Emperor as a scientist


Today, 23rd of December is a holiday for celebrating the 75th birthday of our Emperor, Akihito.

In my recent column, I’ve introduced you the extraordinary speech our Emperor has given at the Linnean Society of London in celebration of the 300th anniversary of the birth of Carl Von Linne and asked you to “read it by all means…”.

In the New Year special edition of Asahi Weekly magazine (Jan.2 and 9th editions combined) now on sale at bookstores, appears an interview of Dr. Toshitaka Hidaka, ethologist, and Mitsumasa Anno, artist, in which they comment on this Emperor’s address.

Those two giants of Japanese culture commented very much like I did about this wonderful speech of the Emperor.  I was so delighted that although my previous introduction of this speech to the public was by a sheer chance of being invited to Kobe symposium on preservation of bioresources, I had to ask all of you again to “read it by all means”.

Visits of passionate young people


Recently, I received mails from 2 groups of young people seeking for advice.

In the morning, 5 university students (mostly from Keio University) came to visit me. Each of them was passionate, seeking for advice about their possibilities and career amid this global era. We discussed a lot, about what is happening in the world, the reason for my message and what can and should be done.

Towards the end of their visit, William Saito and Michiko Sugita came (recently, I’ve been to Kyoto with them), so I introduced them to the students. William and Michiko definitely have “out of the box” background. I’m sure none of the students could have imagined such a career in any people around.

Kurokawaandstudents_20081Photo1: the 5 students from the morning visit and Mr.Saito (next to me) and Ms.Sugita (left)

In the afternoon, likewise, a group of six young passionate people came. This group was led by 3 sophomores from Waseda University. They traveled to Bangladesh this year and were shocked by the terrible difference of its situation as compared to Japan, so during their short stay, tried everything they could think of to be of any help. They also knew about the Grameen Bank and were eager to bring change to the situation as well as to Japan. So after coming back, they worked hard to gather information at universities etc., but no satisfying response was given. It was when their motivation was growing even stronger that they came across my blog, and that’s why they sent me an e-mail saying that they had to see me.

20081216c6lPhoto2: the six students in the afternoon.

They all had some knowledge about “Social entrepreneurs”, but since it is a career new to Japan, they didn’t quite know what to do. We talked and discussed about topics like you see in my blog, and by the time they left they were nicely high spirited.

In short, these young people are aware of primordial issues, but they don’t know how to deal with them or even where to begin. Everything is in a mist. Of course, they get lost. Since those primordial issues are something way different from what has been taught or from any social values of Japan which they had taken to be a common sense, it is only natural that they are at a loss. However, on the other hand, a good number of young people and future leaders of the world are taking such paths (Peace Corp, Teach for America etc.) at the beginning of their career, and this kind of first step is now quite popular.

I advised them to begin by seeing and listening to the speech of Steve Jobs from Apple (links). I already got reactions from some students by e-mails.

Because I use “blog”, a “means of web age”, as the tool for sending out messages, getting to see such young people is so easily possible. Isn’t it wonderful?

I shall be seeing them from time to time.

Symposium on “Preservation of Bioresources”, memorial speech of His Majesty the Emperor on Linne


On December 9th, I was invited to deliver a keynote speech (its full text (link and PDF ) can be seen, but in Japanese) at the symposium on “preservation of bioresources” at scientific meeting in Kobe.  Before the speech, I had a chance to visit the exhibition of the preserved biological resources.  It was impressive that such a variety of resources were being gathered and studied and exhibited.  Obviously, lots of work were put into this.  I asked to young people around me “Isn’t it hard to believe that every single samples of this huge collection is identified and given a name?  How was it done, I wonder?”
I did the speech along the handouts which I’ve prepared beforehand (recently, I basically don’t use powerpoint), and I think if you are a frequent reader of my blog, you can tell what I said in it.
Although I talked along the sequence in the handouts, what I really wanted to say was the latter half.
Firstly, Their Majesties Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko of Japan visited Sweden last year (2007) in celebration of the 300th anniversary of the birth of Linne, and was nominated to Honorary Member of Uppsala University (established in 1477).  I understand that there are only four Honorary Members including the King of Sweden. (more photos).
Emperor and Empress then visited Linnean Society http://www.linnean.org/ (Ref. 1 2 ) to deliver an elegant memorial speech. I read the script and was deeply moved.  In the background of this speech, I think, there exists the basis for respect and honor that the people of Japan feel for the royal family.  It is truly elegant and moving both in content and structure. The speech also touches to the contribution of Linne in giving academic names to so many animals and plants.  I strongly recommend that you read it for yourself.

Uppsala02Photo: At the embassy of Sweden, when the president of Uppsala University, Dr. Hallberg and delegation visited.  Emperor’s visit to Sweden was among the topics.

Who do you think wrote the draft?  I can’t think of anyone else but the Emperor himself, for the most part.  It is truly amazing.  If you think about the overwhelming amount of his public duties, if you just imagine that, it is easy to understand how much effort was needed for this.  I’ve always wanted to ask people to read the script, and this keynote speech was a good opportunity.
Second is the recent topic “Is Ainu of Japan the first humans to colonize in America?” It is very important to gather samples and keep them organized, whatever they may be. Progress of technologies for analysis is of no use if samples are not available.

Science, or whatever, is built on the basis of accumulation of effort by long lines of our predecessors.  We owe to their works.  Asking questions like “what is the merit for this?” in academic policy making, grant distribution, petition to government officials is such a shortsighted attitude, poor way of thinking.

Jet Li in TIME


Do you know Jet Li? He is a very famous Chinese Kunfu master and one of major film stars and I am one of his fans. I have reported on his new life through One Foundation.

Recent TIME Magazine provides an article ‘The Libaration of Jet Li’.

Such activities initially know to limited circles, the make a major coverage by global media as happened for Bill Gates on his ‘Creative Capitalism’ as you may see in my earlier report .

The world is continuously moving and often initiated by a few individuals. It would be important not to be blinded, but know what may be happening out there. You cannot be blinded what is going on. Yes, you live in a connected world.

My article on “Mainichi Forum” December 2008 edition


The following article of mine was carried on the December 2008 edition of “Mainichi Forum” in the section titled “Views”.

A “Community PTA Anyone Can Participate” at elementary school can improve regional unity ? Academics and college students should volunteer

Family health is important for individual health, while community health is necessary for family health. This is the basic idea I have strongly advocated as the chairman of the government’s New Health Frontier Strategy Conference when we compiled a report called the “New Health Frontier Strategy” last April.

The report identifies among its top priorities health of children, women, and the working-age population and increasing the healthy life expectancy of the elderly. What I stressed in particular is to review the role of family and strengthen regional communities in order to promote health with a focus on preventive measures. Increased urbanization, nuclearization of families, the declining birth rate and the advance of women’s role in society is making it increasingly difficult to pass knowledge and skills forward to the next generation in domestic life and child rearing, as well as culture and tradition. The weakened family is now on the brink of collapse. As a result, some young parents don’t know what to do when their child’s temperature suddenly goes up and rush to emergency rooms. The fundamental problem is that basic skills to raise children are not being passed on due to the collapse of family.

Just as a firm root and trunk are necessary for strong branches and leaves to grow on a tree, vibrant families and regional communities are important to be at the foundation of sound individual health policies. Discussions that lack such a broad vision will result in lousy policies.

In urban society, it is important for regional communities to complement weaknesses in families. In Japanese communities, however, a sense of unity is unfortunately diminishing both in cities and rural areas. A disconnected community puts people at big risk if anything should happen. On the other hand, a unified community creates a greater chance for neighbors to notice when something is wrong with an elderly person living alone. There is also more cooperation when disasters strike. Developing a strong community is essential in nurturing family bonds.

In Europe people have traditionally gathered at public spaces in their districts or local churches where they share their beliefs. We, however, don’t have such places in Japan today. So, I would like to propose the use of the 22,000 elementary schools around the country as community gathering places. Schools are usually located in areas that are relatively easy for anyone to reach because children as young as first graders commute. They can serve as centers of community where elders, young people and mothers in the area can congregate at their free time. This can take off heavy responsibilities placed on teachers, giving them more time to focus on teaching classes because the people who have gathered can look after the children too. Schools will in essence have a running “Community PTA Anyone Can Participate”. If a child becomes sick the mother can seek advice from other mothers on what to do, or may be able to find somebody they met there to look after the child. Naturally people may talk about their doctors of preference, and this will result in local physicians becoming part of the community too. Local governments can provide mini-bus services going around the district picking people up and delivering them to school. They should also support voluntary community activities that continue on the weekends.

Inside this community, many adults will be looking after the children’s well-being and food. Some elderly people may even scold kids at school for not eating breakfast in the morning. Having this kind of relationship with other community members is important for young boys and girls, especially since there’s a recent increase in children who have never been scolded before. Even outside of school, there will naturally be more people calling out to the kids on the streets. This will help improve their attitudes and behavior because they will be conscious that others are watching them. Parents can feel safe to leave their children at school until around 6 pm, knowing that they will have a wide variety of things to do such as study, read, exercise and play under the supervision of many adults. It will also give teachers more time to focus on their work and may improve their relations with parents.

A sense of unity can contribute to preventive care

Women(and men) who have grown up in nuclear families don’t have much contact with their siblings or grandparents and hardly have any experience in holding babies or lulling them to sleep until they get married and have children themselves. These women can receive support and a sense of security from the community, as many people will try to help them on a daily basis when they see that they are pregnant. This will contribute to developing a brighter society. Separately, people in the community can help each other by casually sharing episodes like how they quit smoking or overcame the Metabolic Syndrome through exercising. In this way, adequate preventive care will be promoted in the community not through a top-down government policy, but through a sense of togetherness.

There are nearly 500 public health offices nationwide, but a sense of unity seems to develop more in areas where their staff or nurses actively reach out to the community. So, it is important for members of these facilities to interact with local residents on a daily basis.

Another point I have advocated is for university faculty and staff members and graduate and college students to volunteer at local elementary, junior high or high schools for about 20 hours a year (including weekends). By teaching alongside school teachers, graduate students and university faculty can develop confidence in their specialty areas while learning how to teach children. Another incentive for graduate and college students to volunteer would be to offer them teaching certificates. Many students may develop a desire to become teachers after volunteering at the schools. The education arena could change dramatically if a system is implemented to hire such people as teachers, even if they are in their 30s. Such flexible work styles and career paths would also strengthen the school-based regional community. Centers of community like those at elementary schools can also be set up at junior high and high schools, kindergartens, facilities for the elderly, and hospitals. Local governments should support such programs that will help form communities that anyone can participate.

There is a movement that is likely to positively influence the formation of regional communities. It is called social entrepreneurship and is spreading around the world. One example in Japan is a non-profit organization called Florence that supports working women. It is a day-care center specifically for sick children and operates on a membership fee which amounts to several hundred dollars a year. The center has a registered person from the local community look after a child who falls sick or, in some cases, dispatches a local doctor to their homes. This bottom-up style of management is a “social business,” and the founder is called a “social entrepreneur.”

Communities are not imposed from above by local governments, but we create them. In Japan we need to form local communities where people of different generations can interact, or else the lack of connection in both urban and rural areas could lead to the country’s collapse. So, it is “Back to Basics” in both public health and medical care. I would like to emphasize again that all health policies should be based on underlying principles that will create community health and revitalize family strength.

From Rome


left Bellagio early in the morning of November 1st. The road was jammed because of some strike, and took 3 hours to the airport in Milano. Arrived at Rome where the weather was beautiful, checked in to the hotel at the hilltop of Piazza di Spagna (Spanish square) at noon, did staff meeting over lunch. Then, to the ministry of foreign affairs of Italy. The building of the ministry was said to be originally planned for the headquarters of fascist party, but was not used because of the delay in construction.


Photo 1, 2: At the meeting in the Ministry of foreign affairs of Italy, With Mr. Massolo, the Sherpa.


A discussion for about one hour with Mr. Massolo, the Sherpa of next year’s G8 summit, and other government high officials.  The topics were outcomes and significance of “track 2” process in Japan, outcomes of discussions at Bellagio on “track 2”, expectations for Global Health at the coming G8 summit in Italy, etc. I am thankful to all who participated for spending such a long time on this discussion. There was a heavy rainfall in the late afternoon.


Photos 3-7: Scenes from Vatican Museum

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Photos 8-11: St Peter’s Basilica, with Mr. Banno and Mr. Tanabe.

Rome06 Rome01 Rome03

It was also raining on Nov.2nd, the next day. In the morning, visited briefly to Vatican Museum (another URL of the Museum). The last time I was here was almost 10 years ago. I noticed that the entrance part was newly built but the collections on exhibition were wonderfully magnificent, as always. I could not help but ponder on many themes such as the complicated history of Europe, politics v.s. religions, wealth and commonalty, power of art, Raphael (another URL), Michelangelo, and so on.

There was little time left by the time I was at Sistine Chapel, but I recalled seeing part of the sketch of this at special exhibition of the works of Michelangelo at the British Museum two years ago. The scale of the work is just overwhelming even to imagine about it. Finally, in the end, I went to St. Peter’s Basilica, the largest in the world. It was also so astonishing. Next time when I have a chance, I would like to see those places more slowly.

Mr. Ando recently arrived to Italy as the newly appointed Ambassador. He was Assistant Chief Cabinet Secretary at the time I was Special Advisor to the Cabinet and is very well informed about Toyako G8 summit etc. So our conversation went very smoothly while we took late lunch of seafood, from my part talking about the objectives of this visit, and from his part news and information about Italy. Mr. Tobe, official of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, currently working at the embassy, and Mr. Banno, my staff, also joined in the lunch. I asked Mr. Ando for cooperation and guidance for the next follow up meeting scheduled in February in Rome again.

I took a night flight to Japan. Many difficult problems lie ahead in this global era, on one hand difference in politics in each country, on the other hand economy crises, climate change, food problems, and so on. How do we fill the gap between the difference in politics of nations and global issues? During this trip, I was made to contemplate on many things about politics in Japan and Italy.

In the United States, Hillary Clinton was nominated Secretary of State.

From Bellagio. “G8 Summit and Global Health” shifts from Japan to Italy


I came to Rockfeller foundation Bellagio center located besides Lake Como in Northern Italy.  It is October 29 today and there was a snowfall several days ago.  Regret to say that the weather is not too wonderful.

Photos 1-4:  An overview of Lake Como seen from the meeting room in the center.


Early this year, our “Think Tank,” Health Policy Institute co-hosted “Global Health Summit” with World Bank to help draft agenda for the Toyako G8 Summit by a process independent from government. To see if the same kind of mechanism can work in Italy, we invited several people concerned to discuss on its possibility and find ways.  Aside from the official transition from Japan to Italy as the host country of Summit, this is an independent action of our Think Tank for continuing the agenda which we helped in coordinating.  Policymaking process that involves Multistakeholders is such a trend in this “flattening” world, that the attitude of government on how to handle this is apparently the target of evaluation in any government today. See, for example, “Transparency”.

Bellagioetable01Photo 5:  Dr. Linda Dorment, delegate of the Rockefeller foundation, myself, Dr. Kondo and Mr. Banno of the Health Policy Institute at the meeting.

President Yamamoto of JCIE presented a report (Ref. 1) which JCIE prepared in collaboration with ministry of foreign affairs and other related ministries.  He also joined in the discussion. In a global era like today, nation’s politics does not work effectively without taking into account the activities of Multistakeholders with global networks or related NGOs.  I have already pointed this out in my keynote lecture of this year’s G8 Environment ministers’ meeting. I am planning to listen to various opinions in the course of exploring the possibilities of participating in the policymaking process of Italy.  Tomorrow, I will be heading to Rome.


One more comment on health care reform


Lately there has been vibrant movement towards health care reform. But what I think matters the most are the policies at the basis of the actions. It is inevitable that people and parties concerned make comments from their own positions. That is the natural process of politics.

At the same time, however, it is extremely important to discuss policy based on historical background and provide a medium to long-term vision. Government plans tend to become short-sighted.

When I offer my comments on this blog or in books or newspapers, I always try to maintain a broad perspective because I feel that there is a lack of opinions on policy like that.

Recently the Yomiuri newspaper ran a large proposal for health care reform (October 16 morning edition). Following the proposal, it carried an article entitled “Health care renaissance No.4479, Opinions on the proposal from those working in the field: Start with improving efficiency of the medical system” on November 21(page 21), which includes my comments. The following are the main points in the article:

■Many doctors working in the field responded to Yomiuri newspaper’s health care reform proposal, which we ran on October 16. In a four-part series, we will introduce some of the opinions we received as well as those from experts.

■We proposed to counter the doctor shortage by strategically planning the distribution of physicians. There is a noticeable shortage of doctors in rural areas, emergency medical services, and specialty areas such as pediatrics and obstetrics. In order to eliminate such inequalities, we proposed to strategically allocate physicians by setting fixed numbers for geographic distribution and specialty mix.

■The distribution plan would begin with young doctors who just finished their first two years of residency after specializing in medicine at university and who are about to embark on the second half. We proposed that university and core hospitals in the area, the medical association, and local government should set up a municipal organization in charge of allocating the physicians. The allocation would be based on the preference of the doctors, but they would not always be able to work at their first choice if that specialty or region fills up. Some doctors after reading this proposal sent in opinions, saying “Doesn’t this go against the rights to have “freedom of choice in occupation” and ”freedom of living location” that are guaranteed in the constitution?”

I think the discussion has set off on a great start.

■Regarding this point, Professor Yoshitaka Wada of Waseda Law School has commented that “It will be difficult to legislate municipal physician distribution, but it should not be a problem if the medical world itself works out a framework for distribution. By designating a fixed number of doctors for each specialty area, the current imbalance can be corrected to provide an adequate specialty mix of physicians.”

■Vice-director of the Saitama Prefecture Saiseikai Kuribayashi Hospital, Dr. Hiroshi Honda who has also written a book issuing a stern warning about medical equipment says, “I can understand the idea of strategically allocating doctors and believe it is feasible.” He says that even if physicians end up in their second choice in a rural area when their first preference in the city has filled up, they would learn a lot from gaining experience in remote areas. He adds, “However, it should not be a one-way ticket to a rural area. The system should allow doctors to work with the security of knowing that, after a fixed period of time, they are guaranteed to return to a university hospital where they can earn specialty qualifications.”

■Dr. Kiyoshi Kurokawa, a doctor of internal medicine and professor at the National Graduate Institute of Policy Studies, also supports the strategic planning of the distribution of physicians. However, he points out that “Before deciding on the adequate number of doctors for each geographical location and specialty, it is indispensable to improve the efficiency in the current system providing health care.” For instance, he says, local doctors and nurses can work regularly at core hospitals in the area to provide 24-hour emergency medical care. This will help prevent emergency patients from being bounced around hospitals. In addition, he says, university and other hospitals should focus on inpatient care, while it will be more efficient for local private practitioners to participate in outpatient treatment if necessary. Dr. Kurokawa goes on to say, “There are fundamental laws for most important areas like education and the environment, but not in health care. It is high time to set up fundamental health care laws and stipulate the ideas of reform.”

What do you think? Yomiuri newspaper is doing a great job. The journalists in charge of the piece should be very happy if you send in your comments too. I hope everybody will participate in the process of policy-making as much as possible.

Global Entrepreneurship Week, NPO nurturing young entrepreneurs


Kauffman foundation is a foundation devoted to Entrepreneurship.

From November 17 to 23, the foundation orgnaized  “Global Entrepreneurship Week” involving about 80 countries of the world to promote global understanding of entrepreneurial spirit and actions. Japan hosted two meetings, each in Tokyo and Kyoto, under the initiatives of Honda Foundation, GRIPS where I belong, Asia Productivity Organization, etc. By the way, Honda prize awarding ceremony was held a day before the Tokyo meeting. Official language was English for all meetings.

The meeting in Tokyo was opened with a lecture, followed by a project named “Elevator Pitch”.  Participants must “sell their idea(s) or project(s) to an angel investor in 30 seconds in an elevator which they happened to meet”. Three teams were selected from nearly 40 applications by screening of video presentations, and each presented as a team of three persons. The winners of the game were Asia Pacific University and Akita International University. Students from Akita were all females and no Japanese was included. Let me point out that those two universities are exceptionally internationalized compared to most of other universities in Japan.

To illustrate how "internationalized" they are, for example, 50% of 5000 Asia Pacific University undergraduates are from overseas and half of the courses are offered in English.

At Akita International University, T-score of students is over “80” at the time of admission, as I was told. It is a small university but with full liberal arts education. All students are required to reside in dormitory during their junior year, will study for one year at overseas universities during their enrollment, and 40% of the students in campus are international students because of this student exchange program. All courses are basically given in English with exceptions of elective language courses such as Japanese, French, etc.

In Kyoto, the venue was Ritsumeikan University. The lecturers here were also energetic and I enjoyed very much.

Photo: At Kyoto University. Kid entrepreneurs participated, too.


Photo: At Kyoto University. Kid entrepreneurs participated, too.


Next day, at Kyoto University clock tower in the midst of university festival, there were presentations and booth exhibition hosted by NPO Center for Entrepreneurship Education. It’s topic was businesses targeting on practical local ecology, and even primary school children were participating. Visit the Web site of the event (in Japanese but photos are nice) to catch the idea of its atmosphere. They were quite entertaining and also a good opportunity to understand the unique and interesting ideas those children and students have. I even thought that some of them already had potentials of flourshing just with a little help from existing corporations. Apparently, this kind of event provides a wonderful education and good experience for young people. I hope you will extend support for those activities.

Ms. Kikuko Harada, the leader of this NPO is doing a good job. Your support and personal or institutional donations are welcome here also. I urge you to visit its web site. The children looks nicely high spirited and motivated, don’t they?