Saionji-juku at Ritsumeikan University

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I was invited to give a 4-hour class at Ritsumeikan University’s Saionji-juku (in Japanese) on Saturday the 28th, January.  The audience of around 40 people was made up largely of professionals around the age of 40, an important phase when people are at the peak of their careers.

I had asked them to prepare for this session by reading my book “Kisei no Toriko (Regulatory Capture)” beforehand, along with some other handouts that I provided in advance, and this they did with an admirable enthusiasm. I noticed that many in the audience had copious notes, most probably their responses to various points made in the book.

Although this marathon session only had one 15 minute break, it seems that the robust content and lively discussion more than made up for the physically demanding schedule. It was a bit disappointing however to see only one woman among the 40 participants.

I have lectured at Ritsumeikan University before, once at the Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University campus in Oita Prefecture 10 years ago (talk summary in Japanese), and once at their Kyoto main campus.

The day before my talk, I was invited by people connected to the Saionji Family to join a group of around 20 to listen to the Reverend Raitei Arima (in Japanese) and to also converse with him about the various hurdles that Japan and the world face and will be facing in the coming years.

All in all, a very enjoyable learning experience!

 

Two Books

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The world is starting to show signs of instability. Whether it be the widening gap between rich and poor, the rapidly changing climate, or the unpredictability of what is in store for us, people are using the rapidly spreading internet to voice their fears and concerns. Another disconcerting trend is the malicious influence of deliberate misinformation, the rise of post-truth.

In the face of such looming crises, I am sure people are looking for guidance,  a roadmap indicating what steps to take.

Indeed, the ability to respond to crises is the hallmark of any well-organized company or organization. For if the organization is unable to deal with an unexpected situation satisfactorily, it risks exposure to reputation risk that endangers not only the trustworthiness of the institution but also its very existence.

There is now a book,  ‘Rethinking Reputation Risk: How to manage the risks that can ruin your business, your reputation and you’ that explores this very real threat. It also has cited a mention to the NAIIC on Fukushima Nuclear Disaster, so I was asked to review the galley of this book for comments.

The photo above shows the book cover. The back features blurbs from relevant experts endorsing this book. I too was asked, and I gladly obliged with 4 different rough ideas, but I was a bit disappointed to see that they were not edited further by professional editors to make them better.

”This thoroughly enjoyable book is a must-read for leaders of all organizations at all levels, right up to the board and its leadership.”

Dr Kiyoshi Kurokawa
Chairman of the National Diet of Japan’s Independent Investigation Commission

Another book I have featured here is ‘Whiplash: How to Survive Our Faster Future’ by Joi Ito of MIT Media Lab; I received a complimentary copy over the holidays. The book covers topics have been discussed with Joi for the past few years, and it seems to be turning into a great societal concern.

Yes, the only thing that is constant in this world is change.

 

A Busy Start to 2017

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A slightly late Happy New Year to everyone!

The new year began with holidays until the 3rd, followed by three days (4th~6th)of courtesy calls to all the people I have had the opportunity to work with, and again the weekend from the 7th to the 9th.

Whenever I have such extended periods of rest, I read a lot to pass the time in a meaningful way, but I also ended up becoming a bit tired of resting.

While I was unwinding over the long weekend, the HGPI team was very busy with the pressured stages of drafting a policy proposal to the Government and to further the World Dementia Council Global Team. Inviting guest speakers, greeting colleagues and fellow organizers, constant updating and correspondence regarding progress. One of the team members at HGPI even travelled over the New Year’s holidays, to London and back, in 3 days.

Then, my first seminar of the new year at the HGPI, which has by now become something of an established tradition. I would also like to thank everyone who attended.

Followed by a farewell reception for His Excellency Bruce Miller, the Australian ambassador, and a New Year’s reception at the Canadian Embassy. I was also very fortunate to get tickets to the January Grand Sumo Tournament in between, so fortunate that I went two times!

And then, New Year’s Celebrations at SafeCast. This organization is a peerless example of Citizen Science, a movement that is not only limited to Fukushima, or to Japan, but is spreading across the world at a rapid pace, as people seek more trustworthy sources of information. Even the IAEA is a fan.

I also received a lot of young people who wanted to talk with me to discuss their plans to start something new, and nothing pleases me more than providing the impetus for something ambitious.

And all the while, I wondered what sort of year 2017 will be. A bit worrisome, if the inauguration ceremony of Mr. Trump in the U.S and the rise of ‘post-truth’ is anything to go by.

I am also doing my best recently to be active on Facebook.

So dear friends and readers, I would like to wish you all the best for the year to come and do keep in touch!

 

6 Years of HLAB – Helping To Open Doorways to the Future, for the Future, By the Future

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HLAB is an initiative that was set up and subsequently maintained by a youthful group of motivated people ( 1, 2, 3).

The founder, Mr. Kobayashi, had shown tremendous grit and determination to bring this organization to where it is now and his achievements over the past six years, particularly in inspiring young people, are note-worthy. And he is eyeing even more success.

This year, they received the Good Design Award (1). Congratulations!!

Although their ambitions are hampered to a degree by limited funds, they find themselves busy all the time.

This summer, for example, they organized a group of university students from around the globe to provide a splendid opportunity for 250 high school students to learn first-hand experiences, while also working on a project to build an experimental greenhouse in Tokyo that maintains a constant climate setting.

The HLAB website is well-designed, offering information in both Japanese and in English. I would like to urge my readers to visit their site and spread the word about their efforts and widen the net of support.

They are also savvy marketers, appealing to a global audience by inviting a group of journalist from abroad to record (scroll down for English) their views and insights into Japan, while also mentioning their activities.

I was also invited to contribute a piece about HLAB, given my involvement from the inception stages.

I firmly feel that is if by supporting such promising initiatives by young people that our generation and the new generation can contribute to changing Japanese society for the better.

I hope you are in, and I look forward to your support!

 

Kumamoto and the Meeting of Two ‘Sosekis’

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The year 2016 was the centenary of a great writer of Meiji Era, Soseki Natsume’s passing, and there were many celebrations to commemorate it in year 2016.

One of these events was a stage production titled ‘I Love Kumamoto: 4 Years and 3 Months in the Life of Soseki’ (program details in Japanese). The play revolved around the period of time that Soseki spent as a teacher of the fifth Public High School of Japan (total 8 in Japan) in Kumamoto – these eight national high schools are entry points as prep-schools (and later some became) to Imperial Universities.

You may already know about the happy coincidences that led to the Royal Ballet visiting Kumamoto in the aftermath of the earthquake of 2016, in a show of solidarity, and my getting to know governor Kabashima through this event, and then in turn learning from him about my great-grandfather, Osamu Kurokawa and his friendship with a certain Kinnosuke (Natsume) Soseki. I had known about the play through this whirlwind of events, that there would be a performance in Kumamoto in October, and one in Tokyo in December.

My great-grandfather had served as a court physician for the Hosokawa clan. He was also a noted haiku poet with the pen-name of ’Soseki’ (in Japanese), the ninth master in a tradition that goes all the way back to Yusai Hosokawa.

Being invited to the reception party held on the eve of the Tokyo performance, I was able to meet the people involved in the production, many from Kumamoto.

The performance was held the next day at the Yotsuya Ward Memorial Hall (in Japanese) in Shinjuku, a location that held special significance for Soseki. The lead character (Natsume Soseki) was played by Kenkichi Hamahata, a well known actor.

The play included a scene where the reputed physician ‘Soseki’, visited at the bedside of the young Natsume Soseki who is laid low by a bout of fever, have a pleasant conversation of this expected encounter of two ‘Soseki’.

The play was a joy to watch. Mr. Hamahata gave a performance befitting the high regard he has held in, and the cast portraying the young Natsume Soseki also earned kudos for their performance.

It was a special occasion where I was also able to catch up with family and relatives, and the day passed pleasantly.

But really, life is full of strange serendipities.

 

 

Supporting a New Generation of Medical Education by Investing in People

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On the morning of 18th December, I gave a lecture at the Yayoi Auditorium located in Todai’s (University of Tokyo) campus for the Faculty of Agriculture. This talk commemorated the founding of the Japan Society for Clinical Epidemiology (in Japanese).

It’s good to see an academic society dealing with this kind of topic being formed. I believe it will be indispensable to the education of the future generations of doctors in Japan.

This society was set up by one of the foremost academics in this area, Dr. Shunichi Fukuhara (Kyoto University) (in Japanese) . He has long been involved through the field of epidemiology in mentoring a new generation of doctors.

I believe that Japan’s medical school community has fallen off the pace in recent years by as much as two decades, with its educational system, academic societies, specialist education, and certification processes unable to keep up with the dizzying pace of change that we see across the world today.

The reason why I think so is clear. If you look at my last lecture from 20 years ago at Todai (in Japanese, with summaries in English), or my Plenary lecture at annual convention of Japanese College of Physicians conf (in Japanese) and elsewhere , or my opinions about how the educational curriculum should be (in Japanese), it is a stark reality that nothing has changed.

To mark the launch of this society, I was invited to give a talk. I introduced the audience to some programs that are well-established in the US, from around the 80’s, but are not yet part of the conversation in Japan, along with some initiatives that I started with my fellow researchers.

Here are the slides that I used.

 

Visiting Megastructures: the Hamaoka Nuclear Reactor and Kimitsu

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On the 11th of December (Sunday), three friends of mine and I were invited to a day-long tour of the Hamaoka nuclear reactor owned by Chubu Electric Company.

We had been invited to look at the upgrades made to the facility in light of the Fukushima nuclear disaster. These changes included installation on five new generators, a wall to protect against tsunamis , and the elevation of several critical pieces of equipments and facilities, and generator-trucks along with fire-engines.

With reactors 1 and 2 slated for decommissioning and reactors 3, 4 and 5 slated for restarting, these preparations are being carried out with the utmost care. We went inside the reactors 3 and 4, and immediately we noticed the extensive reinforcement to the buildings. I noticed the structures that had been added on to aid complex repairs. We traipsed up and then down again along very narrow stairways, with various pipes running along the walls and then off in different directions. It was all extremely complex. While gazing down at the pool that held the spent fuel rods, I asked them for an explanation as to why a similar cooling pool at the Fukushima Daini Plant had lost a significant amount of water during a low activity seismic event.

Having seen for myself the intricate maze created by the criss-crossing pipes, wiring and equipment, I could not but help think of what would happen in less-than optimal situations, like when there are power cuts, earthquakes, fires, tsunamis, thunderstorms, cyclones, or even when it is dark outside. I wonder how the people tasked with maintaining this behemoth would be able to work in cooperation with each other on this complex yet delicate machinery. My intuition keeps me pessimistic.

Human beings have always sought to create megastructures to astound people, and more importantly, to establish authority to govern. The Pyramids of Egypt, the Great Wall of China, the temple at Todaiji housing the immense bronze statue of Buddha, the Versailles Palace, the Forbidden City all bear testament to this idea. But the nuclear reactor may be a different thing altogether. It is a megastructure, but also has complex and intricate innards. The awe and sheer scale stuns and astounds. And the inevitable question comes to mind: can we humans control and safely harness this power? I shared these thoughts on my Facebook post. Will we be able to maintain control over the Promethean creation that we are unleashing?

On the 13th (Tuesday), I spent a day in Kimitsu City, Chiba Prefecture, with The UAE ambassador to Japan His Excellency Mr. Khaled Omran Sqait Alameri and his entourage touring the Nippon Steel Sumitomo Metal Company (NSSMC) Works and TEPCO Power Plant. These were both megastructures as well.

Interesting fact: Ambassador Alameri studied as an undergraduate, electrical engineering at Tokai University’s School of Engineering during the time that I was dean of the School of Medicine there. It’s nice to be connected in such a way!