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


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.

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.


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:

    「差別反対と言うより希望の光になる」 孫氏の矜持
    2015/8/14 6:30































    — 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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