Jodie Chiemi Ching
Special to The Hawai‘i Herald
Call it a business manager’s “dojo (practice hall) of life.” Seiwajyuku Hawai‘i integrates gratitude, karma and the development of a beautiful mind prioritized through marketing, policies and procedures and financial goals.
Seiwajyuku, which, translated, means “school of prosperity and harmony,” was established in 1983 by Japanese philanthropist and entrepreneur Kazuo Inamori, founder of one of Japan’s major businesses, Kyocera Corporation (previously known as Kyoto Ceramic Co., Ltd.). In 2015, Inamori was awarded an honorary doctorate by the EMLYON Business School, a leading business school in France. There are currently 80 Seiwajyuku schools worldwide — in Japan, Hawai‘i, Los Angeles, Silicon Valley, Chicago, New York, China and Brazil — with a combined membership of 10,000.
In 1983, six young business owners in Kyöto approached Inamori, wanting to learn his philosophy of life and management. In no time, business owners from Ösaka were traveling to Kyöto to learn from Inamori. The group grew to 50 members.
The establishment of Seiwajyuku spawned new branches across Japan. Study groups began sprouting up in Köbe, Shiga, Kagoshima and Tökyö. The growth prompted Inamori to establish Seiwajyuku’s headquarters within Kyocera in 1988.
At the core of Seiwajyuku is Inamori’s belief that developing business managers with kokoro (heart) will help make the world a better place in which to live. He also believed that living “the right way”as a human being would bring happiness to the employees and prosperity to the company. Based on those basic beliefs, he developed his “12 Management Principles.” They are:
1) Clearly state the purpose and mission of your business. Set high objectives that are noble, just and fair.
2) Set specific goals. Once targets are set, share them with all of your employees.
3) Keep a passionate desire in your heart. Your desire must be strong and persistent to penetrate into your subconscious mind.
4) Strive harder than anyone else. Work steadily and diligently, one step at a time, never relenting in tedious tasks.
5) Maximize revenues and minimize expense. Measure your inflow and control your outflow; don’t chase profit, but let it follow your effort.
6) Pricing is management. Pricing is top management’s responsibility. Find that one point where customers are happy and the company is most profitable.
7) Success is determined by will power. Business management requires persistent “rock-piercing” will.
8) Possess a fighting spirit. Management requires a more combative mentality than any martial art.
9) Face every challenge with courage. Be fair and never deceive others.
10) Always be creative in your work. Innovate and improve continuously. Today should be better than yesterday, tomorrow better than today.
11) Be kind and sincere. Business is based on partnerships and must bring happiness to all parties.
12) Always be cheerful and positive. Hold great dreams and hopes in the pureness of your heart.
Seiwajyuku made its way to Hawai‘i in 2009, thanks to the perseverance of Takae Okuma-Johnson, who had previously worked for DDI (now KDDI) in Japan, a Japanese telecommunications company that Inamori had founded. After leaving DDI, Okuma-Johnson had settled in San Diego, where she was doing some publishing work. In 2004, she met Inamori for dinner in San Diego, where they discussed numerous subjects, including the progress being made with Seiwajyuku. Okuma-Johnson was impressed with Seiwajyuku’s infinite possibilities.
Fast-forward to 2008 and America’s “Great Recession,” which Hawai‘i was feeling in its own way. The Honolulu Japanese Chamber of Commerce’s International Committee was discussing ways it could help revive Waikïkï’s visitor-driven economy. By then, Okuma-Johnson and her husband had settled in Hawai‘i. She suggested that the chamber invite Inamori to Hawai‘i to share his business philosophy. She even flew to Kyöto to meet with him and to personally ask him to share his Seiwajyuku philosophy with Hawai‘i’s business people.
Inamori was no stranger to Hawai‘i — he had enjoyed his vacations in the Islands. But he did not see Hawai‘i as a place where business leaders would embrace his philosophy.
“Hawai‘i is not a place for me to teach,” he said. He didn’t think Hawai‘i companies and their employees would follow a philosophy that required diligence and hard work. Okuma-Johnson refused to give up. She told him about the many small businesses, especially local mom and pop establishments, which were in danger of closing. Inamori, however, was firm in his decision and they parted with Okuma-Johnson deeply disappointed.
The next day, he invited her to sit in on a meeting at Kyocera with DDI founding members and a national newspaper. After the meeting, he told Okuma-Johnson that he might be able to stop in Hawai‘i on his way back to Japan following a talk and meeting with business people at the University of California at Berkeley. He asked her to assemble a group of business people and to organize a forum. Okuma-Johnson was elated!
She immediately got to work after returning to Honolulu. With the assistance of the Honolulu Japanese Chamber of Commerce and Richard Matsu, then-executive vice-president of Marukai Corporation USA, they began planning for the first Inamori Forum. The businesses involved in that first study session in late 2008 included Sun Noodle, Aloha Tofu and The Cherry Company. They set a goal of recruiting 20 small businesses for the first Inamori Forum.
Six hundred people turned out for the forum at the Hawai‘i Convention Center in May 2009. At the conclusion of the program, many of the attendees lined up to speak directly with Inamori.
Impressed by the turnout and the enthusiasm of the attendees, Inamori announced his support for the establishment of a Hawai‘i branch of Seiwajyuku a short time later.
In February 2010, Inamori’s life underwent a major change after Japan’s largest airline, Japan Airlines, filed for bankruptcy protection under Japan’s Corporate Rehabilitation Law. JAL had accumulated debts of over $30 billion, Japan’s largest-ever corporate failure outside of the financial sector. At the request of the Japanese government, Inamori accepted the position of chairman and began restructuring the company. He was 78 years old at the time and had no prior aviation experience.
Mike Hayashi, JAL Hawai‘i’s administration manager and a Seiwajyuku Hawai‘i member, conceded that he was “very skeptical” upon learning that Inamori had accepted the position. “However, I had to take a leap of faith because we had no other choice — the company piled up more than $30 billion in debt before filing bankruptcy protection. I was praying we would come out OK on the other side.”
The start of Seiwajyuku Hawai‘i and the announcement of Inamori being named JAL’s new chairman occurred almost simultaneously. “Dr. Inamori arrived in Honolulu as a customer and departed as the chairman of JAL,” Hayashi recalled.
He said Inamori had not been a fan of the airline for many years and was critical of its operations when he assumed its leadership. “Dr. Inamori was quoted saying, ‘I hate JAL. The company operates like a government agency, and the staff are so arrogant,” recalls Hayashi, adding that Inamori flew on JAL’s competitors whenever possible.
Inamori accepted the chairmanship because he was motivated by “three noble causes,” said Hayashi. First, he knew that a successful revival would have a positive impact on the Japanese economy as well as the collective psyche of Japan, which has been struggling. Second, he wanted to save the jobs of those employees who had survived the airline’s downsizing, and, third, he was committed to making sure that JAL’s airfares were affordable and competitive with those of All Nippon Airways.
Hayashi recalls the feeling of “despair because we knew we had to make drastic changes, but we did not know how or where to begin.” He said the employees were also “anxious because we were not sure if the company could be led by an old man with no airline experience.”
Despair and anxiety eventually gave way to euphoria and gratitude after Inamori was able to turn the company around, giving the employees a renewed sense of purpose. In 2012, Japan Airlines relisted on the Tökyö Stock Exchange. According to Hayashi, the Seiwajyuku philosophy is still used to train JAL employees.
Seiwajyuku Hawai‘i is made up of two groups — one for English speakers and the other for Japanese-speaking members. The groups meet separately once a month, and then all get together once every quarter. Typically, each business gives a presentation based on a management principle. A discussion follows, with ideas shared in breakout groups. The group then comes together again, with members sharing what they learned or what they would like to improve.
Seiwajyuku serves multiple purposes: It encourages members to support one another when faced with business challenges and is also a forum for networking and referring new clients and customers who share the same business philosophy.
That philosophy has helped Seiwajyuku Hawai‘i members and their businesses, as well. Paul and Misa Uyehara, owners of Aloha Tofu Factory and Aloha Tofu Town, will attest to that. They took the Seiwajyuku philosophy to heart when they were confronted with their own financial challenges. Aloha Tofu, which was founded in 1950 by Paul Uyehara’s grandparents, Kamesaburo and Tsuruko Uyehara, had become Hawai‘i’s largest tofu factory.
Together, Paul and Misa Uyehara made a presentation in October 2015 at the Seiwajyuku Grand Meeting. Paul began by sharing the company’s history. He was honest in discussing the business’ financial challenges. He said the company was close to filing for bankruptcy, which was putting a strain on their marriage.
“Our company, Aloha Tofu, has been in existence for over 65 years and had been going through some significant challenges since 2010 involving internal ownership issues as well as goal-setting challenges. I had been the lead of the company, but did not feel like a leader as much as someone following the path that was already set before me.”
Uyehara detailed the company’s financial troubles with Inamori. “From the beginning of 2015, we started losing an average of $10,000 per month. I did not immediately realize it because I wasn’t familiar enough with our books and had left all financial matters to our bookkeeper. I did not even think we were in trouble when the bookkeeper would say, ‘We don’t have enough money. What bills should we pay this month?’”
Uyehara credits Misa for taking action to restructure the company. “On her own, she started to create an hourly efficiency chart to track the progress of the new operation (Aloha Tofu Town, located at Dole Cannery). Even though I had been a member of Seiwajyuku Hawai‘i since the beginning, she was the one to first attempt to use the tools we learned from Seiwajyuku. She also started to carefully track expenses, much more than I had done in all my years at the tofu factory. I was both impressed at her initiative and embarrassed at my lack of progress.”
Senior jyukusei (Seiwajyuku members) from Japan came to present lectures to the Hawai‘i members and learned of Uyehara’s management problems. Two of the Japan jyukusei — Toshitaka Kuwahara of Seiwajyuku Kumamoto and Kenta Amemiya of Seiwajyuku Yamanashi — were so concerned that they visited Aloha Tofu Factory to see if they could help Uyehara improve the company’s situation. After analyzing the company’s financial and production figures, they told Uyehara, “You will go bankrupt unless you fix these problems right away!” Those words were Uyehara’s wake-up call that he stood to lose his family business.
On his next visit, Inamori listened attentively to Uyehara’s predicament and praised him for putting his heart and soul into tofu making. He encouraged him to teach people how to enjoy the taste of tofu or how to cook it in different ways. He then outlined the main issues that needed to be addressed.
First, Inamori said, “Make the employees become your partners through better communication.” He suggested that Uyehara say something like, “I am studying the ‘Inamori Philosophy’ at Seiwajyuku. With the philosophy, I am going to manage the company based on what is the right thing to do as a human being. Please understand that well, take it into your being and follow me.”
Next, Inamori suggested that Uyehara “study the basics of bookkeeping, like starting over from elementary school” in order to “establish sound business management.” The suggestion inspired those Seiwajyuku members with a background in finance to create basic accounting classes to assist other members.
Finally, he told Uyehara that he must “align the vector” with Misa so that the company will move forward with a common vision.
It has been a year since the Uyehara’s meeting with Inamori. He now holds regular meetings with Aloha Tofu’s employees, whom he refers to as “partners.”
“I was never a fan of meetings, but I now realize their importance,” said Uyehara. The company’s managers meet weekly and Uyehara continues to communicate with Misa. Together, they study the company’s numbers daily, and although running the business is still a struggle, he says they are guided by “a goal and a way to get there.” As a result, they have a better understanding of the overall health of Aloha Tofu and have crafted a roadmap to improve the company and cultivate happiness for their family and their “partners.”
“I am grateful for having Seiwajyuku in my life,” said Uyehara.
Seiwajyuku members view each other as friends for life, bonded by a common goal of managing their businesses and striving for material and spiritual success, all the while living and working by Seiwajyuku’s guiding principle: “Do the right thing as a human being.”
Those interested in learning more about Seiwajyuku can attend their first two English-language meetings for $20 per meeting. Annual membership in Seiwajyuku Hawai‘i is $350 for the English group and $400 for the Japanese group. For more information on Seiwajyuku Hawai‘i, email Takae Okuma-Johnson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jodie Ching is a freelance writer and blogger who also works for her family’s accounting firm in Kaimukï. She has a bachelor’s degree in Japanese from the University of Hawai‘i at Mänoa and is a past recipient of the Okinawa Prefectural Government Foundation scholarship.