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School operator scores big with right-brain development


Staff writer

Fifteen years ago, Ruiko Henmi, an operator of schools focusing on right-brain development, saw a 7-year-old boy read a paperback in less than a minute and she did not believe it was possible he retained any of the information it contained.

News photoOn the right side: Ruiko Henmi, CEO of Henmi Educational General Laboratory, speaks at her school in Tachikawa, Tokyo, on March 13. YOSHIAKI MIURA

She then saw other children racing through books using the "hado yomi" (literally, "wave-action reading") ultrafast speed-reading method, which consists of flipping through several hundred pages a few times in less than a minute and understanding the content. Many of the children were her students.

Two years later, she gathered 100 children who claimed they could do the ultra-fast reading and had them do it in front of her eyes. She then gave them 15 minutes to write a summary of the book.

Most of the children got the summary correct, and some of them even filled eight pages of A4-size paper, Henmi said.

"That's when I was convinced it was real. I thought developing the right brain must have helped," said Henmi, CEO of HEGL, which stands for Henmi Educational General Laboratory.

The right side of the brain is known as the area for intuition and imagery comprehension, while the left side deals with logical comprehension.

Henmi added the ultrafast reading technique to her schools' curriculum. Some of her students and education methods have been featured in magazines and TV shows, making her school popular.

Her main school in Tachikawa, western Tokyo, was started in 1992, and it currently has 1,000 students, from newborns to age 12, some of whom come from as far as Hokkaido and Okinawa.

The firm has 38 employees in Tachikawa, 13 of whom are teachers.

HEGL also has 200 students in a school in Melbourne, Australia, 400 in its three schools in Singapore and 400 in its Kuala Lumpur school. This month the business opened two schools in Thailand.

Despite HEGL's popularity, its fees are kept at a level similar to those of cram schools. For example, the monthly cost at the Tachikawa school is ¥17,000. Students attend one lesson a week lasting one or two hours, depending on the age of the child.

"I want ordinary children to come. I don't want right-brain development to be a special thing for a few rich people," Henmi said.

Her company posted sales of ¥240 million and an undisclosed amount of profit in the year that ended in August. The Lehman Shock and the Great East Japan Earthquake did not have much impact on her business, she said.

Henmi said the right side of a young baby's brain is "open," while at age 3 the child begins to create a mental barrier between the right and left sides. Therefore, her school even teaches pregnant women how to communicate with their unborn babies. The parents talk to their unborn babies, learn about brain structure and that parental love is essential for intellectual development from the viewpoint of brain science.

Older children go through advanced training. In one regimen, a teacher holds 70 cards, each with an image of an item such as an orange or a chair, and flips through them quickly to show students all 70 cards. The students try to remember the images in order.

In a promotional video, a boy who has successfully memorized all 70 cards says, "I made up a story with the items appearing in order and remembered the story instead of each of the 70 items."

Henmi said: "This training lets them use a part of the brain they don't use in their daily lives. It stimulates their brain to enhance its potential."

Such potential can help some students read 10,000 books a month. Those who do so can enter the "Ichimankai" (literally, "the 10,000 group") and are eligible to take more advanced courses for right-brain development at Henmi's school.

Out of 1,000 students in Tachikawa, 250 are in Ichimankai. Altogether, there are more than 1,000 people in the Ichimankai, including alumni of her school, Henmi said, noting Ichimankai members can control the left and right sides of their brain simultaneously.

For the teachers, besides having the ability to teach ultrafast reading and other skills requiring use of the right brain, they must have high moral standards and the willingness to evolve so they can keep pace with the children's growth, Henmi said.

When the curriculum changes, she announces 60 different training programs in person to the teachers. She does not prepare written materials, and teachers must understand the programs and prepare the lessons themselves, she said.

Her school also teaches parents how to raise children with high brain performance. It is important for children to have a stable mental status and eat healthy food for right-brain development, she said.

Henmi stressed that adults can also develop their brain potential. "I want people to know that everybody has hidden abilities," she said. "And if you develop such abilities, you will be able to live like yourself and have a happy life."

This series has been prepared in collaboration with Enjin Co., which produces and operates a video website, kenja.tv, specializing in profiles of up-and-coming Japanese entrepreneurs.