[Book] ‘Nihonjin ga isshou tsukaeru benkyou-hou’ by Tsuneyasu Takeda

Nihonjin ga isshou tsukaeru benkyou-hou [日本人が一生使える勉強法] by Tsuneyasu Takeda [竹田恒泰]

Nihonjin ga isshou tsukaeru benkyou-hou [日本人が一生使える勉強法] by Tsuneyasu Takeda [竹田恒泰]

There is no lack of self-help books for business people in Japan which regurgitate mainstream self-help ideas from America almost word-by-word. However, if I were to choose books on indigenous Japanese ideas of self-help for translating into English, Nihonjin ga isshou tsukaeru benkyou-hou [日本人が一生使える勉強法] by Tsuneyasu Takeda [竹田恒泰] would be one of them.

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and withdrew to Kamakura where he lived on a shoe-string budget for three years, doing nothing but reading first-hand historical documents about the imperial family of Japan with the intent of making himself an expert on it.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.”


2 thoughts on “[Book] ‘Nihonjin ga isshou tsukaeru benkyou-hou’ by Tsuneyasu Takeda

  1. I’ve only shortly studied business at a crappy school so I don’t have much knowledge surrounding this subject. But it really comes to me as a surprise that any business book would promote individuality values since usually operating a business you are involved with a group and produce products or services for a group.

    I mean, if you are entrepreneur you should have a dream to make your business successful and at the same time cater to a society’s needs. But if you aren’t the one who runs a business or comes up with related ideas I thought that trying to work in a team spirit is the only option.

    That aside I disagree with the basic idea if it’s expanded beyond business. One should live for themselves because we don’t get a second chance- not one that we are aware anyway. At the same time, I always believed that there’s no thing as selflessness and altruism is just a way for ourselves to feel good through others or take pride in achieving change in our community.

  2. @ Ayame

    Like I said, “The opposite of a correct statement is a false statement. But the opposite of a profound truth may well be another profound truth.” To live for yourself, or to live for others – that’s the sort of profound truth of which the exact opposite may well be equally valid.

    When I was your age, I thought of only living for myself too; but as I got older and came to know more people who are smarter, more well-read, and overall better human beings than I, who nonetheless give themselves up to causes and work that I would describe as good for society as a whole but at great danger and sacrifice to their own persons, I began to have second thoughts whether this thing that is one’s precious self is really that important after all.

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