“Let’s broaden the definition of aesthetic beauty in Japan”

Interviewer/translator: Kyoko

Please check out her Instagram account (https://instagram.com/publictokyo_annatojo?igshid=eh0dyn8mcntw)!

1. Give us an introduction. (name, DOB, race/ethnicity, gender, how many years the interviewee has lived in Japan etc.)

I went out into the world 1 year ago, and I’m working at an apparel company. My name is Anna Tojo. I’m currently working at the venture company to learn business skills because I wish to take over my parents’ business in the future. My company is a bit different from other fashion companies as we evaluate our sales and make plans to improve our performances. This feature is rare in this field and a good environment for me to learn business. I don’t identify myself as a completely “stereotypical Japanese” because of my study abroad experience and my relatives who are living overseas. Actually I always wanted to travel overseas, and I’ve often researched different cultures since I was a kid. But now that I’m an adult and working full-time, I realised that my opinions are different from others’ opinions, and I feel I need to cover up my thoughts while working in Japan. I can’t feel chill or comfortable as long as I’m living in Japan.

2. (Japanese nationals who have lived abroad) What brought you to the country(ies) that the interviewee has lived in?

I’ve studied abroad in Australia and learned the idea of tolerating different cultures and backgrounds. In fact, my host family was originally from the Philippines and Malaysia. Likewise, the US and UK have always been the places that I wanted to go since both have the tolerance of different groups of people. When I actually travelled there, I really appreciated the culture. I have lived in Australia for 6 months and I noticed many people who are living there are actually those who were not born in Australia but came here by using a working holiday visa. So, people in Australia have differing cultures and worldviews, and I think they do not oppose each other but coexist with each other well. The UK is quite similar to Australia but I felt that “British people” are at the centre of the society. People can tell differences through accents, and I don’t have British accent anyway. And then, I got odd looks or I was asked why I speak American English, although I’m Japanese in a bar. However, I didn’t feel that there were discriminations in the UK that much, but rather people there were pretty friendly. And, when I went to New York, there are many diverse cultures coexisting, but I noticed that it’s completely normal for New Yorkers, and that is what makes New York. So they didn’t seem to me interested in other people. I didn’t face any discriminations in New York, but I also met some Latino or Asian people who experienced discriminations. So, I felt like the US is not as welcoming as the UK or Australia.

3. When did you get interested in gender issues in Japan and why?

I’ve been interested in gender since I started working at the apparel company. Executives and board members are only men, and women usually work as executive designers or creative positions. But, maybe because women tend to have different ideas of promotion from men, I noticed that men are more likely to achieve good results and get promoted faster than women. In fact, my company’s sales ranking shows that men dominate the top 10, and there is a notion that if women can get in top 10, that would be surprising. This different category of “women” seems to me that men can work more successfully, sometimes making me have mixed feelings.

–Does your company have any mechanism for men to obtain results faster, or do their achievements come from their own efforts?

Of course, their successes partly result from their skills, but my company’s main shop, which has run long and has more regular customers, only provides men’s clothes. So, when looking at our past sales rankings, men who worked at the main shop always rank in top 3. My company doesn’t have any main shop for women’s clothes yet, which makes me wonder about that as well.

4. (People who have lived overseas) What aspect of Japanese society surprised/shocked you the most in terms of gender?

When I was on a train in London, and a family, a mother, father and kid, got on the train. There was only one available seat, and I was thinking that the parents would let their kid have the seat. However, the father and kid let their mother sit, and I was surprised that the UK has a culture of being kind to women in a positive way. It’s because I’ve never seen anything like that in Japan, and I fully realised that Japanese culture is different from the UK. Also, I feel an unconscious invisible barrier between men and women in Japan, when men talk to women. However, when I went shopping for clothes in Australia, male staff member talked to me as if we were friends. I’m rarely talked to by male staff members in clothes shops in Japan so I think it’s good to have an environment in which we don’t need to care too much about our gender like Australia.

–Yeah, I think I change how I keep a distance from people according to which language I speak.
Right? Don’t you change your personality when you speak English and Japanese? When I studied in Australia, I raised my hand and spoke up like Harry Potter’s Hermione. Conversely, looking back at my high school life, I rarely voiced up in class.

5. How do you deal with your difficulties and sufferings related to gender inequality?

As I’m different from other people, I’m using the company as an instrument to train myself in order to take over my parent’s business, which is my ultimate goal. So, I don’t really intend to get the position of the head. Rather, I try to think that I’m using the company and experiencing lots of things. I think my company will allow me to get a position that women have never done if I increase my sales and maintain my claims. I just focus on accumulating skills and experiences instead of thinking that I’m working under my supervisors and directors. I stopped caring about my surroundings because no matter how I think seriously, the company will not change immediately.

a. Particularly, what helped you?

When I’m troubled with something, I often read books, particularly books about economic psychology like “Insight”. When I really worry about something, I fall into a downward spiral so it takes time for me to accept any advice and take action based on the advice even if I feel like I understand the logic. That’s why I read books to clarify my thoughts and try to think positively. What I read is some sort of autography like a person who used to have fewer achievements at an American corporation but when he/she changed her/his thoughts process, he/she is now successful. It helps me change my mood and feel motivated.

6. What aspect of you is more towards masculinity? And, what aspect of you is more towards feminine?

I guess I have more masculine characteristics. When I chat with my female friends, they talk about the stability of their jobs or say they want to keep doing what they can do already. But I’m more masculine and I want to succeed in my job or I think about things based on my job. ALthough the business that I’m going to take over in the future is a dye shop, I wish to expand its business to the apparel industry and produce its own brand. I want to realise what I want to do and my ideas that could make something better despite the importance of money. My feminine aspects…well…ah, I don’t want to admit this and make an excuse that I’ve grown up mostly in Japan, but I perceive that voicing up first is something men do. For instance, even if I already had my ideas in mind, boys say something, and women agree with them and adjust the topic to them in primary, middle and high schools so I also went with the flow. I don’t think that I broke the habit, which may be considered my feminine aspect. However, I see this as a bad trait so I want to fix it.

7. What is your concept of success in your job/studies?

I have the same way of thinking in my job and studying, but I believe that the process of setting goals and working hard to achieve the goals is very important. I highly value the environment in which I can continue to educate myself. Let’s say I accomplished my goal of selling products and making a profit of 4 million yen a month, I’m more willing to learn new areas at a different company than to be praised by my bosses and colleagues. I have a bunch of things that I’m curious about so it certainly takes time to master them all, but this process is my success.

–How can you stay that motivated?

Actually, I tend to feel depressed and have many lows and highs. There are times in which I feel like I don’t want to do anything, while I consider such times wasteful. I was born, I am living in Tokyo with my parents’ support because I told them that I want to do so, and I was able to study abroad in Australia as I told my parents that I want to learn English. So, I feel bad for my parents if I do nothing afterwards, and I also feel like I’m dumping what I have done. That said, we should do and enjoy what we want to do regardless of some sufferings.

8. Do you have any significant mentors or influencers?

A person who I found on Instagram when I was a highschooler is part of Philippino and part of Japanese and now working in PR of fashion brands in the US. He was born in the Philippines and came to Japan when he was attending middle school, experiencing discriminations because of a different culture and language. He is also a gay, which makes him so distinct from others and highly value his personality. Because he has always thought about working in the US since he was little, he was unemployed and only had part-time jobs for his first year in the US. Now, he is working with various designers and brands to promote them, which motivates me to become like him one day.

–How did you find his Instagram account?

I’ve been into gossips of western media since I was a middle school student, and I got curious about a Japanese-looking person who is with a model who performed in Victoria’s Secret in a photo on Instagram. Then, I went to his account, who looks like he is enjoying himself and whose comments on Instagram are so powerful that he can energise his audience. Because of that, I bought his book and I want to be like him.

9. What are you planning to do in the future?
a. In terms of your job

Though I don’t really make plans in detail, my ultimate goal is to take over my parent’s business, expand the business to the apparel industry and make it primarily based in foreign markets instead of the Japanese market like ZARA. ZARA is headquartered in Spain, but most of its profit comes from overseas, which means that ZARA is loved by many people around the world. That is something I really want to achieve in spite of the time it might take. And, I think the time in which I feel that I have learned enough at my current company will come soon or later. If it comes, I would like to reskill and upskill myself at a new company.

–So, what do you want to learn after achieving your objectives at your current company?

I believe the way of selling clothes will shift from in person to online, I’m curious about IT stuff. In addition, I want to experience working abroad and western business style, such as how to sell products or how to communicate with different companies, since I would love to establish a brand based overseas.

b. In terms of your commitment to society.

Working in the apparel industry in Japan, I fully realised the strict definition of Japan’s “beauty”. There is a model considered beautiful already, it is wrong that only those who are close to the criteria or who are attempting to meet the criteria can be seen as beautiful women. As everyone has a different face and body shape, the definition of “cute” or “cool” also varies depending on individuals. That said, people should be able to choose clothes hairstyles and makeup that they like, and those who don’t want to do this sort of thing don’t need to do that. There is no need that people try to make themselves look the same. Particularly, many women are trying hard to be said “beautiful”, I can understand their feelings though, I don’t want to do the same. If I establish my apparel brand, I will provide a wide variety of sizes of clothes so that no one needs to give up buying their favourite ones. Indeed, I met a person, who came from overseas, couldn’t buy what he/she liked because there was no size that fits her/him. Therefore, I seek to make a fashion brand allowing many people to find their favourite clothes and broadening the notion of “beauty” in society, though it is a Japanese brand.

If you’re interested in Anna’s further achievements, please check out her Instagram account (https://instagram.com/publictokyo_annatojo?igshid=eh0dyn8mcntw) and stay motivated!v