With a high literacy rate and a strong work ethic that embodies the samurai code of conduct, it is easy to assume Japan is well placed in the global race for economic ascendency.
But Robert Kiyosaki, an entrepreneur and author of the top-selling personal finance book “Rich Dad Poor Dad,” says the Japanese, like the majority of people in the world, are missing the most important pillar of success: financial education.
Financial literacy is learning how to control and build cash flow while living an abundant life as opposed to living a life dictated by the size of a paycheck, according to Kiyosaki.
A fourth-generation Japanese-American who says he is Japanese on the outside and American on the inside, Kiyosaki admits he has a soft spot in his heart for his ancestral home, despite the language barrier.
“I don’t speak Japanese at all. But I feel the powerful strength of the Japanese. That spirit of the Japanese keeps me going,” Kiyosaki said in a recent interview.
“Japan is a fabulous country, but you’ve got one of the worst economies in the Western world. The problem is our educational system throughout the world. It never teaches anything about money, and it goes all the way up to your leadership.”
Kiyosaki says that only by acquiring financial acumen will the Japanese people understand that Abenomics, the signature fiscal policies of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, are not the answer to their problems.
When the system flounders, “there are less jobs but more opportunities. It’s like Takashimaya having a sale. It’s up to you. Not Mr. Abe,” he preaches.
Last October, Kiyosaki visited Tokyo for a two-day conference in which he shared his wisdom on wealth-building along with investing experts such as Mary Buffett, the former daughter-in-law of billionaire business magnate Warren Buffett, who is No. 2 on Forbes’ 2017 world rich list.
Even in Japan, where the “work hard” attitude is more about morality than profit, Kiyosaki and his books have established a nationwide fan base, which argues that the traditional ideas of working hard to get ahead are lies.
The self-help “Rich Dad” series has been translated into 51 languages and sold more than 30 million copies worldwide, including 3 million in Japan. Only 1,000 copies were printed when Kiyosaki originally self-published “Rich Dad Poor Dad,” whose 20th anniversary edition was released last year.
The Hawaiian-born Kiyosaki says when most people talk about money, it is almost with a good-versus-evil religious fervor, and Japan is no exception.
“You’re not even Christians here (in Japan). There are always religious overtones in it. Unfortunately, it’s not money that’s evil but lack of knowledge that’s evil,” he says.
Kiyosaki, who went from being homeless in 1985 to a millionaire by1989, does his best to simplify his teachings so that the lower and middle classes can learn to escape from the seemingly unending cycle of getting up, working and paying the bills.
The 70-year-old said he feels for those on the treadmill of life, especially baby boomers similar in age to him, because he predicts the next massive market collapse is coming in 2018 just as they move into retirement.
“The markets crash every 10 years and it happens on schedule,” he says. “I don’t know why it’s surprising. 1988, 1998, 2008, 2018. It’s going to crash again. The next one is going to be twice as big as 2008. This is going to be worse than the Fukushima nuclear reactor going off.”
Kiyosaki fears China’s overheated banking system may be the first domino to topple, taking the global economy with it, and though he hopes he is wrong, he sees warning signs everywhere.
So, with potential doom and gloom around the corner, does he have a solution? First, he says he would advise everyone to get their money out of the banks, because if the system collapses their “cash will be trash.”
Avoiding that mistake is a start, but Kiyosaki knows many other pitfalls await, with mistakes being part of the journey to wealth. He is a firm believer in making mistakes, seeing recovery from goof-ups as a critical component of success.
“How does a baby learn to walk unless he falls down?” he says. “That’s the problem at school. They teach you that making mistakes means you’re stupid, rather than teaching how to learn from your mistakes.”
One mistake he never made, he says, was letting school “suck the life” out of him. He made a quick exit and headed straight for the marines after high school.
Kiyosaki has been criticized for encouraging people to drop out of school and for his anti-higher education stance. However, he says his Stanford, Chicago and Northwestern university-graduate father’s constant money gripes left him questioning the value of formal education.
Having just returned from the Vietnam War around the age of 25, Kiyosaki says he chose to follow in the footsteps of his best friend’s father, the eighth-grade dropout whom he later coined as his “Rich Dad,” instead of his biological father, his “Poor Dad.”
Using the Monopoly board game Rich Dad taught him the lessons that became the basis both for his best-selling book and his business career.
A key lesson for Kiyosaki, and something he tries to impart to those who attend his lectures, is to break free of the standard nine-to-five, or the grueling 12-plus-hour shifts that Japanese salarymen with a work-first mentality are used to.
“(People) are spiritually addicted to paychecks. They sell that soul for the buck or the yen. They can’t let go of it. It’s like taking away oxygen or water or food. It’s tragic because the yen or the dollar or the yuan are corrupt. They’re toxic.”
That sort of straight talk is typical of Kiyosaki. He is aware he can be arrogant, but says it is the only way he knows how to share his lessons: Don’t go back to school. Don’t work for money. Don’t save. Savers are losers. The rich will steal all the money off the top.
If you have financial education, times of panic are times to win, according to Kiyosaki, echoing Warren Buffett’s famous edict, “Be fearful when others are greedy, and greedy when others are fearful.”
So while entrepreneurs such as Kiyosaki are waiting to run into the next crash, the poor and the middle class run away from it.
To get on the right “side,” Kiyosaki explains, you need a team of experts to turn to for advice, and you should never let ego get in the way. As Rich Dad taught him, business and investing are team sports.
If you want to learn how to play the game, then you want to think, act and play like a winner.
“There are three sides to a coin — heads, tails and the edge. Without financial education, the poor middle class cannot see what the rich are doing. All I do is tell people to stand on the edge of the coin and look at all sides. Most people can’t do it.”
Like anyone, Kiyosaki does have his share of detractors. Some have called him a fraud because his books are anecdotal, or even claim that Rich Dad is a fictional character. Most of them are the “academic type,” he says, but for him money talks and the rest is just hype.
“My dad is a Ph.D. Ph.D. stands for poor, helpless and desperate. Don’t get me wrong, they’re good people. I just call it the way I see it. Show me the money.”