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BCCJ Member Spotlight: Interview with Sayumi Otake
BCCJ Junior Editor Haruka Nito caught up with Sayumi Otake of Office Otake to learn more about her journey as an entrepreneur, and the future of the educational relationship between the UK and Japan…
Office Otake provides consultancy work for individuals and organisations interested in UK school entries for children. The company specialises in developing communication strategies, involvement in arts programmes and branding.
Where did your relationship with the UK begin?
Whilst at school, I studied foreign languages and became fascinated by far-away cultures. This interest has remained ever-present in my life and became shared within my family. Even my son went to boarding school in the UK when he was just 10 years old, and is now in his third year at Oxford University. The enrollment experience led to me building relationships with British-based schools and societies. Before long, I found myself travelling frequently between Japan and the UK and learning more about British institutions.
What are some of your standout highlights from your work?
One of my most memorable recent highlights would be the seminars we organised in 2019 to introduce the UK education and school system in Japan. Unfortunately, we have been unable to continue developing the series due to the outbreak of Coronavirus, but I still look back with great fondness in bringing in headmasters and the registrars from high-profile UK boarding schools such as King’s School Canterbury, Brambletye and Winchester College.
We also had the pleasure of welcoming professionals from Keystone Tutors to explain to our audience the complexities of the British education systems. The guardian system is largely unknown in Japan, hence we had our UK-based partner, Cambridge Guardian Angels host a session and break it down. Other events we have hosted have brought in a range of voices, including from active students, to speak with parents. All seminars were followed by afternoon tea with the families of course! This enabling students and parents to continue conversation.
Another highlight, I was invited by a foreign investment banking firm to hold a seminar to introduce their clients to the UK education landscape. In Japan, prestigious schools such as the Eton College and Harrow School are the ones that most commonly spring to mind. But the UK has so many more highly-regarded schools offering fantastic opportunities for students to develop and grow, no matter where their interest lie.
What advice would you give to parents and students thinking of studying in the UK?
My advice to students is to prepare as early as possible and look ahead to the next few years. The admissions system in the UK is different from Japan and can be quite complex. The UK exam system requires interviews and preparation that takes place over a number of years, rather than a one-shot exam – how it is in Japan.
The UK also differs from Japan in its registration process, and also depending on the applicants gender. In some cases, it is too late to register for senior school entrance exams at the age of ten (Year 5). Therefore, we work with the family to develop the best pathway to getting accepted. We understand that some children may not be confident in their English ability.
We also work with partners to develop a long-term supporting plan to help them improve their language ability. We also encourage the families to give their children a wide range of experiences, such as art, music and sport, as British schools look for more than just academic accomplishments. When choosing a school, parents tend to look at the league table, but there are many great schools in the UK from many different angles and we will work with the families to find the best-fit school for the children.
Why did you decide to start this business?
There are many families who have given up on the idea of having their children attend schools in the UK. We wanted to help as many families as possible understand that it is not only possible, but understand the value such an experience can have.
The UK can offer exceptional education programmes that focus not only on academics, but also on communication skills, the ability to think out of the box, and also nurture leadership abilities. In Japan, where the birthrate is declining and the population is ageing, students and their parents are becoming more inward-looking and tend to think that they can just stay in Japan because it is easier. I hope that as many children as possible will grow up with the hope that they can be successful on the world stage.
What motivates you?
As a woman, mother, and a Japanese citizen, I want to do what I can to contribute to society, and pass on my experience to the next generation.
Where did the Office Otake Inc. story begin?
I founded Office Otake Inc. 15 years ago, having previously worked in marketing communications for various foreign companies. When I started my own business, I used my previous experiences in public relations, marketing, branding and crisis communication management to the benefit of my passion, supporting children in gaining a modern and international education. Thanks to my relationship with the UK for ten years, firstly I became involved in the world of art, which I love. For several years, I was a patron of the Serpentine Gallery, famous for its art and architecture in London. I have also helped introduce British artists to Japan, as well as art professionals to Japanese culture. Starting July this year, I will take on a new role as an external board member at a major food-and-spice company in Japan, which excites me.
What do you find most rewarding about being in this business?
There are three things that I find the most rewarding about what I do: the opportunities I have as a woman and a mother, the global environment in which I work, and the opportunity to train people who can play an active role in shaping the world.
Are there any particular difficulties Japanese students face in connecting to the UK?
Language and the culture barriers would be the obvious answers here. But I always encourage students and families not to fear these, but instead realise how overcoming such potential barriers can actually benefit the student. There are four things that I always encourage with those I work with: not to be afraid, have a wide range of interests, have respect for people and be proud to be Japanese.
What differentiates you from similar organisations?
I tend to not compare my firm to other organisations, but I do believe that I am unique with my bespoke approach to each student, and relationships with UK institutions. I only have a small number of students, which enables me to work closely with families to provide services at a high standard. I understand that the UK has complex admissions and education system, and that every child is different, and every family has different values. I can offer support in not only sending your child from Japan to study abroad, but also in supporting the family by participating in parent-teacher meeting and sporting events. I have also experienced the whole process of the UK education though my own child.
What are your future goals?
I will continue to embrace my relationship with the UK and do what I can.
BCCJ: Thank you very much for sharing your story with us.