After I watched the anime Shin Sekai Yori (From the New World) [新世界より] and also read its original novel by the always insightful Yusuke Kishi [貴志祐介], I cannot help but think of the Japanese educator and mystic Makoto Shichida [七田真] (1929 – 2009).First, a quick summary of the story of Shin Sekai Yori. Human societies as we know in the present day collapsed after 0.3% of people discovered that they had psychic powers, and after prolonged struggles in which the psychics and non-psychics fought each other to establish a new world order, the earth became depopulated (down to 2% of its height) and a new society in which everyone is psychic finally emerged. The protagonists of the story – a group of five friends – live in that new society 1,000 years from now. As we follow these five friends from childhood to adulthood, we discover the true history of what happened to the human race in the intervening 1,000 years through their interactions with an inferior race of bakenezumi – mouse-like mammals who are intelligent, speak human language and supposedly worship humans as deities. The story culminates with the rebellion of bakenezumi against the human race.
The original novel does go into some details about how our five protagonists were taught to tap into their powers – indeed, a conveyor belt of schools and religious establishment is designed to nurture the psychic abilities of children. There are school games in which children utilize their powers as a competitive sport, for instance. We also learn that each child is given a special mantra by a priest of the religious establishment (which seems to me to be modelled on Shingon Buddhism in Japan) –
Shun, the cleverest and strongest in psychic abilities in the group, was given the mantra of Vairocana [大日如来], which is the most supreme being in the universe according to the cosmology of Shingon beliefs. Satoru, also a clever boy in the group, was given the mantra of the Akasagarbha Bodhisattva [虛空藏菩薩].
So what does all these have to do with the educator and mystic Makoto Shichida?
“Mystic” is a description with which I assign him. Domestically, Makoto Shichida is mostly known as an entrepreneur of education programs and learning materials for children. The areas he covered ranged from the more prosaic such as English-learning and math skills, to the more exotic known as “right-brain learning”. He believed that by developing right-brain abilities, a human being can obtain perfect, eidetic memory and powers of precognition and other psychic abilities.
For example, instead of teaching children to read word by word, he taught children to flip through the pages of a book very quickly and to use their eyes to scan the contents of the book as “images” without reading word by word, and he expected them to be able to recall the “images” from their memory.
Moreover, he believed that the human brain can process information at higher speeds and had produced for sale sound recordings at 3x or 4x the normal speed of speech, with the aim of activating one’s potential to process more information within shorter spans of time.
A search on Amazon Japan reveals that there are over 200 books credited to his name. I have not read every single one of them (and most of their content overlap anyway), but I have read the positive “testimonies from parents” in some of these books, claiming that the children undergoing his learning methods have become more creative, more devoted to learning and even occasionally exhibit psychic powers.
In 1987 Makoto Shichida established the Shichida Child Academy [七田チャイルドアカデミー] where he taught these methods (dubbed the Shichida Method) and also served as the school principal. To this day, you can find educational establishments in overseas countries such as China, Singapore and Malaysia purporting to follow the Shichida way of teaching.
Shichida also believed that the most effective right-brain training is an esoteric one said to be used by the founder of Shingon Buddhism, Kukai (774-835). Kukai used a method called Kokuuzou Gumonjihou [虚空蔵求聞持法], in which the adept must recite the mantra of the Akasagarbha Bodhisattva (that’s the very same mantra assigned to Satoru) for 1 million times within 100 days. Legend has it that Kukai obtained eidetic memory by doing just that.
Having read thus far, you may wonder if his ideas may attract controversies and if any independent third party has ever verified his claims. Amazingly I could not seem to find any report that challenged his claims. The Shichida Method seems to be entirely left alone by the press. There is simply… nothing. (Yes, the fact that a “juicy” story as this is left alone by the press is perhaps a mystery in itself. But then a lot of other juicy stories are also left alone by the press in Japan – and this blog on “deep Japan” shall report on them from time to time.) In any case, considering that the children who had undergone the Shichida Method in the 1980s and 1990s ought to be in their 20s and 30s by now, we ought to have heard something of them if they turned out to be geniuses.
So this is the background on Makoto Shichida, and the story of Shin Sekai Yori reminded me of him.