All of our experiences in life, both past and future, are born of our encounters in the present. Ryo Tateishi of Mitsubishi Corporation (MC) tells us a story that began with one such encounter, a story about his efforts to help launch a winery in Koriyama City, Fukushima Prefecture, that helped to rejuvenate an entire region.
These days, I am involved in the planning of measures to address problems resulting from climate change. These are difficult, global issues that concern a host of complexities, but I am confident that my efforts to assist each and every person I am getting to know through this work will help us to find the solutions we are looking for.
The source of that belief is my experience launching a winery with farmers in Koriyama City, an initiative that was part of MC's support to help businesses and regions recover from the Great East Japan Earthquake. The aim of the project was to create a sustainable new industry, and being MC's first attempt at doing so, it was full of challenges.
The first challenge was earning the trust of the local residents. To install a winery as a permanent member of the community, we had to convince all of the local farmers to partner us on the project and get them to play leading roles. Just because a group of outsiders suddenly appears at your front door and says, "I want to build a winery here," does not mean that you are going to trust it. So we moved to Koriyama City and started living there, and over time we met with the farmers and the local resitents repeatedly to explain our idea as best we could. Little by little, they began expressing an interest in working with us, and although there were still many issues to deal with, we started making genuine progress. As we overcame each hurdle, we deepened our bonds with the locals.
After much toil and effort, we were finally ready to announce our first wines, and I will never forget the words spoken to me by one of the farmers at our product-launch ceremony, when he expressed how much it meant to him to taste a wine made from the fruit he had grown.
"Before today, there were two days in my life that truly tugged at my heartstrings," he told me. "The first was the birth of my child and the second was the birth of my grandchild. This is the third."
When I heard him say that, I felt just as moved.
Feeling the need to empower such businesses to make themselves sustainable, I thereafter devoted myself to study, and although it was with some regret, I made the decision to leave Koriyama and pursue my MBA in the US. The people of Koriyama were very happy for me, as though they were sending off one of their own into the wide world. When I visited the city again to show the winery to my fellow students from overseas, the people welcomed me back so warmly, like I was a family member returning home. One of my most precious memories is all of us sitting together in our kotatsus*, laughing, chatting and drinking.
When we face challenges together, we need to take the time to build strong, trust-based relationships with everyone else involved, and we must listen to their opinions and needs. Eventually, those kinds of steady efforts will pay off, and new paths will open up before us. I have taken what I learned in Koriyama to heart, and I intend to apply it to all of my future work.
*A low, Japanese-style table with an electric heater underneath.