May 31, 2024


Spotlighting minor sports

Passion of a manager to break the mold towards the development of the archery world

  • Yasuaki Ariga

    He joined DENSO Sales (now DENSO Solution) in 2014, after gaining the basics of human resources operations at a venture firm. He worked in the human resources department and contributed to the foundation of the company by preparing work regulations, etc. He now works on creating a sense of unity within the company through labor-management consultations and others as head of HR. He also works as a PR manager for Ren Hayakawa and Waka Sonoda of Archery.

Yasuaki Ariga is the public relations and manager of archers at DENSO Solution. He has been not only setting an unprecedented support system for athletes within his company but also putting a heart and soul into promoting minor sports. The way he trailblazes with unconventional thinking is even a role model for those who work within the company. Where does his passion and execution ability come from?– We take a closer look at the source of Ariga's motivation.

Contents of this article

    To achieve better results, demonstrates his "Venture spirit" by handling the tasks no one is assigned.

    ──Currently, you are working hard to support archers. Tell us about your starting point for your interest in sports.

    I played baseball up until the sixth grade in elementary school, and I wanted to be a professional baseball player at that time. Watching a live broadcast of baseball games or the Olympics on TV, I had a vague dream of playing in front of a large audience. In the end, I gave up on my dream after I got injured by hard training, but I continued to have admiration and a feeling of respect for athletes who compete on the big stage and in the world.

    ──I heard you were involved in broadcasting baseball games during your university days because you wanted to do something about sports.

    Yes. At first, I worked as a stadium staff in Tokyo Dome, and during that time, I went around broadcasting vans of TV stations asking, “Could you show me inside? I’m interested in working in this industry.” I also built my network by following senior students at my university. Eventually, the TV station staff asked me if I wanted to help, this is how I got involved in broadcasting baseball games, football games, and boxing as a part-time job.

    For those four years, I got a taste of part of media work through a variety of background jobs, such as displaying subtitles and scores on baseball broadcasts, pressing buttons for strike, ball, and out by watching referee’s hand movements and passing information about players to directors.

    ──Having had such a valuable experience in the sports industry, what did you do after graduating from university?

    I was eager to try something else other than the sports industry. I got a job at a venture company because I was attracted to their idea of always looking several steps ahead and working while being conscious of change and creation. After gaining experience to some extent, I joined DENSO Sales (now DENSO Solution) in 2014. At that time, eight companies in Japan had just been integrated and they were about to establish new systems and rules, so I thought this was a perfect environment for me to challenge them.

    ──So, you love challenging things that no one else has ever done before.

    Yes, I think so. I believe when I take up an unprecedented challenge, it could lead to my personal growth.

    But it was hard in reality. Once I started working for the company, I could see that there were so many things to do. And I could see the situation “The balls were rolling all over the place and there was no one to pick them up.” As I spent my time establishing rules from scratch etc., hard days continued for a while. But I found it immensely “rewarding” precisely because I have overcome the difficulties.

    ──It sounds like a job you could hesitate to do if you don’t have a firm belief.

    I actively try to “catch the ground balls in the hole,” in other words, take the initiative in doing work that no one is assigned or I try to clarify whose role it is. When I was a member of the baseball team, I used to be good at picking up balls as a substitute, maybe that is why I am good at picking up things lol. If I decide “this is not my job,” I feel like it prevents me from growing at work, so instead, I continue to have a mindset of “this could improve the company” as my foundation.

    Almost no audience even at the archery Olympic medalist’s games. Reaching out to the media to raise awareness

    ──Tell us about what made you start supporting athletes.

    There were no sports-related jobs in our company at that time. However some of the DENSO Group companies were supporting athletes, so we decided to launch it by chance. When we started to discuss who should be in charge, my name came up since I had ever been involved in a job in sports and specialized in media at university.

    ──A kind of job no one else had ever done before in the company. Weren’t you worried about it?

    I was excited instead. I thought creating something from scratch would become a great experience for me, and besides, being involved in sports was something I had always wanted since I was a child. So even though there was no knowledge about supporting athletes in the company, I could take full advantage of my ability to be able to pick up the ground balls in the hole. I asked around; “What kind of contracts do companies and athletes have and what sort of support do companies offer their athletes?” and “How do companies promote their athletes to their employees?” I learned those from scratch and thought about how to enhance them as DENSO Group.

    ──Today, within the DENSO Group, people say “Ask Mr. Ariga, if you want to know about supporting athletes.”

    Thankfully, I get contacted a lot. I’m glad if I can be the person whom people can depend on.

    ──Can you tell us about the athletes that you have supported so far?

    First of all, I would like to talk about Ren Hayakawa, who was a bronze medalist in women’s archery at the 2012 London Olympics. Meeting with her was a turning point for me.

    ──What has been attractive about her?

    In addition to her ability as a top athlete, it has been her resourcefulness. She has a sincere personality and always understands her position and acts in the position. And still, she never stops smiling. She is so resourceful that the president of my company decided to support her as soon as he interviewed her, saying “I can see here and there how hard she has been working and striving. She will become a well-liked figure.” Just like he said, she is admired by the juniors and related persons. We could say that she represents our company’s action slogan, “To be cheerful, to enjoy and to be lively.”

    ──What was the most memorable episode with Hayakawa?

    When the president and other directors of my company went to watch the tournament right after signing a contract with Hayakawa in 2019, she was so pleased, saying, “This is the first time that as many as five people have come to support me.” I thought to myself, ”As she is the Olympic medalist, more people are sure to have come to support her in other tournaments than this time.” but after visiting the archery range many times, I faced the reality.

    First of all, there were no audience seats. Even in the tournaments in which medalists participate, only their families and friends pay a visit. As far as the meaning of “audiences” is concerned, it was almost zero.

    ──What did you feel having faced with such a situation?

    It set a fire in my heart. To invigorate minor sports, the power of media is essential. I continued to talk to the few media-related persons in the competition venue to let them get more interested in archery. Perhaps because of that, Hayakawa was featured in many TV programs and newspapers, having an archery match with a popular pop idol on a famous TV program, and I felt a good response to that. It is still halfway through there, but I hope to increase the media appearance in the future.

    Nothing will happen if you just wait. Encouraged by athletes striving to achieve, I am determined to do my best in my work as a professional

    ──Have you tried other ways to enhance archery other than approaching the media?

    In addition to setting up audiences’ seats at the tournament venue, we have started to stream the video of the athletes on YouTube and signed a sponsorship agreement with Waka Sonoda of Waseda University. It was the first agreement with a student-athlete in the Japanese archery world. We also encourage the athletes to participate in the archery-related events actively. I believe it is also important to interact with many people by talking about their experiences at the Olympics, showing the medals that they won, and taking pictures with children.

    ──I heard that it has become a “legend” in the world of archery that 100 employees of DENSO Solution came and cheered at a tournament once.

    It was a national team selection match for the Tokyo Olympics. I asked my company’s upper management to permit me to call for the audience for the match to each department in the company because I wanted to cheer together with many of my colleagues and it was an important match where it was all over if they lost it although it was held on a weekday. Then, all of the spots I had prepared were filled. An archery official said, "It came as a big shock. A company that didn't know about the sport brought a breath of fresh air."

    ──We could say that a series of initiatives brought a change in the Japanese archery culture.

    I certainly feel that we have been able to set a lot of “examples” since we put our foot in the world of archery till now by trying various things. We appreciate that we could challenge ourselves because the entire archery industry accepted newcomers like us as a fellow member.

    ──What is the reason for putting so much passion into the development of the archery?

    When you watch the match in front of you, you are overwhelmed by the “intensity” of the athletes. In archery, you take a bow that weighs 3 kg, pull a string with a force of 20 kg, and aim at the target 70 m away. You shoot around 72 to 144 arrows per game, so you need muscle strength and stamina. The center of the target is 10 out of 10 points, and since top-class athletes are required for more than 9 points on average, one single mistake could be fatal. You must have a strong mentality to go with it.

    I have respect, affection, and admiration towards the top athletes who face such severe competition day after day and continue to run at the forefront. So, I naturally feel that I want to “support” and “help” them. I once had an opportunity to hold the bow, but even just fixing it made my arms shake, and it was almost impossible for me to aim at the target far away. I would like more and more people to know that they have great skills and that they are consistently training to achieve good results.

    Sonoda devotes herself to training.

    ──I guess that the “power” of sports is huge.

    I think sports have a mystic power to unite the hearts of people who are watching them. All of the audience feels the same way during the match. I think it’s okay to be a fake fan. The attractiveness of sports is that even during that time alone, it livens the place up through common topics and you feel connected with strangers just by giving high-fives or hugs. It’s great to have a sense of unity that says, “Let’s support them together!”

    ──So, that strong feeling led you to take the actual action.

    Nothing is going to happen if you are just waiting. Seeing the athletes pushing forward toward a goal as the driving force develops “concentration” and “motivation” and I want to “get through” That’s how I think.

    Ariga regularly visits Sonoda’s training range

    With the leading candidate for the Paris Olympics. “Wanting to become a bridge between athletes and employees, as well as DENSO Group and TOYOTA Group” in the future.

    ──The Paris Olympics will finally be held this summer.

    Hayakawa is on parental leave, but Sonoda finished first in the national Olympic final in March. She will compete in the World Final Qualifiers in Turkey in June and aim to qualify for the Olympics of the Japanese women’s team. Even real ability is everything and highly competitive, we would like to create an environment where she can concentrate on training.

    After losing in the Tokyo Olympic trial, Sonoda used her frustration as spring to gain strength and helped Japan win gold medals at the World Youth Championships and World University Games. She is still young at 21 years old, but she has good self-control. While calmly confirming what needs to be done to achieve her goals, she keeps a balance between study and sports. After qualifying for the Olympics, what we want to aim for is to win the first gold medal in Japanese archery for both men and women.

    ──It sounds like a great pleasure to support promising athletes close by.

    I dreamed of being a successful athlete when I was a child, but now I may be entrusting my unfulfilled dream to the athletes. I feel that the dreams of Hayakawa and Sonoda are also my dreams. To think that I had never been number one in school when I was a child, and now I would be able to help others and share the joy with them towards the tournament. It is my great pleasure, and I am grateful for this opportunity.

    ──What challenges do you want to take on in the future?

    Even though DENSO Group and the Toyota Group support many sports as a whole, I feel that it lacks horizontal cooperation among us. I would like to be a bridge that connects athletes and employees, the DENSO Group, and the Toyota Group in the future.

    To promote the sports to the 160,000 employees of the DENSO Group, we have recently been cooperating with each sports office within the Group, and are challenging to build a system that will encourage everyone to go and support the athletes in the tournament. For example, the athletes of each sport visit the morning meeting in workspaces in the company to encourage employees to watch the games, or the athletes and employees play the sports to interact with each other…. If more employees support athletes who follow their dreams and goals, I’m certain that it will have a positive impact on their work.

    ──What kind of future do you expect for the Japanese archery world?

    Archery is a sport that is available to all regardless of age or disability.I hope that many people can easily pop into the venues and enjoy the archery like bowling, but currently, there are only a few places to play.

    Meanwhile, we saw a ray of light. An archery association in a prefecture was inspired by our series of initiatives, and they have started an archery event for beginners at a shopping mall. The event has continued to be held in recent years for future children and the development of the archery world. To expand these activities, we will not stop moving forward. I believe that going forward is the way.

    ※The contents presented in this article are as of March 2024.


    Writer:PR Table / Photographer:PR Table


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