Okinawa OIST, followed by Asian Pacific Congress of Nephrology


I was on a flight to Okinawa via Narita from Los Angeles. Reached Naha Airport at around half past ten at night, from where an hour’s taxi ride took me to my hotel in Onna village.

The next day, I attended the meeting of the board members at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology (OIST), an institute that is a rare entity in Japan, completely open to the world.

I was also able to attend the opening of the very interesting and wonderful ‘Sketches of Sciences’ display presented by the Nobel Museum.

This display was a work by Volker Steger, and we got an intimate look into his creative insights. Of the 50 people Steger had worked with, one was Tim Hunt, and he was right there in the room with us as he is a member of the board of OIST. This added a new dimension to the already engaging display.

The Nobel Museum started the ‘Cultures of Creativity’ series in 2001 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Nobel Prize. Incidentally, the first travelling exhibition was held in Tokyo and was opened in the presence of Princess Takamado. I also remember having been involved in the capacity of vice-president of the Science Council of Japan, helping them to host a commemorative symposium in the Yasuda Hall of Tokyo University (an in-depth special program was made by NHK featuring this event).

I had a pleasant conversation with the current director, Olov Amelin. We reminisced about past events, and also talked about Dr. Lindqvist (in Japanese), the previous curator of the museum.

The next day, after finishing off some business in the morning, I headed for Tokyo. I was very anxious when I heard that that the flight would be delayed, but I was able to make it on time to deliver my keynote speech at the Asian Pacific Congress of Nephrology. Here, I met up with old friends from all across Asia. Time flew by as we spent a time that was tinged with nostalgia.

During the three days of this congress, I was able to take part in various ‘extra-curricular’ activities and spent a lot of time dining out with our guests from abroad, including some friends from Taiwan.

Stating Different Opinions, Asking for Different Opinions (‘Obligation to Dissent’)


In what was a legislative first for Japan, the independently run NAIIC (Dec 8, 2100-July 5, 2012) submitted a report to both the Lower and Upper Houses of Parliament of Japan or the National Diet. Although the report was well-received and acclaimed overseas, within Japan, it was treated as an ‘inconvenient truth’, or more dishearteningly, elicited little response.

At the same time, I have talked here about how young people are increasingly active in setting up innovative initiatives.

Recently, Sakon Uda, who had agreed to taking a position that would put him in charge of the NAIIC as its ‘project manager’, has published a new book, “Naze ‘Iron’ No Denai Soshiki wa Machigau No Ka” (Why Organizations Without Dissent Make Mistakes), (A blog post in Japanese).

I have had the opportunity to add a small commentary section of around 20 pages to this book, where I have voiced my opinion about governance and accountability.

This book does not limit itself to commentary about the NAIIC, but instead tackles questions that are commonly observed in Japanese organisational behaviour. These include questions about Groupthink and Accountability, to name a few.

It is an enlightening read and I hope all of you find the time to read this book.

Revisiting UCLA


Returning to Tokyo on the 3rd of May after spending a few days in London, I spent the rest of Golden Week relaxing, before going to Los Angeles on the 8th. Unfortunately, I was unable to go to St. Gallen this time round.

Thankfully, the weather in L.A. was as sunny, if not more so, than it was in Tokyo. I headed for the UCLA campus for some meetings straightaway. In the evening, I attended a screening of a documentary filmed around the year 1984 called ‘Issei’, a documentary recording the experiences of ‘nikkei’ (Japanese American) people in and around San Francisco towards the end of the 1900s. It was filmed and produced on a tight budget and within a short timespan.

This screening was part of an initiative by the Paul Terasaki Center, an organisation set up by Prof. Paul Terasaki, an old friend I have had the pleasure of introducing here.

The next day, I participated in a forum on the theme of the Japanese diaspora. Starting off in the morning, it was full of interesting and thought-provoking research, insights and ideas. I learnt a lot, and had a great time. In my closing comments, I highlighted the fact that in our rapidly globalizing world, more and more people are actively choosing to cross cultural and national boundaries in order to create value for their talent. These pioneers creating value for themselves, become valuable ‘dots’ within a sea of homogeneity. And as these proactive pioneers often marry people from other cultures, a tremendous amount of cultural exchange takes place leading to the creation of a brand-new culture, which also unfortunately includes the gradual decline of any feelings of attachment to a particular country. This process of progressive change has been documented and represented through various data.

I had dinner at the glitzy Montage Hotel located right in the centre of Beverly Hills. The UCLA chancellor Block and Ms. Irene Hirano also joined us.

The next day, I attended a meeting hosted by the Terasaki Center at Montage Hotel, where Dr Terasaki was also present.

With cloudless azure skies, beautiful South Californian vistas, and the stunning UCLA campus, who could ask for more?

The next day, I was off, this time heading to Okinawa via Narita. What, Okinawa!?

To London -2: Shakespeare’s Globe


→Images of Shakespeare’s Globe

On my third day in London, May 1st, it was drizzling and a bit chilly.

In the morning, I strolled through Hyde Park for about twenty minutes to Marble Arch. I visited the office of a British friend who had just returned from a two year post in Singapore for about an hour. At the beginning of this year, his firm opened a new office in Tokyo and I had seen him at a reception at the UK Embassy in Tokyo. However, it was nice to sit down and have a relaxed talk.

At noon, I met with Ms. Ninomiya, who is a graduate student studying Politics at the University of Oxford and who worked on the National Diet of Japan Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission (NAIIC) in its translation and editing team. She had just submitted her master’s thesis and is currently finishing up the year, with her final exams to be held at the end of June (for these past two years, she has translated many of the entries on this blog). From there, we went to Chatham House and met with the former UK Ambassador to Japan, Sir David Warren. We talked for around an hour regarding the conference that is to be held in Tokyo in October of this year. I saw former Ambassador Warren only two weeks ago when he visited Tokyo and my office at GRIPS. Afterwards, I met with Mr. Mizuno, who is a member of advisory committee on the Japan’s Cabinet “Japanese NIH” Plan and had just returned to the UK from a business trip. We had tea at his club on Pall Mall.

In the evening we attended a play at Shakespeare’s Globe.

The production was “Titus Andronicus”. It is said to be the most brutal of Shakespeare’s revenge plays. Former Ambassador Warren, who had also seen it two days before, shared with us that the reviews in the newspapers reported several members of the audience having fainted during the performance.

The play was a three hour long production, starting at 7:30 P.M. and ending at 10:30 P.M. As can be seen in the photos, rain was pouring into the theatre, which only had a makeshift roof and windows with wooden frames and therefore, was very cold. The members of the audience standing in the yard area in front of the stage (the tickets are around six pounds) seemed to come prepared knowing this and it was very ‘British’ way of doing things. Even so, they were very patient in enduring the rain and cold. The yard area is also used by the actors as an extension of the stage, so it must have been exciting for the audience.

It was quite late when the play ended but Ms. Ninomiya was able to return by taking the bus that runs between London and Oxford twenty-four hours a day, which must be convenient for students.

My flight the next morning was with Virgin Atlantic and the check-in desk at the airport, the service and the lounge were all quite good.

To London -1


Last December, the UK government set up the ‘G8 Dementia Summit.’ Considering the increasing ageing population in many countries, dementia is a world wide problem. Many people must have experienced this personally through their families. Japan is one of the most ‘advanced’ countries in the world regarding this issue.

I suddenly received a message from the British Embassy regarding the Dementia Summit. It was a request that I serve as a Council member on the Global Action Against Dementia, an organization independent from the UK government and central in leading the Dementia Summit on behalf of UK Government. They stated that they could not yet make public the identities of the other members but the first conference would be held on April 30th in London.

I had just returned from a trip to Abu Dhabi and the Kansai region of Japan but as it was possible to book a flight with Virgin Atlantic and a hotel via the Japanese Embassy in London, I departed Narita Airport on April 29th.

I arrived at the hotel around 5 P.M. When I went to check in, I was told, “your reservation was made for next week.” There must have been some mistake. After an hour, I was able to get a hold of someone at the Japanese Embassy and reach a solution. I would be able to stay at this hotel for one night and at a different hotel for the remaining two nights. What an ordeal. It had been a chaotic time at the Embassy due to Prime Minister Abe’s visit to London.

The following day, I had a meeting at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. It is the largest governmental building in British Government and is called the FCO (in Japanese). Upon my entering the building, I almost ran into the person exiting. Looking up, we recognized each other. It was Sir David King. What a coincidence! I had just received an invitation for dinner a few week ago to see David King during his visit to the UK Embassy in Tokyo on May 8th but unfortunately had to decline due to my schedule. He is currently the ‘Special Envoy for Climate Change’ of the UK Government. I was genuinely surprised that such coincidences really occur.

The conference lasted around five hours. I had looked over many documents before coming to the meeting and it seemed that the main topic of discussion were the goals for 2025 and what we want to achieve this year. This should be posted on their website shortly.

Afterwards, I went to a meeting, was shown around in the Parliament, Big Ben, and then had a meeting with the Minister for Health, Jeremy Hunt for around half an hour.

The inside of the building exuded a sense of the long tradition of the British parliamentary system. Some elements of the structure reminded me of the Japanese Diet but it the made me feel the heavy weight of British history.

After returning to the hotel, I met with Dr. Sahara, who previously worked at the Health and Global Policy Institute. We walked around nearby Queensway and stopped by a pub and restaurant, where I listened to him talk about his current studies at a fine arts school in London (it is a four year program) and enjoyed the sunny afternoon in London.

It was a very fulfilling day.