Itakura - adventurous life of a class mate from primary school

Hideaki Itakura posing in the evening of a class reunion.

Hideaki Itakura was indeed the most impressive person among the classmates who attended a reunion of our primary school class. We were classmates for three years between grade 4 and 6, i.e., we were mere 9 and 12 years old and did not reach puberty yet. After graduation from the primary school, I did not often meet Itakura. I saw him at the last class reunion I attended 18 years ago. He wore typically as businessman in a dark suit and necktie, but I do not remember what we talked about. This time his short-cut hair was dyed blonde and he wore a fashionable T-shirt and jacket. But, it was not his mere appearance that impressed me, but he had certain atmosphere which was so different from other friends. Maybe, because he was virtually the only entrepreneur among the classmates who were there. Later, I visited his office and interviewed him, as I was so curious how such a personality grew up from a friendly but rather quiet classmate.

Itakura (*) told me that he feels attachment to his primary school days. But, he spent unhappy days in junior and senior high-schools and failed to pass the entrance examination for university.

(*)Between intimate friends Japanese people call each other NOT by given name but by FAMILY NAME without any suffix such as 'san'. Calling by given name, as is the case in the Western world, is regarded childish and I remember that I tried to call friends by family names, immediately after entering the primary school.

Therefore, he was doing nothing and staying home at the end of his teens. Parents told him to work if he did not study. He agreed and started to work at a TOYOTA workshop as mechanic. Of course, he did not have any training for such a job, but he soon got skill and tried to acquire national qualification as mechanic. As three years' experience was the pre-condition for taking a state exam, he persuaded his boss to allow him to state that he had worked at TOYOTA as part-time worker for more than three years. He passed the exam and got a bigger wage bill than his fellow workers.

Group photo during a study tour to Kamakura (May 1962)

Enlarged portrait of Itakura from the photo above.
In a few years, he became gradually uncomfortable with the treatment by the company. He quit TOYOTA and sought a job at a company in tourism sector. He then found a company. However, though it was called “XX Tourist Enterprise Co. Ltd.”, it was in reality a real estate company selling resort cottages. He was unexpectedly instructed to sell resort cottages in Nasu area. He then proved to be genius as real estate trader. He managed to sell dozens of cottages every month and was listed as one of the top sellers of his company. At the same time, he got a state qualification in handling real estate. As salary depends on sales, he earned a few million yen every month, though he was just in his early twenties. He started to frequent the entertainment districts such as Akasaka and Roppongi.

However, the glorious days did not last long. He was well paid, but he had to work hard and sacrificed his health. He was hospitalized due to exhaustion. He left the company and tried to switch to a more decent business in trade sector.

While recovering his health, he was jobless and stayed at his parents' home. His father used to tell him to save some from his earnings. But, he was too young to prepare for bad luck and had wasted everything in the bubbly entertainments, when he received a notice of tax payment. He had to ask his father to lend him millions of yen, so as to be able to pay tax.

After having chosen a trading company because its office had a decent address, he visited the company for interview and was accepted. After entering the company, he realized that it is a very tiny company, comprising of only two people: president and managing director.

There was no duty assigned by the company and he had to create his own business, if he wanted to continue working and increase his income, though there was a fixed salary he could get from the company.

The first thing he did was to install GE made home air conditioners for which TOYOTA dealers received order, as he had acquaintances at TOYOTA from his time as mechanic. Of course, he did not have to work on the installation by himself. He merely ordered installation companies to do jobs and could receive commission. After a while, he came to understand how to install air-conditioners into vehicles, he did it by himself, when he could not find an installer and made a mistake. Exhaust water spilt into the interior of a car due to inadequate installment of drain hoses.

He also found business in paint sales. As Japan was in its economic boom, the demand for paint was growing rapidly and he could expand the business of his company in this sector by use of his personal network he had gained through his various business engagements.

He was employed by a company. But, in reality he had to manage to find business, as if he was an independent entrepreneur. This was the basis for his further career. At the same time, during this period, he found his better half who happened to work in the same building. She became a good partner not only for his family life but also for his business engagements.

He became proud of his contribution to the company. But, he became gradually unhappy with his position in the company, because the company did "head hunting" and employed people who used to work at established companies. They were given higher title and better salary than him, though they could not do business without support of Itakura, as he said. He negotiated with the company to level up his title and at least pay him the same amount of salary as those "elite" but incompetent people. After a series of unsuccessful negotiations, he decided to quit and work independently, i.e. establish his own company. It was when he was 28 years old and his wife nodded him without hesitation.

Itakura started his company in 1979 in paint business, as paint trading did need neither large truck nor warehouse and other big facilities, but just a small office. Unfortunately, he immediately came into dispute with the company he had quit, because the company criticized that Itakura took clients from it, though Itakura believed that they were his clients. He had to give up the good clients. However, luckily enough, he was at this very difficult moment introduced to the American air base in Yokota by one of his business contacts.

In Yokota, he could demonstrate his capability in convincing the people about his credibility and acquire their trust. He was trusted by the purchase officers of the base and could expand business in favorable terms with Yokota Air Base. He could even provide paint to the American military facilities in Ogasawara.

Despite such success, he found it more and more difficult to continue working in paint trade, as paint trade is not a very decent sector and he himself was cheated several times by his business partners. Therefore, he again faced a moment of decision making. He decided to leave the paint business in Tokyo and start a new business with stationary and other office supplies in his home town Chiba.

Of course, it was not easy to sell stationary without prior connections. Purchase of stationary from manufacturers was also not easy. Purchase was made only on the cash payment. However, he gradually acquired clients and established business, when he happened to meet a key person for his future business development through mahjong play. This person was a member of his hobby mahjong circle and a friend of a friend. Itakura and the man did not know much about each other. But, one day he asked Itakura, what he was doing. Upon his answer, the man proposed him to deliver stationary to Narita International Air Port where he was working.

The business of Itakura's company "Shuei-Shoko Co. Ltd." expanded rapidly. The deal with the Airport consists an important part of the company's business, though it is now not as big as before.

Now, Shuei-Shoko employs 13 people, though its core is the family business and Itakura’s wife and his elder daughter are his indispensable partners. It engages with energy saving and environmental issues and it is also involved since 2007 in the CSR activities of donating stationary to the schools in the mountainous areas near Chiang Mai, Thailand. It is interesting to know that Shuei-Shoko obtained a patent for non-fuel lighter.

Office of Shuei-Shoko Co. Ltd.

I was surprised that Itakura could have a patent, though he is not an engineer. But, such a lighter was badly needed by the Airport because of security reason. Other people did not invent a non-fuel lighter. But, he did it!

This is a summary of the personal history I heard from Itakura. Therefore, I cannot assure you that I could reproduce his explanation with necessary accuracy, because I heard the story only once without any note. But, I would like to say one thing by reproducing his story; I was so impressed by him, his adventurous life.

I am sure that risk-taking is not a part of employed people including myself. Of course, we also make decisions, sometimes very important ones. However, usually we do not risk our existence by making any decision. Now, most of the people are somehow employed and thereby somehow domesticated. Continuous risky decision makings make a person totally different from those without such a risk. This cannot necessarily leads to create positive result but in case of Itakura, I am convinced, his attractive personality was created through his adventurous life.

He says that he was so lucky to have good partners. It is true that our fate is greatly influenced by the people whom we encounter. But, without attractive personality and communication capability, we simply miss good relations and finally good chances. But, repeated tests must have helped him to create his attractive nature beyond what he had by nature.

So, if you are interested in Itakura-san, please take up contact with him. Itakura said, he is not fluent in English but can communicate somehow! Here is the homepage of Shuei-Shoko Co. Ltd.