When we were in Japan two years ago, we noticed so many older people in the workforce and excelling at what they did. Japan being the global leader in lifespan, and we sought out the very cool, very charming, very successful Yutaka Aso, 74, to get a sense of how things are there from an insider perspective. We were interested in some serious things, as in how he is impacting the world and what some of the issues he feels a sense of urgency around, and also a bit about ramen and yodeling.
Yutaka Aso, 74, is the younger brother of Taro Aso, current Japanese Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance and former Prime Minister. He is also the former president of Aso Cement. Everything about his resume would lead one to believe he would now be living a life working on his golf game rather than being a champion of change. Why pull back when there is so much life left with which to make an impact?
Kinetic and humble, Yutaka is renowned for the unexpected joke, his passion for dancing and his driving curiosity. He continues to challenge the status quo in Japan, is a passionate champion of women in the workforce, medical modernization, and education. It is, however, his spirit for living, his vital and vivid passion for life that inspires that intrigued us.
“I am 74 years old. The average of Japanese men’s life expectance is roughly 90 years old. Another almost 20 years to go! If I think my life as a clock, it is still 8 pm. I can enjoy the best time of the day from now on !!”
This is so wonderful. Please tell us, how will you be enjoying this time?
For us older people, some think the rest of their years are becoming short. I never think so. Since we have had so many experiences throughout our careers, we can use these good and bad cases stored during those 74 years. We have eyes for a good selection of coming opportunities and offers. We have to think about the rest of the years left with us (time-bound), our priorities and our own abilities, and many different powers. Also, a positive mindset like this way attracts more opportunities, I should think. On the other hand, if you live in negative thinking, luck inevitably goes away.
Yutaka has been part of Bai Xian Asia Institute since its founding. In a world of increasing nationalist tendencies, Bai Xian Asia Institute (BXAI) believes that cross-cultural education is the key to a harmonious world built on mutual understanding, respect, and equality. Through education programs that empower and inspire students in different Asian countries and regions, BXAI seeks to strengthen relationships between the people of Asia, and cultivate a sense of community and mutual understanding within a changing global landscape.
You joined the Bai Xian Asia Institute without any hesitation. Why is that? What is it about helping, inspiring, interacting with young people?
I do find their activity is really fabulous. I want to contribute to the Sino-Japan relationship, which is quite unstable now. I am extremely happy to offer good experiences to the students while they are young and creating good friendships through this program.
“Young people are our hope…we older people can offer them many things”
You attended a number of their activities. Can you name one or two that were particularly memorable? You seem to really enjoy interacting with young people; was this shaped by your experiences as a student living abroad?
Yes, young people are our hope. We should give them more opportunities, more experiences, especially in other parts of the world, while they are young. From these points of view, we older people can offer them many things; in particular, financial backing.
Luckily, I was given a big opportunity after graduation from a Japanese University to go abroad which gave me tremendous confidence; an asset that energized my career. I have five brothers and sisters and all of us are given such lucky experiences to spend some extra years abroad after finishing Japanese education.
As a student, I spent a big amount of energy and time on rugby in Japan and also at Oxford. Rugby brought me a wide range of experience on leadership and building teamwork. These physical experiences are very informative as they shape our later views.
What do you enjoy most about your daily work today?
Apart from my family business, I am one of the leaders of the Kyushu Economic Federation. The mission of this group is “move Japan forward from Kyushu”.
“We are the front runner of the aging issue in the world”
Can you elaborate more on what it means to “move Japan forward from Kyushu”?
The main issue of the current slowdown of the Japanese economy lies in the lack of a sense of urgency despite the fact that our economic position is constantly falling. Japan is such a beautiful, tasty, and honest country, so we all relax and spend these happy days without realizing our economic situation. We are enjoying life by benefitting from the contribution of our fathers’ generation.
Japan consists of 4 islands and Kyushu is one of them which holds roughly 10% of total Japanese economy. So not so small. Kyushu is luckily located closer to the emerging Asian countries as compared with other parts of Japan. Not only China but South East Asia. They love Japan and Japanese products.
We can contribute to them not only selling goods but in many other fields such as our aging issue, healthcare issue, and healthy long life expectancy, etc. We are the front runner of the aging issue in the world, we are happy to create an ideal style of living for one given life that will deliver good hints to other parts of the world.
We are given a fabulous image of good quality which is extremely lucky and made by our continuous efforts of Kaizen or quality improvement. What we are lacking is selling power or even a sense of urgency for gaining more money from overseas by creating and selling our superb products — not only cars, electronics but agricultural and fisheries products. Once Kyushu attains some specific stretch goal of selling these, other parts of Japanese farmers’ society and others pick up the enthusiasm to follow us.
It seems you have pulled back some from some of your daily businesses, giving the reins to your son. Is there anything you miss about it?
Luckily, my son is doing pretty well and making some dynamic challenges that I could not. I am backing him up.
Ambition for the Next 5 Years
Do you have an ambition or goal you would like to accomplish in the next 5 years?
One of my lifeworks is H2E-hospital management, healthcare-network, and education. Most businesses in Japan have been transferred from public to private sector except hospital and school activities. The public sector is still participating in these two fields with private ones in Japan. The Aso family coincidently is running the hospital and school for a long time. I would like to transfer some of our operation know-how with total quality control methods to create employee and customer satisfaction also reduction of public subsidy for those fields. I also would like to deliver a lively working atmosphere for them as my priority in management. It is a quite difficult target but a very important role and function for my life in the coming 5 years.
How has Covid affected this business? What has your team learned from it?
The Covid effect is immense; our family business does not have many consumer markets so our damage is not so extreme but the damage to our hospital is big. Luckily, we do not have practically any serious cases of the patients but the stress for the medical staff is huge. Safety first is priority. School operations are also receiving a huge impact on daily classes which is nothing unique all over the world. The biggest changes are the teachers’ styles of education.
Food and Culture
What is your favorite ramen? Tonkotsu, Shio or Shoyu?
Shoyu is my favorite.
How do you stay current and in touch with modern culture?
These are rather weak fields and I am lacking curiosity in these fields.
You have grandchildren… how old are they? What do you do with them when they visit? What are some funny comments they have made about you?
My grandchildren are roughly 10, 8, 4 and 1. I don’t think or remember any funny comments about me yet.
What are some of your favorite books?
I am fond of reading books written by some successful or admirable businessmen. I pick up some of their useful messages to write down on my daily and read back constantly.
Daily Writing Habit
We have heard that you keep an immaculate collection of handwritten notes. When did you start this habit?
Yes, I write a diary every day for over 40 years now and I think I do not dislike writing. I also hold a memo pad all the time and even during the mass on Sunday. I sometimes note a Father’s interesting comment or message.
As a businessman, I am lucky to be able to meet lots of interesting people and receive some interesting or valuable information from them. I also cover quite a variety of business fields such as hospital, school, cement, and others. In due course, I meet lots of people in a day. So it is inevitable to write down some of my thoughts before forgetting them. I check those memos in the evening or morning to confirm what I got or what I committed to them, etc.
I am also constantly concerned with my lifework, where I stand, and how is the present vision and passion on these issues to stay alert with some excitement by writing a diary every day.
I sometimes reread them while I have time such as in-flight and in a train or relaxing time. It is quite an enjoyable time for me to think of the old days and my comments and way of analyzing many experiences.
What is inspiring you in this time of great global change?
IT tools and AI progress issues, these fields will have a huge effect on our lives. I am weak in this field but I do imagine their future impact is tremendous. So I try to back up those IT fields’ staff and, at the same time, I am encouraging senior executives to study and learn the IT future potentiality for understanding and supporting young people with their study.
What do you do to stay healthy?
Firstly, I am appreciating the healthy condition which I have been offered. Everybody has been given a life only once. Under this condition, luckily I am given a life that is physically well and supported by my wife, family and company’s staff. I don’t smoke, I exercise every morning. Being optimistic is one of my basic attitudes to various fields.
Lifelong Love Story
Strong and lasting human relationships also keep us healthy. Can you share with us your love story with Mrs. Aso?
We went to the same kindergarten, elementary school, and university. So we have known each other for almost 70 years and being married for almost 50 years now. Luckily, we love and respect each other. What I do appreciate about her is that she is the strongest, and always alerting me to things I may have missed. Such as my behavior, style of living etc. These manners and human relationships are really lucky for my life also may be helpful for my health control as well. I feel how lucky I am, that I have such a generous and clever wife.
How do you organize your time?
One of my useful tools is diary. I have written in my diary every day for over 40 years. The thick diary is No. 148 now. I write early morning, during office hours or in the evening which makes me improve the seriousness of my lifework and time control. I also take memos constantly since there is so much important information, important commitment and practical hints through meetings for my career which are very useful and productive for my work.
Dancing, Traveling…and Yodeling
We have heard that you enjoy dancing. Has this always been the case, or are you a late-in-life dancer?
I used to be very slow with social activities but now I am pretty keen. Yes, dancing makes not only myself but my surroundings seem happy, I should think. Maybe only I am thinking so?
Although travel in these times is difficult, where are some of your favorite places to go when you can go? Where would you like to go that you haven’t been yet?
Maybe to go to Tirol where we can enjoy watching the beautiful Alps, with good yodeling and drinks. I spent a really enjoyable days there in the past.
Yodeling? Amazing. Do you have practice at this?
No practice at all. I just shout with local people! I do like Tirolians who love songs in a big voice which I had been missing in the UK a bit.