#10 Maki Kaji

Maki Kaji is a president of Nikoli, which introduced “Sudoku” for the first time in Japan. In 1980, he published the first puzzle magazine in Japan. Three years later he established Nikoli, a publishing company of puzzle magazines, and has introduced various puzzles including Sudoku, which is now played in 114 countries around the world. In our interview, we asked him about how interesting Sudoku is and his view of Japanese through Sudoku.

Interview with Maki Kaji

– You entered into a puzzle world after working for publishing and printing companies. What made you to establish Nikoli?

Kaji:

In 1979 when I was working for the publishing company, I got a puzzle magazine from a friend of mine as a souvenir from the USA. Although we had some puzzle books in Japan at that time there was no such Japanese puzzle magazine. One year later I realized no puzzle magazine had come out yet, and thought it would be a good idea to issue it by myself. This is how I started to make puzzles with two of my childhood friends. My experience of having worked for both publishing and printing companies made it easier for me to create the first puzzle magazine although I had never done it before.

At first I had no idea how to promote our puzzle magazines but it turned out there were certain number of puzzle fans in Japan. A year later we constantly received enough puzzles from these fans such as professors, lawyers and students to issue our regular puzzle magazines, which made it possible for us not to make puzzles by ourselves. In 1983 I established our company, Nikoli, as soon as I heard that a major company was planning to issue puzzle magazines in the following year. I had no ambition about the future of our company because we had already had certain number of customers.

–In 1984, you introduced “Sudoku” in your monthly puzzle magazine for the first time. How did you know about Sudoku?

Kaji:

In our magazines, we put puzzles that three of the founders of the company thought to be interesting among puzzles that we received from the readers of our magazines. But I was interested in creating more organized puzzle magazines and started to analyze American puzzle magazines.

I found a quiz that was later named Sudoku by us from one American puzzle magazine. In America, this quiz was called “number place”, and there was only one quiz in one magazine. I initially solved number place from these American magazines, but when I tried to make it by myself I did it. So I started to introduce this puzzle in our magazines. The quality of this puzzle in our magazines was greatly improved as many readers gave us their original quizzes. In 1984 I came up with a word “Sudoku.” It is an abbreviation of a Japanese phrase, which is translated “Only single number is allowed to use in this puzzle.” in English because this puzzle requires to use only numbers from 1 to 9.

– Where do you find fascinating aspects of Sudoku, which is prevailed all over the world? Also what do you think is a main reason for Sudoku to be popular around the world?

Kaji: