In 1980, Ruth and I and daughter Kate moved to Japan. That same year, Yasumichi Oka graduated from college and went to work for Dentsu, Japan’s largest advertising agency. I was hired as a English-language copywriter by Hakuhodo, Japan’s second largest agency in 1983. Two years later in 1985, Oka, who had spent five years as an account executive (he describes it as the worst time of his life), passed an internal exam at Dentsu and switched from account executive to creative. A decade later, Oka’s career was taking off. His TV commercials were winning advertising prizes right and left. I was leaving Hakuhodo, wondering what life’s next twist would be. After thrashing around a bit, I came out as Ruth’s partner in The Word Works, a role in which I have pottered along ever since. In 1999, Oka quit Dentsu to found Tugboat, Japan’s first ad agency wholly dependent on income from creative work (what in the West we would call a creative boutique). I was a year away from the publication of my book on Japanese consumer behavior and five years into the adjunct teaching gig at Sophia University in Tokyo that would lead to my current research project, exploring the world of award-winning ad creatives in Japan, a project that combines social network analysis with ethnography. I’ve crunched the numbers and studied the network diagrams, read a good deal of the relevant literature (though there is still a mountain to go), and daydreamed about interviewing some of the big names who are key figures in the networks I’ve analyzed. Now it’s happening. Tomorrow I have an interview with Oka Yasumichi, one hour starting at 4:00 p.m. in the afternoon. I’ve prepared what I think is a list of interesting questions; but what will Oka want to talk about? I am very much the supplicant here and will have to go with his agenda. I’m nervous as hell.
What will I learn from this conversation?