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Stories from my life (Part 1): You must be strong to be gentle

  • January 7, 2019
  • , Nikkei evening edition , p. 10
  • JMH Translation

By Yasuhiro Sato, chairman of Mizuho Financial Group


On my bookshelf I still have the two books that shaped my youthful aspirations and influenced my later life.


Around 1970, there was a rise in student protests around the world against the backdrop of the bogged down Vietnam War. I was only a high school student at the time, but I couldn’t avoid being affected by such a social phenomenon.


There were times when I stayed up all night arguing with my friends about the meaning of justice, happiness, and life. When the Yasuda Auditorium of the University of Tokyo was brought under the control of the police [during a student protest] in 1969, it was the winter of my first year of high school.


It may sound trite to today’s students, but the question of why people go to university was a serious topic back then. Those were the days when there was even a tendency to view choosing to enroll in college as “self-protection” or “power-oriented.” When I look at my diary from back then, I recall the anguish and inner conflict that I felt.


At that time I came across Akazukinchan Kiotsukete [Take Care, Red Riding Hood], a novel written by Kaoru Shoji. Written during the golden days of hardcore literature by authors such as Kazumi Takahashi, Sho Shibata, and Solzhenitsyn, the novel depicts the revival of the protagonist, Kaoru, in a sugary sweet style that’s almost repulsive.


I can still clearly picture the last scene, in which Kaoru instinctively yells, “Take care!” at a girl clad in a canary-colored coat running out of a bookstore.


This novel taught me that you must be strong to be gentle and protect what you need to protect. Reading it helped me to face my university entrance exams earnestly.


I decided what I wanted to do with my life when I was in my third year of high school. I liked the law because of how logical it was. I considered majoring in law because I was attracted to the standards of justice. But then I read Yuibutsushikan to Gendai [Historical Materialism and Modern Times] by Katsumi Umemoto.


The automatic extension of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty and the return of Okinawa had thrown society into a prolonged state of turmoil.


I wasn’t influenced by any particular political idea, but I was blown away by the historical view that “the lower structure, which is equal to the economic structure, regulates the upper structure.”


I wondered what I could accomplish without being involved in this lower structure, so I decided to major in economics.


I’m convinced that reading these two books was a remote cause of my decision to enter the financial industry and pursue a long career in this field, where I am deeply involved in economic activities and take corporate social responsibilities seriously


As a business person, I still hold firm to the belief that “you must be strong to be gentle.” 



[Yasuhiro Sato] Born in Tokyo in 1952. Graduated from Azabu Junior and Senior High School. Graduated from the University of Tokyo’s Faculty of Economics in 1976. Joined the Industrial Bank of Japan, where he worked in the U.S. and served as secretary to the bank’s president. Worked on the establishment of Mizuho Financial Group by consolidating the Industrial Bank of Japan with the Dai-Ichi Kangyo Bank and Fuji Bank in 1999. Served as president of Mizuho Corporate Bank in 2009 and president of Mizuho Financial Group in 2011. Assumed the group’s chairmanship in 2018.

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