Will the University of Tokyo Change? The Social Responsibility of the University of Tokyo


It has recently been reported that the University of Tokyo has been looking into the idea of starting fall entrance and summer graduation, a norm of college/university academic year of many countries.

What is the meaning of such a move?  Of course, it would be significant because it would bring the academic year of the University of Tokyo into line with major universities in most of the countries around the world.  It would have a ripple effect in so many ways including the promotion of international exchange between universities and making it possible to transfer between universities that are in different countries; enhance the mobility of faculty and students between Japan and the rest of the world.

This experiment has also yet to actually be approved overall by the authorities, Ministry of Education, but it would be possible to introduce the semester system and also thus have summer graduation (as well as fall entrance).  Some of the students at some universities do graduate in the summer (with a full-fledged graduation ceremony) and enter university in the fall, but these universities do not really hold much impact over Japanese society at large.  Moreover, since almost all major Japanese companies, civil service and other branches of Japanese society only hire new college graduate in the spring, what do the students who graduate in the summer do about trying to find a job?

Universities can do little to challenge major corporations which are set in their ways and resistant to change such as the long-standing practice of hiring of new graduates in one fell swoop.  At the very least, those students who have put off graduation for a year and not yet accepted a job within a company should still be considered new graduates.  Finding employment is difficult for university students regardless of the schedule (to say nothing of the difficulty that high school students are having trying to enter the job market), particularly at the time of economic difficulties like today.  Universities thus have no incentive to look seriously into the idea of a summer graduation.

Japanese society, at large, runs on a schedule of “start school in April and graduate in March” which makes it impossible to even really discuss the matter despite the growing need for internationalization.  Thus, Japanese universities and international society are inherently mismatched.

Thus, the fact that the University of Tokyo has begun to consider the idea of a fall graduation could be characterized as a challenge to this mismatch between globalization and the Japanese society with the summer graduation.  The real reason behind this move may actually be different, I just do not know, but this has been its ultimate impact.

The individual who brought up these points is Shigeyuki Jo (in Japanese).  I have followed Jo-san with his spirit of a maverick and his support of the youth, thus have been supporting him from behind.  It came as no surprise that this thoughtful opinion came from Shigeyuki Jo (in Japanese).

Moreover, it is hugely important that the University of Tokyo be the first university to put pressure on Japanese universities and the university system as well as society at large to change.  Such actions would not have much of value if they were taken up by another university, because the idea would not be picked up by the media and they would have almost no impact on society.

Thus, if the Japanese social system is ever going to adapt to the global schedule, everyone has to do their part. If the most influential university in Japan does not take action, then nothing will happen. This is the responsibility that comes with being a leader in the society of ‘Japan Inc.’  That is why I often refer to the leading role that the University of Tokyo should exercise often in my lecturings and speeches.

The same logical argument can be made for the role of the university hospital in the restructuring the ‘medical’ care system (or better characterized as the structuring of the ‘health’ care system) and I made this argument in a book I authored entitled The University Hospital Revolution (published in Japanese). I am not sure how much this book has attracted attention . . .

So what will happen?  Will the University of Tokyo lead the way for the restructuring of Japan?



New Research Graduate School in Okinawa


I have previously introduced in this blog, OIST, (Ref. 1, 2) a research institute which was established in Okinawa and is designed to take on the challenges of the new global world. 

The plan is to make this research institute into a full-fledged graduate school, and I am part of the group which is responsible for making this happen.  In a previous column, I talked about sitting in on a board of governor’s meeting via teleconference from Kuala Lumpur, but unfortunately was unable to fully participate due to a bad connection.

This board of governors did, however, succeed in moving this project a further step ahead.

The possibility of becoming a groundbreaking graduate school has catch the attention of the world at large with many questioning whether something like this on this scale is really happening in Japan.  Two articles have been published in Nature entitled “Okinawa goes Recruiting” and “Made in Japan” in the wake of the executive committee meeting. I look forward to more of these types of articles appearing in the future.

It has been a long hard journey to get this far.  I would like to offer my sincere and heartfelt thanks to everyone involved in this endeavor including Drs. Sydney Brenner, Jonathan Dorfan and Torsent Wiesel, and all other preeminent supporters and organizations representing a variety of fields from around the world, and within Japan.

The real challenges lie ahead of us.  We will need the help and support of everyone to ensure that scientists around the world recognize OIST as a graduate research facility in an opening and welcoming Japan.  In many ways, I think that intentions of Japan as a country and the confidence of researchers are intertwined. 

I am extremely pleased with the progress that is being made and I humbly ask everyone here and of the world for their support.


Dialogue with Ikujiro Nonaka: An Event at a Gathering of the UCB-UCLA Alumni Association


Ikujiro Nonaka is one of Japan’s most influential ‘gurus’ on innovation.  He is a highly regarded international scholar and someone I also greatly respect.  Professor Nonaka has written many wonderful books (in Japanese and in English), and among them are some of my favorites.  Included among these books are “The Essence of Defeat”, “The Essence of Innovation”, “The Etiquette of Innovation” and “Virtuous-Based Management”.  His ability to conduct research and analysis, and then find the “essence” of a thing is truly amazing.

Moreover, Professor Nonaka does not just look, in his books and talks, at the analysis and know-how that forms the foundation of the average business school, but rather he strives to delve into the essence of a thing as well as delve into “leadership” and shared philosophy which exposes the humanity at the root of all. Specifically, Professor Nonaka looks at the importance of phronesis as proposed by Aristotle.  He could even be characterized as Japan’s Peter Drucker.  And in reality, he is the First Distinguished Drucker Scholar in Residence at the Drucker School of Management, Claremont Graduate University.

We had previously had some discussions, and we have worked together on various projects in his role as the head of the University of California at Berkeley (UCB) Japan Alumni Association and mine as the head of the UCLA Japan Alumni Association (in Japanese).

One of our projects that came to fruition is our dialogue on “Japanese Innovation in the Aftermath of the 3.11 Disaster ? What Will It Take?” which was held on July 1st.  This event was well attended by a lively audience.  The event started from 6:30 in the evening and the reception continued on until 10:00 pm.  Unfortunately Professor Nonaka had to leave early because he had to leave for Dalian the next day. 

The Hitotsubashi Business Review has recently put out a special feature entitled Thoughts on Ikujiro Nonaka: Frontiers of Knowledge Management (in Japanese) in its Summer Issue.

I started out by setting the tone for the first 30 minutes and reiterated the themes that I have talked about on this site at length.  For example, how both the strengths and the weaknesses of Japan have been laid open to the world in the aftermath of the events of 3.11 (Ref. 1, 2) .

Professor Nonaka has also coauthored a paper The Wise Leader with Hirotaka Takeuchi that was just published in the May issue of the Harvard Business Review.  (Professor Takeuchi launched the Graduate School of International Corporate Strategy at Hitotsubashi University 10 years ago and last year returned to Harvard.)  Anyway we launched into our dialogue for 30 minutes which was followed by a 60-minute Q&A session.  All in all, it was a hugely intellectually stimulating evening.

Professor Nonaka and myself both strongly stressed the importance of, not knowledge, but rather the spirit that one can garner from liberal arts, philosophical and communal values as well as wisdom and experience gained through practical application, actions and evaluations.

At the same time, the July issue of Voice (in Japanese) had a special feature on “The Kan Administration, the Essence of Defeat”, and Professor Nonaka lead off with an article entitled “Non-Reality-Based Politicians are Destroying Our Country”.  Professor Nonaka noted during the talk that sales of his book The Essence of Defeat have jumped since 3.11.

Our dialogue should eventually be available for all to see via video and I will let you all know when it is posted.

I received a number of messages via Twitter and email from participants, and someone also talked about this event in their blog (in Japanese).

Afterwards, I was able to enjoy drinks with Mr. Kobayashi who is the originator of “This is Liberal Arts: Summer Course 2011” that was conceived in Boston last year, and his friend Mr. Kano, Mr. Yasui and Mr. Yokoyama who is a UCLA alumni.

After spending several fulfilling hours with everyone, a truly productive day came to an end.



Message of Support to Female University Students and an Email from a Student


Those of you who visit my site are probably aware that I am a proud supporter of the empowerment of women (in Japanese).   I have often talked in public on this theme (in Japanese).

I gave a talk at Showa Women’s University whose president is Mariko Bando.  President Bando is also widely known as the author of numerous books including a best-selling book, The Dignity of a Woman.  The lecture at the Hitomi Memorial Hall was open to the general public and approximately 2,000 were in attendance, most of whom were students.

As I have reiterated numerous times on this site, (Ref. 1, 2, 3) the disaster of 3.11 has made the weakness of the Japanese male-centric hierarchical social structure apparent to the rest of the world and has, in turn, prompted talk about this state of affairs.  This demonstrates the almost frightening power of the information age.  My talk focused on these topics as well as the great expectations for women in the modern age.

The discussion moved onto topics such as “students should take time off during their school years”, the direction that women are moving into in the global world and actual examples of their activities.  I truly hope that each and every one of them is able to find a career that allows them to have a wonderful life.

I also made a request to the president and the Chairman of the board that students not be required to pay tuition when they take a leave from school.

I received a number of messages via Twitter, and also emails such as this one:

“My name is “M” and I am a fourth year student in the Department of Psychology in the Social Science Faculty at Showa Women’s University.  I attended your lecture today at Showa Women’s University and I wanted to thank you for your very interesting and thoughtful talk.  I am sending this mail, because I really wanted to convey what I took away from today’s lecture.

I listened to what you had to say, I came to realize that what we need to do is first give ourselves permission to take on challenges and strive to maintain our drive and passion as we tackle these challenges.

I also think that if we look at our homeland of Japan from the outside, we would gain a new and different perspective on things in comparison with our current perspective.

Since the events of 3.11, I have come to doubt much of what I had hitherto accepted without question.

However, I now strongly feel that it is our job to change what Japan has become.

Nothing will happen unless people like myself do something.  I just wanted to let you know that I have taken your exhortations to heart and will try my best to do whatever I can to help achieve change. . . .

Thank you so much for your efforts of today.”

It always pleases me when I get such a response from students that holds the promise of the beginning of something new and becoming connected.