MEETING ‘MOMO’ – The story of four Japanese women and RYOBI / An incident made a huge movement

If a single event didn’t happened in the past, the present might be totally different. Every meeting is inevitable so it’s interesting.

Brandon Kreinhop is a student in Shelbyville High School. I wrote about him a little in a former article. He came to interview me a few times for his class. During the conversation, he talked about his grandmother. “My grandmother is Japanese. I wanted to talk with her in her native tongue, that’s why I started to take Japanese course” he said. He also said “She led RYOBI to Shelbyville” I was getting to be interested in the story. I asked him to let me meet his grandparents and I got his grandmother’s contact address.

One week later, Mariko who is the Brandon’s grandmother came to City Hall to see me with her husband, Jim. They have lived in Shelbyville for about 40 years. They met in Okinawa, Japan after World WarⅡ. Jim belonged to the U.S. AIR FORCE so they moved back and forth between the U.S. and Japan. They had lived in some different states and reached Shelbyville at last.


Before RYOBI advanced into the American market, they were looking for the best place to build a firm in the U.S. When RYOBI officials met with community leaders in Shelbyville at the end of July, 1985, they also talked with three housewives who are Japanese. One of the women was Mariko.

RYOBI was concerned about area residents’ attitudes toward Japanese people. They would take their family so they were also concerned not only about community but the school system. “Shelbyville is a good place to live, even though it is small.  The city is close to the urban Indianapolis. The school environment is also good. And the best thing is that Shelbyville is safe” Mariko said. “Three Japanese women may have played a deciding role in getting the new company here,” the news paper said on October 8th, 1985. “Our feelings reached them. If we did a part in the deciding role in getting RYOBI here, that was good.” Mariko said.

On September 20th, 1985, RYOBI announced it will invest $25 million to locate a new plant in Shelbyville. “It is expected to be in operation by late summer 1986 and employ 150 people in three years” the news paper said. It was a great thing for Shelbyville to get the RYOBI plant here.

I found a very interesting story about the process to get Ryobi in Shelbyville in the news paper. On July 8th, 1985, a state official called the Chamber and said Sheller-Ryobi wanted to visit the city. “At this point,” Michael Hauk who was executive vice president of the Shelby County Chamber of Commerce said, “They were telling me that Shelbyville was number one their list,” but there was some concern if the building would fit the specifications for the new plant. Before meeting the Japanese, Hauk contacted the Japanese-American Citizen League in Indianapolis and the Indianapolis International Center. He also talked with Commerce officials about some finer points such as how to conduct a business meeting with Japanese. He found out such details as: Japanese like to exchange business cards when they first meet people, no slang expressions should be used because the Japanese take meanings literally, if meat was to be served, it was suggested it should be beef, and the number of people in the local group should not exceed the number from Sheller-Ryobi.

RYOBI is the first Japanese company to have a plant here. So everything was unknown about Japanese company and Japanese people for people in Shelbyville. Today, we can easily learn about different parts of the world, but it was different before. It was possible for this divide to create problems for the Japanese people and the residents of Shelbyville. However, cooperation bridged the gap and much was learned about each other’s culture.

James M. Bruce Jr. who was the director of management and economic consulting for Lock-wood Greene Engineers Inc. said in the news paper, “Detail isn’t the only trademark that has come to be associated with Japanese officials seeking expansion sites in America. Another one, the camera is more visible. They take a lot of photographs — a lot of photographs. One group in here videotaped a lot of their visit. They videotape just about every aspect of the community — the downtown streets, the hospital, (examples of) housing, and the schools. Lots of times we had to stop the car and get out taking pictures or videotape.” They must have wanted to take back a lot of information to Japan as they can. And I think Japanese like to take pictures.

Albert J. Booth, president and chief executive officer of Sheller-Ryobi told Hauk that it was a “stroke of genius” to modify the Ryobi executives’ itinerary to include a visit from the Japanese women from Shelbyville. I was impressed when I heard the story about RYOBI and Japanese women. RYOBI is a big company. They referred not only to business conversations but also to the real voice of Japanese living in Shelbyville and decided to come here. The decision of RYOBI made a lot of changes in Shelbyville besides increased employment. A necessity arose for a new fire station, upgrading the sewage treatment plant and highway improvements. A lot of things were considered by the City during the decision. RYOBI’s advancement into Shelbyville brought a lot of other Japanese companies here too.

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the sister city relationship between Shelbyville and Shizuoka city (Kambara). If RYOBI decided to build a plant in other state, the sister city relationship would not be started. The sister city group from Shizuoka city visits RYOBI every year. They have a tour putting on helmet and glasses. I also visited there when I was a junior high school student. I got impression to see that Japanese employees spoke fluent English and communicated with American employees.

The meeting of RYOBI and the Japanese women created a lot of things, but there are a few people who know about the background. If Shelbyville didn’t have this meeting, the city would be totally different today. I knew that an incident sometimes makes a huge movement.







RYOBIは日本人に向けての現地の人の姿勢を懸念していました。工場を建てることになれば、家族を連れてくる職員も多いので、学校環境などにも関心を持っていたようです。「シェルビービルは小さい町だけど、とても住みやすいところです。インディアナポリスにも近いし、学校の環境も良い。そして何よりも、治安が良い。」とマリコさんは言います。1985年10月8日の新聞には “Three Japanese women may have played a deciding role in getting the new company here. (3人の日本人女性、新しい会社のシェルビービル進出に貢献)”と書かれています。「私たちの思いが伝わったんだと思います。もしRyobiさんがここに来ることに、少しでも力になれていたらとても嬉しい。」とマリコさんは言います。










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