Educated in Japan and the U.S., and each year making frequent official trips to Europe, Mary Ishin Sung Katayama says that she thinks of herself as borderless. “I love to travel and feel a need to be on the go every month or two,” she said.
She speaks lovingly of her parents, both no longer alive, and of her untroubled childhood memories. Her father, Paul Sung, is still remembered here as a serious businessman, a European car importer. Hailing from Beijing, where he was a banker, he was also an active volunteer worker for the Young Men’s Christian Association.
Her mother, Amy Sung, is remembered as a popular, prominent figure among Tokyo’s international women. She came from Shanghai, where she was a journalist.
In Tokyo, he founded the companies Shintoyo Enterprises, Shintoyo Motors, and Toho Tochi Kenchiku.
Thirty years ago when she was widowed, Amy Sung took over the chairmanship of the companies. Their younger daughter, Mary, and her husband joined the business.
“The first few years were very difficult for us, since my mother had not worked since her days as a journalist in Shanghai in the 1940s, and my husband and I were just 20-something years old,” Katayama said.
“My husband is patient and wise, and my best friend. He really helped to stabilize the situation, and we were able to maintain the business which we have today, Jaguar and Aston Martin dealerships, and our real estate investment company.
I have been fortunate to be able to work at our company continuously with a very flexible schedule.” Katayama holds the positions of chairman and CEO of the companies.
She had never thought of a career in business. “I always liked to paint,” she said. “I thought I would like to become an artist. My family lived in a large house with a garden.
“My parents had a very busy social life, so my sister and I spent a lot of time with our Japanese housekeepers. We learned a lot about things Japanese from them. When I reached kindergarten in Nishimachi International School, we moved to a smaller house and garden in Roppongi, within walking distance of the school.”
Shy as a child, Katayama said that she liked to follow her elder sister wherever she went. “I began to go to the American School in Japan from the third grade. That was a totally different environment.
“We spent our childhood summers swimming at the Tokyo American Club and the Masonic pools, playing some tennis at the Lawn Tennis Club, visiting our grandparents in Hong Kong and sometimes staying in Karuizawa, where my father opened a Jaguar showroom.”
At the University of Colorado, Katayama took her bachelor’s degree in modern history. In Tokyo again, she studied language at Sophia University, and undertook graduate studies in business at Aoyama Gakuin University. She chose to make her life in Tokyo, while her sister moved to Hawaii, where she teaches tai-chi.
For 10 years, she served on the board of directors of Nishimachi International School and participated in fundraising for the school’s new buildings, as well as serving as an auction chairperson and PTA president. Since 1992, she has been on the school’s board of trustees.
In the wider community, Katayama contributes in the ways that many international women choose. She is a longtime member of the International Ladies’ Benevolent Society and for two years was its vice president.
Last year she was co-chairperson of ILBS’ prestigious Cherry Blossom Charity Ball. She works for the Genkan Gallery Committee of the Tokyo American Club, and was a table coordinator volunteer for the 2006 Art of Dining event sponsored by Refugees International.
With all her activities, Katayama still feels “deeply connected to Japanese arts, having studied Nihonga paintings and calligraphy for many years.” Both her children follow family precedent. Her daughter is a journalist in San Francisco. Her son works for Aston Martin U.K.
“Next year our company will be celebrating our 50th year, Katayama said. “So life will still keep me busy with business as well as volunteer work. We look forward to our children marrying and having our grandchildren someday before we get too old. Meantime, my great loves are my two dogs — a 14-year-old Sheltie and a 2-year-old toy poodle.”