Building Hiroshima’s bright future

When Tetsuya Matsuda was shown a tower in Hiroshima, few could imagine what the chairman and CEO of Hiroshima Mazda would make of it. Today, the Hiroshima Orizuru Tower is now one of the city’s most meaningful structures. 

Tetsuya Matsuda

Describing Tetsuya Matsuda, the chairman and CEO of Hiroshima Mazda, a local Mazda dealership, as a successful businessperson may well be an understatement. Since taking over the company in his 30s, Matsuda, now 53, has been busy diversifying his business. This includes operating not only Mazda dealerships, but hotels and okonomiyaki restaurants amongst many others. The number of the group companies in his ever-growing dynasty now stands at around 30. 

Orizuru Tower, Hiroshima

“Our company was founded in 1933, making it the oldest Mazda dealership in the world. It was started by my grandfather Soya Matsuda, who is the second son of Jyujiro Matsuda, the effective founder of Toyo Kogyo, known today as Mazda,” says Matsuda. “But the original buildings and facilities were reduced to ashes by the atomic bomb in 1945 with the then-president Soya Matsuda and all his employees losing their lives. We’ve since come back to where we’re now thanks to an incredible amount of support from the local community along the way.” 

This is exactly why Matsuda feels indebted to the city and why paying back to Hiroshima’s people was always on top of his to-do list when he was offered the top job at 36. “When I became president, corporate social responsibility was a buzzword and everyone wanted to get involved,” remembers Matsuda. “What was common back then with companies in the automotive industry like us was to plant a tree every time they sell a car as a mark of contribution to preserving the environment.” 

Hiroshima’s Orizuru Tower (middle, right) overlooks the Hiroshima Peace Memorial (left). Also known as the Genbaku Dome, it became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996 

But that idea didn’t click in his mind. Climate change was – and still is – a big issue. While plausible on paper, Matsuda felt planting a tree for each car sale wouldn’t solve much. An issue like climate change, Matsuda says, is something that international brands and companies should take a lead on. Instead, he opted to do more for the locals. “We always put Hiroshima first in what we do, so we decided to revisit our roots with fresh eyes and start to investigate what more we could do to further merit the local communities and their grassroots activities.” 

The Missing Piece 

As a prominent business leader in Hiroshima, Matsuda has been involved in several war-related memorial activities and organisations, experiencing local peace movements first-hand. He also believes the atrocities of the war mustn’t be forgotten and should get told for generations to come, but he also came to realise that Hiroshima might be missing something equally important: the ability to look to the future. 

Across Hiroshima, there are a number of monuments and buildings dedicated to remembering the atomic bombing and the victims, including the famous Atomic Bomb Dome and the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, which are visited by over a million people every year. However, as Matsuda says, there are none that showcase today’s Hiroshima. 

“There’s no doubt that it’s important to look back. The voices of the victims carry so much when one talks about the war and world peace,” Matsuda says. “I totally stand by Hiroshima’s role as an advocacy of peace. The city also needs to let the world see how much we’ve achieved and progressed since the war and what we have in store for the future.”  

Matsuda took it as his mission to show the world how Hiroshima has come to what it is now and started searching for ways in which to achieve that. In 2009, he met his perfect match: a 12-storey building that is now known as the Hiroshima Orizuru Tower. 

An Astonishing View 

Opened in 2016, the Hiroshima Orizuru Tower is an office/retail building that stands next to the Peace Memorial Park, a 12,000-square-metre open space dedicated to remembering the victims of the atomic bombing. The name Orizuru means an origami paper crane, which is considered a symbol of peace in Japan. The café and shop selling local produce occupies the ground floor, and there is an exhibition space that tells the history of Hiroshima. The real feature of the tower, however, is the observation deck on the top floor. 

“You can almost feel their unbelievable determination. The city is now a symbol of human strength.” 

The building had been owned by an insurance company, and when it was listed on the market, a business associate asked Matsuda to take a look. He went along but had no intention of buying it as he knew – as a business owner himself – that it would be too expensive to add to his company’s books. But the view from the top floor completely changed his mind. 

“We can always look back but also need to look forward, as there is so much more for Hiroshima to offer.” 

“The moment I stood on the rooftop, I fell in love with the view of the city from there,” remembers Matsuda. “It was beyond amazing. You could see the Atomic Bomb Dome below with the cityscape behind it. You can also see a range of mountains surrounding the city. My immediate thought was everyone must see this…It leaves you speechless when you think of the efforts that the locals have made to rebuild the city over the past 70 years. You can almost feel their unbelievable determination, and I thought the city is now a symbol of human strength.” 

It was at this very moment that he made the decision to purchase the building no matter the cost. In the end, his passion for Hiroshima took the better of his mind for business. “I believed that we could turn this building into a new landmark that represents the future of Hiroshima, which the city had been lacking. Everyone should see the view from the top. We can always look back but also need to look forward as there is so much more for Hiroshima to offer than just keep revisiting the past,” says Matsuda. 

Inside the Orizuru Tower, visitors will find the Orizuru wall, a glass enclave filled with paper cranes folded and donated by visitors from around the world. Orizuru — ori (“folded”) and tsuru (“crane”) — is the most traditional form of Japanese origami, and inspired Matsuda to make the tower in Hiroshima its namesake.  

It took almost seven years to transform the building into the Orizuru Tower. Matsuda admits that there were times when pressure took a toll on him before completion, but it was all worth the effort. 

“The project took many an unexpected turn along the way, and I always felt a lot of pressure,” Matsuda concludes. “But it was the right thing to do and it’s definitely the biggest project for me to do for my hometown!”