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The Power of a Nishimachi Network: Making a Difference in Entrepreneurship Education in Conversations with Entrepreneurs at Cornell University: Toranosuke Matsuoka '96 and Mona Anita K. Olsen, Ph.D., '98
Posted 04/20/2015 01:00PM

By: Joanne Park and Angela Zhang
(The Internationalist Spring 2015 Vol. 54)

A Meeting of Internationalists


Born in London to New Yorkers, Mona Anita K. Olsen, Ph.D. is of Norwegian descent and identifies herself as a third culture kid (TCK). Toranosuke Matsuoka also comes from a nuanced heritage; his mother is a Jewish New Yorker, while his Japanese father is of samurai lineage. Although the two internationalists began their journey in separate continents, their stories would come to intersect for the first time while attending Nishimachi International School (NIS) and continue to grow throughout their various moves around the globe.


When we asked Tora about his education at Nishimachi, he shared with us his love for the school: "I was well received at NIS. In my memory, NIS was 50 percent local Japanese students and 50 percent American students whose parents were working in Japan. I blended in both ways because I was in the middle of those two groups of students. Because of the small size of the class and the family-oriented environment, all of us became friends quickly."

"There was definitely a strong bond built at that time and a special comradery. There are these connecting points. Even after I left Japan I realized how unique the NIS community is because everyone spoke a form of Japlish, which is half Japanese and half English, to each other. It unified us in our own unique language. Going to NIS was definitely an advantage because the education was incredible. Prior to attending high school in Hawaii, I was two years ahead of my classmates. I had already fulfilled my language requirement and my math requirement. The educational level of curriculum of NIS was very strong."

Like Tora, Mona Anita fondly reminisces about her experiences at Nishimachi, emphasizing the quality and strength of education she received while there: "In Japan, [I] was first exposed to experiential learning. I still remember the seclusions in bamboo forests and rice planting on my homestay. I was encouraged to journal my thoughts and perspectives throughout the new experiences. This practice has helped me articulate my identity as I have moved through different chapters of life and given me an ability to connect more quickly with an increasing international population in the classroom. Also, this early exposure to a style of academic discipline that reached beyond the classroom is no doubt partly responsible for the development of my interest in making a difference when educating students at Cornell about entrepreneurship using forms of experiential learning."

Reunited in their Enthusiasm for Entrepreneurship

Mona Anita is a Fulbrighter and founder of the educational non-profit iMADdu (which stands for I make a difference, do you?). At Cornell University, Mona Anita is a Visiting Assistant Professor of Management and Organizational Behavior at The School of Hotel Administration and the Assistant Academic Director of The Leland C. and Mary M. Pillsbury Institute for Hospitality Entrepreneurship ( She teaches several entrepreneurship courses.

One of these classes is HADM 3135/6135: Conversations with Entrepreneurs, where 80 students receive a rich exposure to the entrepreneurial journey through weekly guest speakers who share their own stories and highlight the challenges and benefits of entrepreneurship. During the Fall 2014 semester, Mona Anita invited Tora to Cornell to present his journey to a class of young entrepreneurial minds. Tora is a successful restaurant entrepreneur, one of his restaurants is the popular restaurant Sen in Sag Harbor, New York.

With dozens of aspiring entrepreneurs focused on learning from his experiences, Tora shared his journey and advice:


"When I was 13, I got a phone call from my father. He said, 'after graduation, you will come to the restaurant and work for me until the day before you start high school.' So that first year, I showed up in Sag Harbor. My father said, 'It is an honor to work as a dishwasher. You haven't earned that honor and you will start by cleaning the basement and scrubbing dumpsters.' It was a unique experience, quite humbling. I was promoted to different positions, learning about both the back and the front of house operations of a restaurant. The comradery of a team working together was great and I met a lot of people. As my experience grew, my appreciation and love for the industry deepened. After graduating high school, I moved to Sag Harbor to become the general manager."

"Most recently, I have partnered with Benihana of Tokyo. My two other restaurants in the Hamptons are also growing, and there are other business opportunities that I am currently working on to expand in the market as well. Time is always limited in a time-for-money job, but time is unlimited in a transaction job. If I could set up enough restaurants and implement the infrastructure needed for consistent execution, I could open up an almost unlimited number of restaurants that I would never need to work in but would always produce profit."

"If I could pass on one piece of advice to students and young entrepreneurs, I would tell them to go out, try, and fail. Finding yourself takes time, but even if it is a wrong one, you will still learn from it. The lessons are not only about the business but also about yourself, such as your process of overcoming challenges. Once you get on the entrepreneurial level, one of the biggest challenges is realizing where your strengths and weaknesses are."

The Student Perspective of the Value of Conversations with Entrepreneurs


From a Cornell student perspective, we were lucky enough to take Conversations with Entrepreneurs and listen to the knowledge and experiences that Mona Anita and Tora were happy to share. The interaction between these two passionate, motivated Nishimachi alumni illuminated the value of the entrepreneurial mind and indomitable spirit, and they challenged us to think critically about how we can progress in our own careers. Through speaker presentations, reflections, networking, entrepreneurial career planning, and the narration of our entrepreneurial journey, we gained insight into not only the elements of entrepreneurship, but also more importantly, how we can explore our own interests and develop personal goals within the sphere of entrepreneurship. Conversations with Entrepreneurs with Dr. Olsen is undoubtedly the most influential course we have taken so far in our academic career and one that we would consider to be a necessity for anyone who believes in innovation and value creation. Tora's presentation from Dr. Olsen's class can be viewed here:

Nishimachi International School
2-14-7 Moto Azabu, Minato-ku, Tokyo 106-0046 Japan Tel: +81- (0)3-3451-5520

A well-recognized, independent, and coeducational K-9 international school in central Tokyo.

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