Savvy’s Women Of The Year: 11 Inspiring Leaders We Met In 2017

Guts And Grit: Living It Up In Tokyo

By The Savvy Team
December 21, 2017
Careers, Inspiring Women

From running their own companies to making unique crafts, these women are living it up in Tokyo.

An entrepreneur, an activist, a cook, a communication coach, a Japanese sake bar owner — and a blacksmith. This year, the Savvy Team was privileged to meet and talk to 11-plus inspiring women who shared their stories of building businesses from scratch and living up their dreams in the megapolis many of us call home. While they all come from different backgrounds and business circles, what they all have in common is their undeniable passion for life, work and contribution to the community — no matter what the scale is. They are powerful, successful women who have battled stereotypes and obstacles and have faced a number of challenges with dignity and motivation. If you’re in need of a bit of motivational boost for the new year, read on to learn more from their stories.

1. Keiko Ochiai: Breaking Japan’s cement ceiling

Keiko Ochiai, an activitist, a writer and a store owner, is one of the most influential public figures in Japan, who has dedicated her life to breaking gender stereotypes and fighting for human and children’s rights and wellness. She is also the founder of one of the first children’s bookstore and organic stores/restaurants in Japan, Crayonhouse, based in Tokyo’s Omotesando and Osaka. Read her story of founding Crayonhouse, a store which started small but has grown to become a center for the millions of unheard voices in the Japanese and global minority communities.

2. Tamao Sako: Changing Japan’s image of British cuisine

Tamao Sako is a cook, teacher and author who was awarded at the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards in 2016 after setting up her own cookery school, The British Pudding in Osaka. Discover how she started her journey into entrepreneurship and how she changed Japan’s image of British cuisine, one cake at a time.

3. Joanne Wilkinson: Reviving Japan’s ailing kimono industry

Joanne Wilkinson transformed her love of kimono into a self-sustaining business with a great cause called Vintage Kimonos. The business is designed to support communities devastated by the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami. Today, she hopes to become a good example of combining the best of Western thinking with the best of Japanese ways in everything else. Read her story to find out more about how an old kimono can be transformed into a beautiful party dress.

4. Jane Best: Providing opportunities and hope for refugees

Jane Best is the CEO of Refugees International Japan (RIJ), a powerful NGO which continues to impact lives and attitudes by providing opportunities, hope and right-based assistance to refugees around the world. Since she assumed the post, she has managed to change the organization from within, which as a result led to significant improvements. Read Savvy’s interview with her to find out how she did it.

5. Megumi Moss: Helping women get back to work after giving birth

Together with her husband, Trevor, Megumi started CareFinder, one of Japan’s fastest growing bilingual babysitting service companies. Learn what inspired them to start their business, how it has developed over time and where they will be heading to from now on.

6. Helen Iwata: Maximizing people’s potential

A UK-native, Helen Iwata, is the founder and president of the Tokyo-based global communications skills training company Sasuga Communications, which supports companies and individuals by allowing them to reach their full potential — by mastering intercultural communication.

7. Nagisa Sakaki: Playing life’s most gentle tunes

Osaka-born professional violinist Nagisa Sakaki shares her amazing journey guided by her love for music. From freelancing and performing for the Tokyo Sinfonia to setting up her own business, read on to learn what inspires her and how she overcame the many professional challenges in her career.

8. Fariza Abidova: Supporting global communication skills

© Photo by Victor Gonzalez

Fariza Abidova aspires for her online global business expansion platform, Trusted Corporation, “to be for business what Google is for information.” Originally from Uzbekistan, Abidova, founder and CEO of two firms, opened up to Savvy about cultural differences in Japan and why she continues to look for opportunities here. Her unique business, Sophys Corporation, provides solutions for Japanese companies through cultural communication training.

9. Ai Iijima: Rocking metal work despite all odds

Ai Iijima is not your average woman. She is an innovative entrepreneur who established Metalsmith Iiji, a business in designing and creating original metalwork. She creates a wide body of work, from everyday items such as scissors and stools to jewelry, typography, and even gates. Reflecting her love of the natural world, she designs all her pieces to be unique and even breathes life into junk metal by giving it new forms.

10. Chie Funakura: Helping Tokyoites stay in style

After years of experience in London and at a major Tokyo-based hair salon, Chie Funakura opened her own hair salon in Harajuku a few years ago. Since its opening, she is now providing top hairstyling services to Japanese and foreign customers who keep returning. Read more about her career journey as a hairstylist and her salon, Silva Papilio.

11. Yukari Yanaba: Connecting the world through Japanese sake

For Yukari Yanaba, owner of the Tokyo-based sake bar Sake Scene Masufuku, a cup of sake goes deeper than just a drink. For her it’s a story — this of the people who spend seasons making it; this of the customers who come to the bar to taste it, and this of her own life dedicated to it. In 2016, at the age of 40, she took a new path in her career leaving the corporate Japanese life to embrace a new goal she had always wanted to pursue: introducing the traditional Japanese drink to the world and helping Japanese sake makers promote their businesses.

Interviews with the women introduced in this article were conducted for Savvy Tokyo’s Savvy Spotlight, a monthly feature introducing foreign and Japanese women at the frontline of what’s successful, contributing, cool, unique and interesting in the city. If you have anyone in mind you would like us to interview, leave us a comment below with your recommendations!