The co-founders of education management company Clarence Education Asia (CEA) Fei-Fei Hu and Ayahi Suda have been named Entrepreneur of the Year . . .
The husband-and-wife team were recognised at the 14th annual black-tie event celebrating UK–Japan business relations, which was held in hybrid format for the first time. A panel of independent judges from the worlds of business, sports, government and media praised the pair for significantly increasing the presence of British education in Japan by launching a family of new British international schools including Phoenix House International School, which opened in Tokyo in 2021.
Describing the BBA trophy as a “reward for the team,” Suda said everyone “appreciates the recognition” of their efforts, particularly as the past year has not been easy due to the pandemic. Hu added that receiving the coveted award from the British business community in Japan is a real encouragement, and CEA’s partners are all “delighted.”
Hu and Suda founded CEA in 2015 on returning to Japan from London. The concept was simple: to bring together their skills and experience to create a more internationally minded and multicultural next generation. The founder and head of a Tokyo-based international pre-school before departing for London, Suda had a background in early years education while Hu had a passion for multilingualism and globalism.
“The world is becoming more borderless so language is very important. If we give children the right learning environment, they can be better prepared,” he said, adding that children and young people need to have an international approach in everything they do.
For Suda, it was important to incorporate the many aspects of a British education that had impressed her while living in London, such as a focus on the arts, music and literature. She also wanted to instil the traits she had seen in individuals who had graduated from British institutions, including confidence and understanding of world issues.
The pair’s first step was to launch Clarence International School, a pre-school in Aoyama, in 2016. Suda “created the school’s DNA by making the curriculum of each grade,” she said, pointing out that even young children can “develop an understanding of the beauty of language.”
As the parents soon had to consider the next educational steps for their children and with limited British education options in Tokyo, Hu and Suda began to think about opening other schools with the same purpose and ethos.
Primary and secondary education
In the lead up to the Rugby World Cup 2019, Hu was fortunate to meet representatives from Rugby School, one of the oldest independent schools in England, founded in 1567. Said to be the birthplace of rugby football, the school was involved in a number of promotional activities in Japan ahead of the global sporting tournament and discussions with Hu moved quickly.
In summer 2021, CEA announced that Rugby School Japan would open at Chiba University’s Kashiwanoha campus as a day and boarding school for 750 pupils aged 11–18 in September 2023. The institution is set to offer International GCSE and A-level curricula while “championing Rugby School’s ‘Whole Person, Whole Point’ ethos within the context of Japan.”
“We hope it will be a unique school,” said Hu, adding that the campus will be Rugby School’s second in Asia, following a successful launch in Pattaya, Thailand.
Work is moving ahead swiftly on the Chiba campus’ development but Hu and Suda also remain busy with Phoenix House International School. The elementary school in Yonbancho, which opened to its 140 pupils in September, is designed to provide a multicultural environment. Hu hopes that, in time, the pupil ratio will be roughly one third Western, one third Japanese (domestic and returnee) and one third other Asian, to give young people the opportunity to better understand each other.
Another passion of the couple is that pupils develop a solid connection with nature. Their newly launched “enrichment campuses” in Hokkaido allow pupils to experience “the culture of country life” that Hu so enjoyed while living in the UK.
“What they study there is embedded into the curriculum—it’s an integral part of what they learn,” said Suda, adding that pupils might visit a Hokkaido campus two or three times a year to experience it in different seasons and see their projects develop.
The campuses include North Peak, a former school for jockeys, and Home Farm, which will feature vegetable patches, a polo and riding club, tennis courts and pitches for rugby and football. Another possible campus is under consideration in Niseko.
The entrepreneurial pair are also exploring the establishment of CEA schools in other parts of Asia. By opening other schools with a shared curriculum, ethos and values, they believe they can offer “an education platform in the region, underpinned by the gold standard British curriculum.” Not only would more children and young people have access to high-quality learning, but pupils and teachers could also benefit from short- or long-term exchanges and even participate together at enrichment campuses in Hokkaido.
“Bringing a multicultural experience to young people is part of the CEA vision,” explained Hu. Suda added that such activities would grow a strong international, multicultural environment for expat and Japanese families, which would benefit society by encouraging talented people to stay in Japan in the long term.
The couple’s latest development is the establishment of CEA Properties Limited, which aims to combine international education and sustainable real estate development: an idea inspired by the work of the Prince of Wales. At its heart would be an educational institution, created using sustainable principles, and core elements such as community service and appreciation of nature.
“It will be a cutting-edge place to experiment, think and discuss the future of ourselves,” said Suda.
With such big plans, there is certain to be a lot more to come from CEA in the coming years.