Sunday, April 1, 2007

JIZAI (Jee-zie)—The Power of a Modern Version of Zen!

How the Japanese Tap into Cosmic Creativity!

Boyé Lafayette De Mente

I note in my book The Japanese Have a Word for It! that until recent times the Western world did not give very much thought to the relationship between the mind and the body, and to the power of the mind to influence and change the functioning of the body. Such ideas were regarded as mystic nonsense.

It was not until the latter part of the 1900s that Western scientists began to accept the idea that their concepts of the physical world were only a part of the human and cosmic equation, and that there was much more to life and existence than what meets the eye.

Most people in the West continue to ignore the ancient Asian practice of Zen, which allows one to transcend conventional wisdom, see things as they really are, and achieve mental and physical skills that are out of the ordinary.

It was the addition of Zen meditation to the training of Japan’s famous samurai class that made it possible for them to transcend the limitations of the average person in martial arts, and it was this same training that provided the insight for Japan’s artists, craftsmen and garden designers to routinely create masterpieces.

One of the versions of Zen that has played a key role in the emergence of Japan as a major economic power is subsumed in the word jizai (jee-zie), which, in effect, refers to being able to think outside of the box of conventional wisdom and customary practices.

Virtually all of Japan’s best known businessmen/entrepreneurs have been and still are practitioners of jizai, and the concept is the foundation of many of the think-tanks that sprung up in Japan in the latter half of the 20th century—the best known of which is the Jizai Kenkyu Jo (Jee-zie Kane-que Jo), or Jizai Research Institute, founded in 1970 by Masahiro Mori, a Tokyo University professor of engineering who was also the founder of the Robotics Society of Japan.

Many of the most successful products that Japan has produced since that time have been the result of jizai thinking. In product terms, jizai thinking means meditating on the design and function of a product until you arrive at the ultimate in function, design and quality.

There was very little if any tradition of this kind in the Western world until recent times, particularly in the United States, and it was not until competition from Japanese manufacturers became a serious threat to U.S. industry that some American designers and engineers began to take a more jizai approach to their work.
Copyright © 2007 by Boyé Lafayette De Mente

For other concepts that are expressed by key terms in the Japanese language, see the author’s books, The Japanese Have a Word for It (McGraw-Hill) and Japan’s Cultural Code Words (Tuttle Publishing). For books in the same series on China, Korea and Mexico, see his personal website: and/or