Apr 11, 2018 · 10 min read

This is The Story of a woman who changed a nation… by running an illegal business out of her 258 square foot apartment.

And now… onto The Story

The knock on the door made her jump.

She wasn’t expecting anyone, and her heart began to race.

As she tiptoed over to the peephole, she peered through.

It was the police. Again.

She glanced around at the inside of her tiny apartment. Every available surface was covered with the pictures and files of her customers.

It was all illegal.

She cracked the door and asked if anything was wrong.

They calmly informed her that she would have to come with them to answer some questions.

She sighed, then slid out the door, locked it, and followed the police to the car.

Thirty years earlier, World War II was raging. In Japan, everyone was part of the war effort.

In the early mornings, the sound of wooden practice swords echoed through every town.

The swords were being swung by young children. Children as young as nine were learning to fight and kill.

The older teenagers were all at work in factories. Just like in America, they were told that their patriotic duty was to work long days to make supplies, guns, bullets, and bombs.

Propaganda was all over the papers, the radio, and on every street corner. Everyone had to be ready to fight and sacrifice. That meant everything and everyone would work tirelessly until the war was won.

One young girl couldn’t figure out why there was such an obsession with death and destruction.

When she was six years old, her father died. The loss crushed her, and it wasn’t long until she hated the war effort. What she hated even more was that everyone around her seemed to like preparing for it.

Her father was an admired, well-respected school headmaster, and her family had been dependent on her father’s income. His untimely death instantly threw them into poverty.

Now the little girl’s world was dark.

What would her family do without her father? How would they get the money to eat and survive?

Her mother told her not to worry, but it was hard not to.

After that, it wasn’t long until the war effort fell apart. The girl tried to make money and help her family however she could, but it was almost impossible. The economy was in shambles.

And then Hiroshima and Nagasaki happened.

After that, it was all over.

The little girl survived through the complete societal collapse. They were told that the enemy would arrive and kill them all, but that day never came. She didn’t know how anyone continued to function under that pressure, but her mother did.

Despite the madness during and after the war, her mother continued to work as a midwife. She worked every single day. Each day, the young girl would wonder if her mother would return, or simply disappear like so many of the other adults. But she always returned. Her mother would continue to mourn the loss of her father and would never remarry.

The girl watched her mother’s iron will and became determined. She respected her mother deeply, and like so many children, wanted to please her. When she graduated high school, her mother was beaming with pride. She had single-handedly raised a child in the middle of one of the most catastrophic wars in history. She had managed to keep her alive… and help her graduate from high school.

When a man asked her to marry him, her mother again beamed with pride. The young woman accepted. There were no other options she could see, and worried a “no” might crush her mother.

Her marriage worked for awhile, but soon she grew restless. She didn’t love her husband. To be blunt, she didn’t even like him. The only thing she was allowed to do was a narrow range of housewife tasks… nothing else. She longed for a challenge, but it was forbidden.

Divorce looked like the only way out.

She knew that her mother would never allow it. And neither would the rest of society. In those days in Japan, women didn’t initiate divorces. But a man could get a divorce anytime he wanted with a simple three line letter.

The price for being a divorced woman in Japan was steep. It would be almost impossible to get a job, her family would be shamed, and she wouldn’t be welcome at most social engagements.

Besides, could she really put her mother through anything else?

Despite her fear, she trusted her gut, and pursued the divorce. Her husband was shocked, but accepted. Just like she suspected, her mother was shocked too. After the divorce, the feeling of freedom was real. It was intoxicating and the young woman revealed in it. But soon she found that she wasn’t doing anything except lounging around at home. Her mother had sacrificed to give her a chance at a better life… and now she had freedom! But she was wasting the opportunity.

Finally, she summoned the courage to go out into the world on her own. She was broke, needed a job, and wanted to see if she could make any of her big dreams happen.

But something was still holding her back.

All throughout her years growing up, she was taught that women in Japan worked the “boring jobs.” The boring jobs tended to be the soul-crushing, repetitive work that no one wanted to do.

The young girl wanted to do something exciting. She wanted to be a part of something bigger than herself, a job that let her explore her talents. But when she went out to look, there were no opportunities in Japan. She’d been trained to hate the enemy, but now news was trickling into the country and there were whispers. Not all of their enemies were bad. Some of them were decent people. And besides, there were rumors that the Americans were pouring money into rebuilding Europe.

The call to adventure beckoned, and the young woman planned a trip to Europe. Her mother begged her to reconsider, but the girl had to go out and see the world for herself.

After working the boring jobs long enough, she had scrounged enough money for her Europe trip. Soon the day came and she left.

The stories she heard about these people weren’t true. Yes, they were strange, but Europe was fascinating, and so was England. During her travels, she came into contact with hundreds of new ideas.

As she looked around, she realized she was swimming in opportunity. The standard business practices here were nothing like those in Japan. In Europe, the jobs they considered “boring” were fascinating. And the young girl found that there was a business called a temp agency that would allow her to go from job to job. She couldn’t believe it. She was going to get paid to work and learn at jobs at the cutting edge of all kinds of different industries. What she really couldn’t believe was that all the European’s hated these jobs. In Japan, people were expected to have the same job for life. Why didn’t these Europeans realize how lucky they were?

It wasn’t long before she was the star of the temp staffing agency, and all kinds of temporary job offers came her way.

She accepted all the ones that sounded interesting, and got to try out a variety of different industries.

Once she had some money saved up, she moved from England to Australia. Once again, she experienced a radically different work environment than Japan.

After awhile, something was pulling her back to Japan. She knew exactly what kind of business she was going to start.

Inspired by her time abroad, she was confident that her ideas would resonate with other Japanese people. Back in Tokyo, she rented a 258-square-foot apartment and setup a part-time work agency.

Technically, it was an illegal business. In Japan, it was expected that you worked at a company… for life. The idea of temporary employment terrified the government.

But she didn’t care. She had seen the future abroad, and knew it was only a matter of time until Japan modernized.

But the cultural change was slow, and so was her business. Other Japanese women weren’t enthusiastic about the concept of being a temporary employee. Disappointed but still hopeful, she began teaching nighttime English classes to pay the bills and keep her dream going.

After five long years in that tiny apartment, she was finally able to move her business into its first office space. Before she moved to Europe, Japanese women had been trapped in an ill-fated cycle. Most of them quit their jobs after marrying because they weren’t comfortable continuing their careers past a certain age. This young woman’s company clearly addressed this issue. She provided Japanese women with the opportunity to become temps, rather than fighting for the limited number of specialized career paths that they had to stay on for their whole life.

In those early days, she only hired female workers. It was the 1980s, and she noticed that the company’s sales were slowing down. Many of her employees were uncomfortable going out and seeking new business leads. They were worried they’d be fined or arrested for spreading the idea of temporary work.

Temporary work was still against the law despite her lobbying efforts for change.

The woman was frustrated. Stagnation was unhealthy — she’d learned that after her divorce. But some of the women at her firm simply refused to budge. How could they carefully grow the business? She did not want to get herself or her employees arrested after all.

Determined to continue making progress, the woman decided to begin hiring men. Soon she had a company culture where the women and men were in perfect balance.

Despite her success, lifetime employment continued to be the norm in Japan. The government continued to advertise that under the law, temping by private companies was illegal.

On one particular day, the knock came to her door. When she went to the peephole, it was the police.

She glanced around at the inside of her tiny apartment. Every available surface was covered with the pictures and files of her customers.

It was all illegal.

She cracked the door and asked if anything was wrong.

They calmly informed her that she would have to come with them to answer some questions.

She sighed, then slid out the door, locked it, and followed the police to the car.

She knew this day would come, and as the police walked her to the car, she laughed to herself.

When she went into the police station to plead her case, she somehow managed to talk her way out of it.

After that, she was frequently summoned by the police, questioned, and then let go. Each time she got released, she grew bolder.

She had seen the future. Her entire country might believe that what she was doing was wrong, but she knew she was right. And she knew that one day, there would be a tidal wave of those who woke up and agreed with her.

Sometimes she would lay awake in bed and wonder when she’d be thrown in jail for good, but fortunately that day never came.

Eventually, after years of work, lobbying, and arguing with the government, she won.

The law was changed. Temporary employment became legal in Japan.

Little did the woman know, but she had positioned herself perfectly for a macro-economic tidal wave of opportunity.

It was the 1990’s, when Japan entered what is known as the “Lost Decade.” Businesses went bust, and every single business needed one thing.

Temp workers.

The woman’s business, Temp Holdings was now large enough to give them exactly what they needed.

It wasn’t long before Temp Holdings went public in 2008, and soon expanded around the globe.

The little girl who craved freedom, had sought it out in the world. She found it, saw the future, and brought it back and shared it with her culture.

The woman who paved the path was none other than Yoshiko Shinohara.

Yoshiko became Japan’s first self-made woman billionaire.

She says that there is one personal trait above all others that helped her become the first female billionaire in Japan. In our modern day, when everyone wants a complicated formula, Yoshiko’s four words of how she did it are a reminder that it doesn’t have to be complicated.

Yoshiko says:

“I hate to lose.”

She trusted in her desire for freedom, and it led her on a path directly to it.

Not only did Yoshiko Shinohara blaze a trail for others to follow, but her business has helped millions of women explore what it’s like to be more free and independent. She saw the future, and realized that eventually it would arrive.

She didn’t wait until she had a glamorous office, or until the government gave her the thumbs up.

It’s easy to complain that things aren’t fair.

It’s hard to start trying to fix them from your 258 square foot apartment, and struggle alone for five years. It’s even harder to have to risk jail time to do it!

As Emerson famously said:

“If you are right, you are a majority of one.”

Yoshiko’s story is a reminder that if you know you’re right, place a bet on your idea and yourself. You might be a majority of one.

That’s her story. What’s yours going to be?

Thank you for reading this episode of The Story! We have an exclusive giveaway to celebrate Season 2 of The Story podcast2 free tickets to Salesforce Connections in Chicago on June 12–14th. Salesforce Connections is the digital marketing, commerce, and customer service event of the year. You’ll learn how to create personalized experiences at every touchpoint and deliver service that drives growth and exceeds consumer expectations. Head to contest.themission.co and enter to win today. Thank you again to our presenting sponsor Salesforce for helping share these stories of business trailblazers who changed the world.

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A network of business & tech podcasts designed to accelerate learning. Selected as “Best of 2018” by Apple. Mission.org


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Stories & podcasts that make smart people smarter: www.Mission.org. The Mission Daily: www.apple.co/2KMXjhQ. The Story podcast: www.apple.co/2HEcveQ.


A network of business & tech podcasts designed to accelerate learning. Selected as “Best of 2018” by Apple. Mission.org

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