Nikkei interview with Japan’s most famous naturalized former Zainichi Korean: SoftBank’s Son Masayoshi

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Hi Blog.  One person I have kept some track of over the years is the leader of SoftBank, Son Masayoshi.  While I don’t really see his sensitivity towards minorities in Japan translating into flexibility towards NJ residents in SoftBank’s business practices (SoftBank, like NTT DoCoMo, demands a deposit from its NJ customers (to the tune of 100,000 yen) in order to get an iPhone subscription (something not mentioned on its Japanese site).  I also have a friend from overseas who, during his monthlong journeys around Japan, had his phone hacked into, and was saddled with a $1400 internet bill on his credit card when he went back; protests to the company were met with a, “You’re a foreigner, so you must have misunderstood how to use our phone; you’re just trying to skip out on paying your bill,” reception from SoftBank.  This despite SoftBank having him on record renting the very same phone five times before and paying without incident.), Son is being interviewed below as a discrimination fighter.  This is the first I’ve heard of him doing this (and I hope this article also came out in Japanese), so let’s hope he continues in this vein.  And that SoftBank knocks off its hypocritically discriminatory business practices.  Dr. ARUDOU, Debito

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SoftBank’s Son stands up to anti-Korean bigotry in Japan
Nikkei Asian Review August 27, 2015 12:00 am JST, Courtesy of AA

TOKYO — SoftBank Group Chairman and CEO Masayoshi Son has long been discriminated against by Japanese because he is ethnically Korean.
http://asia.nikkei.com/magazine/20150827-THE-GREAT-FALL/Business/SoftBank-s-Son-stands-up-to-anti-Korean-bigotry-in-Japan

Even in his early childhood, he was attacked verbally and physically by Japanese classmates. In kindergarten, he was jeered at for being Korean. Once, another child cut his head open with a stone.

Today, he finds himself the target of malicious comments on the Internet. In a recent interview, Son talked about his experiences and his decision to be open about his background.

Q: Why did you choose to use your Korean family name instead of your Japanese one?

A: I used to go by Masayoshi Yasumoto before I went to the U.S. at the age of 16.

After I returned from the U.S. and decided to start a business, I had a choice before me — whether I should go with the Japanese family name Yasumoto, which all my family and relatives use, or the ancestral surname Son.

It is undoubtedly easier to go by Yasumoto when living in Japanese society. A number of celebrities and professional athletes use Japanese family names in their chosen professions. It is not my intention to criticize such a practice. But I decided to go against the tide and become the first among my relatives to use Son as my family name.

I won’t go into the reasons and the origin of this issue, but if you are born into one of those families of Korean descent, you are subject to groundless discrimination. There are many children who undergo such hardship.

When I was in elementary and junior high school, I was in agony over my identity so much that I seriously contemplated taking my own life. I’d say discrimination against people is that tough.

Then you might ask why I decided to go against all my relatives, including uncles and aunts, and started to use the Korean family name, Son.

I wanted to become a role model for ethnic Korean children and show them that a person of Korean descent like me, who publicly uses a Korean surname, can achieve success despite various challenges. If my doing so gives a sense of hope to even just one young person or 100 of them, I believe that is a million times more effective than raising a placard and shouting, “No discrimination.”

Q: Your coming out as an ethnic Korean risked involving the rest of your family, right?

A: I met with fierce objections from my relatives, who had hidden their real family name to live their lives in a small community. One of my relatives said, “If you come out as a Son from among us, that will expose all of us.”

People would start saying things like “They are ethnic Koreans” or “Your nephew is a Son, not a Yasumoto. So, you, too, are part of the kimchee clan.” That’s why they tried to dissuade me. But I told them: “What I will do may disturb you all, uncles and aunties. If so, you don’t need to say that I am a relative of yours. Just pretend that I am not related to you.”

Q: I hope there will be more success stories like yours in Japan. What do you think is necessary for that to happen?

A: Currently, many Japanese companies are losing confidence. They are losing out to competition and have collectively become introverted. In such circumstances, even if we are the only one, SoftBank has risen to the occasion and taken on much bigger rivals in the U.S. And if we survive … that will create a ripple effect and inspire even one company or 10 companies. I think that’s a form of social contribution.

Son speaks before an audience. The slogan in the background says, “Challenge yourself and new horizons will emerge.”
Not just us, but Mr. Tadashi Yanai (chairman and president of Fast Retailing) and Mr. Shigenobu Nagamori (chairman and president of Nidec), and Rakuten, DeNA and other companies are working hard to challenge themselves. If young business leaders can set a couple of successful precedents, that could give a much-needed boost and help revive the Japanese economy.

While it is important to oppose a move toward widening the wealth gap and put in place a social safety net, I think there is no need to stand in the way of other people’s success. It is unnecessary to gang up and lash out at those who are successful.

Successful people can serve as a light of hope for others. Personally, I think it is important to create a society where we can praise success and successful people. That will help keep alive Japanese dreams and create Japanese heroes.

Interviewed by Nikkei Ecology staff writer Takahiro Onishi; Nikkei Business Online Editor-in-Chief Shintaro Ikeda contributed to this story.

ENDS

8 comments on “Nikkei interview with Japan’s most famous naturalized former Zainichi Korean: SoftBank’s Son Masayoshi

  • Dr. Debito, I can’t help but wonder if Son has seen the Lotte public blow-up and melt-down, in which the company is being slammed by Koreans as being ‘pro-Japanese’, whilst simultaneously slammed by the Japanese right-wing as being an ‘evil Korean’ business, resulting in unofficial customer boycotts in both markets, and Son is playing a PR game.

  • So Son champions Zainichi Koreans” rights, but not NJ rights in general. Thus the 100 000 yen i phone gaijin levy by Softbank. Softbank has always been horribly expensive, with bills double that of e.g. AU to the average user.

  • Andrew in Saitama says:

    Oddly enough, there is a perception held by some of the right wing that Zainichi Koreans receive huge discounts for using Softbank.

    — Would be nice to have a source for that.

  • Loverilakkuma says:

    Just because you have a person championing the rights for specific cultural minorities does not make corporation friendly to them. Corporations are doing business to make money–not advocate for human rights or environmental protection. They won’t do such thing without intervention of government agency or powerful outside organizations. I must say expecting corporations to promote better understanding of human rights is just naive. This is so true especially when it comes to big banks and billion dollar corporations like Softbank, Toshiba, and Procter & Gamble, etc. It’s kind of like having Carly Fiorina as interim CEO to give Hewlett Packard an impression that they provide female-friendly working environment. You can also see hypocrisy of discriminatory practice in any billionaire-funded organizations like TFA(Teach for America), Stand for Children, Democrats for Education Reform–those who claim to offer educational leadership for struggling students but kick out ESL students and children with disabilities to compete with public schools.

    Regarding cellphone subscription, I remember I was charged $300 deposit when I bought Verizon wireless cellphone with 2-year-contract years ago, but that was common requirement for all customers to protect credit card transaction fraud. It had nothing to do with residency or nationality.

    I don’t think this is the case for Japan. By the way, does anyone know how much deposit SoftBank charges NJ customers as of today?

  • Japanese version:
    http://www.nikkei.com/article/DGXMZO89848050Y5A720C1000000/

    「差別反対と言うより希望の光になる」 孫氏の矜持
    孫正義の焦燥(3)
    2015/8/14 6:30
    日経ビジネスオンライン

     ソフトバンクグループの孫正義社長は、在日韓国人という生い立ちから差別を受け続けてきた。幼少期は実生活で攻撃を受け、幼稚園時代には日本人の子供から「朝鮮人!」とののしられ、投げつけられた石で頭から血を流すこともあった。今でもネット上などで罵詈(ばり)雑言を浴びせられ続けている。書籍『孫正義の焦燥』では経営論に絞るために最低限の記述にとどめたが、孫社長は筆者のインタビューで差別についても語っている。後半で言及する「希望の光」や「ジャパニーズヒーロー」という考え方は、孫社長の事業意欲の源泉でもある。

    ――孫という名字を名乗った経緯を改めてお話いただけますか。

     僕はね、16歳でアメリカに渡るまでは安本正義だった。安本というのは日本の名字だった。

     アメリカから戻ってきて会社を創業していく時に、うちの親戚一同が使っている「安本」という日本の名字と先祖代々の「孫」という名字の2つの選択肢があった。

     パスポートの本名だとか外国人登緑証の本名の中に孫って書いてある。通名というのは安本と書いてある。

    ■今日ですらハンディキャップはある

     日本社会の中で生きていくのには、安本と名乗ったほうがいい。今の芸能人とかスポーツ選手でもいっぱい日本名を名乗って活動している人がいる。それを非難するわけではないけど、あえて僕がわざわざ逆風の中を孫という名字を親戚一同の中で初めて使ったんだ。

     日本にいて今日の今日ですらまだ若干残ってはいるけど、在日という中で、様々なやっぱり目に見えない、言うに言われぬハンディキャップがあるんだよ。

     それで悲しんでいる人、苦しんでいる人がやっぱりいるのよ。いい悪いは別にしてね。その理由とか根源とかはちょっと置いといて、生まれながらにしてそういう血で生まれると、言われなき差別を受ける小さな子供がいっぱいいる。

     俺は小学生、中学生の時に自殺したいぐらい悩んだんだ。本気で自殺しようかと思ったぐらい悩んだ。それぐらい差別、人間に対する差別というのは、つらいものがあるのよ。

    ■「差別反対」と言うより100万倍効果がある

     なぜ僕があえて親族、おじさん、おばさん全員の反対を押し切って1人だけ孫と正式に名乗ったのか。

     そうやってつらい思いをしている在日の子供たちに対して、1人でもいいから自分の先祖代々の名前を堂々と名乗って、様々なハンディキャップがあったとしてもそれでもね、それなりにやれるんだという事例を一つ示したいと考えたから。それで希望を得る若者が1人でも100人でも出れば、それは「差別反対」と言って、何かプラカードを出して言うよりも100万倍効果がある。

     差別反対なんて言わなくたって、孫と堂々と名乗って、堂々と逆風の中で仕事して、事業して、それなりになればそれはもう100万語しゃべるより、力説するより、そういう青少年に希望を与えられるんじゃないかと思って俺はあえて名乗った。

    親戚からは猛反対されたよ。だって小さな社会の中で名前を隠して生きているんだから。「おまえが親戚として1人そうやって孫と名乗ったら、俺らまで全部ばれる」と。

    ――家族を巻き込んでしまうのですね。

     「何だ在日だったのか。在日韓国人だったのか。親戚のおいとか言われて一緒におったな、あれ、孫か。あれ、安本じゃなかったの、えっ、そうか、おまえはキムチ組か」と言われるだけで、おじさんおばさんにとっては迷惑なのよ。止められたんだよ。

     それでも俺は、「おじさんやおばさんに俺は迷惑かけるかもしれん。そしたら、俺が親戚だとは言わないでいい、他人のふりしていていい」と言った。

     「おじさんおばさんはもう立派な大人で、少々の差別には立ち向かえるだけの力があるかどうか僕は知らんけど、子供たち、青少年が悩んでいる子たちが本当にいささかでも希望の光を得るのに、そんなに俺がそうやってすることが迷惑ならもう他人のふりしておいてくれ。俺はそれでも逆風でも何でもやるから」と。そうやって断言して出ていったんだ。

    ■アメリカで生き延びたら希望の光になるかも

     日本の産業界の中で、もうみんな自信喪失して、総崩れ、引きこもりという状況にある。そんな中でもね、我々が1社でも逆風の中を立ち向かって、アメリカではるかに大きな巨体の敵に向かって少しでも、仮に5分の戦いをやれたならば、それなりに生き延びたならばそれは一つの希望の光になるかもしれない。

     僕はもちろん政治家でもないし、そういうポジションでもないけど、せめて1つの事例をつくってみたい。

     1つの事例をつくることが、その小石が波紋を呼んで、刺激を受ける会社が1社でも10社でもあれば、それが1つの社会貢献だと僕は思っている。

    ――日本にも多くの成功事例が出てきてほしいと思います。

     やっぱり我が社に限らず、柳井さん(ファーストリテイリングの柳井正会長兼社長)だとか、永守さん(日本電産の永守重信会長兼社長)だとか、楽天やディー・エヌ・エーとかいろいろな会社が、一生懸命頑張って日本の若い世代から成功事例が幾つか出てくればね、日本の経済もよみがえる可能性がある。

     格差社会反対という、落ちこぼれをどうやって助けるかというのも大事だけど、成功事例の足を引っ張る必要はないじゃんと。成功事例を寄ってたかってたたく必要もないじゃんと。

     成功事例はみんなの希望の光で、成功事例がなくなるともうみんな気落ちするよ。(プロゴルファーの)石川遼が出てきたといったらさ、みんなで足を引っ張るんじゃなくて、おお、すげーなと言って褒めたたえないかんわけじゃん。ダルビッシュが出てきた、おお、すげーなと言って、うんじゃあ俺も野球頑張ろうとなるわけですよ。

     だから、僕はそういう成功事例をジャパニーズドリーム、ジャパニーズヒーローだと褒めたたえるような社会にすることが一番大切だと思う。

    (聞き手は、大西孝弘=日経エコロジー)

    [日経ビジネスオンライン2015年7月17日の記事を再構成]

    — Thanks very much.

  • When did the situation with Softbank charging foreigners a deposit begin? I don’t believe I paid any deposit, but my visa was two years when I got my phone.

    — I’m not sure. I heard about it quite a while back.

  • Regarding the deposit for a mobile phone contract:

    I’ve been responsible for helping new ALTs get set up (moved in and registered) in Japan for the past four years, and while I haven’t run into any demands for a deposit in my several hundred cases, it’s disheartening to see that SoftBank would include a deposit condition like that only on the English page.

    The typical discrimination we run into is that the mobile phone companies refuse to allow ALTs to purchase phones using installment plans; NJ with less than 2-years on their visas are forced to buy phones outright, which for an iPhone starts at over 70,000 Yen.

    A lot of newcomers don’t have that much money to spend on a phone, and thus end up buying the cheapest gara-kei (which is still 20,000 Yen). And then said newcomers often get lost because they don’t have a maps/GPS app to help them out.

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