Yoshito Hori, president of GLOBIS University, managing partner of GLOBIS Capital Partners, shares his views from an entrepreneur's perspective.
Around fifteen years ago, an Israeli colleague from a VC company we were partnering with dropped by to see me in my Tokyo office. I was startled to see that his teenage son was with him. My colleague explained that at the boy’s Bar Mitzvah he had promised to take him to any country he wanted and that he had chosen Japan.
Father and son spent a busy three weeks visiting all the sites of Japan, from the temples of Kyoto to Tokyo Disneyland. As part of the deal, the father also committed to do no business-related e-mailing or phoning for the whole trip. (An easier promise to keep in those pre-iPhone days!)
This idea of a father-son bonding trip struck me as a brilliant idea—and one well worth imitating. I have five sons, ranging in age from 10 to 18. Because we’re a big family, I normally see all or several of the boys at the same time; even when we’re on holiday, getting one-on-one time with any of them is rare. But their behavior in the group doesn’t necessarily reflect their real selves. For deep, frank and sincere communication, nothing beats one-on-one.
Inspired by my Israeli friend’s example, I instituted a new rule in the family: I take each of my sons on a special one-day trip to mark their entrance into elementary school and a two-day trip to mark entrance into middle school.
The elementary school trip is the same every time: we go to Mito, the city where I lived as a teenager, and visit my old schools and a nineteenth-century park famous for its plum blossom.
The middle school trip involves going further afield and to different places—I took my first two sons to Kyoto, and the third to Tsushima, an island midway between Japan and Korea—but the one thing without fail is to attend the entrance ceremony at one of the campuses of my business school on day two of the trip. This means that my boys can get an insight into my life at the same time as I get an insight into theirs.
My fourth son, who is twelve, is going to middle school this year. So, one recent Saturday morning, we boarded the train for Onagawa, a small seaside town in Tohoku that was devastated by the 2011 tsunami. (Seventy percent of the buildings were destroyed and nearly 10 percent of the residents killed.) This gave my son the chance to see how people are rebuilding their lives in the aftermath of natural disaster.
Rather than build new sea walls for protection, the ground level of the whole of Onagawa has been elevated by around 10 meters. We based ourselves in a trailer house hotel—a collaborative venture of four local innkeepers who lost their original hotels to the tsunami—to explore the town. We visited the railway station—designed by Shigeru Ban, the architect famous for his cardboard and paper buildings—and the newly completed shopping street outside it. We also made an excursion to nearby Matsushima Bay, whose pine-clad islets make it one of Japan’s top three beauty spots. In the evening we went out for a Korean-style barbecue—the perfect opportunity for a good, long chat.
At lunchtime on Sunday, we headed down to Sendai for the entrance ceremony at the Sendai Campus of my business school. There were three short speeches—one by me and two by a couple of students from the new intake—followed by a short reception. We then headed back to Tokyo.
Spending a decent chunk of quality time together in this way is good for both father and son. The relaxed, unforced and leisurely atmosphere makes it easier for both parties to open up. My sons get to tell me about their goals at middle and high school and I get to tell them my aspirations for them too. It’s like a management-by-objective meeting in a family context.
My wife and I send all our boys to summer camp in Europe for a couple of weeks and then to boarding school in Canada for a year. Having studied in Australia for a year as a high-school student myself, I make a point of explaining why I regard going overseas, interacting with people from other cultures and learning to speak English as so important. I also encourage my boys to be serious about a sport, not just because of the old “healthy mind in a healthy body” dictum, but because of the useful lessons in communication, teamwork and self-discipline that sports provide.
This sort of father-son bonding ritual remains all too rare in Japan—but I take it very seriously indeed. So much so, in fact, that I sneaked out of the Prime Minister’s Saturday morning cherry blossom-viewing party early to catch the train up north with my son!
Parents should try to be disciplined and business-like about building their relationships with their children. I recommend consciously carving out special time for “bonding” and the discussion of long-term goals. Establishing a fixed rule or framework for this sort of one-on-one time is a good way to insure the children are happy to comply (at least until their late teens!).
Do you set aside time to bond with your children at milestone moments in their lives? Do you try to discuss their goals with them? Do you give them the chance to see you in your workplace?
I’m interested to hear about your rituals of parent-child bonding, so please tell me about them. Who knows, if they sound good, perhaps I can try applying them with son No. 5!