For four straight years, during college, my classmates and I were made to take a “guidance testing”, which – as the name implies – was administered by the Guidance Department. There were also times when my psychology major friends would ask me to take a simple psychological test. Some of them were personality tests that made us apparently know ourselves more deeply; there were a lot of times I experienced the “Oo nga no! (Yes, that’s so right!)” moments from those sessions. However, the format was similar to a sit-down exam, and as much as I actually enjoyed it, it also became a little bit boring sometimes, especially when the questions started repeating themselves with different wordings.
Professor Isamu Saito and Tadahiko Nagao’s bestselling book, however, supposedly aims to change all that, providing an innovative feature for the psychological test in an attempt to make it fun and entertaining. Kokology: The Game of Self-Discovery is a bathroom or small party-type tome that is made up of a series of short situation-type problems where one has to answer either multiple choice or short-answer questions, or is even asked to make a simple drawing. On the page after each question is the “answer key”, where Professor Saito explains what each answer supposedly says about the person. These may range from innocent topics such as how one views a member of his/her family to rather bolder ones such as making love, so an essentially holistic “analysis” of the human being is provided.
Know Thyself: The front cover of the deluxe two-in-one edition of Kokology: The Game of Self-Discovery by Professor Isamu Saito and Tadahiko Nagao. (Source: GoodReads.com)
Normally coming in two volumes, Fireside Books (among others) has published a single, compiled volume, which is the specific edition this essay aims to review. Of course, these started in Japan (and have sold 4 million copies combined there), and according to CNN’s Adam Dunn was even presented in a TV show format! The English translations came out in 2000 and 2001, and after that the two-in-one format.
My first encounter with the book was when I was in high school; my brother had asked me to buy both volumes as a birthday gift for a cousin. Some time later, he had also bought his own copies, so I didn’t buy my own first, instead resorting to borrowing his. While I was randomly surfing about the books on Amazon (I like reading reviews of books and albums I have), I came across a page of the two-in-one format. Being obsessed with “everything-in-one” things, not to mention hardcover books (the individual volumes are paperback books), I fell in love with the book and wanted to buy it. However, I never found it on any bookstore, and attempts to buy the book online care of my brother (I have no credit card of my own until now) were delayed due to other more interesting things coming out I asked instead for birthday or holiday gifts. Until the evening of 22 December 2011.
That day, I had just landed at Manila from my exchange trip, and for reasons I no longer recall, I went to a nearby bookstore. It was as if angels were singing in my head when, lo and behold, I saw the book I had been hunting for about two or three years, sitting on a shelf there. This edition by Fireside Books looked the same as the one online (released in 2003), but this one had been released in 2010. I immediately bought it and, with trembling hands as if I was handling something invaluable, removed the plastic wrapping and began to read.
My reactions to the book differ in terms of form and of substance.
First, form. As I mentioned, this specific edition combines the two volumes of Kokology into one book. However, to my disappointment and annoyance, it seemed that Fireside had taken it too literally. In what I deem as lack of professionalism or perhaps laziness even, the pages of the two volumes were just put together and left untouched. What I mean by this is that the book still has a Kokology part and a Kokology 2 part, with two different tables of contents and the pages Kokology 101, Playing the Game, and Eight Tips for Playing Kokology being repeated in Kokology 2! I found it to be a waste of paper and a potential source of confusion for some readers because there are two page 100s – yes, even the page numbers were repeated! If I were the project head of this specific edition, I would have treated all 100 questions (50 per volume) as under one long work, with just one table of contents reaching up to page 300+ (each volume has over 170 pages), and possibly even a new foreword from the authors if they were willing (each volume has its own A Word from Professor Saito, and Kokology 2 has an introduction). Now that would be a real treasure with a more “premium” feeling that this really is a special edition.
That aside, I have no other complaints about this edition of what is fast becoming one of my favorite, go-to books.
And why is it such? Now on to substance.
The father of Kokology, Isamu Saito, is a Rissho University professor who has written other books on psychology and relationships; presumably, his field is psychology and he knows perfectly well what he is talking about in his explanations in the book. The book itself says that “sound psychological principles” are used, and Saito in fact makes references to notable psychologists such as Carl Jung. Since I’m not a psychology major, it’s not my place to judge whether said principles are indeed sound or not; I assume they are.
And if they indeed are? Well, some of my answers indeed generated the “Oo nga no!” feeling, but others were just so unexpected that I also felt like questioning the validity of said research. To prevent spoilers or talking too much about myself, I shall not post any examples, but I’m sure that one who is a Kokology reader has already felt that way. According to Dunn, there are professionals who also doubt the validity of the answers; he quotes one Monika Bravo as having said that imaginary situations (like what the Kokology problems make one do) will lead to similarly imaginary answers. This I can compare to the all-too-familiar feeling of hours of practice for an event leaving you feeling still not quite ready for the event itself (such as a mock panel feeling worlds away from the actual panel). But there seems to be no conclusive answer on whether the explanations are indeed true or not.
I myself have problems sometimes with this as well. The authors always advocate saying the first thing that comes into one’s mind when answering the questions. But for one thing, especially for the multiple choice questions, one’s answer may not be among the choices, and the available answer that “is closest” to one’s true feelings may not even be close enough. This I found to be evident in only some questions; I did not encounter this problem in other questions. Perhaps that means the fields explained by the former are closer to my heart than the things explained by the latter. Who knows. 😉
Another reason I question the psychological quizzes is that sometimes, it is difficult to “say the first thing that pops in [my] head”, again especially for the multiple choice questions. Perhaps it’s the very nature of multiple choice questions themselves, because I never encountered this difficulty in the short-answer or drawing questions; but there were times I agonized over my choice and ended up kind of “answering” both. Perhaps it’s my feelings then (which a commenter on the GoodReads.com page believes is the case). Or maybe there are some questions that need a little more… effort… in answering. Nevertheless, I have answered Kokology several times over a span of several years, and while some of my answers were basically the same (more evidence of its accuracy) – had already forgotten the explanations by then – others had changed. Important to note is that I became exposed to this book as a teenager – a time of dynamic change in a person – and so I was pleasantly surprised at how my attitudes had changed.
My verdict? Yes, get this book. It’s fun to read alone (like I said, a bathroom-style book), or with a close friend or your significant other, or at a small gathering of friends or even colleagues (the authors indeed suggest taping a round of Kokology at an office party). You may or may not learn something more about yourself; I think it’s really up to the person answering it. As Professor Saito and Nagao say, just be open-minded and honest, stay true to yourself. After all, that’s what this book’s all about.
Form Grade: C
Substance Grade: A-
Overall Grade: B+
Kokology: The Game of Self-Discovery may be bought in National Bookstore for Php545.00.