"For a Japanese woman, I have always been very enterprising". With these words, Hatsumi Tsukamoto summarizes her life. Currently doing marketing operations and relations for Team Suzuki Ecstar.
Like on the 8th of every month, motogp.com tells a story of one of the shining faces of the paddock who are breaking down stereotypes with their professionalism and determination.
Hatsumi was born in Tokyo where, as a child, she had a dream of being a flight attendant and later, as a teenager, wanted to become a film translator. Two different jobs that share invaluable knowledge of speaking English. And it is precisely the familiarity with that language that allowed Hatsumi to take numerous planes to reach circuits around the world, as a passenger and not as a hostess, and she did not translate subtitles because it was she who played the leading role in a story where courage and a pioneering sentiment met a point somewhere between tradition and progress.
"I was working as an interpreter and translator dealing with travel for a company,” Hatsumi tells us. “I was working for Formula 1 when some colleagues told me about the possibility of joining MotoGP.” Joining the paddock was an unseen move for Hatsumi, who also confesses to preferring cars to motorbikes.
Hatsumi's first season in the World Championship was in 1993 when she managed the commitments, contracts and relationships of the Aoki brothers. "When I stepped into this environment there weren't many people in Japan who spoke English well, so I started helping Japanese riders. I knew there were many talents but, due to the language or the difficulties of leaving the island to fly to Europe, they did not have a great chance to get noticed by the western teams," said Hatsumi, retracing her long journey. Having realised this limit for many of her countrymen, Hatsumi was able to quickly become a well-known figure, also for names already famous at the time such as those of Tetsuya Harada, Tadayuki Okada and Norifumi Abe.
The Japanese riders at that time were the heroes of many fans around the world as Hatsumi points out. “I remember Valentino Rossi when he was still racing in the Italian championship, they said he would have done great things, but I knew him mainly because he was always in the paddock. One day he asked us to come to Japan to see where and how his idols lived. The Aoki family hosted him and, for a week, we showed him as many things as possible about our country" says Hatsumi, sharing one of her many anecdotes.
Those were years marked by a great challenge for Hatsumi, who was committed to discovering European ways of living and thinking and, at the same time, had to explain the different cultural nuances to the riders she accompanied so that they could integrate into the western teams. "Nobody had told me how to do this job, I invented it at the moment," she says, with a telling smile. "At the beginning I had a lot of pressure, also because in the ‘90s in Japan we didn't know much about European or habits. Today, however, I do my job spontaneously, I do it casually and I enjoy it very much.”
She doesn't want to talk about the difficulties because Hatsumi explains that she has encountered numerous challenges along her way. “As a Japanese woman, there are many limitations, so I always ask myself ‘What can we do that hasn't been done yet?’ This question has always motivated me to take a step forward. The satisfaction is to share those joys with the riders."
Speaking with Hatsumi, you get the feeling that she has endless stories of pride and success, as she remembers Tatsuki Suzuki’s (SIC58 Squadra Corse) journey to the World Championship. “His parents contacted me when he was 15 years old. He had talent but had never competed in the national championship, they asked me if it was possible to enter the CEV, the Spanish championship. It was not easy at all but we tried and we managed to do it, so that today Tatsu is one of the most talented riders in Moto3.”
As someone who seems to have never stopped for any obstacle, we asked Hatsumi what advice she would give to herself when she was still a teenager. “Do what you want. Live without regrets, accept every challenge. Personally, I think I followed my advice today 80% of the time. Being a Japanese woman, I think I have always been very dynamic but sometimes I had the impression of having to be more conservative, a feeling that held me back the other 20% of the time.”
Given her great experience, Suzuki wanted to involve Hatsumi in 2015 when the Hamamatsu house returned to MotoGP™. "I started dealing with communication and marketing and began to dedicate myself more and more to the latter.” During the Grands Prix she takes care of the sponsors, making sure they have an unforgettable experience: “I manage the distribution of passes and activities for our guests such as visiting the paddock, invitations to have lunch in our hospitality, meetings between guests and riders as well as translating the official press releases. When I'm at home, I plan every detail ahead of the next Grand Prix.”
Suzuki is an experience that has given Hatsumi great opportunities. “It is special to be part of this family because I have known many championships having worked in the WorldSBK, in the EWC, the Endurance world championship, and in all the Japanese championships of the different motorsport disciplines. My job is my passion and I am very proud of the role I play today.”
Hatsumi has managed to open a gap in a culture where men are one step ahead of women, by identifying professionalism as a meeting point between tradition and progress. “If you want to stay in a professional environment for a long time, you must always be professional. The world is still managed by men. I think that as women we must not present ourselves for our body or appearance but show our full potential in work.” In over twenty years in the paddock, Hatsumi enthusiastically welcomes the progressive increase of women engaged in different roles and with more and more responsibility.
“I see that girls always work much more than their colleagues and this is how they now hold roles that up to a few a years ago they were reserved exclusively for men. Seeing this progression inspires me.”
Hatsumi concludes by giving advice, especially to young women from across Asia, who dream of creating a space in MotoGP™: “Study at least two foreign languages. Having a general knowledge of Italian and other European languages allows me to be more sociable and to do my job better. I am very proud to have been a part of the paddock for a long time and I love all the people who have shared this experience with me for years.”
On July 19th we will see the riders on the track at the Red Bull Spanish Grand Prix in Jerez, and Hatsumi will once again leave Japan to continue living her #WomenInMotoGP story.
The next appointment with this series is slated for August the 8th when another pioneer will tell us about her professional career in MotoGP™.