Hiroko Yoshinaga had always forged her own path, ever since she announced to her parents that she wouldn’t be going to college.
“I wanted to study English not in a Japanese university, but overseas where I could really learn to communicate,” said the Kobe native. “I asked my parents to let me work and save money so I could go to England. At first they said no but when they saw that I was serious, they relented. I took an office job during the day and at night I worked in restaurants. It took me over three years to save ¥2 million. My parents graciously offered to pay for the rest. I went to a language school in Coventry, when the exchange rate was ¥250 to the pound. Under the circumstances, I couldn’t allow myself to turn back or to fail.”
So Yoshinaga gathered her courage, and never looked back.
“I remember how chilly and dark it was in Coventry on the day I arrived,” she said. “I felt so lonely but also exhilarated. I was ready to savor every moment of my new life.”
She stayed in Coventry and London for almost two years before returning to Japan.
“In Coventry I was studying English with people of different races, cultures and ages. Some of my classmates were over 30 and that was a revelation. Unlike in Japan, I realized that people could go to school and study anytime they wanted. That filled me with hope — life was much bigger and more diverse than I realized!”
Back in Japan, Yoshinaga proceeded to arm herself with English language qualifications, like a 900-plus TOEIC score and Grade Pre-1 in Eiken. Her next step was to register with a temp agency. She wanted a position that called for English skills and found work as a junior secretary at The Procter & Gamble Company.
“I learned to fit in to an international working environment under a non-Japanese boss,” she said. “Employees were expected to make their own decisions, voice their opinions and get the job done, regardless of gender.”
Yoshinaga is now senior marketing manager at Tempur Sealy Japan Ltd.
“Once again, I’m working with a foreign company,” she laughs. “My time in England has paid off in more ways than one. Learning to use English is one thing, but I’ve also grown accustomed to meeting my own goals and holding myself accountable. Even when things don’t go as well as I hope, I know I can keep trying. I guess, like most Japanese women, I want to live my life to its fullest potential.”
Yoshinaga has worked hard all her adult life and when she’s not working, she’s working on something else. That’s a lot of work in one sentence. In addition to her normal (and considerable) workload, Yoshinaga managed to get an MBA through Globis, a private education institute, four years ago.
After that, “I decided I wanted to do something physical, and took up yoga,” she says. She now teaches yoga once a week.
“Working with non-Japanese bosses was good for me. They encouraged me not to set limits for myself, to always aim higher and value my own desires and experiences.”
Having said that, Yoshinaga is well aware of the need for downtime. As the senior manager of marketing at Tempur Sealy Japan, thoughts about rest and sleep occupy much of her working hours.
“Good sleep is imperative to personal and financial success,” she says. “Unfortunately, the Japanese tend to feel a little guilty about resting. We could all do with more downtime and good quality sleep but somehow, these two things seem to elude the Japanese.”
One of Tempur Sealy’s ads features former Major League player Hideki Matsui saying “I rest, in order to keep going.”
Yoshinaga says this ad copy is one of her favorites, and reflects her own thoughts about work and life. “Good ideas often come from getting a good night’s rest. We owe it to ourselves to relax, reflect and nurture the senses. Life gets a lot better with good sleep.” (Kaori Shoji)
Words to live by
吉永寛子（ よしなが ひろこ）