Speech at the National Academy of Sciences; Lost in Translation – “Accountability and Groupthink”


To Washington D.C. Dulles from Paris via Chicago O’Hare.

After being picked up at the Dulles airport, Washington DC, I went directly to the hotel, where I checked my powerpoint presentation.

The next morning, I went to the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), which is across the street from the State Department. It has been two years since the last time I went there, and it is slightly bigger and the renovation has been completed.

Here, I attended a meeting hosted by the NAS on cooperation between countries with alliances for measures against CBRNE (Chemical, Biological, Radiation, Nuclear and Explosives). I gave the keynote speech, entitled, “Opportunities and Challenges in Coordinating the Response to CBRNE Events: Fukushima Daiichi, A Case Study.” Executive Director of the Office of International Affairs of the NAS, Dr. John Boright, my old friend, introduced me quite a very nice way. This meeting and lecture can be viewed online.

Due to the nature and the topic of the meeting, representatives from the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Defense, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and the military also were in attendance.

It felt nostalgic when I met with officials from the Department of Defense whom I had met during my visit of the National Diet of Japan Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission (NAIIC) to Washington D.C. and Counselor of Security, Mr. Tsugita from the Japanese Embassy, whom I have known for a long time.

It is commendable that in the U.S., there are public meetings on such topics, hosted by the National Academy of Science in response to governmental request.

This year happens to be the 150th anniversary of the NAS, founded by President Lincoln, and there are many events going on. The founding spirit of the NAS is that it is an independent, private entity, which provides the government with advice on policies. This spirit has withstood many years of change and is the foundation of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, which represents the scientific community and is widely trusted by the American public and the world.

Even if such an example is imitated in Japan, without an understanding of the spirit, history and civic culture of the nation, many things will be will be lost in translation. In these past 150 years, there have been many such cases in Japan’s rapid modernization. This tendency has not changed and is still apparent today.

In this lecture, as an example of this, I pointed out the word “accountability” and how it’s meaning has been lost in translation (see top image, it has been edited slightly for this website). I explained that in Japanese, accountability is translated as “the responsibility to EXPLAIN.” Upon hearing this, the audience showed a surprised reaction with laughter. The true meaning of this word is “the responsibility to carry out the duty it has been given.” It has more weight than the word ‘responsibility’. In every job or position, there comes a duty, and it is fulfilling this duty that is the job of people in higher positions. It makes me wonder who started using this mistaken translation. I hope it is not someone who was in a top position.

Furthermore, I talked about ‘groupthink’ (see above image). Please ‘Google it’ in English and in Japanese. What does everyone think about the meaning of this word in Japanese? My view is that it is a herd of elites that never learns. My comments are on this site.

Underlying this mind set is the refusal to understand the significance of the “obligation to dissent” (see above image) and a society that excludes individuals who are different, who disagree and dissent. This can be seen in the weakness of the elites. If they do not acknowledge their weakness, they will forget to be humble and become arrogant.

It is this tendency for elites to take things for granted that is in the backdrop of the Fukushima nuclear accident. This self-serving mindset afflicts many elites resulting often major man-made disasters to the nation and the public.

Among the participants, there were many who had looked over the NAIIC report, of which I served as the Chairman. Some people said to me, “I understand better by listening to your talk. I have worked with many Japanese government officials before and I finally understand the things that were always unclear and did not make sense. Thank you.”

The NAIIC report is fact based and aims to have as little speculative and judgmental comments of the commission members as possible. For this reason, everything other than the introduction does not address specific matters of culture or society and presented ‘facts’ we found and learned. It may be difficult to grasp the true core message of the human factors, even for Japanese people.

This is the meaning of the ‘mindset’ and ‘single-track elites’ that is mentioned in the introduction at the beginning of the NAIIC report. In the English version, it is also mentioned in the “Message from the Chairman.”

I attended a dinner with the speakers and the hosts and departed the next morning. This was my third world-round trip this year.

To Paris


On the afternoon of the 17th, I took the Eurostar to Paris Gare du Nord, where I arrived before 4pm. It was humid and hot.

I went immediately to the hotel, changed and went off to the conference arena of the American Chamber of Commerce in France. I attended the speech of Chairman of the Board and CE of GE, Jeff Immelt. The topic of the talk was globalization and big corporations like GE and it reflected ten years of experience of working in this high responsibility position. I offered my greetings and then headed to the Musee d’Orsay. There, I was able to see the Hays Collection on exhibition.

I was invited to Paris to the International Business Think Tank (1), hosted by the Institut de L’Entreprise, beginning with the dinner on the evening of the 17th. There was a speech by the French Minister for the Economy and Finance Pierre Moscoviv, and the penal discussion by former Italian Prime Minister, Mario Monti and Nobel laureate Paul Krugman. They had many differences in opinion but their discussion was very thought provoking and deep in content.

Mr. Krugman had a piece in the International Herald Tribune a few days ago and also a good op-ed in the New York Times, mentioning Abenomics as the G8 Summit is being held in Northern Ireland. I have tweeted on this discussion and also posted some photos (twitters of first twitters of June 18th @kiyoshikurokawa).

Mr. Monti is impressive as he has served as the EU Commissioner and was the Prime Minister of Italy at the time of the financial crisis, leading a cabinet without a single politician. I thought Mr. Monti made a good point when he said, “It is a problem that even at meetings of the EU, the discussions between the heads of state are not based on the viewpoints of politicians, but rather like technocrats, focusing on minor details.”

The meeting on the next day, was held at the Musee de Arts Primitifs Branly, with approximately two to four hundred people in attendance. The format was with keynote speeches and panel discussions. In the morning session, the keynote speech was former Prime Minister of Finland at the time of the end of the Cold War, Esko Aho (1), followed by the Chairman and CEO of Inditex, famous for the clothing brand Zara, Pablo Isla, then myself and Daniel Tammet in the afternoon key note speeches. I enjoyed the conference. You can also follow the organizer’s twitter account.

I also had dinner with high some high officials of an Asian country, who are in Paris to attend the annual Paris Air Show.

The next morning, I left for Washington D.C. from Charles de Gaulle.

To London


On the 15th, I traveled from Stockholm to London. I had a “secret meeting” that I had been previously asked to attend. I returned to Heathrow Airport after coming here six weeks ago for the West Sussex conference.

On Sunday the 16th, I took a walk around Hyde Park, in front of the hotel. It is in the middle of London and is very spacious, with lots of foliage and very peaceful. Mr. Mizuno of Collar Capital visited my hotel to have lunch.

I had a relaxed afternoon tea with Political Minister Shikata and his wife and son, as well as Miss Ninomiya, who is a graduate student at the University of Oxford. Minister Shikata’s son was inspired by the liberal arts summer program that I have introduced in this blog and is currently an undergraduate student at Georgetown University. He is visiting his parents in London during the summer break.

Mrs. Shikata also works at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Her posts are in Spanish speaking countries and the family have often crossed paths. In Sweden, I met the Swedish Ambassador to Zambia, Lena Nordstrom (1), who lived in the Spanish speaking country of Colombia and Chile for twelve years. We were seated next to each other at the dinner with the King of Sweden in Tallberg on the 13th. The Ambassador spends around five to six years in each post.

It has been a while since I spent such a relaxed Sunday.

On the morning of the 17th, I had a fruitful meeting with around eight people regarding new opportunities for business relations between Japan and the U.K.

At noon, I took the Eurostar to Paris. In about three hours, I reached Paris Gare du Nord. There was a heavy rain falling from the morning and it was very humid. I changed immediately and headed to a meeting starting at 5pm.

Tallberg Forum 2013


On the morning of the 12th of June, I left Narita for Stockholm, passing through Copenhagen. I had been invited to attend the opening session of the Tallberg Forum.

I was to spend the morning in Stockholm at the headquarters of Vattenfall(1), the largest public sector energy company in Sweden. There, I would be talking to the directors of the company, as well as giving a talk about the NAIIC to the employees. Of course, I happily obliged.

Afterwards, I was interviewed by the Swedish national public broadcaster, and it was aired on the news(*1). Incidentally, my interviewer had been in Japan for 3 years 20 years ago, and had been working at NHK.

Afterwards, I joined up with my friends Anders Wijkman and Sundaram Tagore(*2) and together we headed for Tallberg, reaching our destination after a 3 hour drive.

After a panel discussion in the evening, there was a reception dinner for the King of Sweden, to which I was invited. I had already had the privilege of meeting the King 2 or 3 times in Japan, and over here, he was surrounded by the delegates. I also talked with the officials escorting the King.

The dinner was attended by around 40 people, but I was lucky enough to sit next to the table shared by the founder of the Forum, Bo Eckman and the King, Carl Gustaf the 16th, and I was able to go over to their table and talk with the king. We talked about topics such as the 100th anniversary of the Nobel Prize and his Highness’s visit to Japan and meeting with the Emperor of Japan to commemorate the 300th anniversary of Linnaeus.

For the inaugural panel on the first day, the talk by Robert Corell on climate change was wonderful. On the second day, I was invited by Eckman to a panel discussion with two other participants to exchange ideas on what the agenda for the world should be.

The discussion revolved around how the globalizing world was influencing decisions about the places people decide to go, and what the right thing to do is, and a lot of varied opinions were voiced in the pursuit of an elusive answer. There was uncertainty all around, and the more seriously one thought, the more perilous the next step seemed, and this led to a general sense of frustration.

The location was a wonderful place, and even the sudden bursts of rain could do little to dampen the charm. A sense of living in harmony with a harsh natural surrounding and at the same time caring for it pervaded this area, speaking of the  wisdom of ages past. There was a harmonious blend of modern day convenience and the protection of nature, as exemplified by the train stations at appropriate intervals.

Last year, I wrote about my speech at Oslo, where I said that the natural environment of any country reflected the national spirit of that nation, as a sign of wisdom in practice. Maybe its only natural for human beings to feel this way, to somehow be get the feeling that one is at home when surrounged by nature.

On the last day of the conference, the 15th, I left Tallberg at noon and got onto a plane headed for London.

*1: In this interview, particular attention was paid to my comments about how ‘Groupthink’ is the critical weakness of Japan, because it led to, among other failings, a disregard for ‘obligation to dissent’. These structural deficiencies have led to the fragility of the so-called elites in Japan.
This was also a view apparently shared by the editor of the piece.

*2: My first words upon meeting him were,”are you related to that Tagore?”it turns out that he is  Rabindranath’s great-grandson. It should have been obvious, but it was only a matter of my not knowing. He is a wonderful person, famous as an artist and for his films.  Tagore the great grandfather was  Asia’s first Nobel Prize laureate, and a contemporary of Tenshin Okakura, with whom he had friendly ties. Okakura realized on going to India for the first time that all of Asia was one, and he stayed on for more than a year, later going on to forge ties between Japan and the U.S. There were many visionaries like him in this era, and they were the true elite, a breed that is sadly hard to come across today.

Some Recent Happenings


I have not posted recently though in fact I have been part of several interesting things ever my early breakfast at the British Embassy after an early morning flight from Bangkok on the 31st of May, I have not updated this column.

Anyway, I would like to report that the HGPI and the JCIE jointly hosted the fifth and final installation of the symposium on development in Africa (website in Japanese, Facebook page) in the run-up to the TICAD5. For dinner, I headed to Yokohama with the board of directors for GHIT (Global Health and Innovation Technology), with whom I would be having a meeting the next day. I spent the night at Yokohama.

The GHIT is a rare initiative, combining private and public interests with the Gates Foundation, and has a 5 year program. I get the feeling that it is going to be hard to stand at the helm of this organization.

The next morning started with the meeting of the board of directors, followed by a council meeting and then a press conference, and then I was in Tokyo. I had been invited to talk at the beginning of the ‘Global Agenda Seminar’(blog in Japanese) by Yoko Ishikura, and pretty soon, I had to head back to Yokohama in order to attend the award ceremony for the Hideyo Noguchi Africa Prize.

I welcomed the two recipients, Dr Peter Piot and Alex Cortinho and introduced them to the Emperor and the Empress. I was kept busy by the presentation ceremony and the reception dinner, and was able to go back home only late at night.

So this is what I was doing after returning from Bangkok on the 31st of May and the 1st of June. Considering the fact that it was only two days, I think I managed to accomplish a lot.

On the 2nd of June, I attended the farewell party held in memory of Mineo Nakajima (newspaper article in Japanese and English, Wikipedia page in Japanese), the late founder of the now famous Akita International University. In the short span of 10 years, AIU has earned praise for its mission of educating world-class university students. He was a wonderful scholar, a true educator; we will truly, truly miss him. I join my hands in prayer for this teacher who left us so suddenly.

University of Tokyo President Council in Bangkok


After the Kavli Conference at University of Tokyo, I departed Narita Airport on the evening of the 28th for Bangkok to for the President Council. Our host was a member of the President Council, the Royal Highness Chulabhorn of Thailand. I was invited to speak at the entrance ceremony of the University of Tokyo this year, so I participated with feelings of gratitude though my schedule was very tight. From Japan, there was President Hamada, and others of administration of the University of Tokyo, and of the Council members, Professor Emeritus Yoshino of Harvard (he had also faculty position at UCLA in the late 1960s), Mr. Yokoyama, and Mr. Munjal from India, Dr. Raivio from Finland, Hassan Jamil and Rita Colwell. It was my third meeting with Ms. Colwell this year.

We visited the Chulabhorn Research Institute and the Chulabhorn Cancer Hospital next door. The facilities are extensive and research is conducted actively. There is also research on local organisms and aquatic plants from the sea that are effective for treating cancer. In one of the research labs there was a talented young researcher who studied at John Hopkins as an undergraduate and received a PhD from there as well. I wish all the best for future achievements.

The cancer hospital is also relatively new, with one hundred beds, and it is a hospital that specializes in cancer. There were some cherry blossoms decorating the lobby. As this is a new hospital, other than there are plans for expanding it into a center for extracting cancer samples analysing cancer. According to her Royal Highness, the budget has become tight recently and there is difficulty in moving things along.

In the evening, I attended a dinner with her Royal Highness.

The next day, Dean Kiyono gave a presentation on the President Council, several challenges for the University of Tokyo, around the world and research by the Institute of Medical Science on the“rice vaccine,” in which mucosal immunity is induced by inserting antigenic agent into rice. The vaccine does not need to be refrigerated and is a very interesting research concept. The presentation was superb, reflecting his career of twenty years in the United States.

In India, I had met the father of Mr. Munjal, Chairman of the Hero Group (he is currently ninety and very well). He has long been an avid supporter of education and has major plans of establishing Munjal University. It is promising and is likely to actively incorporate many new innovations from the world.

I took a red eye flight back to Haneda, where I landed at 5:45 AM. I returned home to take a shower and then went to the British Embassy for breakfast at 7:20 with the State Minister for Energy and Climate Change, the Rt Hon Edward Davey MP. It is admirable that there is a periodic changing of ministers accompanied with civil servants under the Minister in the UK.

As I felt the other day in West Sussex, British politicians are highly talented and well trained.