6 Years of HLAB – Helping To Open Doorways to the Future, for the Future, By the Future


HLAB is an initiative that was set up and subsequently maintained by a youthful group of motivated people ( 1, 2, 3).

The founder, Mr. Kobayashi, had shown tremendous grit and determination to bring this organization to where it is now and his achievements over the past six years, particularly in inspiring young people, are note-worthy. And he is eyeing even more success.

This year, they received the Good Design Award (1). Congratulations!!

Although their ambitions are hampered to a degree by limited funds, they find themselves busy all the time.

This summer, for example, they organized a group of university students from around the globe to provide a splendid opportunity for 250 high school students to learn first-hand experiences, while also working on a project to build an experimental greenhouse in Tokyo that maintains a constant climate setting.

The HLAB website is well-designed, offering information in both Japanese and in English. I would like to urge my readers to visit their site and spread the word about their efforts and widen the net of support.

They are also savvy marketers, appealing to a global audience by inviting a group of journalist from abroad to record (scroll down for English) their views and insights into Japan, while also mentioning their activities.

I was also invited to contribute a piece about HLAB, given my involvement from the inception stages.

I firmly feel that is if by supporting such promising initiatives by young people that our generation and the new generation can contribute to changing Japanese society for the better.

I hope you are in, and I look forward to your support!


Kumamoto and the Meeting of Two ‘Sosekis’


The year 2016 was the centenary of a great writer of Meiji Era, Soseki Natsume’s passing, and there were many celebrations to commemorate it in year 2016.

One of these events was a stage production titled ‘I Love Kumamoto: 4 Years and 3 Months in the Life of Soseki’ (program details in Japanese). The play revolved around the period of time that Soseki spent as a teacher of the fifth Public High School of Japan (total 8 in Japan) in Kumamoto – these eight national high schools are entry points as prep-schools (and later some became) to Imperial Universities.

You may already know about the happy coincidences that led to the Royal Ballet visiting Kumamoto in the aftermath of the earthquake of 2016, in a show of solidarity, and my getting to know governor Kabashima through this event, and then in turn learning from him about my great-grandfather, Osamu Kurokawa and his friendship with a certain Kinnosuke (Natsume) Soseki. I had known about the play through this whirlwind of events, that there would be a performance in Kumamoto in October, and one in Tokyo in December.

My great-grandfather had served as a court physician for the Hosokawa clan. He was also a noted haiku poet with the pen-name of ’Soseki’ (in Japanese), the ninth master in a tradition that goes all the way back to Yusai Hosokawa.

Being invited to the reception party held on the eve of the Tokyo performance, I was able to meet the people involved in the production, many from Kumamoto.

The performance was held the next day at the Yotsuya Ward Memorial Hall (in Japanese) in Shinjuku, a location that held special significance for Soseki. The lead character (Natsume Soseki) was played by Kenkichi Hamahata, a well known actor.

The play included a scene where the reputed physician ‘Soseki’, visited at the bedside of the young Natsume Soseki who is laid low by a bout of fever, have a pleasant conversation of this expected encounter of two ‘Soseki’.

The play was a joy to watch. Mr. Hamahata gave a performance befitting the high regard he has held in, and the cast portraying the young Natsume Soseki also earned kudos for their performance.

It was a special occasion where I was also able to catch up with family and relatives, and the day passed pleasantly.

But really, life is full of strange serendipities.



Supporting a New Generation of Medical Education by Investing in People


On the morning of 18th December, I gave a lecture at the Yayoi Auditorium located in Todai’s (University of Tokyo) campus for the Faculty of Agriculture. This talk commemorated the founding of the Japan Society for Clinical Epidemiology (in Japanese).

It’s good to see an academic society dealing with this kind of topic being formed. I believe it will be indispensable to the education of the future generations of doctors in Japan.

This society was set up by one of the foremost academics in this area, Dr. Shunichi Fukuhara (Kyoto University) (in Japanese) . He has long been involved through the field of epidemiology in mentoring a new generation of doctors.

I believe that Japan’s medical school community has fallen off the pace in recent years by as much as two decades, with its educational system, academic societies, specialist education, and certification processes unable to keep up with the dizzying pace of change that we see across the world today.

The reason why I think so is clear. If you look at my last lecture from 20 years ago at Todai (in Japanese, with summaries in English), or my Plenary lecture at annual convention of Japanese College of Physicians conf (in Japanese) and elsewhere , or my opinions about how the educational curriculum should be (in Japanese), it is a stark reality that nothing has changed.

To mark the launch of this society, I was invited to give a talk. I introduced the audience to some programs that are well-established in the US, from around the 80’s, but are not yet part of the conversation in Japan, along with some initiatives that I started with my fellow researchers.

Here are the slides that I used.


Visiting Megastructures: the Hamaoka Nuclear Reactor and Kimitsu


On the 11th of December (Sunday), three friends of mine and I were invited to a day-long tour of the Hamaoka nuclear reactor owned by Chubu Electric Company.

We had been invited to look at the upgrades made to the facility in light of the Fukushima nuclear disaster. These changes included installation on five new generators, a wall to protect against tsunamis , and the elevation of several critical pieces of equipments and facilities, and generator-trucks along with fire-engines.

With reactors 1 and 2 slated for decommissioning and reactors 3, 4 and 5 slated for restarting, these preparations are being carried out with the utmost care. We went inside the reactors 3 and 4, and immediately we noticed the extensive reinforcement to the buildings. I noticed the structures that had been added on to aid complex repairs. We traipsed up and then down again along very narrow stairways, with various pipes running along the walls and then off in different directions. It was all extremely complex. While gazing down at the pool that held the spent fuel rods, I asked them for an explanation as to why a similar cooling pool at the Fukushima Daini Plant had lost a significant amount of water during a low activity seismic event.

Having seen for myself the intricate maze created by the criss-crossing pipes, wiring and equipment, I could not but help think of what would happen in less-than optimal situations, like when there are power cuts, earthquakes, fires, tsunamis, thunderstorms, cyclones, or even when it is dark outside. I wonder how the people tasked with maintaining this behemoth would be able to work in cooperation with each other on this complex yet delicate machinery. My intuition keeps me pessimistic.

Human beings have always sought to create megastructures to astound people, and more importantly, to establish authority to govern. The Pyramids of Egypt, the Great Wall of China, the temple at Todaiji housing the immense bronze statue of Buddha, the Versailles Palace, the Forbidden City all bear testament to this idea. But the nuclear reactor may be a different thing altogether. It is a megastructure, but also has complex and intricate innards. The awe and sheer scale stuns and astounds. And the inevitable question comes to mind: can we humans control and safely harness this power? I shared these thoughts on my Facebook post. Will we be able to maintain control over the Promethean creation that we are unleashing?

On the 13th (Tuesday), I spent a day in Kimitsu City, Chiba Prefecture, with The UAE ambassador to Japan His Excellency Mr. Khaled Omran Sqait Alameri and his entourage touring the Nippon Steel Sumitomo Metal Company (NSSMC) Works and TEPCO Power Plant. These were both megastructures as well.

Interesting fact: Ambassador Alameri studied as an undergraduate, electrical engineering at Tokai University’s School of Engineering during the time that I was dean of the School of Medicine there. It’s nice to be connected in such a way!


Congratulations! The Success of Mr. Tamesue and Mr. Endo of Xiborg

→ Japanese

Recently, Ken Endo (1, 2, Wikipedia in Japanese) of Xiborg is attracting a lot of attention for his brilliant work. I have known him from when he was a PhD candidate at MIT. After successfully getting one, he came back to Japan and started working for the SONY Computer Science Laboratory (CSL). He started a company in collaboration with Dai Tamesue, an Olympian and medalists in World Competitions, who is director of the organisation, and they unveiled a new experimental running arena, the Brilla Running Stadium (in Japanese) on the 10th of December (press release in Japanese) at the now infamous Toyosu (because of the scandals and problems unearthed by Tokyo Governor Ms. Koike).

The stadium boasts a wide variety of tracks, with some of the tracks using materials slated for use in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, and through this innovative location, they aim to help disabled people feel like Superman!

With audacious goals, these young people seek to leave an impact on the global scene, carefully preparing and planning, overcoming the inevitable setbacks and painful situations. I am always inspired by such young people, and feel encouraged by them.

They will shake things up, I am sure, and inject new life into a gradually stagnating Japan. Let’s go for Gold at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics!


The Dismal State of Japanese Agriculture and the New Generation of Change-Makers

→ Japanese

The TTP agreement notwithstanding, agriculture in Japan is in dire need of reform in order to harness the potential and the value of this sector.

It may be surprising, but on the list of countries (in Japanese) that earn through agricultural exports, a list led by The U.S, The Netherlands, Germany, Brazil, and France, Japan comes in at a distant around 45th. I believe this is a typical example of Japan’s failure to sell its high-quality products on the world stage.

Some reforms have been kick-started into life by Shinjiro Koizumi (in Japanese), but the resistance of organizations like the JA (known locally as Nokyo) (in Japanese) persists, and lawmakers in the ruling party are loathe to call for reforms, fearing the alienation of the rural vote-bank.

In order to gain a better understanding of the situation, I attended a two-day town hall meeting organised by the responsible ministry departments.

It is true that people involved in agriculture are very hard-working, but it remains a fact that the wage rate when calculated per hour is a measly sum somewhere between 450 and 500 yen (4.5-5 dollars) . I think you will agree that the situation is unacceptable.

The second day of the meeting was led by Mr. Takashima of Oisix (in Japanese), and Mr. Kurita from SeakYuruyasai (in Japanese), two ‘outsiders’ who have started successful farming enterprises. They explained their business models, and Yuruyasai for example, is still relatively new (2.5 years) but salaries for participating farmers are 2000 yen (20 dollars) per hour, and they are aiming to increase the hourly wage to 2500 yen in the third year.

They are doing their best to harness the amazing asset that agriculture in Japan can be, an their reports seemed to have some effect on the public officials in attendance.

I knew Takashima personally for some years. He is a very capable person with a keen sense for business, having already floated stocks of his enterprise on the market. I had also invited Mr Kurita to attend this meeting with me.

I know Kurita from his days on the management team at WHILL, but it seems he has moved on to agriculture. I as well as others in attandence in this meeting, was very impressed by the thoughtfulness of his business model and execution.

These young entrepreneurs will be the driving force that will help change Japan, and I hope we can all support them in their endeavors!


Addressing a Corporate Research Division

→ Japanese

Panasonic Healthcare Holdings (U.S website) is a company based in Matsuyama on Shikoku Island, where I gave a talk nearly a decade ago.

Since then, they have parted ways with the parent company Panasonic after investment firm KKR bought an 80% stake, and have bought part of Sanyo Electric Co. Ltd, inviting an outsider, Hidehito Kotani, to take the helm of the company. Recently, Mitsui Co. Ltd has bought 20% of KKR’s stake.

It was to this entirely different company’s Gunma office (in Japanese) that I was invited to give another talk at.

There was a turnout of nearly 500 people, with researchers and engineers from 2 other R&D facilities joining to make a rousing affair.

The questions came thick and fast, and the enthusiasm of the young employees was evident. At the same time, the audience was overwhelmingly male, and there were very few foreigners, one from China asked a question – good thing. I think this is problematic, and indeed can be considered to be a significant weakness.

The gist of my speech? That the company’s departure from the norms and traditions of the company, and the willingness to pioneer changes such as foreign ownership and new governance structures has also trickled down to the employees, creating a vibrancy rarely seen elsewhere. I went on to say that I think it is this ability to depart from familiarity that spurs innovation, and then explained what I meant by ‘innovation,’ before finishing with some observations about the coming years.

It was a rare opportunity to speak at a company’s gathering so I felt good and very excited. To the employees I talked to: please strive to be the best! I am counting on you.