Mustard Seed Academy
CEO Hajime Nakazawa
I was weak and often absent from school throughout elementary school. I was not athletic and was often sick before sports days. But my body became strong when I entered high school. I found English was my only strong subject and when I decided to take time off from school and go to the U.S., my teachers, parents and friends were surprised and said, “We never thought you’d be so courageous.”
I participated in a home stay at a tiny village of 500 and graduated from the local high school. Then I returned to Japan, graduated from Japanese high school, spent a year after graduation preparing for university entrance exams and entered Sophia University in Tokyo. At my university every class was in English and the students were mostly foreigners or bilingual Japanese. My confidence in my English ability was crushed. I knew I would be kicked out of university if my test scores fell below certain levels, but such pressure was actually a good experience for me.
During the year after high school, my father had a serious illness and stopped supporting me financially. I lived on my own while attending a cram school in Tokyo. I managed to enter university, but my relatives failed in their businesses and that caused my family to collapse and I had to hold down multiple jobs. Then the cram school I was attending offered me a part-time job handing out pamphlets. I was also asked to teach when a lecturer was absent and before I knew it, I was a cram school teacher. Because I was close to the students’ age, they felt comfortable with me. My classroom was soon full. After graduating university, I remained with the cram school as a lecturer. Although I didn’t know what I was doing at first, I enjoyed my job so much that I could not wait for the next morning. I loved when students who did not have confidence in themselves began showing confidence and I was convinced I had found my calling.
When I was 17 and went to the U.S., I learned that nothing will happen unless I take action and that I need the support of many people. These realizations ended up opening many doors for me later. When I started teaching, it was the height of non-cramming education and English vocabulary notes were “thin, light and simple.” I believed that was not enough to pass high-level university exams and I wrote a business plan to start a publishing business. Neither well-known publishers nor large Internet book stores did not take me seriously, but the president of a national bookstore operator supported my plan. My business gained momentum and that opened the door for Mustard Seed Academy. I established the academy when the number of children was declining and people told me I was crazy. However, I stuck to my guns, opened the school and soon highly motivated students from across the country started coming to Mustard Seed Academy.
“Gain all you can, save all you can, give all you can.” This is a quote by British preacher John Wesley. Mustard Seed Academy is a school geared to help people pass university entrance exams, but does not just teach to pass exams. We would like to let students find their ability, brush it up (or gain it), grow it and use (or save) it. We want young students also to make contributions (or give) back. To that end, we would like to widen choices to find, encourage and nurture young people. In 2013, we signed an agreement with the International Federation of Universities to collaborate on exchange programs with national universities in Britain and Ireland. That is a step forward. We will continue to open many doors for young talent who will go out to the world.
- Mustard Seed Academy
- Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo
- Cram school operator