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In Japan, importance of family business opens up opportunities

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Zengoro Hoshi, 46th generation, welcomes me to a hot spring hotel on the west coast of Japan. The hotel was founded by a Buddhist monk in 718 AD. For 46 generations, the hotel and the Hoshi name have been passed down from father to son.

“The name Zengoro Hoshi is very important to us. From the day I was born, I grew up here and many people told me one day I’d take over the business,” says Hoshi.

But in Japan, only a son can legally pass on a family name. So what does that mean when there are only daughters?

“When there were only daughters, we’d adopt a son in law. In fact my father married into the Hoshi family and was adopted. There have been several adoptions over the generations,” says Hoshi.
More than 90 percent of Japanese companies are considered family businesses. Toyota cars is run by Mr. Akio Toyota, the grandson of the founder. Then there’s the motorbike company Suzuki, the camera maker Cannon and soy sauce firm Kikkoman. And amazingly 30,000 of these family concerns have been around for more than a 100 years.
“In Japan we value family business much more than in other countries,” says Yasuaki Kinoshita.
Yasuaki Kinoshita works at Nissay Asset management, which invests in Japanese companies — both family and non-family.
“Family business run by son-in-law, in many cases that’s much better than family business run by their own sons. The founder has many choices to pick up the best one for the new management as the husband of their own daughters,” says Kinoshita.
Today, more than 80,000 adult men get adopted each year to take over the family business and change their surnames. And now the ancient tradition has moved into the modern times by going online. I looked at one website, which is for women trying to find a husband who’s willing to be legally adopted by his wife’s family. There was one woman, drop-dead gorgeous, but she was insisting that her future husband have an accountancy qualification. The matchmaking site was started five years ago by Chieko Date.
“People laughed at me when I began. They said they’d be no demand. But as the economy deteriorated, it became more difficult for men to climb the corporate ladder and they began to look for other opportunities to use their business skills. But it’s a lot tougher than arranging normal marriages,” says Date.

Tsunemaru Tanaka signed up last November after losing his business to his ex-wife.
“I don’t have a problem changing my family name because I see it as a nickname given by the government for the family registry. If there’s a chance for me to inherit a family business and make it successful, then that would be best for everyone,” says Tanaka.
Back at the 1,500-year-old Hoshi hotel, the family is taking time out from their business to pray. Zengoro Hoshi is in his 70s. Soon he’ll want to pass the hotel on to the 47th generation. Now, father and son pray for their business to continue its success and for the name Zengoro Hoshi to live on for many more generations.

Since Mariko Oi recorded that report, the son of Zengoro Hoshi has died. Zengoro Hoshi says he will now groom his grandson, who’s currently a teenager, to take over the business. His grandson will then become the 47th owner of the spa hotel and will take the family name.

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