The author Tsuneyasu Takeda (1975 – present) was born as the great-great-grandson of the Meiji Emperor and graduated with a law degree at Keio University. By his own account, he sat for bookkeeping qualifications at middle school and started his own marketing consultancy business at high school. In his twenties, he travelled to Iraq during the war, got hit by the big question of what is the meaning of life, quit his lucrative consultancy business and withdrew to Kamakura where he lived on a shoe-string budget for three years, doing nothing but reading first-hand historical documents about the imperial family of Japan with the intent of making himself an expert on it. Later, he made it big with a bestseller on Emperor Koumei, rode on the wave of the media hullabaloo surrounding the Japanese succession controversy in the early 2000s as a commentator and became famous. He is now the author of a number of books on the imperial family and also runs a ramen restaurant in Tokyo. This particular book I am reviewing is about his personal life-story and useful ideas he has picked up along the way.
Having read thus far, you may suspect that his background may cause him to embrace a right-wing, conservative stance on things. You are correct. He is known to be against the creation of female heads of miyake [宮家] or imperial family branches, among other things.
I think of what he has to say on self-help as an antidote to mainstream self-help authors in the West. For instance, he is critical of the individualistic idea of “living for yourself” [自分のために生きる] and instead promotes the idea of “living for the world and living for others” [世のため人のために生きる]. To him, life is something that only appears to be your own, but is actually not your own; your life is something that you are in temporary possession of and you are only holding it in custody at that [他人から預かったもの]. His reason is that one is “let lived” by the lives of countless organisms in nature, without consuming which one’s life would come to an end. (In this regard, he makes an interesting analogy in this book – spending your life to live for yourself is like spending investment money from shareholders on yourself instead of on the business you are supposed to run.) To repay this debt to the world at large, he recommends living for others.
He is also critical of Robert Kiyosaki’s Rich Dad, Poor Dad line of thinking that income derived from the work of others is “good” while income derived from one’s own work is “bad”. He traces this line of thinking to ancient Greece where work is done by slaves and a free human being should pursue truth (philosophy) and beauty (the arts). In other words, work in the West is for losers. Against this, he defends the traditional Japanese thinking that work in itself gives meaning to life and is a source of happiness; in Japan, a man who is still active with work at eighty years of age is thought to be lucky.
While I cannot cover all the self-help ideas mentioned in this book, I would like to say that whatever you are accustomed to think, think also of the opposite. Heretical as Tsuneyasu Takeda may sound to English-speaking readers, I am reminded of a saying by Niels Bohr: “The opposite of a correct statement is a false statement. But the opposite of a profound truth may well be another profound truth.”