In this post I’d like to discuss Hitori Saito（斎藤一人), a man who is somewhat famous in Japan these days.
Hitori Saito is the entrepreneur behind Ginza Marukan (銀座まるかん), a successful cosmetics and health food business. He also has a large number of books (many available on Amazon Japan, what you could call 啓蒙書 or “enlightenment books”), and I’ve heard that some of his self-help books were very high on Amazon Japan’s sales ranking at some point in time. I don’t know his actual net worth but it’s clear the man is quite wealthy.
However, I haven’t shopped at his stories, nor read any of his books; the majority of my exposure to him has been through his many motivational talks which are available free on YouTube. I couldn’t figure out an easy way to get a count of how many there were, but it seems like a pretty huge number.
To be honest, I’m not generally the type of person who listens to motivational talks (or reads self-help books). But I’ve found that listening to Hitori Saito’s YouTube talks help me learn a great deal about Japan’s language and culture.
I’ve listened to portions of at least 20 different of these talks––which range from minutes to a few hours.
They are on a variety of subjects, but from what I have heard they are frequently about how to change your life, succeed, and make your dreams come true. Sometimes they are specifically about how to succeed in business, but more often they seem to be about general principles, what you could call “spiritual, but not religious” (he has explicitly stated that he is not advocating a specific religion). Hitori Saito often speaks about thinkingly positively, doing things to please those around you, and how just changing your mindset can have a great impact on your life––or at least that is how I interpreted some of his talks.
For sure, they are times when he discusses things that are a little “out there”, like auras or past lives that the average person may not believe in. He often precedes these topics by saying something like, “You don’t have to believe me,” or “I bet most of you will not believe what I am about to say”. While this doesn’t make the content more or less truthful, I do appreciate his awareness of what is easily believable. He occasionally makes reference to himself, and as someone who has succeeded handsomely (at least financially) there is a certain degree of credibility to what he says.
From what I gather there are many people who attend his (seemingly) frequent talks, and I have the feeling many of them are great fans of his. For me, I’ve reached the point whereby my stance on people is not binary, so I wouldn’t call myself a fan of Hitori Saito, nor a doubter. Some things ring true with me, others less so.
For those learning Japanese, like most motivational speakers he speaks clearly and carefully chooses phrasing that is easy to understand. When using phrases that are less common, he will often explain what they mean. He also frequently says things like “わかるかい?” (Do you understand?), and while answering “No,” wouldn’t serve any purpose, at least this gives you a moment to think. It also hints that the topic may be a little abstract or difficult to fully understand, even for native speakers.
By and large the quality of the recordings is pretty good, though the ones that were apparently recorded in a large hall can be a little hard to hear at times. It seems that, in general, the shorter talks are more often recorded in a smaller, quieter space and are easier to listen to.
Because of the diversity of topics involved and the fact that native speakers are his target audience, I wouldn’t say these talks are particularly easy for beginner Japanese students. But regardless of your level, I think there is value to listening to a talk or two and seeing what words you can pick up.
For those with more Japanese experience under their belt, I think it’s instructive to try and understand things well enough so that you can decide whether you agree with what he is saying or not. Being convinced by his argument isn’t the point––it’s more about being to able to have sufficient understanding to make a logical decision about whether you agree or not.
Due to the fact Hitori Saito seems pretty popular in Japan (at least with the older generations), I think his philosophies say something about popular belief in Japan, at least to a certain extent. He seems to draw some of his ideas from Buddhism (I’ve heard him mention Buddha [お釈迦様] on several occasions), and perhaps Shintoism to a lesser extent––both relatively common belief systems in Japan.
If you are interested in listening to his talks I would recommend you try a few until you find one that makes sense. But I’ll mention a handful here to give you a place to start. The first one, relatively short (~13 minutes) is about choosing the type of people you associate with on a daily basis.
Here is another, much shorter (~5 minutes) one. It’s a little more difficult to follow, but potentially more broadly applicable to your life:
Out of curiosity I filtered by view count on Youtube and discovered the most viewed video of his had around 750k views and was about becoming rich. At over 2 hours, I have’t listened to it yet myself. Here it is:
If you find a talk of his that you enjoyed, feel free to let me know in the comments.
I have a mild aversion to self-help and motivational materials after somewhat bingeing on them at various impressionable times in my life and – on reflection – being led more into daydreaming and procrastination than spurred into action.
I think is a common problem with such materials (extending even as far as many superficially quite scientific TED talks), that the speaker skilfully conjures up mental images in the minds of their audience, which trigger the reward circuits “for free” in those minds, without a productive, tangible objective being achieved (through hard work!). Everyone leaves feeling great, but nothing has actually changed, nor will! And that is to say nothing of the “dude who won the lottery charges suckers for seminar on how to win the lottery” culture…
However, I LOVE this idea of using such materials as language practice since I do very much believe from a linguistic point of view that the expression in self-help and motivational speaking is very powerful and well worth analysing/internalising. What you outline in this post is excellent.
Thank you for writing it and sharing the links!
Thanks for the insightful comment James. That’s a good point that passively consuming things doesn’t require thought and therefore there may be no improvement.
That’s why I try to limit my consumption activities and do more creative acts (writing blogs, translations, writing fiction, etc.) I feel I learn more that way.