We produced furniture in
Kaneshima was a painter of fine art. The Emperor had honored him as a "Living National Treasure." It was he who made it possible for me to become, by eleven years, the first American retailer to enter the Japanese marketplace.
He was a friend of Tetsutaro Iida,
Executive Vice President of Takashimaya -- a famous department store. Kaneshima
met me in
Delighted to see each other, they talked for forty minutes. I didn't understand a word they were saying. It was rather like sitting at a tennis match - looking from one to the other.
Finally, there was a quiet knock at the door. "Enter," is what I assumed Iida said. A young woman cautiously approached and proffered a note she carried in both hands. He read it, looked at his wristwatch and said something. She bowed, and backed out of the room.
It was apparent, he had another appointment waiting. Kaneshima. and I stood and started for the door when Iida turned to me and said in excellent English, "This matter of your having shop at Takashimaya, it is approved." Almost as an after-thought, he added, "Can you meet with my merchandise people tomorrow?"
We met at ten in the morning. I was outnumbered seven to one and constantly encumbered by language problems. My interpreter was a nice fellow, but we were on separate pages a great deal of the time. The meeting, if anything, was thorough. At great length, we discussed pricing, advertising, promotion, display, salesmanship and a myriad of related subjects. They emphasized I would be advised how to design furniture for the Japanese market.
At four in the afternoon, I told them how much I appreciated their interest and helpful suggestions. However, if they were to direct all phases of my effort, I saw no reason for me to open a shop with Takashimaya. As they had discussed for hours, they knew better than I how to sell western furniture designs to the Japanese. Of course, I took some time for me to say this. Abruptness is tantamount to rudeness.
After a formal departure, I returned to the Hotel Okura. It wasn't more than fifteen minutes when my telephone rang. It was Mr. Iida calling. He asked, "How did your meeting go with my staff?"
I answered, "Quite well, but I do have some problems."
He said, "So I understand. Would it be convenient for you to meet with them again tomorrow?"
"Of course," I said.
It was a short meeting. One by one, the seven executives approached and welcomed me to Takashimaya.
A closing thought on Tetsutaro Iida. He'd written a book giving advice to travelers. One line remains with me: "When going through Customs, never wear dark glasses."