Ozumo-nization of the Universities


I had an opportunity to give a special lecture at the Annual Meeting of the Japanese Society of Internal Medicine (President, Professor Ikeda, Keio University) in Yokohama held from April 14th-16th. It was my fourth special lecture at the annual Meeting of this prestigeous Society. As an extension of my previous lectures, I addressed to the issue of leadership in academic and medical community of Japan.

I used a word "Ozumonization of Universities." The content of the lecture is briefly summarized below. What do you all think?

Aren’t Japanese universities still in a state of “national isolation”? In this age of globalization, top universities of the world have set high goals to attract the best students from around the globe. Thus, many leading universities recognize that they will attract the best and the brightest by sending outstanding graduates tot the society. In contrast, it is my opinion that Japanese universities are still quite insular or in a situation of “national isolation of intellect” or ‘chi-no-sakoku’. Is it possible to reform Japanese universities to this direction?

About some 15 years ago, when Ko-nishiki (from Hawaii) won many times at the grand sumo tournaments, people argued that they cannot allow foreigners becoming Yokozuna or Grand Champion, because Yokozuna is a kind of special sacred top position of Sumo bowing to the shrine. Unfortunately, Konishiki’s winning records could not make him to the Grand Champion. But, how about now? Grand champions in the last 10 year or so include Akebono and Musashi-maru (both from Hawaii), and the current grand champion,is Asa-sho-ryu, a Mongolia. What does this mean? Not only in Mongolia but all over the world, the number of people who understand and like sumo is increasing, and they are gradually beginning to like and value Japan, and this is a kind of soft-power. In Mongolia, the number of fans of Japan is on the rise.

What would happen if Japanese universities opened undergraduate quota to foreign students? Of course, students could complete all requirements to graduate by taking courses given in English. There will probably be students who will take courses given in Japanese, too. It is the same for Japanese students who study abroad, correct? Some of your classmates may become world leaders. Japan will obtain a high reputation as a great country that is open and eager to nurture future world leaders. Universities in Japan will be evaluated by international standards, thus will be compared by a wide international community.

Currently, there are 758 professional sumo wrestlers, 60 of whom are from overseas (8%). In the top division (Makuuchi), 12 out of 42 wrestlers (29%) are foreigners, and in the super top among them (Sanyaku), 3 of 8 (38%) are foreign-born. If we add Mongolian yokozuna of Grand Champion into the super-top , 4 out of 9 (44%) are non-Japanese. At the spring sumo tournament, wrestlers from Mongolia won top honors and the other three special prizes.

Why are universities, sites of human resource development and which should be more open than Sumo, still in a state of national isolation? Don’t you think something is "out of place" in this time of globalization? One option might be to set quotas to universities and offer scholarships to students from foreign students including those from developing countries. Through this kind of human resource development, Japan can gain international trust over time.

Winning Wimbledon is the dream of any top tennis player. Though few British players have won first place, many people love the United Kingdom and its traditions; the last British champion in men’s singles was 1936.

One university in Japan which is completely open and truly international is the Asia Pacific University of the Ritsumeikan University in the city of Oita: most courses are given in English ; the president of the university is Professor Cassim, a native of Sri Lanka; 42% of the students (total about 4,500) are foreigners (Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi visited this campus November, 2005). I was invited in December and gave a seminar of course in English. There, only 30% of the class were Japanese students.

Doesn’t it make you happy just thinking about how these young Japanese are gaining a global perspective and making many friends all over the world? The reputation of the city of Oita will become widely known by many countries of the world through these students and their families.