CEO Saito’s new AdverTime column series, “What exactly is “purpose”, the philosophical base many Japanese companies are implementing nowadays?” In this second volume of this series is about “The Purpose behind Japanese Judo’s success”. Because the article is only in Japanese, we will provide the English translation in this blog. 


Japan’s medal rush during the Olympics is being widely talked about. But within the buzz, a lot of attention is being placed on Judo. While Japan being good at Judo might seem like an obvious connection, this wasn’t always the case. During the 2012 London Olympics, the male team had no medals and after that there were widespread reports on violence and power harassment within the community. In order to change this problematic leadership, a new coach, Inoue Kosei, was appointed. 


What Coach Inoue focused on first was “Jita-Kyoei”. This means prosperity for not just yourself but for all of society and was one of the principles that were brought up by the founder of the Kodokan Judo Institute, Kano Jigoro, alongside the principle of “Seiryoku Zenyo” (which means using your inner strength effectively). Jigoro transformed Judo from something that primarily focused on skill to Judo that also encompassed how we are as humans. Jigoro then says “Through Judo practice, one will be able to better use their inner strength, which one should then use to make society better.” That is Judo’s purpose and Coach Inoue’s principle of “Jita-Kyoei” is one that contains what we at SMO call “Purpose”, “Mission” and “Vision”. 


In a company’s philosophical structure, I believe that there are four elements: Purpose, Mission, Vision, and Values. Purpose indicates, what this organization exist for, Vision indicates what the organization wants to be or achieve, Mission indicates what the organization must do to realize their Purpose and Vision, and Values indicates

what the organization holds dear. 


But ultimately, these are the four elements that we focus on, and other corporations may look at Purpose in the same way we look at Mission or look at Mission and Values in the way we look at Purpose. What’s most important is not what we call these things but rather if people are able to act and move with these ideas in mind. Although it takes time and effort to actually implement such ideas the benefits that come with it are far greater than the cost. 


Coach Inoue made the team do team exercises such as canoe practice or other forms of “art” like Judo, such as tea ceremonies or training with the Self Defense Force. All of this was done to give the athletes a sense of “Jita-Kyoei”. These actions are the tasks one does to acquire the ability to move according to Purpose. 


When moving an organization according to Purpose, these initial measures are more complicated than actually setting the Purpose. At SMO, we place much importance on trust and understanding in this initial stage. “Understanding” is something that seems obvious, but is not so easy to do. Understanding the thought that is being put into Purpose and then having a general understanding of how to actually put that into action is necessary. For “trust” there are two meanings and one is the employee’s belief in that purpose. The second meaning is the trust that employees have towards the organizations and leaders who set the Purpose in the first place. 


“Jita-Kyoei” is a way of thinking that matches our current society. Pursuing usefulness to society is an idea that is directly connected to Purpose-driven companies. The idea of only pursuing individual success is no longer acceptable in the developed Japanese society. In Budo this is well established, and you do not see the winner making a fist pump in matches. Even now in sports like Kendo or Judo, problems arise when athletes react with fist pumps after matches, for in Budo the principle of “starting with gratitude and ending with gratitude” is in its spirit and that is what’s most important in a match. 


That’s what Judo is about in the first place, but as Judo became a more international sport, other cultures mixed into the sport and celebrations after matches became more normal. After the 2016 Rio Olympics and at this year’s Tokyo Olympics, the Japanese gold medalist Ono Shohei did not celebrate or even smile after winning. In an interview he said, “This is a competition, and I intended to respect my competitor. This is the place where I can show Japan’s spirit and I think I hid my feelings well”. 


In sports and in business, knowing “Why are we doing this” and questioning that purpose whilst acting in accordance to it leads to growth. Purpose depends not on individual goals but a collective one that is important in our society today.