to share with readers?
When I am under pressure, I always turn to this phrase to encourage myself:
“Do not worry about how you are seen by others; it is more important how you want to see them and how you act for them.”
Do you have any further advice for readers?
I realize that for many, finding one’s life’s work is not a very easy thing to do. However, you can still discover it by trying a lot of the possibilities around you. By attempting one thing, you will be able to see some aspect of it that you can carry forward with you forever and, on the other hand, you’ll also find some aspects that you want to leave behind. So keep trying!