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Reflection of my two years at Shizenkan University

In this post, I would like to write about my experience at Shizenkan University, a newly-established graduate school in Japan. I joined this school as a first batch student in 2018 and, hopefully, am about to graduate very soon.

至善館
As there is very little information available, especially in English, I believe writing this kind of memo on my personal experience might be valuable for those who will consider joining this school. Yet, I don’t think I am the best person to write this post since I am a Japanese student who cannot fully understand the perspective of non-Japanese students. Please keep this in mind while reading my post.

Now, let me write my opinions following the agenda below.

1. What is Shizenkan?
2. Why did I join?
3. Course overview
4. My overall impression
5. Possible concerns

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1. What is Shizenkan?

Shizenkan is a Tokyo-based graduate school focusing on leadership and Innovation where you can obtain an MBA. The concept of this school is rather unique and its emphasis on liberal art subjects such as western & eastern philosophy, sociology, and religion is no doubt exceptional.

The course is a 2-year-long part-time program for young professionals from various sectors in their late 20s to early 40s. Normally, we have one-weekday class (3 hours long) and between one to three weekend classes (6-12 hours long). In addition to the attendance to these classes, we are requested to do pre/post assignments and to submit mid/final reports or make group presentations with other students.

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↑Classmates at the English class

Indeed, it is really a heavy burden for full-time workers. However, I think I have proved that even an entrepreneur managing a start-up organization with two small children is able to handle it. (I can’t thank enough those who have been supporting my challenges, especially my team members and my family)

This school has roughly 80 students in one cohort. There is both a Japanese course and an English course (I belong to the English course) and each course has 40 students. Both of the courses consist of roughly 70 percent Japanese students and 30 percent non-Japanese students from many nationalities.

Concerning students’ backgrounds, they mostly come from Japanese large corporations. Although there are some bureaucrats and entrepreneurs, I think Shizenkan needs to enhance diversity by increasing the number of students with unique backgrounds.

2. Why did I join?

I am a Co-founder and CEO of Cross Fields, which is a Tokyo-based not-for-profit organization aiming to bridge the business sector and the social sector. Since its foundation in 2011, I having been managing this organization to make a difference in society as a social entrepreneur.

So, what brought me to engage in Shizenkan as a student? Let me share with you a couple of reasons.

First, I just wanted to acquire new inputs and insights. As I had been making outputs for seven years since I became an entrepreneur, I needed time to sit down and update myself by obtaining new inspiration and reflecting on my experience.

Second, I wanted to learn from somebody who I respect a lot. Dr. Tomo Noda, Founder & Chairman of Shizenkan, is one of my role models and known as an author of a legendary book on leadership, “A Journey of Leadership”. Before the establishment of Shizenkan, he taught management strategy at INSEAD France (gained Best Professor award for three years in a row) and then started an initiative in Japan to cultivate senior management leaders of Japanese corporations. When I heard about the concept of Shizenkan for the first time from him, I intuitively thought that it must be the most exciting experience to learn at the school that Dr.Noda devotes his life to.

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↑Dr. Tomo Noda

Last but not least, I was fascinated by the philosophy of this school. Shizenkan questions the value of existing business schools in the world and envisions creating an alternative leadership education platform from Japan. While grasping the beautiful parts of Western MBAs, Shizenkan tries to integrate them with liberal arts such as Eastern Philosophy or Sociology. I have truly empathized with Shizenkan’s attitude of trying to overcome the antinomy of “East vs West”, “Technology vs Humanity”, and “Business vs Society”. This is exactly what I have been questioning while having been engaged in the activities of Cross Fields, so this message attracted me extremely powerfully.

3. Course overview

Reflecting on the flow of the two-year course at Shizenkan, the first year mainly focused on input while the second year focused more on output.

The first year (input part)

Concerning the input programs, Shizenkan has various subjects. The variety of classes ranges from classical MBA subjects, such as Strategy, Negotiation, and Communications to the latest subjects like Design Thinking or AI programming. Yet, the strength of Shizenkan can be seen in its liberal arts subjects, such as Philosophy, Sociology, Religion, and so on.

What I like about the Shizenkan courses is its consistency. Most of the subjects are interrelated with each other and we can study similar topics from different angles. For instance, we studied “Accounting”,” Corporate Theory” and “Western Philosophy (The theories on Capitalism)” in the same semester. While studying practical accounting, we were requested to answer the fundamental questions like “Who owns a company?” or “Why did human-beings select Capitalism as our socio-economic system?”

The learning here is not receiving basic knowledge or honing simple skillsets. Instead, it is always a combination of getting to know the fundamentals of classic theories and asking yourselves to develop your own theories in use.

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The second-year (output part)

In the second year, an output focusing program started with a reflection workshop facilitated by Professor Hide Enomoto, a founder of CTI (The Coaches Training Institute) Japan. Throughout some of the deep reflection exercises with our diversified classmates (some of them were embarrassing ones…), we crystalized our values and life missions.

Then, we moved on to nine-month-long seminar-type learning. A group of five students was formed as a seminar and one professor was assigned to each seminar. In my case, I had seminar classmates from Brazil, Italy, Malaysia, and Indonesia and had Professor Junko Edahiro, a very famous environmental activist specializing in the system thinking approach, as a seminar faculty leader.

Together with my seminar classmates and faculty, I narrowed down my problem awareness and transformed it into a business idea. Discussing with students from different backgrounds and receiving to-the-point inputs from Professor Edahiro has been extremely meaningful and made productive moments.

At the end of the seminar, every student delivered a 7-minute speech on their vision and 15-minute presentation on their business scheme. Also, we needed to submit a final report. This process was extremely valuable for me and I was able to come up with a new business model that I really want to achieve as my next endeavor.

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↑ My seminar group members

4. My overall impression

As I have stated, I invested a substantial amount of time in Shizenkan. Yet, I strongly think that all of my investments and efforts have well paid off. Let me touch upon several highlights of what I have experienced through two years of the Shizenkan experience.

Exploring your own answer to fundamental questions

Honestly speaking, I didn’t have any interest in acquiring MBA-ish skills. Instead, I wanted to explore the essence of the economic system or the philosophies that created the current societal system.

Although I tended to insist that I want to change the way the current Capitalism system works, I didn’t have a chance to study thoroughly about the societal system. In this sense, the experience of getting to know who created a blueprint of this societal system or identifying structured problems of the current system has been truly meaningful for the rest of my life.

After experiencing various liberal arts subjects at Shizenkan, I was able to build up my own theory toward various topics. I believe that having a personal philosophy based on the learning of liberal arts would be extremely important in the coming age not only for business leaders but also for entrepreneurs or people working for the social sector.

Learning from and discussing with frontline practitioners

The professors at Shizenkan are seldom pure academics, but most of them have a strong business background or are engaged in on-going challenges. You can find more practitioners among professors than any other university in Japan.

Professor Junko Edahiro, my seminar faculty, is a good example. She is a fairly famous figure in the social sector and has been working as a grass-roots environmental activist. Also, some professors have previous experience managing multinational corporations as CEOs. An unforgettable experience for me was to have an acting class from a very famous theater director Oriza Hirata in the communication group work.

Lastly, the most precious experience for me was the direct interaction with Dr. Tomo Noda, Founder of Shizenkan. Since I joined Shizenkan, I reaffirmed the power of his teaching capability and the profoundness of his philosophy. In fact, he appeared in most of the liberal art subjects and gave his interpretations on various topics. Spending time with this exceptional educator and innovator was no doubt a valuable experience.

Transforming profound learnings into real practice

In most of the cases, learning liberal arts tends to end up not creating anything practical. However, Shizenkan students are somehow forced to create a practical project based on the learning here. This process is extremely tough, but it makes a big difference.

To me, the process of creating output was the most valuable part of Shizenkan. Moreover, what is important for me is that I am feeling that I did my best in this process. As I dedicated all of my energy, the final deliverable (speech, presentation, and report) was the crystallization of my entire learning at Shizenkan. I believe it will function as a compass that guides me in the right direction when I am lost.

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5. Possible concerns

I think I have written too many positive comments about Shizenkan. However, mine is just one of the opinions. The impressions are of course different from student to student. To make some balance, let me share possible concerns for those who consider joining this unique school.

As I have stated so far, the lessons you learn here are quite different from normal MBA programs. Hence, the flavor of the programs is said to be so-called love it or hate it. If you are a person who wants to know the basic business skills or knowledge, this might not be the best school for you.

Both positively and negatively, the identity of this school is set based on the Japanese perspective. Although Shizenkan has a global perspective and tries to include various types of case studies, many professors utilize the perspectives or contexts that are based in Japan.

Also, the name recognition of this MBA program is almost nonexistent at the moment. If you are a person who cares about the status of a global brand, this is not a suitable school. It might be a school for those who aspire to raise recognition of this school by creating a distinctive performance on their own upon graduation.

Lastly, I don’t recommend this school to those who don’t like an agile process. For those who expect a robust and perfectly designed program, this school will give the impression of a program extremely in development. Shizenkan is like a start-up organization. I hear that Shizenkan is making an effort to improve the quality of the programs based on the feedback from students. If you are a person who can enjoy this kind of agile environment, you might be a perfect candidate.

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Thank you for reading such a long post. I hope this will help you to better understand what Shizenkan is.

As a person who loves the concept of Shizenkan, I would like people who can share the common vision to join us. I am personally waiting especially for people with an entrepreneur background or somebody working in the social sector to join Shizenkan. (There is a scholarship program available for these people!)

Co−Founder and CEO,
CROSS FIELDS
Daichi Konuma
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