October 2016 Entrance Ceremony President’s Speech 【3rd October 2016】
I am very happy indeed to be able, on behalf of the University, to welcome 38 students coming from 12 countries to the entrance ceremony for SOKENDAI (The Graduate University for Advanced Studies) held here in Hayama, which not only is surrounded by beautiful greenery but also offers a view of Mt. Fuji across the bay. Along with the faculty members here today, who represent the teaching staff, I would like to extend my warmest congratulations and welcome to you all.
SOKENDAI was established in 1988 as the first graduate-only university in Japan which has no undergraduate colleges. Based on Inter-University Research Institutes, its main goal is to nurture top-rate researchers with a high level of expertise and a broad perspective. SOKENDAI is thus a globally unique university, truly sui generis.
A major failing of our tertiary education system in Japan is its lack of mobility. SOKENDAI, which has no undergraduate colleges, was in fact founded as one measure to resolve this lack of mobility. Indeed, each of you has made the decision to pursue new colleagues and new areas of study, and have left your own schools and your own countries in order to join us at SOKENDAI. I admire your willingness to embrace new challenges and your ability to make sound judgments. Through the Freshman Course, Retreat Programs, and other opportunities which we offer in order to promote fellowship among students, I recommend that you forge bonds with your peers and form friendships which will provide mutual encouragement and stimulation. The first unique attribute of SOKENDAI, thus, is its students, all of whom have the ability to overcome many barriers, as we can see here. Thus, we have been able to provide the conditions for people to meet others from different scientific backgrounds and different disciplines, and create new areas of study through mutual interaction.
In Japan there are world-renowned international, central research bases—that is, Inter-University Research Institutes—that are jointly used by universities where researchers from around the world cooperate and interact, and opportunities are provided for joint usage and joint research to researchers from across Japan. These Inter-University Research Institutes are administered by researcher communities and are unique to Japan. The second attribute of SOKENDAI is that its graduate education, ranging from humanities, to natural sciences, is conducted at 20 different departments on the basis of 18 parent institutes where this world-leading infrastructure is installed and world-class manpower is engaged in joint researches constantly, with researchers both at home and overseas. For this reason, we are able to provide the best environment to nurture researchers and the optimum conditions for students to acquire ‘high levels of expertise or specialism’, ‘cross-disciplinary cooperativeness’ and an ‘international perspective’.
One of the major failings of Japanese tertiary education is its segmentation. This is a reflection of the general character of scholarship in Japan where a silo mentality (in Japanese, we call this ‘Takotsubo,’ meaning an octopus trap) has produced disciplines with no common foundation and a lack of mutual interaction. As early as 1961, some 55 years ago, the renowned scholar Masao Maruyama had already called attention to this state of affairs in his book “Nihon no Shiso” (Japanese Thought). Unfortunately, it persists to this day and is the reason behind this segmentation. Increasingly adverse effects in graduate education have been caused by education being conducted by individual laboratories, or failing even to achieve this. The philosophy behind the establishment of SOKENDAI—as ‘SOGO’ at the beginning of its full name in Japanese indicates—is to break away from this segmentation. The third attribute of SOKENDAI, then, is that we aim for ‘comprehensiveness’. This comprehensiveness has three components: ‘cross-disciplinary cooperation’, ‘partnership with society’, and ‘international perspective’. Our diverse range of custom-made educational programs—including the Freshman Course, a training camp-type synthetic liberal arts education program for the entire school, and special interschool education programs combining different departments—and so on, are all designed with this in mind.
One important characteristic of such entire-school synthetic liberal arts and interdisciplinary educational programs is their ‘cross-disciplinary cooperation’, the first component of this comprehensiveness. This is particularly reflected in the ability of both arts and science students here to study together. I think that the division between the arts and the sciences in modern society originated from a book entitled “Discourse on the Method” (1637) in which the author René Descartes proposed separating ‘reason’ from ‘nature’ and then mechanistically analyzing ‘nature’. In fact, the humanities were not included in Descartes’ philosophy. His philosophy led to the dramatic development of modern science by handling nature in a human-centered and conquering manner, but this has led to a number of present-day abuses such as the destruction of nature. In this regard, the emeritus professor of SOKENDAI, Takeshi Umehara (the first Director General of the International Research Center for Japanese Studies), stated in his book “Jinrui Tetsugaku Josetsu” (2013) that ‘philosophy must be based on living together with all living things (including not only humankind and animals but also plants, the earth and the universe). This is how I believe philosophy should be. Science and technology also must be supported by such a philosophy’. In this sense, I think it is particularly important that these SOKENDAI educational programs aiming for ‘comprehensiveness’ are implemented by both arts and science students together. These education programs will nurture talented researchers who can, in the future, conduct comprehensive and innovative studies in harmony with all living things.
The second component of comprehensiveness is ‘partnership with society’. The need to engage in such partnership is obvious, given the materialization within society of the many results of scientific research to date, and the enormous impact that these have on people’s lives. Today, scientists must always be aware of the responsibility they have both to humanity and to society. Research ethics are the most important prerequisite to this. Without them, not only would we have abandoned our responsibilities to society, but we would begin to destroy the very basis of the existence of science. We offer entire-school synthetic liberal arts education programs relating to science and society along these lines, including research ethics, through the Freshman Course and other programs. Further, SOKENDAI has begun to offer a comprehensive educational program entitled ‘Dai Tohgo Shizenshi’ (Grand United Natural History) as an integrated science lecture, presenting an overall view in four dimensions of individual research through the lens of the relationship between natural and human history. The opportunity to take part in entire-school synthetic education programs of this kind is another unique factor about studying at SOKENDAI.
The third component of our academic comprehensiveness is ‘international perspective’. Nearly 30% of the student body at SOKENDAI is comprised of international students. I hope that you will interact with people not only from other disciplines, but also from other universities and from countries different from your own. In order to do this, and to become researchers operating at an international level in the future, please make sure that you also work hard at language studies to become bilingual. To our international students, I strongly recommend you take the opportunity to learn the language and culture of Japan. And to our Japanese students, I strongly recommend that you go abroad to study and train while pursuing your studies here. This year SOKENDAI is launching a new entire-school ‘overseas internship program’ to support such student activities. I encourage you to make good use of it to acquire an international perspective.
Incidentally, given the large number of international students taking part in our autumn entrance ceremony, allow me to touch further on the subject of language and culture by sharing with you what Takao Suzuki, professor emeritus at Keio University, writes in his 2014 book “Nihon no Kansei ga Sekai wo Kaeru” (that means How Japanese sensibility will change the world) about the characteristics of the Japanese language and culture. He calls Japanese the world’s only ‘television-type language’. By this he means that Japanese is a unique language in that it ‘uses both aural stimulation (i.e. sounds) and visual stimulation (i.e. written kanji) for the purposes of communication’. He also writes that ‘the secret strength of Japanese civilization is its resilient two-layer structure’. Specifically, Japan is the only modern nation state that not only reflects Western Civilization but also preserves a fundamental animistic and pantheistic view of nature held by ancient cultures (Jomon culture, in the case of Japan), a view that ‘all living things are interconnected in a complex web of co-existence and co-prosperity’. Likewise, in the book I mentioned earlier, Takeshi Umehara argues that the essence of Japanese culture can be explained in terms of the ‘attainment of Buddhahood by trees, plants and earth’ (‘Somoku Kokudo Sikkai Johbutsu’ in Japanese), a philosophy that not only people and animals but also plants and trees, the earth, and even the universe all possess precious life, and that all should aim for happiness. These distinctive qualities of Japanese language and culture will contribute, I believe, to the invention of science and culture reconceived from new perspectives.
To summarize, there are three major attributes that distinguish SOKENDAI as a premier learning institution, namely: 1) your fellow students, who have joined us at SOKENDAI from other universities with high aspirations and potential, 2) world-class parental institutes and teaching staff, and 3) entire-school education programs designed for comprehensive learning. Our hope is that at SOKENDAI you will take full advantage of these ideal conditions to grow into exceptional researchers who, with your newfound expertise and broadened perspective, can identify new academic problems and solve them.
Most of you are now part of a nationally renowned, world-class research environment known as an Inter-University Research Institute. As long as you apply yourself to your studies and research with a high level of motivation, the path to becoming an accomplished researcher or scientist will naturally open before you. There are a few basic conditions for sustaining that high level of motivation. The first is to turn away from other paths of interest, unless you happen to be a multitasking genius. All of you are here at SOKENDAI because you felt a strong attraction to research and chose the path to become a top-level researcher, possessed of superior expertise and broad perspective. This requires that you spend a period of time in which you leave other paths behind and focus on research and the necessary studies. Nor is this a condition for researchers alone. In his final book, “Watashi ga Kataritsutaetakatta Koto” (What I Wanted to Tell You), Hayao Kawai, SOKENDAI professor emeritus and former Director General of the International Research Center for Japanese Studies, states that “the ability to quit is necessary” for adolescents to establish an ego-identity—in other words, become their own person. While his words were directed to youth in general, they have even more decisive importance for you as budding researchers.
Another necessary condition for sustaining a high level of motivation is maintaining one’s physical and mental health. The secret to maintaining physical health is nothing special: it simply comes down to normal eating habits, a regular schedule, sufficient sleep, and moderate exercise. Of greatest importance to mental health is probably finding pleasure in everything you do. Everyone goes through hard times; the key is to see those times as preparation for the next stage of growth. If you are unable to resolve a problem, please do not keep it to yourself. Instead, talk to a friend, or use one of the counseling services available in each department and in Hayama. A healthy body and mind, self-identity as a researcher, and high motivation are all mutually reinforcing and equally essential in your pursuit of research careers through short-term intensive study. As for myself and the faculty and staff here, we are committed to ensuring your safety and security so that you may focus on your studies and research here.
In closing, let me just say that you are the ones who will create the future of science and culture, and I have great expectations of you all. Therefore, I hope that your life as a student at SOKENDAI will be healthful, fruitful, enjoyable and passionate. As I conclude my greeting, I would also like to ask all the faculty members and teaching staff to work together to ensure that our education continues to be worthy of the principles of SOKENDAI.
Last of all, I wish you success in your studies. Congratulations on your entry to graduate school!
3rd October 2016
Yasunobu OKADA, M.D., Ph.D., President
Posted On 2016.10.04 By
Shonan Village, Hayama, Kanagawa 240-0193 Japan