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Pearl Passion Chronicles: Navigating the Turbulent Tides of the Industry

It’s been a while since I last posted. Today, I went with a client from my company, let’s call him Suzuki, to borrow pearls from another pearl company (let’s call it Sato Pearls). Pearl prices were high as usual, but we managed to borrow a necklace. In the pearl industry, it’s customary to borrow pearls, and just the act of borrowing is usually met with gratitude and encouragement from the pearl dealer. However, this time was different. There is a shortage of pearls in the industry, and prices have soared, giving sellers a strong position.

Borrowed pearls(strands)

The usually friendly Sato Pearls took a different stance, saying, “We actually wanted cash payment. This time, since you insisted, we’ll lend you pearls, but only three lots.” Suzuki needed the pearls for his client, a jewelry store, but the deal’s success was uncertain. The pearls were about twice the usual wholesale price. Even at twice the price, it might be considered cheap given the current market conditions.

Normally, if Suzuki asked me to find pearls for a client, I would borrow them from Sato Pearls, add a 30% markup, and then lend them to Suzuki. He would further markup and present them to his client. However, my company’s boss ordered me not to engage in such small-scale dealings. So, I’ve been doing these actions secretly without informing my company. Recently, my boss and three subordinates at my company have been purchasing pearls through auctions, marking them up by 10%, and selling them. The profit is only $200 on pearls worth about $2,000. From my perspective, they seem to be engaging in much smaller business compared to what I used to do.

My boss, who I find completely incomprehensible, is the president of the company, so I started a small shop called Flower Jem to do what I want. I don’t take small profits from Suzuki because he regularly sources significant amounts of pearls from my company. Suzuki provides not only money but also valuable information as he travels around Japan for sales activities. Thanks to him, my company has opportunities to participate in pearl exhibitions, even though they don’t generate much profit. According to Suzuki, “You can expand your network through this exhibition and connect to other exhibitions.” I conveyed this to my company, but they only see it as a non-profitable exhibition. The concept of using one opportunity to lead to another seems to be beyond their understanding.

The company I work for is a family-owned business with a long history, well beyond 50 years. Their pride seems to be as high as Mount Fuji.

Employees at the pearl cultivation site work in challenging conditions alongside akoya oysters, enduring both summer and winter challenges. However, the office at the headquarters where I work excessively uses heating and air conditioning, providing an extremely comfortable workplace. Responding to customer requests is kept to a minimum. The prevailing attitude seems to be, “We don’t need to go that far to serve customers.” While it’s true that many Japanese people are kind and polite, including those at my company, this kindness and politeness seem to be reserved for face-to-face interactions. During customer interactions, they smile and respond warmly. However, behind the scenes, there are often cases where the attitude is more like, “There’s no need to provide more service than necessary. Just give an appropriate response and decline if needed.”

My friends have experienced similar situations frequently. “80% of people are cold. They only do their job based on cost-benefit calculations,” my friends share a sentiment similar to mine. Of course, companies are for-profit organizations, not volunteer groups. They can’t afford to do only things that don’t generate profit. However, what I want to convey is that there are small, cost-effective gestures that could make a difference. I have more to say, but even with this, many people should be able to understand. In fact, I often hear from clients I’ve become close to, “The people at your company seem cold.” I respond with a wry smile, saying, “Yes, it’s a company with a ‘lordly’ attitude.”

About five years ago, a Japanese trading company contacted me with an inquiry. The content was, “A Chinese company is interested in Akoya pearls. Can your company supply freshly harvested pearls?” Pearls freshly harvested from the company I work for can generally only be purchased through a special auction that only designated bidders can participate in. As an exception, one or two companies can purchase these pearls outside the auction, but they are typically long-standing and large-volume clients. For these reasons, I found it challenging to fulfill the request from the trading company. At the same time, they lacked knowledge not only about Akoya pearls but also about pearl cultivation and auctions. So, I regularly provided them with information on these topics.

Over the course of five years, I established regular contact with the trading company (referred to as Mr. Yamazaki). During this period, various things happened, and by the harvest season of this year (December 2023), I estimated that the probability of Mr. Yamazaki purchasing freshly harvested pearls from my company was around 20%. While 20% is a relatively low probability, it’s a significant improvement from the usual 0%, so I felt a bit optimistic. Starting from the summer, I tactfully discussed Mr. Yamazaki’s situation with the farm manager, farm director, and gradually with the company president. These were delicate steps, like treading on thin ice. In the September regular farm director meeting, I had a more specific discussion. By that time, I had slowly gained the agreement of the president, farm director, and manager.

This agreement was for Mr. Yamazaki to bring executives from the Chinese company to visit the pearl cultivation farm during the harvest season. The farm director said, “We can’t say whether we’ll sell to them yet, but having them visit the farm is not a problem.” Both the farm director and the president are very conservative when it comes to selling freshly harvested pearls to new companies. Therefore, I made a specific request to Mr. Yamazaki in advance. It was along the lines of, “When we put harvested pearls up for auction, we set an evaluation amount for each pearl. Please deposit 130% of that set amount in advance. If the auction results match or exceed that price, we would like them to purchase at 130%. If the auction price is lower than expected, we will refund the difference to Mr. Yamazaki.” I told Mr. Yamazaki, “It’s a somewhat rude request, but unless your side agrees to this, my company will keep its gates closed tightly.”

Mr. Yamazaki conveyed the proposal to the executives of the Chinese company, and they agreed. The annual revenue of the Chinese company was reported to be over $200 million. While I won’t disclose the total sales of the pearls produced by our farm, selling $150,000 worth of pearls to a new company is a sufficiently significant amount. From the perspective of the Chinese company, it seemed that the quantity of pearls we produce was considered relatively small.

Anyway, from summer to autumn, my cautious negotiations seemed to have worked well. Even the president and the farm director are human. I believed that when they actually met with executives from the Chinese company, things would go smoothly. People tend to value those in front of them more than those they have not seen. Even the director, who didn’t speak favorably until meeting someone, would sometimes greet them with a smile once they met. While selling pearls to the Chinese company would be slightly more expensive, it’s usually not possible to sell freshly harvested pearls directly to a new company. Mr. Yamazaki agreed to these terms as well. Although the initial transaction might be a bit more expensive, once a deal is established, it tends to become more favorable gradually. Mr. Yamazaki was very pleased and even said, “If this deal goes well, I’ll invite you to China.”

While the invitation to China was exciting, more than that, after nearly ten years, I finally saw the joy of being able to utilize the many failures of other companies that had sought to purchase freshly harvested pearls from my company. Then, November arrived. The lots of pearls harvested in January 2023, after processing (drilling holes, making necklaces), were delivered to the office. When selling to a familiar company, the president increased the price to three times the usual markup rate, from a 2x to a 3x markup. He said, “Since the market is still rising, they might buy at 3x.” In my mind, I thought the price of pearls should be based on the auction in February 2023. However, employees find it difficult to challenge their superiors. As a result, all the pearls with the 3x markup rate were sold.

Upon receiving the report, the president said, “All pearls harvested this season will be sold at the auction. We won’t sell to new clients.” When I asked about Mr. Yamazaki, the president made the puzzling decision to stop selling to him, saying, “Because the price of pearls is soaring.” I’ve worked under the president for about nine years. I believe I cannot have a straightforward conversation with him. He is entirely self-centered and lacks consideration for others, so I gave up quickly. I immediately explained the situation to Mr. Yamazaki. He seemed disappointed, but more than that, he thanked me, saying, “Thank you for working so hard for me.” After hanging up the phone, I went outside and cried. I felt very pathetic.

I have mentioned in past articles that I have been betrayed by the president similar to this situation, and I took a leave of absence due to depression for about half a year last year. Since then, I have often been indecisive about whether to quit this company or not. This incident has now resolved that indecision for me. Harvesting pearls is the most crucial task for this company. After the harvest is complete in March next year, I have no intention of returning to the office. Thanks to this company, I have come to know and love pearls. However, my love for pearls has made me not want to be involved with this company anymore.

To be honest, my job at the company is very minimal now. I have plenty of free time every day. I’ve been told by my superiors to focus on pearl cultivation and not to get involved with the wholesale or retail departments. My colleagues, who were hired to replace me, neither like pearls nor enjoy their work. They don’t engage in any work that involves conveying the charm of pearls. They only think about taking it easy for every second they can. Because of my love for pearls, I used to go out, even during evenings and holidays, to show pearls to people who wanted to see them. While this might have been excessive and not entirely healthy, I cannot understand or connect with the people at my current workplace.

They are very friendly with me outside of work. They tell me, “You work too much. You should take it easy.” I don’t intend to overwork; I’m just doing things that I enjoy. In a way, what they say is correct, but it just makes me feel lonely. The reason the president keeps me away from retail and wholesale is clear. He fears the farm director of the pearl cultivation farm and always avoids direct conversations with him. The farm director knows that the head office isn’t doing much work, so there’s long-standing resentment towards the head office. Despite the farm director producing beautiful pearls, the majority of the profits have been exploited by the owner’s family at the head office for years. The guilty conscience-ridden president cannot confront the farm director directly. Hence, he wants to keep me as a buffer between the resentful farm director and himself, who wants to control the pearl cultivation farm with cruel orders.

Caught between the farm director, who holds over 50 years of resentment, and the president, who imposes harsh orders on the pearl cultivation farm to assert control, I fell into depression. After I became depressed, the farm director apologized to me. He genuinely sympathized with my situation. “You were going through something really tough without me knowing. Whether you quit or continue with the company, it’s up to you. Get well soon,” the farm director told me over the phone during my leave of absence.

At the same time, the president casually mentioned around the workplace, “He might quit because he’s depressed,” to those around him.

For someone who loves pearls, the current environment might seem ideal. However, beyond that, my daily experiences are gradually eroding my spirit. People often say, “If you get paid for just sitting there, that’s great.” I also think so. Yet, my heart doesn’t seem to feel that way. Even if I leave this company, I will continue my pearl evangelism activities. I might lose access to real-time information by distancing myself from the pearl industry, but I believe I can maintain my relationship with the farm director and the field manager.

This article seems to have turned into a lot of complaints. If people in the pearl industry or my workplace were to find out about this, it would be highly unfavorable. However, I don’t think many Japanese people will read this article. If you are Japanese and come across this article, please pretend not to know about it. I sincerely request that.

Being able to vent my frustrations here has been very cathartic. I cried a lot while writing this article. I don’t even know what kind of tears they were.

Since I was born, I want to give my all to work. I want to work hard with the pearls I have come to love. Whether rich or poor, everyone won’t be here in a hundred years. When I die, I want to look back on my life without regrets. I am an ordinary person. I won’t be in textbooks, and my history won’t be remembered. I can’t launch rockets. I can’t save people who despair in life. I can’t stop wars. That’s me. Despite all this, I want to work hard in my own way. I even felt, “What am I saying? Am I being spoiled?”

Next month, pearl harvesting begins. It might be my last experience with it. As always, I want to do my job thoroughly.

Thank you for reading this far. To those who email me saying, “I read it all,” the first 10 people will receive a pearl necklace. The deadline is December 10, 2023. Truly, thank you.



I am part of a Japanese company with an Akoya pearl farm. Apart from the company, I personally run an Akoya pearl shop. I would appreciate it if I could share smiles with various people through pearls.

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