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Following the success of last year’s Business Challenge, high school students were once again presented with the opportunity to pitch their ideas directly at a panel of professionals this year. Co- sponsored by ASIJ and The America-Japan Society, the challenge, set by Fast Retailing, was open to all high school students with 24 students in eight teams signing up to participate.
Fast Retailing, known for their UNIQLO brand, presented students with two scenarios with the majority of the groups choosing to tackle the challenge of opening a new UNIQLO store in Japan. They were asked to consider the location, justifying the reason for their choice and the concept for the store, taking into account the characteristics of the selected region. Students also needed to consider what new or unique services the store could offer.
The second scenario focused on Fast Retailing and UNIQLO’s commitment to developing harmony with local communities and the customers who visit our stores. Students were asked to think about initiatives UNIQLO could take to contribute to local communities while overcoming difficulties presented by COVID-19.
Each team created a five-minute pitch video, which was reviewed by company executives and the America-Japan Society team, who provided feedback to students before they selected five finalists to move on to the final round.
On April 20, Mr Ichiro Fujisaki, President of the America- Japan Society and former Japanese Ambassador to the United States, welcomed the students, judges, and audience to the Business Challenge. ASIJ’s Director of Strategic Partnerships, Ryosuke Suzuki, who helped organize the event then introduced the teams, who made their pitches to the panel of judges.
This year’s judging panel included Rina Okamoto from the Store Development Department and Taichi Nomura, Director of the General Administration and Employee Satisfaction from Fast Retailing. They were joined by current parent and alumna Deanna Elstrom ’86, who is the founder of Somi Insights, and Kazuo Okamoto, the Executive Director of the America-Japan Society.
The majority of the teams chose to tackle the first challenge scenario and pitched ideas for new stores. Their concepts spanned the length of the country with groups choosing Okinawa, Karuizawa and Niseko for their stores and included innovative touches that linked to each location. One team broke the mold and tackled the community engagement challenge, proposing their idea for a “Re Runway” fashion show featuring used clothing.
While the judging panel deliberated, Noriaki Koyama, Head of CEO Office at Fast Retailing, talked with students about their work. The winner of the challenge were tenth graders Gaem Phisalaphong ’24 and Sena Chang ’24, who had pitched a concept for a Terra UNIQLO store in Karuizawa. Their detailed presentation even included an architectural model of their concept, which brought their vision to life. By chance, NHK World, who reported on the challenge, had followed the team through the process and interviewed Gaem and Sena following their win.
Life at school is full of stories and the narrative of where our vision will take us is told each day through the learning our students experience in the classroom and beyond.