Reconsidering the question of “Who am I?” What we can do to look after our minds

I wonder when people first had the idea that it is normal to overwork in a job. Suppressing oneself to avoid rocking the boat, constantly enduring a certain degree of stress; there are a lot of people like this.

Sometimes, however, the resulting mental torture is a price that must be paid. Is it possible not to take it as written that you must sacrifice your mental wellbeing?

On this occasion, we spoke to Mari Sakuramoto, Founder and CEO of cotree, a company providing online counseling services. In this interview, we find out what we can do to put ourselves first.


The content of my work hasn’t changed, but I don’t enjoy my job anymore
Why do we struggle with self-reflection?
First, let’s take the time to address our mental state on a daily basis
Let’s accept the fact that your mind is seeking change, then take action

Mari Sakuramoto
After graduating from Kyoto University, Mari joined Morgan Stanley Securities. Later, after working for Goldman Sachs Securities, she founded cotree Co., Ltd. Currently, she operates the “cotree” online counseling service.

The content of my work hasn’t changed, but I don’t enjoy my job anymore

Mrs. Sakuramoto, the creator of the online counseling service “cotree,” was someone who struggled with self-reflection. While looking back on her experiences at that time, she told her story up to the birth of cotree.

Sakuramoto: “I worked as a securities analyst at Goldman Sachs until I started the cotree business. Honestly, I thought it was a vocation at that time. It’s fun to talk with people, to interview for research, or to analyze data. I felt I loved my job.”

A change occurred in Mrs. Sakuramoto after the “Lehman Shock” of 2008. The instability in the industry made her feel unstable.

Sakuramoto: “Now, when I think carefully, the days of not sleeping at all are still there. I wasn’t aware at that time, but looking back now, I think the bad atmosphere of the industry due to the ‘Lehman Shock’ had an impact. When the entire financial industry was in shock, I saw that a lot of my friends were getting laid off. That weighed heavily on my mind.”

Her work didn’t change. However, when Mrs. Sakuramoto saw friends disappear from the industry, she had no hope for the future. The industry as a whole wasn’t rewarding and she couldn’t find value in the work itself.

Sakuramoto: “In the beginning, I think I felt a strong commitment to the company, but gradually I became unable to love a company that was laying off important colleagues one after another, and I began to think about my attitude toward work. When I was thinking about what I was going to do next, I started learning about mental health. Then, cotree was born.”

Mrs. Sakuramoto’s own mental breakdown was an opportunity to think about her future. Although it is not apparent, many Japanese people experience similar mental breakdowns. Thinking about this, she started cotree, a business in the field of mental health, which was still an emerging market.

Sakuramoto: “There are so many people who are distressed and suffering at work, but there are very few places in Japan where people can find a solution by talking about their problems. I thought that if the market is emerging, I should encourage growth and create a world where anyone can think about mental health. Cotree was born in 2014 based on these thoughts.”

Why do we struggle with self-reflection?

Few people reflect on their own work – Mrs. Sakuramoto presents the characteristics of Japanese people. Why do we use the word “Japanese,” which is a large group of 120 million people?

Sakuramoto: “I think it is because Japan, traditionally, has a culture of ‘adapting to people.’ For a long time in our culture, where it was natural to be collaborative, it has been said that it’s good not to bother others, and it’s bad when you are the only one to disagree.”

The answer chosen by the people around me is my answer. That is the Japanese choice. Many of our values come from such a culture. That’s why many of us are confused now that times are changing. For those who have never “chosen,” the question of how to live in this era is rather torturous.

Sakuramoto: “Now is an era when everyone can freely choose how to work and how to live. That’s why we worry. It was normal until recently for the surrounding opinions to be our own opinions, but now, suddenly, you are asked ‘how do you want to live?’ We don’t yet know how to find the answer.”

From the beginning, we should be more tolerant in our lives. However, “freedom,” which sounds like a good word, at first glance, sometimes constricts people.

Mrs. Sakuramoto seems to believe that counseling and coaching can be one way to address this.

Sakuramoto: “Since the year 2000, the number of Japanese people suffering from depression has increased. The lifetime prevalence of depression is 7%. If you have 100 friends, then seven will be depressed at some point in their lives. Depression is neither a special disease, nor an illness that affects you because your mind is weak. Now that it has come to be understood as such, the number of people confronting it is increasing. Beyond that, I feel there is penetration from counseling, coaching, mindfulness, etc.”

First, let’s take the time to address our mental state on a daily basis.

The importance and inevitability of facing the topic of “how can we live in a way that is true to ourselves” is becoming widespread, and there are a lot of people who want to have this conversation with themselves. However, they may also be worried about how to engage in self-reflection. Mrs. Sakuramoto says that she wants people to be aware of three points.

Sakuramoto: “Please pay attention to changes in lifestyle, mood, and physical condition. I don’t think you should be conscious of this all the time. First, one minute a day is fine. If you feel like your ‘breathing is shallower,’ or your ‘back hurts’ more than yesterday or than last week, it is an S.O.S. from a disturbed body. In order to catch the S.O.S., you need to cultivate a habit of focusing on your own health.

In particular, there are three signs that tend to appear when the mind is burdened. If you see these signs as you reflect on your daily routine, try to look inward to see if you are stressed,” said Mrs. Sakuramoto.

Sakuramoto: “Decreased ability to think, shallow sleep, and a reluctance to meet people; let’s start by considering these three signs. When these elements appear, it is often because you are stressed. We tend to turn a blind eye to signals from the mind and body. That’s because we don’t want to admit that we are weak, and we don’t think this is a society where we can express suffering. Of course, it’s hard to notice and accept all the signs at the very beginning, but even if it is only little by little, I want to create a culture where it is normal for people to look at themselves and their surroundings, and that this is recognized.”

Mind and body are closely related, as expressed by “both mind and body!” When your mind is burdened, your body won’t stay well. You should understand this first.

The most important thing is not to lie to yourself. Are you forcing yourself to be strong? Do you pretend not to notice the signs that your mind and body are giving you? What is needed is not just the courage to admit this, but honesty.

Let’s accept the fact that your mind is seeking change, then take action

When we experience a mental breakdown, we are unconsciously driven by guilt. We may think “it’s because my mind is weak” or “I can’t do whatever I please,” which places more load on the mind seeking help, but that’s not what you really need.

Mrs. Sakuramoto said she saw the moment her mind gave some kind of sign as the moment “when I needed to change my way of life.”

Sakuramoto: “Many people still regard mental breakdowns as ‘pampering’ with regard to oneself and others. However, when you feel that your mental condition is not good, that’s the time when you need to change. As the current situation is placing a heavy burden on your mind and body, it must change in a positive direction. Of course, change is sometimes painful. It’s not just an easy choice, but your current situation is raising a voice expressing ‘pain.’ I really want you to stop ignoring this voice and stop covering up your thoughts, feeling ‘pain’ and admitting it has nothing to do with pampering. Once you acknowledge this, try to focus on what and how to make changes.”

For example, when there is stress in the work environment, there are many options, such as whether to put up with it, whether to change department, or whether to change job. If you are afraid of change, you will end up choosing to put up with it because transfers and job changes involve anxiety and fear.

However, is that really okay? The mind is giving a clear sign of “wanting to go away.” Of course, all conclusions made after careful thought are correct, but if the final conclusion is to run away from self-reflection, shouldn’t you reconsider?

── Why are you feeling “pain” now?

I want you to confront this question seriously. Don’t run away from having a discussion with yourself and others.

Sakuramoto: “If you have a close friend, a colleague, or a subordinate who is suffering, it is important to become someone that person can talk to. Let’s imagine what the other person thinks and what he/she feels joy about. For example, each person’s motivation is different. Do they have a strong ‘authority motivation’ and want to have influence over people? Do they have a strong ‘achievement motivation’ and want to achieve a goal? Do they have a strong ‘safety motivation’ and do not want to take risks? Do they have a strong ‘affinity motivation’ and want to cooperate with people? By simply understanding these motivations, you should have a bird’s-eye view of how you and other people can work without stress. By increasing the resolve of yourself and others, you will be able to feel more comfortable with each other.”

Way of life, lifestyle, way of thinking, way of working … “Diversification” is discussed in every case. We are now able to choose for ourselves. It may still be difficult, but we can be free by looking into ourselves.

Simple thoughts and feelings are good. Why don’t you listen to your own responses when you ask the question “How do I want to live?”


・Due to their cultural background, Japanese people are not used to “self-reflection.”
・First, reflect on the three elements of lifestyle, mood changes, and changes in physical condition.
・Even just one minute a day is effective in creating the habit of making time to have a conversation with yourself.
・Some change is necessary when a mental breakdown occurs.

Planning:Yohei Azakami
Writing:Shino Suzuki
Photography:Nobuhiro Toya