It is unusual to recognize a commercial company and its creed as a prescription for what may be ailing ones country and culture. It is even more unusual if you are an American and that company has a 300 years old Japanese pedigree originating from a Samurai tradition. That is precisely what happened at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco on Monday.
Perhaps it is the emotional state that we are all in since last Friday’s events in Connecticut but one only needs to observe the success of this company to understand that it is much more than that! Kikkoman, after all, was the first Japanese company to establish a manufacturing plant in the USA back in 1973 in Walworth, Wisconsin.
The event was purportedly the advanced screening of a new documentary from two-time Academy Award nominated filmmaker Lucy Walker. “Make Haste Slowly: The Kikkoman Creed”, is a translation of the Japanese axiom isogaba maware – meaning ‘to advance and grow, but to do so with great care’. To sweeten the deal, the event included Chef Yo Matsuzaki, of well known restaurants Ozumo in San Francisco, Oakland and Santa Monica. Chef provided appetizers through out the event and also provided a demonstration for the attendees. The appetizers were fresh, flavorful and all seasoned with Kikkoman Soy or Teriyaki Sauce, of course!
Chef Yo participated with executives from Kikkoman, Masano Shimada, (President and CEO of Kikkoman Sales USA, Inc); Steven Teraoka, (General Counsel, Kikkoman Sales USA, Inc) and Dominic Whittles, (President of marketing firm DRAFTFCB San Francisco/Seattle) in the ceremonial ‘breaking’ of a sake keg prior to the screening of the documentary. All guests were provided sake in the traditional square wooden cups. Heart and stomach warming.
Of course, Kikkoman is a household name in America for soy sauce and other seasonings that are synonymous with Japanese food. What was totally unexpected was the virtues and guidance, individually and corporately, to fix what ails us. This family and, later, corporate creed evolved over the centuries to help Kikkoman create and maintain balance between success and responsibility. There are 16 articles in the creed which are relevant and commended to the readers of this blog. Only a few will be recited here. Maybe the most necessary at this moment in our American experience is Article III: Politeness Brings Peace. Are you listening Washington DC?? Having lived in Japan for two years and having had a close association with a Japanese exchange student/brother during High School, this simple precept struck me as authentic, powerful and reflective of my own parents and grandparents.
Articles II and IV are clearly linked. Article II – “Faith is the Source of Virtue” and Article IV – “Virtue is the Cause and Fortune is the Effect”! One should not assume monetary fortune but rather the fortune of good friends and peace of mind. Article V follows – “Preserve Discipline and Maintain Tradition”. Our culture has clearly diminished the valuation of these concepts of faith, tradition and self discipline sometimes with good cause but we all recognize the old saw of ‘throwing the baby out with the bath water”.
Perhaps the most striking of the articles focused on business would be Article VI: “Business Depends Upon People” and Article X: “True Earnings Comes from the Labor of Sweat”. Clearly this is why Kikkoman located that first facility in Wisconsin in the middle of grain farms and hardworking family oriented Midwesterners. All artisanal products, be they wine, cheese, sake or soy sauce require quality ingredients and patience. ‘With great care’, however, may be qualifiers that are contrary to our current American need for instant gratification and quarterly shareholder reporting. Enough of the venting.
This was a wonderful event and brought new appreciation for the power of Kikkoman’s authenticity and heritage, both in Japan and in the US. Inspiration comes in unexpected ways and from unexpected origins. Food for the stomach and for the mind are often very different in taste, texture, aroma and flavor. No doubt that Kikkoman and ‘Make Haste Slowly’ offered this writer well seasoned food for thought!
The 24 minute documentary, “Make Haste Slowly”, will premier nationally on December 23rd at www.kikkomanusa.com. It offers a flash back to the US in the early 1970s as a minimum but quite honestly it may bring you to a heightened emotional state and perhaps even tears. Check it out!