Big Talk

The World is Full of Potential – Cast a Fly Whenever you See a Fish

Lifestyle Producer Yasuhiro Hamano
Chairman, APA Group Toshio Motoya

After making a name for himself through urban and resort development projects, lifestyle producer Yasuhiro Hamano began directing highly lauded films, including a Hollywood Family Film Awards Best Director Prize-winning film, at the age of 70. He sold his home and office in Kita-Aoyama and will move to the shore of Lake Biwa in March. Toshio Motoya spoke with Hamano about his Inori no Michi plan, resort development in Okinawa, and other topics.

An extensive network in Japan and abroad, including a former president and prime minister


(M) Thank you for joining me on Big Talk today.

(H) Thanks for inviting me.

(M) My impression is that you have a remarkable ability to develop different types of facilities, which you’ve been involved in since the 1970s. When people who live outside of the city hear about interesting things in Tokyo, they immediately want to go see them. I’m particularly fond of the FROM-1st building that you helped build in Tokyo’s Omotesando area in 1975. I visited several times from Kanazawa, where APA was based back then. It was a great concept to put residences, offices, and commercial facilities in the same building.

(H) That was 50 years ago, when no Japanese restaurants had outdoor seating like French cafes. I think lots of people were influenced by the outside seats installed on the property.

(M) You have a keen sense for these things. Wanting to emulate FROM-1st, I built the 2+4 Building with two commercial floors and four residential floors in Kanazawa. It still exists today.

(H) I’m honored to hear that. There was nothing else on that street. The French restaurant, boutiques, and other stores in FROM-1st set off a wave of change that brought more fashion shops into the area. The YOKU MOKU headquarters is also located there.

(M) If you keep going down that street, you’ll arrive in Nishiazabu, where APA Hotel Nishiazabu is located. The Nezu Museum is near FROM-1st, too.

(H) The Nezu Museum was designed by Kengo Kuma. It was created to exhibit the collection of Kaichiro Nezu, founder of the Tobu financial conglomerate. I have connections with the Tobu Department Store. Kan Yamanaka, the previous managing director of Isetan, became the vice-president and then chairman of Matsuya, and worked to revamp its management. He was later the president and chairman of the Tobu Department Store. I worked under Yamanaka as a marketing consultant for Isetan. I remember the news saying that Yamanaka had a “bodyguard” with him, maybe because of the way I looked.

(M) In addition to business development, you’re also known as an expert fisherman.

(H) I’m a fly fisher – I make my own artificial flies and use them to catch freshwater and ocean fish. You can get an image of this from my 2019 photo collection, I fish, therefore I am. Former American President Jimmy Carter wrote an endorsement for the book.

(M) How did that come about?

(H) We’re fishing buddies. Many years ago, I was catching lots of fish at Yellowstone National Park. Jimmy Carter was nearby, right after his presidential term ended, and he asked me what flies I was using. When I told him, he said, “My name is Jimmy. Would you mind giving me one of your flies?” He was accompanied by about 10 people. I gave him a fly and said, “I know who you are! You’re President Carter.” That’s how we met, and I later supervised the Japanese translation of his book An Outdoor Journal. Speaking of translation, I was also involved in the French publication of Kakuei Tanaka’s Building a New Japan: Plan for Remodeling the Japanese Archipelago. We were at a dinner when Tanaka asked if I knew any translators, and I said there was a translator in Geneva who could probably do it. He entrusted me with that project, which was quite difficult.

(M) It sounds like you have an extensive network, both in Japan and abroad.

(H) I’ve never had a “real” job; I’ve been able to live so long by helping other people and being helped myself. I am president of a company that had about 60 employees at one time. Rather than designing buildings, I’ve been involved in many overall development projects like Fashion Town in Kobe and Minato Mirai in Yokohama. Many people know the names of these architects, but I was often the one to come up with the original concepts and ideas. I’ve done lots of different things, rather than dedicating myself to one single field, like your company that has never recorded a deficit.

(M) APA Group has never had a failure or deficit, and has never been restructured. We’ve paid hundreds of billions of yen in taxes as well.

(H) I haven’t made a huge amount of money, but I did profit from a ranch I bought in the U.S. during the 1990s. It was a property spanning about 660,000 square meters in Wyoming and Montana with a spring-fed river and 12 beaver ponds, where trout came from Yellowstone to lay their eggs. If I hadn’t bought it, the land might have been turned into a golf course, and the chemicals would have killed the eggs. To protect the trout spawning beds, I decided to purchase it as a place for Japanese children to play. I opened Hamano Nature School to teach Japanese kids about the outdoors and natural world. I paid about 50 million yen and sold it for 350 million. I also improved a residential/office building in Kita-Aoyama with four aboveground floors and one belowground floor. After selling it, I divided up my assets among my two sons and wife, then used the funds to buy a property and build a house in Otsu City on the shore of Lake Biwa. I also purchase commercial buildings. Being a landlord is profitable, but you have to pay high taxes. How do you handle this?

(M) As a condominium developer, I originally made money by building and selling properties, and I had to pay a lot of taxes. Today I focus on owning and managing hotels, a business that has lower taxes because we are taxed on our earnings after depreciation expenses. And since APA Group owns many hotels, this increases our assets, and we’ve reached one trillion yen.

(H) I see.

Resort development to protect mangrove forests


(H) I know your company is named “APA Hotels & Resorts.” Are you interested in resort development, as well?

(M) We own some resorts, such as APA Resort Joetsu Myoko, but I believe there is more reliable demand for urban hotels in the central part of Tokyo. We’ve become the largest hotel chain in Japan by sticking to this policy.

(H) In 1972, I won a World Bank competition to create a development plan for the Nusa Dua area of Bali. The eruption of Mount Agung, the highest mountain in Bali, devastated the beaches. I proposed a development plan that preserved the culture of Bali by restoring beauty to the beaches and building a main road from there to the airport. This included a law to maintain the scenery by requiring that hotels and other buildings have a lower height than the palm trees. That led to the Okinawa Ocean Expo project from the Japanese Ministry of International Trade and Industry. Back then, many employees believed in sacrificing their free time for their company. I wanted to help them take more days off. As a strategy to increase leisure time, I submitted a proposal to the national government about connecting multiple public holidays together for longer breaks, like we do today.

(M) Americans and Europeans often take long vacations, and are perplexed by the intense work culture in Japan. However, people like me devote lots of energy to our jobs, because we prefer to be working.

(H) Me, too.

(M) Japanese and Western people also have different ways of thinking about resorts. Americans and Europeans fundamentally stay for longer periods of time.

(H) I built a log house in the U.S., where I stayed for two months in the summer and winter. Regarding the Bali project I was involved in, the first piece of property in Nusa Dua was bought by Aman, a luxury resort company founded by Adrian Zecha. They built a hotel, cottages, and condominiums, and promoted their management skills for these, including property leasing. I’m thinking about doing a similar thing in Okinawa.

(M) How so?

(H) Cutting down mangrove trees can cause environmental issues, such as ecosystem destruction. I’ve worked to plant mangroves as a type of environmental conservation. That’s how I found two properties in Okinawa that would make great resorts. They’re both near the water and have lush mangrove forests. One is a plot of land with many mangroves at the mouth of a river on Ishigaki Island, just 10 minutes by car from the airport. I’m going to build raised-floor cottages that won’t be affected by the tides, without cutting down the mangroves. I had a survey done, and learned the bedrock contains volcanic rock and is solid enough for building. We’ve developed a new construction method that involves producing steel-framed, box-shaped rooms at an ironworks in Niigata, then shipping them as-is to Ishigaki. My secretary is testing this concept by taking out a loan to buy a 70-square-meter plot on a slope, where he is going to build a house. It will stick out from the mangrove forest and provide great ocean views. I accompanied him when he signed the contract. When the previous owner saw the building plan, he said, “I shouldn’t have sold!” With the box room method, we should be able to build a six-story hotel.

(M) That’s very interesting.

(H) There’s also a great property on Iriomote Island, spanning about 265,000 square meters in an area where Iriomote cats live. We could build raised-floor structures that provide room for animals to move about. It’s possible to construct resorts that help protect mangrove trees, rivers, and wild animals. Iriomote Island became part of a UNESCO Natural Heritage Site in 2021, but the Hoshino Resorts hotel is its only large-scale resort. I’d love for you to be involved in these plans.

(M) Is it easy to get to those sites?

(H) There is a fair number of flights to Ishigaki Airport from the mainland, including Haneda Airport, and also from Naha Airport in Okinawa. It takes about 40 minutes by boat from Ishigaki to Iriomote, and I think a pair of resorts would gain popularity if people wanted to visit both.

(M) I’ve done trolling fishing in Ishigaki.

(H) Fly fishing is even more fun than trolling! There are lots of fishing spots on both islands, and large fish come into the lagoons during high tide. You cast a fly at their shadows and move it about so they think it’s a shrimp or small fish. You should come see these properties and try some fishing, too.

(M) I’ll think about it!

A route with 99 spiritual sites, spanning south from the Noto Peninsula


(H) There’s another initiative I want to accomplish, even if it takes a lot of time. I directed COUNTRY DREAMER: Following My Path, a film that was released in 2019 and earned me a director’s prize in the U.S. It depicts a voyage around the 88 pilgrimage sites in Shikoku associated with Kukai, a Buddhist monk. While working on that movie, I started thinking about building a more extensive route, both in terms of geography and content, rather than just visiting temples related to Kukai. My father is from Suzu City on the Noto Peninsula, which was recently struck by an earthquake. I want to create a route going south from that point, including Mount Haku, Lake Biwa, Mount Omine, and Mount Koya, all the way to the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage path. I call this “Inori no Michi.” It has 99 spiritual sites, such as temples, shrines, massive trees, and large rocks. I want there to be clean, affordable places to stay near each spot so people can visit lots of different sites, whether by car, bicycle, or on foot.

(M) That’s an interesting idea.

(H) My father was a practitioner of Shugendo, a type of mountain religion. He often told me that I should go “visit” the mountains, not try to conquer or climb them. Based on that principle, I’d like to make the 5th Station of Mount Fuji the last stop on the route. If you walk from the entrance near Asama Jinja shrine at Lake Kawaguchi, you can see a beautiful world with lots of greenery and birds. The higher stations are in poor conditions and climbing the summit to see the sunrise is just a type of sightseeing. I want participants to start their voyage in Suzu and end it at the 5th Station, which many people drive to. I think it would be great to work on this with APA Group, which has hotels around the nation.

(M) We may be able to help in some way.

(H) In addition to Inori no Michi, there’s one other final project I’d like to do: I want to open a liberal arts school. Liberal arts is a new academic field that looks at society as a whole based on a long-term vision and strategy. I tried to start a school in Japan in collaboration with a Canadian university, but it didn’t happen and there were some difficulties with the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology. I’m exploring other possibilities right now. I previously helped construct a building at Yamanashi Gakuin University.

(M) I’ve heard that it’s not easy to open a school.

(H) There are still things I’d like to do, but I’m already 82 years old. I decided to build a house at Lake Biwa to spend my final years, and it should be completed on March 28. I’m also thinking of building a guest house for young people behind my home. My oldest son operates a guest house in Hokkaido that’s doing well, and he gets high ratings on I want him to help me with my guesthouse at Lake Biwa. My lot has a special kind of charm, and the place where my house stands has lots of reeds, which are decreasing in that area. I’ve contacted the government and am planting more reeds nearby, even outside of my own property.

An overall awareness of security leads to peace in Japan


(M) That’s wonderful. I feel like you are fully enjoying your life, just like I do.

(H) I’m also going to shoot a film based on a request from the mayor of Tropea, a city in southern Italy. It’s a fictional story, not a documentary. I’m heading to Italy in March to scout locations and choose actors, and filming will start in May.

(M) We’ve opened APA Hotels in Canada and the U.S., but I’m personally fonder of Europe. When I visit, I like to rent a car and drive around. One time I rented a car in Berlin and drove west to Cabo de Roca, the westernmost point of the Eurasian continent.

(H) That’s amazing. Tropea is farther south than Naples – if Italy is shaped like a boot, Tropea is on top of the toe. Some tourists go there, but it isn’t very developed yet. When I was talking with the mayor and a travel agency president, the mayor liked the idea of making a film. I’m friendly with Yasuyuki Nanbu of the Pasona Group, which has a large-scale business on Awaji Island, and said he wanted to help out. Both Awaji and Tropea are known for their onions. The mayor of Tropea visited Awaji last April for that reason, and Tropea concluded a partnership agreement with Minamiawaji City in December. Film projects become more interesting as they develop and grow larger. You have to cultivate and change things as you film, not just follow along with the screenplay. When I’m filming, I’ll make sure to find some 40- to 50-room hotels that are for sale.

(M) I never buy a property without seeing it for myself…

(H) You should join me while I scout locations! European hotels have solid structures, so I think even the old ones could be renovated.

(M) I’d love to go if my schedule allows. At the end of the interview, I always ask for a “word for the youth.”

(H) I hope they will do work that makes them truly happy, without depending on other people, and believe they are capable of success. They should emulate the mountain aesthetics who strived to attain Buddhahood during their lifetimes. The world is full of potential, and they can certainly succeed if they cast flies whenever they see a fish.

(M) They should find a job they enjoy, rather than one that is just a struggle.

(H) That’s what I think. Also, peace is the most important thing. I planned to film a movie on Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula, a place with gorgeous scenery of blueberry fields stretching to the horizon, and rivers where you can fish for salmon. The project was halted when Russia invaded Ukraine. I recently met with Toshio Tamogami, who said, “There’s no peace without defense.” We should have a constant awareness of national security.

(M) I hope all Japanese citizens will keep that in mind.

(H) Also, I think Japan is going to experience another economic bubble. I believe that a wonderful future awaits young people if they can skillfully navigate the coming times.

(M) Thank you for sharing such a fascinating conversation with me today.

(H) Thank you.


Yasuhiro Hamano

Born in Kyoto in 1941. Has worked on numerous business development and consulting projects, including FROM-1st, Tokyu Hands, AXIS, QFRONT, Q-AX, and Aoyama AO. Has also been involved in many public projects like Kobe Fashion Town and the Yokohama Minato Mirai Urban Design Committee. His more than 80 published works include Fashionable Society and FREE x MUGEN. Began producing and directing films in 2014, including Saka Nakami (2014) and COUNTRY DREAMER: Following My Path (2019). COUNTRY DREAMER won the Best Director Prize in the Hollywood Family Film Awards. Karanukan, his film masterpiece starring GACKT that was shot in Okinawa, received standing ovations at the OKINAWA INTERNATIONAL MOVIE FESTIVAL and Kyoto International Film and Art Festival.