A decade ago, Kenichi Takenaka's ambitions had nothing to do with business, graduate study, or the United States. The Tokyo native was busy preparing for a career as a professional shogi player, balancing school with a rigorous training program under the watchful eye of a master.
schmitt shoots!! |
School of Management M.B.A. student Kenichi Takenaka shows pieces from shogi, a traditional Japanese board game. Prior to studying business, he was a skilled shogi player.
Shogi, a traditional Japanese game of mental skill, is similar to chess. In the one-on-one board game, each player strategically moves game pieces from square to square, trying to capture the opponent's pieces. The ultimate objective is to trap the competitor's king. Believed to be a derivative of a game played in India around 3000 B.C., shogi was later modified by the Chinese, and took its present form in the 14th century. For centuries, shogi was played only by men.
Takenaka, an M.B.A. candidate at the School of Management, learned the game as a young boy by accompanying his father to an amateur shogi club. "My father played, so it was easy for me to learn. I would go there and eat snacks or something while my father played," he says. "Eventually, shogi became a hobby for me."
By age 10, Takenaka began to compete. He read books on the game, and followed a daily feature on shogi that ran in his local newspaper. Soon he was moving up the intricate system of amateur ranks. By the time Takenaka entered junior high school, shogi was his primary focus. His instructor advised him "not to study at all" so he could apply all his mental energy to the game.
At age 20, Takenaka became the All-Japan amateur shogi champion. But by then he had decided to end his quest for fame and fortune. Unable to reach the first level in the professional ranks after three attempts, Takenaka felt he had devoted enough of his youth to the game. With the support of his family and his master, Takenaka turned his attention to academics. He entered Keio University in Japan, and set about building a new life. "I almost quit playing shogi at university," Takenaka recalls. "It was a time when I wanted to meet new people and try new things. Because I was so focused on shogi as a teenager, I wanted to expand my interests during college."
After completing a bachelor's degree in business, Takenaka went to work for Hitachi, one of Japan's largest electronics manufacturers. Although he'd studied English at the university, he continued to learn the language, considering it a valuable asset because of the company's sizable international market. Hitachi provides annual scholarships for 30 employees to study in the United States, so Takenaka took advantage of the program. The SU M.B.A. program appealed to him because of its strong emphasis on entrepreneurship. "I like SU. It is quiet and it is a good place for me to learn," he says. "Because the University is not in the middle of a big city, people are more focused on studying."
Takenaka says many of the skills he acquired as a shogi player are applicable to his endeavors in the business world. "Some of the strategies, logic, and tactics are very similar," he says. "In business, we should always understand what the customer is thinking. In shogi, one must know how the opponent is feeling."
When Takenaka plays shogi now, it is just for fun. He sees himself as an ambassador for the game, and enjoys showing other students how to play. "I am happy that Americans are interested in shogi," he says. "I will teach anyone who has an interest. As more people learn, the game will become more international."
These days, Takenaka rarely thinks about the life he almost had as a professional shogi player. "So far, my life is going very well," he says. "I think I made the right decision. My game-playing strategy is old by today's standards. I don't think I could win now, anyway. But I want to continue playing because the game has many merits."
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