Japan Economic Foundation

Chairman's Article
(excerpts from JEF's Magazine "Japan Spotlight")

61 . Indulgence in?

Indulgence in?
March/April 2007
Noboru Hatakeyama
Chairman and CEO,
Japan Economic Foundation

Last spring a seminar aimed at spreading the Japanese language to
non-Japanese speakers was held by the Japan Foundation. The event featured
a dialogue in Japanese between H.E. Mr. Graham Fry, the UK ambassador to
Japan, and H.E. Mr. Domingo Siazon, the ambassador from the Philippines.
Since I know both of them and I am interested in spreading the Japanese
language to the rest of the world, I attended the seminar, which, if I am
allowed to exaggerate a bit, has changed my private life.
On the podium, the two ambassadors were talking with each other in eloquent
Japanese. In the middle of their conversation, Ambassador Fry referred to
a Japanese word, which I did not know. After I went back home, I
hesitantly asked my wife about the meaning of the word. She said: "Don't
you know Sudoku? It has come into vogue all over Japan now." She appeared
surprised at my ignorance about a fashionable trend in my own country.
Thus, my wife taught me how to play Sudoku. Since then I have indulged in
this mind-bending game.
Sudoku somewhat resembles a crossword puzzle. There are 9 x 9 square
spaces, and some of them (the number depending on the degree of difficulty
in the game) are filled beforehand with single-digit numbers, and the rest
are left blank. You have to fill the blank spaces with single-digit
numbers so that every vertical and every horizontal line consist of nine
distinct numbers - one to nine.
Sudoku is a very good medicine to kill time, but you have to be careful
about an overdose. Last July, I went to Weihai in China and I had to wait
for five hours at Beijing Capital International Airport to get a transfer
flight. However, the five hours passed really fast, as I was playing
Sudoku.
Now every major newspaper in Japan carries Sudoku puzzles in its weekend
editions. If you do not want to buy Sudoku books, you can also download
the game off the Internet and you can enjoy a virtually unlimited number of
Sudoku free of charge.
It is not only in Japan that Sudoku has proliferated. Last summer an
Indian company held a seminar in Karuizawa, a prestigious resort in central
Japan. During lunch time, I went to a table seated by around 10 Indians
and asked them if they knew Sudoku. Each one of them replied yes and asked
me: "Are there any Japanese who do not know Sudoku?"
Last autumn, during a flight from Japan to the United States, an American
gentleman sitting next to me seemed to be reading USA Today. Actually he
was solving a Sudoku puzzle printed in the newspaper. He kindly shared the
puzzle solution with me and told me that the airline magazine carried a
Sudoku puzzle.
Right from the start, this game spread quickly outside Japan. The original
model was apparently invented in Switzerland in the 18th century. Similar
puzzles were carried by newspapers in France close to the end of 19th
century. The current model of Sudoku was completed by an American
architect in the 1970s. It was in the 1980s that a Japanese came up with
the name for this puzzle and called it Sudoku. "Su" means "number" and
"doku" is "single" in Japanese.
Intensive marketing was conducted in the 1990s by a New Zealander who
happened to have found a Sudoku book in Tokyo. He is said to have
succeeded in persuading the London Times to print Sudoku puzzles. This is
probably where the UK ambassador to Japan found out Sudoku.
Having said all this, I have been wondering why people who have a lot of
experience in work and in private lives are so attracted to Sudoku. A
friend of mine who had retired from government said: "When we were working
for the government of Japan, there were many important issues. When we
successfully resolved the issues, we got lots of satisfaction, and we were
filled with a sense of achievement. After retiring from government, we
have not had such a sense of achievement. Sudoku, once solved, might give
you a similar sense of achievement."
For the last 10 years I had been writing a diary every day. I have stopped
writing a diary now. For the last 10 years I have been doing oil painting.
Now, I paint just enough to fulfill my obligations for the art exhibitions
organized by the clubs where I belong. My sleeping hours have been cut by
one and a half hours on average. All these happened just because of my
indulgence in Sudoku. However, I am confident that I will never feel bored
as long as I can play Sudoku.