A beautiful project: “Grameen Change Makers Program”


Three sophomores of Waseda University and their partners visited me in December last year.  When they traveled to Bangladesh they were extremely shocked by its situation and “wanted to find out what we can do, to eventually change Japan from there, and we are definitely doing it!” they said.

They returned to Bangladesh, saw more people, and one of them are already starting activities by taking one year leave of absence from the university.  I was unable to see this person, but the remaining two came over to see me and give me follow ups of their activities (their blog (in Japanese) is filled with passion and photos.)

Many plans are going on ? one of them is "Grameen Change Makers Program". This program shows their wonderful ability to think, move, and act.  Their ideas come from their local experience and we can also see their strong message to Japan from the plan.  I am also very pleased to know that they are having lots of advice from Professor Seiichiro Yonekura of Hitotsubashi University.

The point here is: "Local experience matters".  It is where you find what you have in yourself.  No meaningful contribution is possible without this, just as I have said in my recent column.

Also, it is a very nice thing to take a year of leave of absence from the University.  I would like to recommend taking a leave or joining in a student exchange program for a year to many university students as possible. Universities will supposedly not charge tuitions from students on leave, but I even think it is high time that universities, or even governments, consider offering financial supports for such cases.  (See article "Opening Japan Up to the World" by Kurokawa.  Registration at Science Magazine necessary.)  Companies could give scholarships, too.  Nothing but such communication/exchanges of youths are so crucially important for the upbringing of  human resources that shape the future of Japan.

I urge young people to join this "Grameen Change Makers Program" (this website is in Japanese) and ask everyone to support them.  Universities and companies, too.  The future of Japan depends on more and more expansion of such movements and activities.

Influenza and Civilization


The "swine flu" outbreak that started in late April this year swept the whole world into a big fuss.  Fortunately this time, the swift scientific analysis and action, together with the world wide sharing of information seem to have succeeded in preventing disastrous human, social, or economical damage.

If we look back carefully into our history as human beings, it is clear that our past had been a constant battle with pandemics, and basically, as mankind and their activities spread over this planet, this battle will inevitably keep on taking place repeatedly.

From this perspective, I have written an article  "Influenza and Civilization"(in Japanese) in the July edition of monthly magazine "Shincyo 45"(in Japanese).

Look back into the history and think about the future.  This is a very important large scale framework for thinking, whatever the theme may be.

"A Brief History of the Future: A Brave and Controversial Look at the Twenty-First Century" by Jacque Atalli was published in 2006, and its Japanese translation in 2008.  This book writes about the history of mankind in a tremendous large scale and aims to foresee the world as it may be in the 21st century.  The change described here is of an unbelievably high speed, unimaginable from our current common sense.  But this could really happen.

The Nobel Prize and Academy Award


These two awards are considered broadly as the highest honor in the world in the field of "Science, Peace, Literature" and "Motion Pictures" respectively.

Many Japanese were awarded the Nobel Prize as we entered 21st century.  And last year we achieved a great success of having four "Japanese" awarded the prize in the field of science (i.e. Drs. Nanbu, Kobayashi, Masukawa, and Shimomura.  Although a question remains on the definition of the "Japanese"-how do we define or categorize them; by "Nationality?" "Blood?" "University they graduated?" or what?…).

As for this year’s Academy Award, a Japanese film "Departures" won the foreign language film award and "La Maison En Petit Cubes" won the short film (animated) award.  This is fabulous.  I am very pleased and happy.

The "Departures" received many other prizes in Japan and was well known throughout the nation.  "La Maison En Petit Cubes" is a 12 minutes animation short film and had been highly evaluated internationally.

The "Diamond weekly," a Japanese business magazine, set up a series of "Nobel Prize and Academy Award" and planned to have Koichi Tanaka at Shimadzu Corporation (Ref.), a Nobel Laureate, and Kunio Kato, director of "La Maison En Petit Cubes," at ROBOT join in a dialogue.  This is a unique idea.  And it so happened, though I don’t know why, that they named me to host the event and believe it or not I actually accepted the offer.

I have seen Dr. Koichi Tanaka a number of times before and am well informed about his research achievements but this time I gathered quite a volume of information about the two people, especially Mr. Kato’s works, before challenging this task of hosting the dialogue.  At the event, I urged them to talk about similarities and differences between each other etc.  It was quite an enjoyable time.

Now, how would the outcomes be?  I shall introduce it to you once the magazine is released. (The magazine was published. Click here for my report on this.)

Editors, "yoroshiku onegai shimasu (I trust the matter in your good hands)".

Beautiful Japan (with her own problems)


Dr. Nassrine Azimi, Director, UNITAR, Hiroshima office, is one of true intellectuals and good company I very much respect. We have been working together since her arrival to Japan some five years ago as you may see some of my earlier reports(Ref.1, 2).

She very much fell in love with Japan and Hiroshima, and also shares my concern on various issues of Japan. Recently, she wrote a stunningly beautiful Op-Ed on Japan in New York Times with a quote on my thoughts on reform in education.

I wish to share her Op-Ed with you. Enjoy it.

Cambodia, and coordinating new relationships


Mr. Miki Watanabe is the Chairman and CEO of Watami Co., Ltd. whom I have introduced once in my past column.

He is trying to disseminate his message, "Let’s make dreams come true," to broad public, and practices it as a wonderful entrepreneur.  Mr. Watanabe is very passionate about education, and besides managing a school in Japan he is helping foundation of a school in Cambodia.  He has also published several books to encourage young people.

Mr. Heang Chhor, President of McKinsey Japan is also my friend.  He evacuated to France from Cambodia in that painful years of massacre, pursued education in spite of continuing hardships, and now is the President of McKinsey Japan. Mr. Chhor is a very earnest wonderful person.

I introduced these two people to one another.  Since I was abroad, I could not join them at the luncheon.  But I heared that they had a nice time together sharing same views and aspirations in many ways (Japanese site).

They have a common theme, Cambodia, so we can expect their co-operations.  I am looking forward to seeing it.

And "enmusubi (coordinating new relationships)" of wonderful people like them is very exciting as well.

India, California, and Tokyo


A cheerful meeting titled "Japan-India-U.S. Relationship Fiesta" have been held in Tokyo, co-organaized by Indian Institute of Technology(IIT), University of California at Los Angeles(UCLA), and University of California at Berkeley(UCB) Japan Alumni Association.

Former Ambassador of Japan to India His Excellency Enoki and former Ambassador of India to Japan His Excellency Seth participated also.  There was a panel and have a nice Networking time.  See the animoto slideshow for the views.

It is good to see this kind of gatherings being held here and there.

Innovation Courier Project


Since the start of the "Innovation 25" policy, various measures and activities are being set up and started.  "Innovation Courier Project" is the one of such activities.

I have been helping this project from the start.  Its works include various projects, lectures, publishing and so on.

This time, on June 3rd, we had an exhibition and seminar (this web site is in Japanese only) under the theme of "water" at Yokohama.  At the exhibition, many items such as truck portable sea water purification system, simple water purifying device already in practical use at Bangladesh, etc. were on display.  They were all wonderful.  However, I very strongly felt that we need to develop more things that more meet the local needs.

Japanese inevitably are inclined to rely on technologies, and engineers are too much focused on development of technologies or improvement of their accuracies that they often come up with very high-priced items that would be unrealistic and costly.  Also, I always get the impression that they have tendency of depending on government for funding.  The items are altogether wonderful, but in order to have these items delivered to the destination ASAP, we should think different way and find new ways to build such systems and finances that make it possible.  For example, we could try to make products at local area that create local jobs and help people to relieve from poverty (even a little). I think that this kind of thought or viewpoint was missing.  Maybe it’s because many of us do not have any experience of living in those places.  Thus, we are not able to feel everyday life as the local people.  I think this is the weak point of Japan in this flat global age where "Demand-Driven Innovation" is very effective.

I had a lecture (this web-site is in Japanese only) and talked about the logic of Grameen Bank, introduced some of their examples, and also touched upon the wonderful NGO activities such as KickStart.  These are what I call the innovation, "Creation of New Values."