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Tripartite Talk #001

渡邊 満子 竹田 浩子 近衞 忠大

2020.03.23 UP

Media producer Mitsuko Watanabe, floral artist Hiroko Takeda, and our CEO Tadahiro Konoe are all old acquaintances, but this is the first time they are working together. On the occasion of the project's completion, the three of us got together once again to talk about our work, our backgrounds, and Japanese culture.

Through the Tower Gallery Exhibition

Konoe: The Tower Gallery's exhibition "60 Years of Tokyo Tower: Welcoming the Imperial Family" ended successfully on March 13. I was invited by Ms. Watanabe, the general supervisor, to help with the spatial design and some of the curation, and Mr. Takeda was asked by Ms. Watanabe to create the flower tower decorating the entrance of the exhibition hall. I'm really grateful to Ms. Watanabe.





Takeda: Thank you so much.


Watanabe: My dream has come true (laughs).

Issues that Japanese people face through their work

Konoe: By the way, I know that all three of you are involved in creative work, but when I work in Japan, I often feel that there is little respect for creativity. The world is paying attention to Japan's creativity, but for some reason, Japanese people take it lightly. In particular, there are so many people who do not recognize the importance of design. What do you think about this?


Watanabe: I think this is a very Japanese reaction. We are a country that will pay for concrete, but not for people's ideas. That is the biggest problem.


Hiroko Takeda: President of Ashte Co. After graduating from Gakushuin University, she was fascinated by European flower arrangements while in the Netherlands and studied them in earnest. She is known for her dynamic, simple, and sophisticated flower arrangements. She is active in a wide range of fields, including parties, events, hotels, store pavement flowers, weddings, and magazine photography for many of the world's high-end brands, such as MIKIMOTO, UYEDA jeweller, Dior, Louis Vuitton, VALENTINO, cartier, and Audi. Her father is a former member of the Imperial family, Tsunemasa Takeda. His maternal grandfather was Kaichiro Nezu, president of Tobu Railway and founder of the Nezu Museum. He is a relative and former classmate of Tadahiro Konoe.

Takeda: My flower business is a little different from design, so I am not in the same situation as Mr. Konoe, but after returning from Europe, I was surprised to find that many Japanese people do not decorate their homes with flowers. It seems that there are not many Japanese people who invite people over to their homes, which leads to a sad chain of events: the house is not cleaned up, and there is no need for flowers in the house. I would like Japanese people, who are supposed to have a high sense of beauty, to create a space to display flowers, even just one flower, and live a life with flowers.


Watanabe: Even though it would be beautiful to invite people over.


Takeda: That's right! It doesn't have to be a mansion to invite people over. If you clean up the room and create a comfortable space, you will be able to think about putting a chair of your favorite design or flowers here.


Watanabe: That's because after the war, the trend of mass consumption was good, and our houses were overflowing with things. That feeling has not disappeared even now, and there is no space in the house.


Konoe: If we go back further, I think another reason is the sudden introduction of Western culture in the Meiji era. While Western architecture became popular, the number of tokonoma (alcove) decreased and traditional Japanese crafts declined. Yet, we could not import Western ideas for designing spaces. For example, in an old house in France, you can find the same furniture that your grandparents used, and the same piles of books that have been there for over a hundred years. There is a format that has been used for a long time with the same layout. There must have been a beautiful beauty of style in Japanese houses originally.

About background

Konoe: By the way, I think another thing that all three of us have in common is the relationship between our backgrounds and our work. I used to separate my background from my main work because it was troublesome, but as I get older, I can no longer say that.


Watanabe: I can't tell you that (laughs). But it's for the sake of the world, so it's easier to endure, or rather, overcome.


Konoe: I'll do my best. However, even though I'm a creative person, I've basically worked in the field or behind the scenes, so I've always been aware that my work has nothing to do with my background. The only time it was useful was when a super VIP came to an event and said, "You seem to be lonely, so you should go out with him" (laughs).


Takeda: I also get asked to put my background on my profile. I think I was overly self-conscious when I was younger, but I felt uncomfortable about it. I did include that I graduated from Gakushuin University, but I did not include my family background until recently.


Konoe: You don't want to be seen as working from that background, do you?


Takeda: That's right. People would say that it is because my family is like that or that I have connections.


Watanabe: But I can't help it, you know (laughs).


Takeda: That's right. So I'm getting thicker and thicker, and at my age, I just say, "Well, whatever! It's the truth. It's not like I'm writing a lie," I thought. It's okay if it's a positive thing. Recently, I've been saying, "It's okay if I publish it.


Konoe: How about you, Ms. Watanabe?


Mitsuko Watanabe: Media Producer, graduated from Keio University with a degree in French literature and joined Nippon Television Network Corporation. "After graduating from Keio University with a degree in French, she joined Nippon Television Network Corporation (NTV), where she worked for more than 20 years as a director and producer of "Kewpie 3 Minute Cooking. "In 2009, she left NTV to become a freelance producer, and from 2010 to 2012, she produced the Hotel Okura's "Masterpiece Exhibition". From 2010 to 2012, she produced the Hotel Okura "Masterpiece Exhibition. He is also the president of the International Ballet Association, vice president of the Japan-China Film Festival Executive Committee, and a trustee of the Japan Stage Promotion Society (NBS). His publications include "Her Majesty Empress Michiko: A Bridge of the Heart" (Bungeishunju) and "Grandfather Masayoshi Ohira" (Chuokoron Shinsha). His father was Hajime Morita, who served as Minister of Transportation, and his maternal grandfather was Masayoshi Ohira, who served as Prime Minister.

Watanabe: I wasn't originally named Ohira, but I'm still Morita. I thought it would be good if I got married soon and changed my name, so I changed it right away. So I created a new character. Then I was liberated (laughs).


Konoe: So you were aware of it?


Watanabe: Sometimes the background is troublesome. But sometimes things go better if you say it first. Since we are politicians, we are sometimes subject to bad words. It would be awkward for both of us if we let people say bad words and then go to ......, so we have to tell them as soon as possible.

Konoe: That's true (laughs). In my case, my mother is a former member of the royal family, but my father was born into the Hosokawa family, a samurai family, and after he started working for a company, he took over the Konoe family and married my mother. I am what is called a transferee in the company. So, I did not inherit any specific family business, but my ancestors were cultural patrons and were involved in various cultural activities, so I always feel that I should really be involved in that side of the family.


Tadahiro Konoe:After graduating from Musashino Art University, he worked for TV stations and production companies in a wide range of production fields, including TV programs, Internet videos, and large-scale events for fashion brands. "With his extensive overseas experience and language skills, he has been involved in a number of international projects, including marketing for foreign companies in Japan and branding for Japanese companies overseas. He is also a member of the Imperial Household Agency's ceremonial staff, a trustee of the Yomei Bunko Library, president of the 14th Rokuhirata Memorial Foundation, a member of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government's Edo-Tokyo Kirari Project selection committee, and a member of the Shima City Council for Food Creation in Mie Prefecture. His father was President of the Japanese Red Cross Society and President of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, and his maternal grandfather was Prince Takahito of Mikasa.

Watanabe: You mean you have to stay in the patronage system?

Konoe: I cannot do what Michinaga Fujiwara, the ancestor of the Kondori family, did, but I try to convey the tangible and intangible charms of traditional Japanese culture to people in Japan and abroad through branding and design, which is my main business. It's not easy to connect with people from traditional cultures, as they often don't have any concept of branding or design, but thanks to my background, I feel that it's easier for them to listen to me and understand each other. In that respect, I am very grateful to my predecessors (laughs).

The Importance of Noblesse Oblige

Konoe: I think all three of us share the same background of having faced "noblesse oblige" (editor's note: meaning the duty of a noble person) at some point in our lives. Have you learned any lessons from your family, such as, "Don't forget this kind of mindset"?


Watanabe: I first became aware of these words when I was 30 years old and started covering the Imperial Family. I was interviewing Her Imperial Highness Princess Michiko, who was the Crown Princess at the time, and I realized that she was practicing Noblesse Oblige. She was the daughter of a soy sauce maker in Tatebayashi, and I learned that, after all, the spirit of the noble families in the region still remains, and that they are respected for the many things they have done for the world and for others. I have been aware of this for a long time, which is why the charity event I planned, "Masterpieces from Famous Families," was able to be held at the Hotel Okura. I would like to express my gratitude to both families for their participation in this event.

Takeda and Konoe: Thank you very much for your help (laughs).







Watanabe: Ohira is originally a farmer. His hometown in Kagawa Prefecture is a land with little water, and he had a hard time. As an aside, it was difficult to grow rice because of the lack of water. So it is said that Kobo Daishi brought wheat back from China and made udon noodles to promote the region. When there is not enough water, it is difficult for farmers to fight for water, and their ability to adjust to the situation is questioned. Our family was in charge of water management among the farmers, and we were still required to have an element of noblesse oblige.


Takeda: My father was a member of the royal family until he left the imperial family at the age of seven in 1947. I don't want him to feel like a prince forever (laughs), but I'm sure he has always been very aware of being from the royal family.


Konoe: Did your father feel that he had to contribute to society in some way?


Takeda: I think so. My father worked for a trading company after graduating from university, but since he loved golf, after he retired, he became the chairman of the Japan Golf Association and is helping to promote golf and sports.


Konoe: What about your mother's family, the Nezu family? They enjoy tea and creating a cultural space. ......


Takeda: My great-grandfather, Kaichiro Nezu, was a bit of a nerd who loved the tea ceremony and collected antiques. However, he was not careful about what he wore and sometimes wore clothes that were full of splices. One day, he was invited by the American Chamber of Commerce to join a delegation led by Eiichi Shibusawa. When he was invited to the Rockefeller's home, he was surprised to hear that they had turned their collection into a museum and opened it to the public. As if the scales had fallen from his eyes, he came back to Japan and created the Nezu Museum.


Konoe: In the U.S., the idea of philanthropy, or social contribution activities, existed from early on. To put it simply, rich people contribute to the citizens by making donations. It's a Christian culture. In addition, there is a strong tax exemption. In Japan, there are few incentives for those who donate. In Japan, there is little incentive for those who donate. But this way of thinking is old-fashioned from a global perspective. I feel that unless there is a certain merit to it, it is impossible to protect the culture.


Watanabe: Isn't the Konoe family just like the Noblesse Oblige? 


Konoe: Originally, yes, originally.


Watanabe: Moreover, her father is the president of the Red Cross and her mother is a member of the Mikasa family. ......


Konoe: Indeed, selflessness or that kind of work can only be done by my father (laughs).  Whenever there was a disaster, my father would go to the disaster area and often stayed there for months. It was the time of the Cold War, and I'm sure it was a lot of hard work that would be unthinkable today.


Watanabe: You must have been in some dangerous situations. I thought it was an honorary position, but you joined the Red Cross from the beginning.


Konoe: I was a fresh graduate (laughs). I only go to disaster areas and dangerous places, and there is no normal means of transportation. For example, Japan donated an ambulance to Tibet, but there were no air routes, so my father drove it himself on the way there.


Watanabe: Why did your father choose the Red Cross?


Konoe: After he studied in England, he dropped by Geneva because he knew someone there and it was Red Cross Day on May 8th. Red Cross Day is the birthday of Henri Dunant, the founder of the Red Cross, and actually it's also my father's birthday.


Takeda: Really! Then it's not reincarnation. It's like fate or destiny.


Watanabe: In the lobby of the Japanese Red Cross Society, there's a big picture of Henri Dunant. Dunand is on the right and three angels are on the left. ......


Konoe: It is "The Oath of Solferino" by Seiji Togo.


Watanabe: I heard that the young angel in front of the first one is actually modeled after Lady Michiko.


Konoe: Wow! Ms. Michiko and Ms. Masako have inherited the honorary presidency of the Japanese Red Cross Society, haven't they? The donation by Empress Shoken, who was the empress of Emperor Meiji, led to the establishment of a fund for the International Red Cross to deal with natural disasters, which has continued to this day. I can feel that the relationship between the Imperial Family and the Red Cross has continued unbroken.

Prayer of the Imperial Family

Watanabe: Yes, everything is connected. After all, Japan's culture is preserved because of the Imperial Family.


Konoe: You are right. The Imperial Family has set a good example of noblesse oblige. My mother left the royal family when she was 22 years old, but she is still very active in charity activities. However, I think that in Japan, Noblesse Oblige has not spread to people who are financially successful, despite the fact that there is a role model close to us. We don't have as many dynamic actions like donating large amounts of money or creating a single foundation like in the West.


Konoe: There are many people who rush to volunteer when there is a natural disaster. Everyone has a desire in their heart to help in times of need. That's why I think that there are more things that people who are at the top of the economic ladder can do on a regular basis. In Japan, entrepreneurs in the past said, "If you succeed, you do something for the world," and that spirit was passed on to their children who inherited the company. Nowadays, the economic system and values have changed, and managers of listed companies and even owner-operated companies have less freedom. If you contribute to the culture, you are said to be spending money on your hobby. The media doesn't really cover good stories either. I wonder if there is any way to come up with a system that is more suitable for today's Japan.


Watanabe: There are problems with the system, and there may also be religious elements. Professor Shinzo Koizumi, who served as a mentor to Their Majesties the Emperor and Empress in the Heisei era, taught Their Majesties that the Imperial Family should be a "sympathizer" that supports the weak and those in need, and the two of them have continued to do so for decades and have thought about what a symbol is. I am very grateful.


Konoe: You are right.


Watanabe: You have also been writing songs about your feelings.


Konoe: Your poems are really filled with your feelings for the people. Generally, people think that the work of Their Majesties the Emperor and Empress is their visits to various places introduced in the media, but there are many official duties such as traditional ceremonies to think of the people and to preserve the traditions of Japan. You are praying for the happiness of the people almost without a break.


Takeda: It is difficult to convey the message to the Japanese people because they consider it a virtue not to show off.


Konoe: That's true. Personally, I think it is like the role of the Vatican in Catholicism. We need people who are willing to think about the vulnerable 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. By recognizing and feeling the existence of such a person, I believe that the Japanese people today will have a completely different mindset in life.

On Japan's Soft Power

Watanabe: I started interviewing people when I was 30 years old, and I heard from experts in every field around Michiko. They were all experts in their fields, and my life was enriched thanks to them. I felt that this is where the strength of Japan lies. Mr.Konoe, since you had a long experience abroad, did you become more conscious of Japan?


Konoe: I was overseas for a total of 8 years from the time I was 2 years old, so my memory starts from overseas. That is why I looked at Japan objectively.




Watanabe: It is quite a special case.


Konoe: Japan has an unparalleled level of cultural so-called "soft power," but I think that self-evaluation of this is low. People from overseas come to see Japanese culture, so we need to strengthen our culture. But Japanese people do not find value in their own country. I feel this strongly when I work in creative fields. So, I would like to help promote traditional culture to the world.


Watanabe: Japan is vulnerable to external pressure, so I think the sooner we get it out there and get it back in, the better.


Takeda: So you are importing Japanese culture back into Japan?


Konoe: Yes, I think so. That might be faster. Ms. Takeda: You studied flower arrangement in England, didn't you? How are you aware of the various roots in your life?


Takeda: When I was in England, I learned the so-called Western style of flower arrangement, and after I came back to Japan, I worked in that style. However, I thought what I was lacking was Japanese flowers, so I started learning them. I did Sogetsu style and also learned tea ceremony flowers. As I studied, I wanted to know more about the goodness of Japan. Not just flowers, you know.


Watanabe: As a result, you were able to create a floral fusion of the West and Japan for the Tokyo Tower.


Takeda: That's right. I basically use water-absorbing sponges, or oases, in my Western style, but sometimes people say that my work looks Japanese. I'm Japanese, so I guess that element comes naturally to me.






Konoe: I think it's wonderful that the traditional beauty of Japan comes out naturally after living abroad. I have to learn from her. Lastly, could you tell us about the activities you are involved in?

Future Prospects


Takeda: Aside from flowers, I have recently been working on a brand of Nantucket baskets. It's a traditional craft from Nantucket Island off the coast of Boston, an island that prospered from whaling in the 19th century and used to have ships with lights floating on the sea instead of lighthouses. The crew of that boat made their own barrels to hold whale oil and were good woodworkers. It is said that Nantucket baskets spread as a distraction while working on the lighthouse ship and also as a side job.


Watanabe: I thought this was a wonderful bag.


Takeda: Thank you very much! The wicker basket evolved into a handbag with a lid, and then became a folk craft called the Nantucket basket. I designed it to be a bit more urban, and created a new brand. In fact, Nantucket baskets can be very expensive. The "Nouvelle Nantucket Basket" that I produce is sold at Wako in Ginza.



Watanabe: There are so many different forms. I will have a look at it at Wako. I'll buy one (laughs).


Takeda: And I'm planning to publish a how-to book on how to make Nantucket baskets in June this year. I'll let you know when it comes out. I really want to make it with bamboo, not rattan. My name is also Takeda (laughs). Bamboo is rich in expression. I'm planning various events this year, and I'm planning a flower exhibition in Ginza in October, and I'm thinking of making it a little more elaborate.


Watanabe: Bamboo has no place to be thrown away, doesn't it?


Konoe: That's right. I don't think there is any plant as ultimate as bamboo. It grows fast and is easy to use. It has the element of fiber, but it is also very hard, and depending on the method, it can be made very hard. Bamboo charcoal is also very good, isn't it? It is also delicious to eat.


Watanabe: I will be making my debut as a cook this year. But only once (laughs). (laughs) It's going to be on the cooking page of a magazine. I finished shooting the other day. I'm also planning to write two more books. Both of them are related to Michiko-sama, but I haven't decided on the titles yet, so I'll let you know. My previous book, "Michiko: A Bridge for the Heart," will be published in China this year. By the way, are you going to write a book about Mr.Konoe?



Konoe: A publisher keeps asking me if I'd like to publish a book, but it's not the right time yet. ...... I want my father to write it before then (laughs).


Watanabe: Mr. Konoe, you have to do the interview.


Konoe: That's what I was thinking, and the months have gone by (laughs). The episodes I hear from my father are very interesting. As far as I can remember, it could be a book, but I would like to listen to them again and write about them.


Watanabe: I'm a producer, so my life's work is to bring people together. I would love to do another project with this group. Thank you for asking me to join you today.


Takeda: Thank you very much. I look forward to working with you.


Konoe: By all means. First of all, let's have a planning meeting with drinks (laughs). Thank you very much for your time today.


Post-editor's note: This was the first time for all three of us to work together and talk face to face, but since we have always been close in private and have many things in common in both our personal and professional lives, we had a lot to talk about in this trilogy. At the end of the meeting, we took a commemorative photo together with Mr. Kazumi Arikawa, President of Albion Art Co. Through this opportunity, I was also able to interview Mr. Arikawa. I would like to thank Mr. Watanabe again and again.



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