For Akiko Shimizu, director of the John Robert Powers School, getting the best out of her young students is not just her job, but a way to make herself more attractive.
As the head of the Tokyo branch of the prestigious personality development school, Shimizu believes many of today’s young Japanese women lack confidence and goals.
“They have so many choices that they don’t know how to make the choice that fits them,” said 53-year-old Shimizu.
“Back in my time, 90 percent of a young woman’s life was to get married and become a good wife,” she said. “Now, you don’t have to get married, you can continue working, you can do whatever job you want, and you have access to information worldwide — which all makes it difficult to find what’s best for you.
“I tell my students to be more open-minded, have a dream, believe in yourself and, most importantly, take action.”
Her messages to students are in fact a reflection of what she has told herself. Shimizu’s 12 years in Brazil and New Zealand as the wife of a Japanese businessman at an early stage of her marriage helped her to develop socializing skills.
“The 7 1/2 years in Brazil was the first time I’d lived outside Japan, and that became the basis of my life afterward,” she said. “I learned the joys of living in a new place, meeting new people and getting the best out of myself in many social situations.”
The feeling of excitement and the extensive networks she built up overseas did not end with her return to Japan at the age of 38 — by which time she had become the mother of two daughters. Wanting to turn her experiences into a profession, she found a job as a manners and communication consultant.
Her consulting career and personal network then earned her the job of director of Tokyo Powers school soon after it was founded in 1986. The 80th Powers school in the world, the Tokyo branch calls itself a “finishing school,” but it is far from simply a place where women are educated to prepare them for marriage.
In fact, John Robert Powers founded his school in New York in 1923 as the first modern-day modeling agency and personality development school, distinct from traditional European finishing schools. Powers graduates include actresses Grace Kelly and Elizabeth Taylor, former first lady Jacqueline Kennedy and supermodel Naomi Campbell.
The Tokyo school focuses on three core programs — personality development through speeches and presentations, communication skills and social graces for women of all ages, Shimizu said. Her students range in age from 18 to 72.
In addition to these core courses is a program for polishing up a woman’s looks — hairstyling, makeup, wardrobe, poise and carriage — and a preparation program for those planning to audition for beauty pageants, modeling jobs and acting roles.
During the classes, Shimizu said she will often ask students what they want to be doing 10 years from now.
“Having specific goals and interests and expressing yourself in the most effective way are what we teach,” she said. “In short, it is a school to make women attractive using what they have inside.”
This year, Shimizu won the top director’s award from John Robert Powers International for raising the school’s profile by producing many award winners at pageants and introducing distinctive courses, such as a Japanese culture and manners class.
By meeting so many people, including her students, Shimizu has learned that making good choices is the core of becoming an attractive person. “We make choices in everyday life — most basically, about what to eat, what to wear and who to meet.
“But putting effort into those small daily choices to make yourself look good, feel good and have heart-to-heart communication with other people makes a world of difference in 10 to 20 years,” she said. “An attractive person makes different choices, the right choices.”