Foreign Policy: 100 Top Global Thinkers


Foreign Policy is a monthly journal on foreign policies that is widely read by experts in the field. There is also a magazine published once every month and read by a similar audience called Foreign Affairs. Both are publications which I enjoy reading.

Starting four years ago, Foreign Policy has chosen its "100 Top Global Thinkers" every year, announcing their list in December.

Amazingly, for 2012, I was chosen as one of the “100 Top Global Thinkers 2012” for my role as Chair of the Fukushima Nuclear Independent Investigation Commission by the National Diet of Japan. Some of the people chosen are in pairs, so it is not exactly one hundred people. There were many politicians, as they have a large influence on ideology. At the top of the list this year are Aung San Suu Kyi and Thein Sein of Myanmar as a pair. Also, another Japanese on the list is Haruki Murakami.

Last year’s top list for 2011 shows many people related to the Arab Spring. Among Japanese, there were Ms. Mizuho Fukushima and her husband. Also, there was Dr. Joi Ito, who was appointed to become the director of the MIT Media Lab, and Ms. Mari Kuraishi of Global Giving.

How was it in 2010? There were probably no Japanese people on the list. 

How about 2009? It is fun to search in this way. Please let me know if you find any.

Regarding the editorial quality, they are real pros, as the descriptions of each person on the list is very good.

The top two people of this year were awarded:

“For showing that change can happen anywhere, even in one of the world’s most repressive states.”

Mr. Murakami:

“For his vast imagination of a globalized world.”

And for me:

“For daring to tell a complacent country that groupthink can kill.”

NAIIC has been evaluated positively abroad, but within Japan it has not been the case… I wonder why.


To Dubai: Global Agenda Council of World Economic Forum




One night after returning from Taipei, I went back to Narita. This time I departed for Dubai.

The airplane I boarded at Narita was the same A380 aircraft that I rode the other day when I returned from Dubai, in "Taking a shower 12,000 meters up in the sky".

This time I flew in business class. Both business and first class were fully booked. Many of the people on board, like myself, are participating in the Global Agenda Council (GAC) of the World Economic Forum (WEF). There were many who I know well, including Dr Yoko Ishikura.

We arrived in the early morning and checked in Jumeira Al Qasr. This time, the WEF-GAC seems to have increased the number of participants by around 20 percent. With over 80 Councils, there are more than before and many new innovations were put into place to ensure everything was running smoothly. This increase signifies the growing number of issues which the world is facing.

There are separate Councils for around ten countries, one of which is Japan. I am chair of the Japan Council and the people on this council are mostly Japanese. Several meetings have already been held in Tokyo, so the issues on the table were relatively hashed out even before we started. However, in recent years, there seems to be few positive messages about Japan to communicate and consequently there were few visitors. Nevertheless, it is my role to greet the people who stop by, and therefore I spent much of my time at the Japan Council. Sadly, there weren’t many people who visited. It seems that the attention given to Japan and the expectations for the country are lacking and lukewarm.

However, the nuclear accident at Fukushima is a different story. Regarding the National Diet of Japan Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission (NAIIC), we received many questions, mostly on the individual level.

In these past two or three years, I have talked often with the chairs of the China Council and the Korea Council but as both councils had new chairs this time, it was a very important moment and we discussed and shared many things. Both were quite frank and highly aware of the need for greater exchange on multiple levels. We were able to have many fruitful discussions.

Just as I was thinking that it is a time of change for leaders in both China and South Korea, the news broke that the Japanese Lower House will be dissolved. It is quite a time.

As I was talking with the South Korean chair, Dr Guen Lee, it became clear that his father is someone whom I know well. Dr Guen Lee is the son of Professor Lee (Ho-Wang), the former chairman of the Korean Academy of Sciences (KAS). I have a photograph together with the father on this blog. It was meeting Professor Lee that brought me to Professor Ju and has fostered the continuing, inspiring advances in Japanese and Korean medical history (1, 2, 3) .

At the top is a photograph taken with Dr Guen Lee at the banquet on the 26th floor of the famous Burj Al Arab.

When I returned to Japan, I received an email from Dr Lee saying that his father was delighted. The coincidences that can occur in the network of people is a fascinating thing.


Bringing Forth ‘the Nail that Sticks out’ and the Importance of ‘Difference, Disagreement and Dissidence’


Perhaps you have all noticed already from the evening paper of Nikkei released on November 17 (Saturday) in the section “Senior Reporter’s Kokoro Page” (published every Saturday in the evening paper), an article posted by Editor Masami Shimizu interviewing me, entitled
“Japan must not repeat its foolishness, interview with Dr. Kiyoshi Kurokawa”. I have known Mr. Shimizu since the time he was an editorial staff of science and technology, and he has often written perceptive editorials.

The main headline of the article is “Develop Difference and Change Society” and the subheading is “To the Youth: Be ‘the Nail that Sticks Out’” which are the main messages I have repeatedly advocated whenever there was an opportunity, including this column. Here again, I am emphasizing the importance of ‘difference, disagreement and dissidence.’

Ms. Yoko Ishikura also mentions this article in her own column and states that she is “flabbergasted, or rather shocked” by the fact that while the world is changing so much, Japan has not changed at all since the time she wrote ‘The Management of Difference’ in her work with Mr. Kenichi Omae and Mr. Hirotaka Takeuchi 20 years ago.

Overcoming the weaknesses of Japan which became apparent on 3.11, constructing and advancing the future of Japan depend on the young people. Observing Japan since 3.11, I feel the danger that the industry, the government, the academia, the media and other existing powers will go back to the previous state; despite the fact that the world is going through unstable and unpredictable current of changes that we have never experienced before.

I would be happy if you could take a look at my interview-based article. I have received some positive reactions from number of people.

A week later in the November 24 (Saturday) edition of the same paper, there is an interview article of Mr. Toshio Arima and on the left side below there is a small column titled ‘From Kokoro Editing Room.’

There you find the public response to the article from the 17th in which “Professor of the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies, Dr. Kurokawa Kiyoshi Recommends ‘to the Youth: Be the ‘Nail that Sticks Out.’” A mother with two children apparently clipped out the article hoping that her sons will be that way. It also states that “building a society which tolerates difference, disagreement and dissidence is our duty for the next generation (Sachi).”

This made me a bit happy. Thank you, Mr. Shimizu.


To Taipei, a Series of Coincidences



Prof. Yang 2nd from left. Next to the right between Prof. Yang and me is Prof. Tomino of Juntendo University.

After having spent the first day of GEW, I set off to Taipei on the following morning. A small workshop that I promised to have with Chang Gung Medical Center was postponed last year due to the disastrous event of 3.11. I have known Professor Chih-Wei Yang for some time; he is currently the coucillor of International Society of Nephrology and the Dean of Chang Gung College of Medicine. I felt grateful to him for welcoming me at the airport despite his busy schedule.

The other day, although it was a coincidence, I was consulted by an American friend about the innovative project ‘Biosignatures’(1) which is partnering with Chang Gung Medical Centers, Arizona State University and also Mayo Clinic. Hence, it was by chance that this was one the topics that came up in the discussion with Professor Yang.

The next day, along with Professor Yang I attended the workshop, which involved presentations by the younger members, and by four o’clock in the afternoon I headed back to Haneda. It was a short stay in Taipei.

I believe that what may seem like an ordinary coincidence such as the one above is in fact not a coincidence, but a result of expanding different kinds of people and establishing relationships of mutual trust along the way. I also believe that the series of coincidences and the unique relationships are based upon trust in the special “attributes” of your own abilities that are not limited to the organization to which you belong and are built throughout your career. In today’s borderless, global world, these are indispensable and most valuable assets.

Creating your own value from a young age involves finding opportunities to develop your “attributes” from your teens, 20s and early 30s by interacting with the world’s professionals, and it is important to have a strong sense of your own objectives and the efforts required to fulfill that your own goal.

I think that finding your own unique value, being humble, and setting your own position in this world will help you build a successful career.

After I return, in the following evening of November 11, I am setting off to Dubai from Narita.


Interview with Dr. Kurokawa, former chair of the National Diet of Japan Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission (Tokyo-shinbun 2012/11/8)

Why is the ‘Nuclear Village’ being revived? According to Dr. Kurokawa, professor at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies and the former chair of the National Diet of Japan Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission (NAIIC), “The biggest issue is that due to weak Legislative branch of the Government, the Administrative branch of the Government is not being kept in check.”

“Although it is the job of the Legislative branch of the government to develop policies, the bureaucracy is still doing this. Meanwhile, the Administrative branch by the bureaucracies will not acknowledge that it has made mistakes. In these circumstances, there is no way that policies will change by Ministrial silos, even after the Fukushima accident.”

Dr. Kurokawa takes the view that “when the government, TEPCO, scholars, and the mainstream media colluded and declared that the nuclear plant did not undergo a meltdown, it effectively signalled the “meltdown” of all authority. A country that was supposed to be an economically and technologically advanced was seen as incredibly irresponsible and our nation lost the world’s trust.”

How can this trust be regained? Dr. Kurokawa’s answer is the “strengthening of the functions of the legislative branch,” which specifically means the establishment of independent committees like NAIIC and discussion of important policies by such committees. He explains, “NAIIC is the first case of the legislative branch functioning successfully. Because it was independent from the government and electric power companies, it was able to maintain credibility. When making important decisions, such as how to deal with the problem of spent fuel, such a commission should be established as necessary.”

In its report, NAIIC presented seven recommendations to the National Diet. Regarding the establishment of a new regulatory agency, the report recommends, “the Diet should set up a committee through which the agency will be monitored” and “the agency must have a high level of independence and strong sense of responsibility regarding its duty.” However, Dr. Kurokawa comments, “I can’t say that is taking place right now.”

“The implementations of the recommendations of this Commission will be the first step in making true democracy work in this country. In the next general election, the people must confront candidates as to whether they have the intention of implementing the recommendations.”


Japan Will Sink if It Does Not Change Now (Sankei-shinbun 2012/10/11)

We interviewed Dr. Kiyoshi Kurokawa, the former chair of the National Diet of Japan Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission, which investigated the nuclear accident at the Tokyo Electric Power Company Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. He explains the context of Japanese society in which the accident occurred, drawing attention to the tendency for leaders of organizations to be chosen according to the seniority system rather than by ability, and the difficulty of changing direction once decided. His tells us “if Japan does not use this as an opportunity to change, it will sink.”

Impact of Public Disclosure

–Both the cabinet and the private sector also set up their own investigation commissions, but the parliamentary panel focused particularly on the following points

“When conducting such an investigation, the investigators’ personal judgments usually have an effect. In order to prevent this as much as possible, the report tried to present only the facts, not the investigators’ personal udgments. The report did not use the phrases “nuclear village” or “safety myth.” If we use those words, readers would generally agree, “yes, that’s right.” We decided to only describe the facts in a straightforward manner.”

–Another major difference from the other commissions is that the committee meetings were made open to the public and the media

“All of the twenty commission meetings with hearings were made open to the public and were broadcast live on the website. Simultaneous English translations were also provided. It is important for the process to be transparent, and we wanted the people to see for themselves how the witnesses responded rather than the commission’s judgements.”

–Although there may have been advantages and disadvantages to public disclosure…

“We requested thirty-eight people to serve as witnesses at the commission hearings and not one declined. As TEPCO is a private company, it was not forced to submit its documents we requested, but if it declined we would only record and state that TEPCO would not release the documents. However, TEPCO ended up allowing us to inspect and view both their documents and the video records of the teleconferences among TEPCO Tokyo headquarter and Fukushima Daiichi Plant Operation Center. Media reacted strongly when the committee disclosed  the fact that there was no sound in the (teleconference) footage of when former Prime Minister Kan went into TEPCO headquarters. Later, in the end, TEPCO disclosed their records to the media. Thus, making our committee meetings open to the public was the right decision.”

Checking the Administrative Branch of the Government

–The report condemned the accident as “man-made”

“People in positions of power must act responsibly. What happens when they know but don’t do anything? It became awfully clear in this accident. Nuclear accidents have occurred in the past around the world. In the United States, after the Three Mile accident, an independent investigation report led by Dr Kemeny was released with specific recommendations similar to that of our report. What occurred thirty years ago in the U.S. repeated itself in this country. Japan knew about the Three Mile accident. Even if it did not know, Japan is a highly developed country that is even trying to export nuclear power technology. Knowing about it but not doing little by those responsible positions cannot be called anything other than a man-made disaster.”

–Why did this situation come about?

“During the period when energy shortages were a serious problem, developing nuclear power became a national policy of high priority. However, the bureaucracy only kept pushing the development forward, and there was no effective governance capability to put on the brakes when Japan needed it.”

–Does the problem lie within Japanese society?

“Both major private companies and the bureaucracy in Japan follow the seniority system within the same organization as a life-time employment. Since people are not necessarily chosen for their abilities, the problem arises that people at the higher posts can be incompetent. TEPCO is a company that has a monopoly of energy production and distribution in each regional areas. In such cases, energy companies become easily involved in regional elections and thus, in politics. Collusion became prominent as the direction shifted to everyone promoting nuclear power.”

–Does this mean that politicians are also responsible?

“In Japan, there is no mechanism to keep the Administrative branch of the government in check. The bureaucracy makes and implements almost all of the policies in Japan. So long as the bureaucracy is allowed to create the policies, they will continue to protect their interests and there will be no reason to change. NAIIC is probably the first time that the Legislative branch has functioned successfully.”

Thinking in Black and White Will Not Lead to The Answer

–Can Japanese society and politics change?

“If Japan does not use this commission report and this mechanism as an opportunity to change the governance of the Government, Japan will continue to sink. There is a need to reject the people at the top of public offices and public organizations who are incompetent thus irresponsible. The inclusion of more women, young people, and foreigners will bring about different ways of thinking and governance. Older generations will not produce different ideas and even if they do, they will tend to dismiss the new ideas.”

–The Establishment of the New Nuclear Regulatory Authority

“In our commission’s report, we recommended that regulatory bodies should adhere to the “no return rule” (officials are not allowed to return to their previous governmental agency) and that members should be individuals who intend to make nuclear regulation their careers. More Japanese should undergo training programs abroad. After ten years, they will have an international career and will be respected globally.”

–Should Japan continue to keep its nuclear power plants?

“It is necessary to think critically and to be aware of the changes in the world. Choosing between black or white, yes or no, is not the solution. We must take into account the history of the Three Power Source Development Laws (Dengen-Sanpo; the granting of subsidies to municipalities that allow the building of nuclear power plant sites). Change may not occur immediately, and there needs to be more discussion.”

Profile: Kiyoshi Kurokawa. Professor at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies. Born September 11, 1936. After graduating from the University of Tokyo Faculty of Medicine, he moved to the United States in 1969 and was a research assistant at the Department of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. In 1979, he became professor of Medicine at Department of Medicine, University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) School of Medicine. Returning to Japan in 1983, he became professor at University of Tokyo Faculty of Medicine in 1989, and later Dean of Tokai University School of Medicine, president of the Science Council of Japan, as well as Science Advisor for the Cabinet of Japan under former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in 2006. This year, he was chair of the National Diet of Japan Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission, which investigated the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant and submitted its report to the National Diet in July, calling the accident “man-made.”


My Perspective on the National Diet of Japan Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission (NAIIC): Making the Democratic System Work


I have given my views on the National Diet of Japan Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission (NAIIC) numerous times on this blog and in many other media.

If Japan does not learn from the lessons of Fukushima nor change the many systematic problems of Japanese society, I believe that it is inevitable for this country to sink. My views on this can be found in the article, “Japan will Sink if it Does not Change Now” (English translation) which was run on October 11 in the Sankei Shinbun newspaper.

My opinion is also in the recent article “Self-Approved Personnel and the Return of Rule by the Nuclear Village” (English translation) which was run in the Tokyo Shinbun newspaper (and the Chunichi Shinbun) on November 8.

Post-Fukushima, it is difficult to tell what will be the future of Japan’s accident response, the direction of the energy policy and nuclear power, the new nuclear power regulatory committee, the processing of spent fuel rods, and other such discussions and policies regarding nuclear power.

However, it is clear that adequate time must be given to discuss these issues, and that the whole debate has become narrowed into the two camps of “denuclearization” and “embracing nuclear power.”

Further, it seems that the nuclear power issues are being dealt with in a cloud of opaqueness and ambiguity. As usual, the ideas are short sighted and there is low transparency.

What are your views on this matter?

The main message of our NAIIC report is that regarding these nuclear issues, the Diet, which is the legislative branch, must keep the executive branch in check.

The separation of power into the three branches is the foundation of a democratic system. Yet, in Japan, the ministries of the executive branch both make and implement policies. There is something wrong here. The functions of governance are not working.

Recently, courts have ruled that the malapportionment of electorates when the ratio of the most populous to least populous district is 1:5, is unconstitutional. Yet, lawmakers have not done anything in response. Both the public and the legislative body had accepted the ratio of 1:3 and 1:4. The judiciary has been weak and the legislative body has not dealt with it in a responsible manner. Please think about why this is so.

My hope is that you would consider my comments and take action to push lawmakers, who you have elected into office, to implement the recommendations by NAIIC.

Such awareness and behavior is one of the key fundamentals necessary to make Japan’s democratic system work (in Japanese).

Launch of Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW) 2012, with the support of Ambassador Roos


It is now the fourth or fifth year since the start of Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW) (1). People from over 120 countries across the world have come together for the week of November 12-18th, to celebrate, support and network with individuals who are full of entrepreneurial spirit.

The Kauffman Foundation has played a central role in leading this event, which supports worldwide innovation and the spirit of entrepreneurship.

I have also been involved from the start (1, 2, 3) and this year my organization, Impact Japan, is the host for the event in Japan.

This year, the opening ceremony was held on November 8th, earlier than in past years in order to allow for more events and presentations. It was held in the Creative Lounge MOV in the “Hikarie” building in Shibuya. Many hard-working entrepreneurs and supporting organizations came, with perhaps sixty percent of them being Japanese.

I had the opportunity to talk at the opening ceremony and spend time with the enthusiastic young entrepreneurs.

As the event went into full swing and neared the end, Ambassador John V. Roos arrived. Taking time out of his busy schedule, he gave a speech, emphasizing the importance of “the entrepreneurial spirit and innovation” and provided many kind words of encouragement and support.

The next day, I departed for Taipei for a gathering at the Chang Gung Memorial Hospital, which I had promised to attend.

I encourage you to please support the efforts and activities of the rising young entrepreneurs and Impact Japan.


Meeting the Prime Ministers of Malaysia and Norway in two Consecutive Days


The Prime Minister of Malaysia, Mohd Najib Abdul Razak(1) set up a ‘Global Advisory Board of Science and Innovation’ and I was also invited as a committee member.

This time the event took place in Kuala Lumpur and Johor Bahru from 1st to 3rd of November. I departed Narita in the morning of October 31st. From Kuala Lumpur Airport it took roughly an hour and a half to arrive to the hotel, and in the evening I attended the reception.

On the following day, November 1st, I had a conference at the Prime Minister’s official residence in Kuala Lumpur. Other than the Prime Minister, several cabinet ministers had attended, and updates were given on issues including food security, nutrition and environment. We exchanged various ideas and engaged in debates concerning reflection on policy, and instructions were given based on the discussion. Part of the conference focused especially on the site visit to ‘Iskandar; Malaysia Smart City Framework’ centralizing in Johor Bahr. Unfortunately I had to excuse myself from the site visit on the second and third day, and after day1, I left Kuala Lumpur and got back to Narita on the 2nd, early in the morning.

After returning home and taking a short break, I met Norway’s Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg(1) at noon, and we had a meal together. I was the only representative from Japan and we exchanged opinions concerning various risks and government responses based on our reports, which included the National Diet of Japan Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission's (NAIIC) report on Fukushima nuclear power plants and the report by Norway’s independent committee on the mass shooting in Norway from last summer.

NAIIC’s report on Fukushima’s nuclear power plants seems to be widely read in  the world and I am delighted that there are many people who are interested in exchanging opinions on this matter, including those who hold important posts in the government.

Prime Minister Stoltenberg also made suggestions regarding exchange of opinions on ‘Global Health.’ In this particular field, Norway is known for showing great interest in global health and support for organizations such as GAVI(1) and the Prime Minister is also very keen on promoting such program. We spoke that HGPI which I am part of, recently organized a conference in collaboration with GAVI, and the mechanisms of financing global health programs as I previously discussed in early September at the Kavli Science Forum in Oslo. There, the Prime Minister emphasized the mission of Norway.

Time went by very quickly and afterwards we had interviews from Norway’s TV station and Kyodo news.

In the evening I was invited to the reception of Prime Minister Stoltenberg. Reconstruction Minister Hirano also attended the event, together with number of parties concerned and we all enjoyed seafood dishes such as salmon of Norway.

Meeting two different Prime Ministers in two consecutive days was an experience I could not have imagined. 


My Comments on Dr. Yamanaka’s Nobel Prize


It is wonderful that Shinya Yamanaka was recently awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. In October, I met Dr. Yamanaka when he attended the STS Forum in Kyoto. I have touched upon this briefly in a previous blog post.

It is an amazing achievement with a very significant impact and the world had been waiting with high expectations. The first report was published only in 2006, so it goes to show how large an impact Dr. Yamanaka’s findings on the iPS had. I am truly overjoyed.

Regarding the Nobel Prize, I have written about it many times on this site, and this time I was asked by many newspapers to give my comments. I continue to hold the same view as I have in the past(in Japanese).

My opinion focuses on the issue that faces Japanese universities and society at large, and is thought to be the norm in Japan- the “vertical society.”

I have explained my views in the following articles:

1.  “The University of Tokyo and the Nobel Prize” (in Japanese)

2.  “Why it is Difficult for the University of Tokyo to Create Nobel Laureates” (in Japanese)

3.  “The Noble Prize and the Academy Awards” (in Japanese)

4.  “Cultivation of the Future Generation is Fundamental to the Nation” (in Japanese)

5.  “Celebrating the 100th Year of the Nobel Prize” (in Japanese)

6.  “Japan’s Challenges for Training Future Scientists” (in Japanese)

7.  “Cultivating the ‘Nail that Sticks Out’ through World Exchange” (in Japanese)

The impact of the research conducted by Dr. Yamanaka and others like him is not merely something that can be measured by the “impact factor.” Rather, it has IMPACT on the whole world.

This kind of research is often born out of the rebellious spirit that comes not from the mainstream way of thinking, but from the "crazy ones."(1)

At this time in the twenty-first century, there have been eleven Japanese who have been awarded the Nobel Prize. Out of these eleven, Dr Nanbu (Noble Prize in Physics), Dr. Shimomura (Chemistry), and Dr. Negishi (Chemistry) have built their careers abroad, in the United States. Dr Tonegawa is also a similar case, having worked in San Diego and in Basel.

You must not be afraid to be “the nail that sticks out” or one of the “crazy ones.” For it is the nail that sticks out that changes the world.