Kathy Matsui Interviewed for Japanese Americans & Japan: Legacies Series

On February 16, the “Japanese Americans & Japan: Legacies” series brought the spotlight to businesswoman and author Kathy Matsui, Chair of the USJC (Japan) Board of Councilors and former Vice Chair and Chief Japan Strategist at Goldman Sachs Japan. Ms. Matsui shared her story as the daughter of Japanese American immigrants in California, how she re-discovered her Japanese heritage and how she reached great heights in Japan’s banking world, which fueled her research of “womenomics.”

Ms. Matsui was born to Japanese immigrants from Nara prefecture, who used all of their savings to move to California after her father partook in an agricultural training program there. Her parents went on to establish the Matsui Nursery in 1967 to grow flowers, which Ms. Matsui credits as teaching her the values of hard work and helping out from a young age.

When Ms. Matsui started her professional career, she applied to a Rotary Club to earn a scholarship for international study, intending to join the Foreign Service after graduation. This resulted in her attending graduate school at Kobe University in 1986 – which was her first time ever in Japan. The life-changing experience not only promoted her education, but she also had the opportunity to visit her parents’ relatives, who offered her the chance to connect with her roots and discover more about her heritage. Her school program led to an internship where she met her husband – a deciding factor in wanting to stay in Japan after graduation. At the height of Japan’s “bubble period,” she had no trouble finding a job, and first joined Barclays as a Japan equity strategist, which she left several years after to take a job at Goldman Sachs in 1994, where she stayed for over 26 years until she retired last year. 

Despite her success, she admits she faced challenges with her largely Japanese and male clients, including that she was female and foreign. When she and her husband had a child, new conversations were kindled with her friends in Japan about the difficulty of being a working mother. Among her other female friends who had children, many were unable to return to work after maternity leave. In addition, by the mid-90’s, Japan’s “bubble period” was ending, which put increased economic pressure on Japan. Ms. Matsui began to think about how these issues might overlap.

Ms. Matsui is well-known for her published work on “womenomics” – where she states that women are an underutilized economic resource, noting that closing the gender employment gap in Japan would boost the country’s GDP. Her work was popularized when Prime Minister Abe officially promoted “womenomics” as a part of Japan’s national growth strategy. Rather than only focusing on human rights and social equity, Ms. Matsui’s research aims to demonstrate how promoting women bolsters the economy. “If I can provide objective analysis, evidence-based analysis, that’s the argument people can use to convince the disbelievers, the skeptics, that gender diversity can actually drive growth,” she says.

Ms. Matsui also discussed her involvement with the U.S.-Japan Council and how the mission of connecting the United States and Japan resonates so personally with her. She shared her hope that USJC can preserve a cultural bridge between the countries, especially for young Japanese Americans that may not have many personal ties with Japan.

“USJC is really the first and only organization, as a Nikkei-jin, that I really identified with,” she says. “It was really about people-to-people relationships across the Pacific, the micro-relations that are really necessary to make this bilateral relationship work.” 

The Legacy series is produced and moderated by Council Leaders Dianne Fukami (JALD ’09) and Debra Nakatomi (JALD ’09), who together co-produced a TV documentary “An American Story: Norman Mineta and His Legacy,” on the life and career of Secretary Norman Y. Mineta (Vice Chair of the USJC Board of Councilors). This series features webinars highlighting prominent Japanese American community members, which can be found here. The full interview of Ms. Matsui is available to watch here.

Join us for the next installment of this series on March 3 at 6:00pm ET (March 4 at 8:00am JT). An exciting double feature will interview Daniel Okimoto, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus at Stanford University, Co-Chairman of the Silicon Valley Japan Platform, and member of the USJC Board of Councilors; and James Higa, Managing Partner at Offline Ventures, Executive Director of Philanthropic Ventures Foundation, and USJC Board Member.