This Year’s Nobel Prize


Two Japanese scientists have won the Nobel Prize again this year. It is very happy news.

I was very glad to hear that Dr. Omura won the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine, as I know him and his work very well. The selection of Dr. Campbell, with whom he won the prize, as well as a Chinese medical scientist who discovered a drug for malaria, was timely and appropriate. The awarding of the Nobel Prize to these three scientists shows they have made a major contribution to resolving the world’s problems.

On the evening of the announcement of the winners, I was in Kyoto but was interviewed over the telephone. One was with the Asahi Shimbun, who interviewed me along with Shinya Yamanaka and Shinichi Fukuoka (1).

Another was by Kyodo Press, which was featured in the Kyoto Shimbun, and I read both the articles in the morning papers the following day.

The night the announcement was made, I called Dr. Omura a few times to give him my congratulations but of course, his line was busy. The next day, I was able to reach him around noon and gave him my congratulations and we had a pleasant, quick chat.

Then, later that evening, it was announced that Dr. Kajita had won the Nobel Prize in Physics for his impressive research on the neutrino. As he stated, his research was conducted with his mentors, Dr. Koshiba and with Dr. Totsuka. — Dr Totsuka unfortunately passed away early. Dr. Totsuka was an incredible nice person and I had the opportunity to give a lecture with him in Washington D.C. some ten+ years ago.

It is wonderful that they won the Nobel Prize. Please take a moment to go through my comments on the Nobel Prize on this blog. Recently, I wrote about the Nobel Prize in the magazine, Oyou Buturi (Applied Physics), which can be read here (in Japanese). Some parts may sound impolite but please don’t take offence. I have written it to send my message to the youth.

An Encouraging Message – 3


The world was shocked by the recent scandal surrounding Toshiba, a leading company that represents Japan. It was truly a shame.

The company culture of Toshiba has been said to have played a part. As I posted on this blog the other day, an article pointed out that a more fundamental problem underlying the Toshiba scandal is the mindset of many people in Japan, which the National Diet of Japan Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission (NAIIC) also shed light upon in its investigation of the nuclear accident. Toshiba is one example of this tendency seen in many Japanese companies and organizations.

The root cause of the Fukushima nuclear accident, as pointed out by the NAIIC report, has been recognized across the world.

It was also highlighted by Reputability, a consulting firm specializing in corporate governance, in their article, “Loyalty- Virtue and Risk”. The article argues that “Groupthink” (1, 2) is typical in Japanese firms.

Even in the case of a major accident on the scale of the Fukushima nuclear accident, vital lessons have not been learned and only superficial issues have been dealt with, reflecting the complacent attitudes of the people in positions of responsibility. Experts around the world are watching Japan, regarding the future challenges and issues surrounding the restart of nuclear power.

Learning from one’s mistakes and being accountable are essential for any organization, company or government to gain the trust of the globalized world.

Toshiba’s Issues are based on the Same Underlying Problems behind the Nuclear Accident, as pointed out by NAIIC


Toshiba is currently in crisis. As one of the top Japanese corporations, it has drawn much criticism and attention on both domestic and international levels.

The underlying problem of corporate governance in Toshiba may have reminded many people across the world of the Olympus scandal, which occurred four years ago. This is indeed very true.

In the media, this has been featured in an article in Newsphere [in Japanese] and a major article in the Financial Times (registration is necessary to read the article). Furthermore, the Financial Times article was followed by a piece by Leo Lewis, “Problem of culture: Ever fiercer profit target imposed,” in which he mentions the National Diet of Japan Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission (NAIIC), of which I served as Chairman. He describes the problem underlying the Toshiba scandal as being similar to issue behind the nuclear accident, as pointed out in the NAIIC report.

The description is eerily similar to that used in the independent report on the Fukushima nuclear disaster, which blamed Japan’s “reflective obedience” and “reluctance to question authority” for contributing the poor handling of the disaster.

Trust is built on the principles of transparency, openness and independence, especially in a world that is connected through the internet. Currently, trust in Japanese corporate governance is wavering. One wonders, even if companies appoint external directors or board members, is it just for the sake of appearance? How is the actual governance being conducted? These questions must be asked.

The book by Mr. Uda (Project Manager of NAIIC), “Obligation to Dissent: Why Organizations Fail,” which I featured on this blog from September 22nd to October 27th last year, examines this issue and focuses on the importance of organizational governance.

Changing the mindset and accepted cultural norms in Japan is a major challenge. It is difficult to regain trust once it is lost.

Davos World Economic Forum Meeting – My Message


The annual World Economic Forum Meeting at Davos will begin tomorrow. I am not attending the meeting again this year and you can read my views in a recent article in the Japan Times.

Other interviewees are here.

The Japan Night is likely to be festive again. Anything could happen anywhere tomorrow but one thing that is certain is there is much to discuss regarding the fragile state of the world.

Keynote speech at KPMG with Ms. Mitsuru Chino


Last year, on November 27th, I tweeted the following:

“This morning, I attended a conference with KPMG at Roppongi Midtown. The first day of the conference began with lectures by me and Ms. Mitsuru Chino of Itochu Corporation, followed by a dialogue by us two. It was very fun. I wonder what the audience thought of our talks and would love to get some feedback.”

The two-day KPMG conference had a wonderful program that began with my keynote speech and a talk by Ms. Mitsuru Chino, with whom I have been friends for many years, followed by our dialogue.

I was delighted to be invited to speak at such a conference, especially because the audience members were of completely different backgrounds. My talk was titled, “The changing world, the future path of Japan, your choices.”

Ms. Chino’s talk, “Thinking about creating your own value” was exceptional.

The conference was well summarized in this KPMG On-line newsletter.

Ms. Chino and I both lived in Los Angeles with our families at the same time (of course, Ms. Chino was a young school child at that time). We have also attended the World Economic Forum in Davos a couple of times.

It is a bit longer but the summary of the entire conference can also be viewed here.

I thoroughly enjoyed the forum, thanks to Ms Chino and KPMG.

Moral and Ethics of Scientists: The Obokata Incident Opens Up a Pandora’s Box


Although this burning issue at Riken seems to have passed its peak now, there are still many controversies involving scientists that have been left unaddressed.

The issue that I am referring here is the infamous ‘Obokata Incident’ coming out of Riken, followed by the shocking revelation of prominent professors, some from Todai, working hand in glove with big pharmaceutical companies. These sensational topics cause a brief uproar in the media, before fading out, followed by another scandal to take its place.

Such moral indiscretions are not limited to Japan by any means, but the follow-up to such scandals, which should include learning from and not repeating such mistakes, has not been recognized as a fundamental problem by scientists and society as a whole. These problems, I believe, stem from a basic lack of the will to be autonomous.

And these problems which are deeply ingrained in the structure of Japanese society are the very problems that I pointed out in the NAIIC report, supported by ‘mind-set’ prevails among most Japanese.

On the 19th of May 2014, I had pointed out in my blogpost ‘The Spirit of Science in Japan’ (in Japanese) that a visible manifestation of this shortcoming is the ‘Iemoto’ or ‘feudal’ system prevalent even in scientific research in Japan, a system of legitimization by virtue of belonging to one ‘faction’ headed by a professor.

Recently, Professor Ichikawa, a scientist who spent many years in USA as an independent medical researcher was called upon to serve as a member of the committee conducting the external audit on the Riken problem. His thought-provoking summary is aptly titled ‘Obokata Incident Opened the Japanese Pandora’s Box’ (in Japanese).

I encourage you to read it. His insights are incisive in their accuracy. I believe that ‘inconvenient truths’ such as these must not be swept under the rug but instead be dealt with responsibly by those who are in a position to do something about it.

Either we are not concentrating enough on teaching our future scientists, or we are teaching them the wrong things.

‘Be Movement’ Interviews Me


‘Be Movement’ is one of the most exciting emerging media in this net-savvy age. It is good to see young people embrace the possibilities of a globalised age and try out new things.

Recently, they carried a special issue about Japan, perhaps in commemoration of the third anniversary of the East Japan and Fukushima disasters.

An article about Mr. Kogure of ‘Table for Two’ comes right after my interview. Given the focus of their special issue, they paid special attention to what I had to say about the NAIIC Report.

Although a bit long, I would like to request my readers to go through the interview during their spare time.

JAPAN’S SPIRIT -Strength through the Storm-
(be movement pp114-122)

My thanks go to Cassie Lim and her team.

The Situation at Fukushima, An article in the Washington Post


It is already two and half years since the accident at Fukushima, yet there is virtually no one who would consider that the situation has been suitably has been stabilized. The media reports one problem after the other: contamination of groundwater, leakage of radioactive water, the problems posed by rainfall. Indeed, this is a critical issue not only for the Japanese but also for the world.

The biggest question right now on everybody’s mind is whether the Japanese government has made an accurate appraisal of the ability of TEPCO in allowing to deal with a disaster of this magnitude. The government too, is resorting to its usual way of dealing with such problems: setting up a committee, in this case, the International Research Institute for Nuclear Decommissioning. It remains to be seen how open to debate, how transparent and how international this committee will become.

Although TEPCO invited an international advisory committee that in itself is not enough. Transparency in areas such as how serious TEPCO is about dealing with the situation, and what measures it plans to take, and what it is learning are needed in order to lend credence to the whole process. Yet even here, there are many problems. One of these reports came from Lady Barbara Judge, vice-chair of TEPCO Nuclear Reform Monitoring Committee and it was carried on the 16th page of the October 22nd Nikkei newspaper morning edition.

We are not the only ones worried about the situation. That the Washington Post carried an article about Fukushima Daiichi on its first three pages on the 21st of October, and the New York Times on the 4th of September, speak volumes about the critical stance of foreign media. To appear as the top article in the printed version is quite impactful and the illustration in On-line version of Washington Post is well done.

By the way, I would like to introduce Junichi Kobayashi (blog, twitter @idonochawan), who translates one foreign media article into Japanese everyday. Predictably, most of the articles these days have to do with Fukushima Daiichi, but it is a good source of information if one wants to get a sense of how the world is currently viewing Japan.

I am thankful for his efforts, for it requires a great deal of effort to accomplish what he is doing.

The “Audacious Young Lady” continues her work, and my opinions


There are people who have chosen very diverse careers after working at the National Diet of Japan Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission (NAIIC). The three people whom I introduced in my column, Mr. Shiina, Mr. Ishibashi and Ms. Aikawa, the “audacious young lady,” are examples of this.

Ms. Aikawa’s book, Hinanjakusha [The Vulnerable Evacuees] has been read widely, and recently there has been an online article of her interview (in Japanese). It makes me happy that her message is being spread. Young people will take action. It is quite impressive.

The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan’s magazine, The Number 1 Shimbun ran an article by me following up on NAIIC after it was disbanded, also featuring Ms. Aikawa, Mr. Shiina and Mr. Ishibashi.

NAIIC is the first independent investigation commission in Japanese constitutional history. As it is the first, many politicians, bureaucrats, media, academics and the people of Japan do not understand what NAIIC stands for. The response in Japan has been much weaker than abroad (1, 2).

It takes time for democratic systems to fully function.

I am very concerned about the situation at Fukushima Daiichi. We must not forget that there are many people around the world who are truly worried and concerned about Japan.