Updated: Jul 25, 2022
Every month on WOMENCANFLY.CO’s blog series, The Way, we introduce inspirational women who live abroad.
This month, we introduce Maiko Furuse, who runs an information media company for Japanese people in New York City on the east coast of the United States. She gave up her stable career as a talented producer at a TV station to move to the US at the end of 2019. In order to get closer to the career she envisioned, she chose to live long-distance with her partner. From moving to the U.S. to running a company, getting married, falling pregnant, and having a baby overseas, we hear how Maiko's life has changed dramatically in the past two years!
Growing up in the countryside became a strength
Maiko grew up as the eldest of three sisters on the Goto Islands, located in the western part of Nagasaki Prefecture. Surrounded by the blue sea and lush greenery of the island, she didn't like to be the same as others and valued her own identity.
When she was a little girl, she remembers going to Disneyland with her family and being shocked to see the children from Tokyo. She was jealous of the children in the city who grew up in a privileged environment, unlike herself who lived in the country.
Living on an island with only two traffic lights, watching TV was the only thing he enjoyed. She began to yearn for the world of entertainment, and by the time she was in junior high school, she had a strong desire to work in the TV industry in the future.
With a clear goal in mind, Maiko went to college in Tokyo. When she was a student, she was so determined to join a TV station that she once ambushed a TV station employee in front of the Odaiba Adventure King in order to talk to him.
However, her job search did not go as smoothly as she had hoped, and she was quickly rejected by a number of TV stations. She was surrounded by rivals who had grown up in the city or abroad and had good networks. She blamed her job-hunting failures on her environment, thinking that being from the countryside gave her no strengths but a turning point was right around the corner
"I was awakened when someone I met during an alumni visit told me that I should appeal to the points that are unique to me."
Living in the countryside, where entertainment is scarce, television is the star. Looking back on her childhood, she longed to be in the television industry someday. "I am the person I am today because I lived in the countryside." Her efforts paid off and she was selected to join TV Asahi. Her rural upbringing, which she had felt inferior to, became her strength.
Maiko's long-awaited career at a TV station begins
When Maiko joined the TV station, she was full of ambition and said, "I want to go to the toughest place!" She wanted to work in the Variety Division, which is said to be the most physically demanding and still has a male-dominated environment.
When she started working there, she found that she had to work late nights, early mornings, and weekends. As a result, there were few women working in the variety department and she felt that there were no role models. In the midst of all this, Maiko, who describes herself as "dominant," worked herself to death in the TV industry for over 10 years.
"There weren't many women in the Variety Division, so my bosses and co-workers supported me in trying to make it count."
The term "women's advancement in society" was rare and there weren't that many female managers at TV stations. Most of the management team was male, but with the full support and understanding of the company, Maiko was able to steadily advance her career from AD to director and then producer.
When she took on the position of producer, she had to direct and motivate even the producers who were more than 10 years older than her at the production company but she didn't let such pressure get in the way. Rather, working at a TV station, a place she had dreamed of as a child, was a place where she wanted to go further. She wanted to grow! That's what drove Maiko forward.
"Do you want to be president in New York?"
Maiko's career progressed smoothly but after more than 10 years of working at the TV station, she began to wonder if she could continue working as she was. Unlike directors and other creative professionals, the job of a producer is more about management. She was wondering if she had developed the skills to compete in the future.
"I was 33 years old at the time and I wanted to find something that would help me breakthrough, so I started asking a lot of people for help."
Then, a friend of mine who started a business in New York asked me, "Are you interested in being a president in New York? That shocked Maiko. People around her advised her that it is not so easy to make it abroad but after asking herself many times, she decided to come to the United States. Maiko found a new image of what she wanted to be, "New York City and business management," and felt highly motivated.
From there, Maiko moved into action in a super planned and speedy manner. From the time she received the job offer to the time she moved to Japan, it took her a year to get everything ready.
"I was in a relationship with my partner of six years at the time, and we decided to get married when we moved, although we would continue to live long-distance."
Maiko also had a serious discussion with her partner about pregnancy and childbirth, and they came to the conclusion that they would like to have a baby someday, but not now. So, they decided to freeze the fertilized eggs. It was a self-investment that she could do now to protect herself and her partner from the challenges they would face overseas.
After making all the preparations, Maiko went to New York by herself. She and her husband began their long-distance relationship together.
The reality of living abroad
Maiko moved to the United States to become the president of an information media company for Japanese living in New York. Although she was titled as the president of the company, since there were only a few employees, she had to wear many hats from accounting and general affairs to business planning.
However, Maiko found it challenging and began to feel the freedom to come up with new business ideas. The exciting city of New York also offered her the chance to meet people she would never have met in Japan.
"I n my case, my Japanese friends living in the area helped me a lot. Common sense in Japan and the U.S. is different, so it's important to be able to ask questions when you wonder, "What's going on here? If you can get over that, I don't think it will be too hard to live abroad."
However, there is no such thing as stability in a job in New York. You have to constantly fight in a competitive society, and you have to realize what you want to do in the midst of it. This spirit of survival is something that you cannot acquire even in Tokyo. It is a feeling that cannot be felt even when traveling.
"In the U.S., layoffs are common so employers and employees are very tense with each other, and I try to keep myself updated by attending networking events on weekends. Japan is more stable, but in the States, the challenge of changing jobs for a promotion is lower."
On the other hand, when it comes to the environment surrounding women, she feels that there is not much difference between the States and Japan. However, since there are many people in the States who feel the disparity and raise their voices and many organizations and politicians are also working to correct women's activities and gender equality, Maiko feels that there will be an even bigger difference in women's advancement in society between Japan and other countries in the future.
Career interruption due to childbirth
In Japan, there are still not many women who hold managerial positions, run businesses, or start their own companies. On the other hand, in New York, there are many New Yorker women who maintain a good work-life balance, never give up on their careers and families, and are active regardless of their age. In addition, there are many start-up companies in New York that support such working women.
There were times when Maiko felt overwhelmed with anxiety after moving abroad but she was inspired and motivated by the women who are so active and vibrant in the city of New York. When Maiko sees these women, who are always confident without making excuses for their current situation, she feels like the idea that she has to give up her career after having a child is just a fantasy.
After two years since she had taken on the challenge of running a company in New York. Maiko began to think realistically about pregnancy and childbirth. She decided to try to get pregnant with a fertilized egg that she had frozen.
Seeing the women in New York gave her the confidence to realize that a woman's career does not have to be interrupted by childbirth.
Maiko is currently in her seventh month of pregnancy. She is now in the stable stage and has returned to New York by herself. Thinking about the future of her child, she is planning to give birth overseas.
A new challenge in New York
Ever since she was a little girl, Maiko has always been confident in her ability to achieve her goals and when faced with a choice, she chose based on the criteria of whether she could shine. Putting aside the inconvenience to those around her and her stability for the moment, she clarified her purpose and took action with a strong feeling that she could definitely manage it.
She feels that there is still a lack of support for women's careers in Japan.
Right now, Maiko is receiving a lot of consultations from women who are worried about their careers. Wanting to help others with the same problems she experienced, Maiko started an online salon to provide career training and coaching for women, while working in the media in New York.
"In order for Japanese women to build a career, they need confidence. I want them to have that confidence, just like the women in New York."
While preparing for the birth of my child in New York, Maiko has a new goal: to become a leader in promoting the advancement of women in Japan.
Maiko's career has been more interesting and original than she expected. She is positive that the unpredictability of the future is what makes it fun, and she laughs and says, "I have had many setbacks but I have an unusual amount of self-confidence, so even setbacks become fertilizer."
Seeing her let go of her career at a big company and challenge herself overseas to do what she wants to do, not just anyone else, Maiko felt that her belief in herself is leading her to a chance to grab her life powerfully.
While living in a shared house with her foreign roommates, running her own company, and being an expectant mother, Maiko's story made us realise that we are in a new era of diversity in the way women work and raise their families.
We can't take our eyes off Maiko's future endeavours!
Maiko Furuse's activities are as follows
Maiko is the CEO of Info Fresh Inc, a U.S.-based Japanese language information site for Japanese living in the U.S. She has been hosting her own online salon since 2020. She provides counseling on career issues and overseas expansion. She is currently living in Tokyo and New York. HP: http://meetandwomen.com Instagram @maiko_ok_
※Sign up to our email newsletter below to be the first to receive news and information from WCF