As a precocious 15-year-old in 1946, Yoshitami Arai looked around at a Japan that was, he said, “totally destroyed.” Then at school in Ichikawa, Chiba Prefecture, he was already beginning to understand the need of the nation to produce businessmen who would rebuild the economy. From that time on, he determined that he would be a businessman, an effective, successful one, for the sake of the country.
Today Tom, his usual name in the international community, has the satisfaction of knowing he has led a life of effectiveness, leadership and success. He is a popular, prominent figure socially and in business circles both domestic and international. He has a broad sweep of interests, and the inner resources to give time to each. He said: “In the earliest days I wanted to serve the country, not make money for myself. Not until later did I think of my own wealth.”
From Chiba, Tom went to London to take a certificate in advanced business at Pitman’s College. After that, most of his overseas connections were with the United States. On his return from London to Tokyo, he joined the Japan Productivity Center, which sent him to Washington, D.C. For three months he trained in the U.S. State Department’s department of language services. Assigned then to the International Cooperation Administration, he acted as interpreter and escort for productivity study teams arriving from Japan.
Tom always enjoyed what he was doing. “That is the natural way to learn,” he said. In 1960 he joined Sony Corp., Tokyo, and was sent to New York. There he established Sony Corp. of America, and set about developing its distribution network. Within a couple of years he was promoted to being assistant general manager, with a brief to handle patent search, technical licensing, and joint venture negotiations for the parent company.
In Tokyo again, Tom showed his initiative and forward thought when he became one of the promoters organizing the first trading stamp company in Japan. On the establishment of the Blue Chip Stamp Co., he assumed the position of director of sales, and later managing director. He went again to America, to graduate from the advanced management program at Harvard Business School. This school has stayed dear to him. He has been president of its club in Japan, a director of the school’s Alumni Association, Boston, and is still on its Japan advisory council.
He set up System International Inc. as a highly specialized consulting firm. “I wanted to assist U.S. companies to enter Japan, and Japanese companies to go overseas,” he said. “Before long, my old friend Noboru Goto asked me to work with him in Tokyu Hotels International. So I neglected my own company for 10 years when I was president and CEO of Tokyu Hotels. During that time I helped expand the company to a chain of 13 hotels with locations in the U.S., Canada and the rest of the Pacific Basin. When Goto died, I didn’t want to stay without him. I had already reached my retirement age, but I returned to Systems International, and as board chairman continue there. As well as a consulting firm, it is my private office.”
Tom has a formidable list of his business and civic positions. They number 30. He fills each position with good humor and full attention. He is a director of companies as different in nature as 7-Eleven Inc., U.S.A., Catalina Pacific Media, N.J., the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Japan. He is an adviser to the Welsh Development Agency, the Institute for International Business Communication, Tokyo, the Maki Ballet Company. He is a member of international clubs and associations, and a steering member of the Pacific Basin Economic Council. He is active in the American Chamber of Commerce, the Japan-U.S. Western States Association, and is influential in clubs in Switzerland and Hawaii as well as Japan. He has received the Republic of Peru’s Order of Merit, and is an honorary citizen of the state of Alabama. He is also the recipient of a special award from the Metropolitan Police Agency of Tokyo.
Tom has a prize in his wife, too. She is Choko, to whom many non-Japanese women were grateful when they came under the care of her administration at St. Luke’s International Hospital. She is currently dean of the nursing school at the International College of Health and Welfare, Tochigi Prefecture. In their completely different fields, husband and wife have earned respect for forging ahead, and showing others the way. Both have missions in life.