To become whom one wants to be (1)

I used to pretend fight like a samurai as a child. There was a manga character named Sarutobi Sasuke. He was said to be the fastest, strongest and smartest ninja. Yet even Ninja Sasuke was easily beaten by his elderly master, Tozawa Hakuunsai. I used to wish that I would be like Hakuunsai in my old age.

As I entered junior high in Hiroshima, I came across Eiji Yoshikawa’s ‘Miyamoto Musashi’ in a bookshop. Musashi was a samurai legend: a master of the sword. He was my hero, supposedly having never lost a battle in his entire life.

I read the first volume of the first edition and could not wait for the next. The volume ends with Musashi’s words to his love, Otsu: “Please forgive me”. With those words Musashi leaves Otsu. It was an expensive book and so I saved my pocket money to buy it. The cover was beautiful, and I still remember the scent of the pages, how noble and elegant they smelt.

Miyamoto Musashi is not a tale about a man who is out to perfect his swordsmanship. It is a tale about becoming complete as a person, through overcoming problems, suffering, and difficult choices. These are things that you practise and learn, and in turn are tools for self-actualisation. So this is what life is about; a continuous process of self-improvement.

It was a massive revelation for my teenage self. When I grow old, I want to be like Tozawa Hakuunsai; an almost godlike man, who was above and beyond every being. I want to be spiritually awakened. That was my dream in my early teenage years. A little later in life, I decided that I wanted to be a merchant instead. I chose my path as the life of a merchant, and I aimed to follow that path to self-perfection. Perfecting that path has been my life. A trade has, at its core, either the aim to satisfy the desires of people, or the aim to offer a solution to the dissatisfied. Therefore, it is of absolute importance that I am also a consumer, an insider who has access to the knowledge of what the people want. I became a spendthrift in order to experience and understand the transition of human desires firsthand.

It is said that a ‘mature society’ finally occurred in Japan around 1992, when the famous economic ‘Bubble Era’ came to an end. In Japan, ‘I, shoku, ju’ – clothing, food, shelter – have traditionally been seen as the foundations of life. The economic boom in the 1980s allowed consumers to fulfil i-shoku-ju in its simplest form, and encouraged spending in more refined and desired styles. Identify what is (and is not) truly necessary, strive to create a living space that promotes self-actualisation, and buy only what is necessary after much consideration. This new market style came into play as the economic bubble burst. The ideal self, namely ‘the self-actualised self’, was now the target audience to which a new business model was required. Buy only what is necessary after much consideration. There was now a need for a major structural reform in order to achieve a justifiable retail price.

20 years have now passed. There were a number of opportunities for a structural reform, but every time business was good, people reverted to their old ways. To place oneself with the numbed majority, who would delay such radical reformations, was far too comfortable. These days, major market businesses continually face falling sales. Such past victors are often in denial, failing to self-criticise. Like my company, these companies are trading with goods and services. But these goods and services are limited, ephemeral things. We ought to be aware that ‘obsolescence’ has been present throughout the history of humanity. That is why we must never forget that ‘evolution from self-criticism’ is extremely important to a business.