Teach For Japan: Celebrating 4 Years


It has been already four years since the sweltering summer when Yusuke Matsuda was rushing around to get the Teach for Japan project off the ground. We had a small gathering to commemorate this occasion.

I have been a big fan and supporter of Mr Matsuda ever since I found him on Twitter and have always been championing his cause (newspaper article in Japanese).

The venue was not very big nor fancy, and was packed with people, people and more people, all of whom seemed to exude passion. Needless to say, I had been invited, and even made a congratulatory speech. My message, in short, was to explain that it is not the knowledge that is crammed inside your head that is important in life, but instead the intuitive understanding that is born only out of hands-on real experience. I also remarked that maturing as a human being meant that one needed the decisiveness that is required for decision-making.

And Matsuda’s life embodies these principles. After all, what is life but a development of the experiences we had in our childhood, as our curiosity-fueled hunger for information led to serendipitous revelations and firm commitments? It is useless to only think or ponder on this thought. I believe that everything essentially boils down to a mix of real-life experience, serendipitous meetings and bold decisions.

There was also some talk from the Fellow teachers, who related their own experiences at Teach For Japan program, of making the deliberate choice to act, and I can only applaud them. It brought tears to my eyes, as I was overcome with waves of emotion. Professor Seichiro Yonekura, who was sitting beside me, a great champion of innovation and was also a fervent supporter, was also struggling to contain his tears. After all, we human beings cannot stop these spontaneous tears of an outpouring of emotion.

I really wanted people all over Japan to hear them speak. We had three Fellows speaking, one of whom talked about his activities over the past year-and-half. As they talked, their passion was conveyed to us in their words, in the reality that lie behind their stories, and just as they inspired their students who are unfortunate in being made to live in less-privileged conditions, we too were inspired all evening long.

To these wonderful young people, I can only offer my thanks, and share their vision of a brighter future for Japan.

I also thank the school teachers who accepted and have been supporting these Fellows as they work to bring about a change.

Thank you, Mr. Matsuda, and I thank your friends.

And my dear readers, I ask you for your continued support of Teach For Japan!

Lectures with High School Students and Reception at PEAK


Since entering October, I have had two opportunities to speak to high school students. The message of my talks was the same as always, “the world is changing and it is your choice.”

The first was a lecture to high school students aiming to enter the University of Tokyo, organized by an elite cram school. Around one hundred students attended, under the unfortunate circumstances of a typhoon approaching. Most were students in their first and second years of high school. After a lecture of about ninety minutes, the students got into groups and discussed their goals for the next ten years and what they would need to be doing in two years time in order to achieve these long-term goals. They summarized and presented their discussions and then evaluated other groups’ presentations.

The next session was at the Komaba campus of the University of Tokyo, where the “Special Friday Seminar for High School Students” is held twice a month. It was the three hundredth seminar and I was invited to be the speaker at this milestone event. Around eighty students participated as well as many of their families and people from the general public. My speech at last year’s entrance ceremony at the University of Tokyo was distributed to the audience.

Lately, I have been showing a brief scene from the movie, ‘The Matrix’, at such lectures. My message there is to question authority, to question norms.

Many of the students who participated stated that this seminar was different from all of the past seminars at the University of Tokyo. Many commented that their thoughts towards society changed and that although the same Matrix clip was shown at the beginning and the end of my speech, one student wrote he perceived different message. This gave me the impression that these young people were somehow deprived of something.

It is very fun to interact with young people, for in the future they will be the Japanese who will live and pursue their carer in this rapidly changing world.

After the lecture, a group of foreign undergraduate students to Tokyo University’s PEAK program came together and there was a small reception. The foreign professors also came and we had a good time together. This was made possible thanks to Prof Ryoichi Matsuda, who is in charge of PEAK.

PEAK has many challenges ahead of it but I sincerely hope that it will be able to respond to the needs of the fereign students and continue to develop and grow and impact true internationalization of the education of the University of Tokyo.

HPAIR 2014: Harvard Project for Asia and International Relations


On Sunday August 24, the day after HLAB 2014 ended, I visited Keio University in Mita.

This was to attend HPAIR 2014, an event also planned by the Harvard University students.

The panel on this day addressed the innovative topic, “What are the ways in which Asia addressed its aging population and widening disparities in socioeconomic status?” as part of the panel on “Health and Public Policy”. Some of the students who planned the event knew about HLAB.

There were many world-renowned speakers who gave lectures at the event.

I was also a panelist of the closing day, of the Academic Plenary, “Risk Management in Asia” of the International Forum on Tuesday, August 26th (see photo). I felt very energized by the large audience of around five hundred students who participated. After the panel, many students asked questions and we had a good time discussing and taking pictures together.

The last time that this event was held in Japan was HPAIR 2005 and I had the opportunity to give a lecture at that time as well. Mr. Tsuchiya, who had been at HPAIR 2005 representing Harvard University and later went on to work at The World Economic Forum and has been active in developing stronger ties with Japan, was at the event this year and I was able to catch up with him. Time flies by very quickly.

During the five days from August 22 to 26th, through the HLAB 2014, AYDPO 2014 and HPAIR 2014 programs, I enjoyed spending time with young people who will lead the future of the world. It was great to have the chance to talk with them and be moved by them.

I send my support and encouragement to young people who will take off in the world.

To Okinawa again, the closing ceremony of Asian Youth Development Program in Okinawa (AYDPO)


AYDPO 2014 marks the seventh year that this program has been running.

I have reported on this program (1, 2, 3, 4) a few times on this blog. It is a program in which young people from Japan and other Asian countries, aged fourteen to sixteen spend three weeks together in Okinawa.

Each year, I have participated in either the opening or closing ceremony. This year, I gave a speech at the closing ceremony. The students who participated this year proposed making a “GIA Green International Academy” on the Kerama Islands and gave a presentation on this. As in past years, the former Governor of Okinawa, Mr. Inamine also was in attendance. Dr. Iwama, the new President of Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology and one of the new leaders of Okinawa, also made his way to the ceremony.

The young people who participated all spoke in English, their common language and they were very good. The closing ceremony was a special time and as it happens every year, all of the students all cried, including the university students, sad to say goodbye to their new friends, with whom they formed very close bonds and became like sisters and brothers.

This program actually began at the time of the first Abe government, when I was a special advisor and assisted with AYDPO (formery AYEPO) establishment. Continuing and spreading programs such as these, and developing young people who are active in the changing world and share memorable experiences with friends across borders is vital to our world.

Through Facebook, the students who participated in this program remain connected with the university students who became like their older sister and brother mentors. I also continue to stay in touch with a young person who was a university student when this program began and is now in Indonesia.

Being connected in this day and age of the internet is important and very useful in stay in touch.

HLAB 2014


The season of HLAB (1) has come. HLAB started in 2011 in the summer after the Great Northeastern Japan Earthquake and Tsunami and this is the fourth year that the program has been running. This year it started on August 15th, which also marks the 69th anniversary of the end of World War II.

University students who have participated in HLAB in the past, including those who were enrolled in the program as high school students, were in charge of planning the program. It must have been challenging as some of them conducted the planning from universities abroad but the project took off successfully.

The opening day was held at GRIPS, as it had been last year. From there, the HLAB program kicked off for nine days and eight nights. This year, I was chosen to speak at the opening ceremony. The theme for the students was “the future of the world and your choices” but I imagined that many of the high school students were quite nervous, so I tried to cheer them on by noting the fact that forty percent of the high school students who were enrolled in this program in past years applied to and were accepted by universities abroad and that I looked forward to seeing how the students this year will be at the end of the nine-day program.

This year, Minoru Ben Makihara of Mitsubishi Corporation, who attended Harvard University as an undergraduate and has supported HLAB from the very beginning, gave a remarkable speech on his time as a student studying abroad sixty-five years ago.

I looked forward to the rest of the program and enjoyed the “Reflection” at the lodge where the students and I had discussions until 11pm.

This year, we had a special guest, Tatekawa Shinoharu (in Japanese), who is an alumnus of Yale University and gave a performance of “English rakugo” at GRIPS on the 12th. It was an amazing and enjoyable performance.

On the last day, Saturday the 23rd, we returned to GRIPS once more. Professor Hirotaka Takeuchi of Harvard University also joined us. At the closing ceremony, everyone cried and it was a very memorable and moving experience.

In my speech at the closing ceremony, I had the privilege of pointing out that it is experiences such as these that are the moments we remember throughout our lives and are the truly important things in life.

The spirit of education is giving back or ‘virtuous cycle, a sense of each own’s gratitude’ (in Japanese) and this was exemplified through the HLAB alumni who returned as university students to eagerly support the next generation of high school students.

The founder of HLAB, Mr. Kobayashi, graduated from Harvard University and has returned to lead HLAB 2014 in Tokushima, which took place at the same time as the one in Tokyo. It is quite an impressive feat to have come this far.

To Aizu-Wakamatsu


On August 6th, I visited Aizu-Wakamatsu for the “Platinum Future Leaders Seminar at Aizu” (in Japanese) for junior high school students, in their first to third years (7-9th graders in US). It is one of the projects chaired by Hiroshi Komiyama, former President of Tokyo University.

During the car ride from Koriyama station to Aizu, I visited the areas where I was evacuated during the war in my childhood. The places included the area south of Sekito station on the Ban-etsu West line, with Kaneda-kanemagari to the side and Tenjin-hama, where I used to play when I was little. Next, I visited the house near Inawashiro where Noguchi Hideo (in Japanese) was born.

The venue of the Seminar was the university campus, where I had visited a few times. Most of the students who participated were born after 1999, as they are currently junior high school students. Many changes in the world have been taking place since they have reached this age.

I was able to hear only the latter half of Ms Tamako Mitarai‘s lecture, which was right before mine, but I felt that she had many points that we had in common (please forgive me if I am wrong). We had an energetic audience and everyone asked lots of questions.

After our talks, the students came on the stage and we all took pictures, shook hands and then took a group picture together. We had a very good time.

Afterwards, I visited the famous Nisshinkan of the Aizu-han (1) (in Japanese). Visiting hours had already ended but they were kind enough to guide me this old school. There is a statue of Kenjiro Yamakawa (1) (in Japanese) (built in 2004), whom I respect deeply. The Nisshinkan looks similar to Yushima Seido and also has a statue of Confucius. Even when seen today, it is an amazing school.

Later, I met with Ms Hachisuka, who was a Commissioner at the National Diet of Japan Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission. She still resides in temporary housing.

Many people evacuated to Aizu-wakamatsu from Okuma village, the site of the Fukushima nuclear power plant. The Okuma town headquarter is still here at Aizu-Wakamatsu since immediately after the accident, many evacuees from Okuma village stayed in a business hotel in Aizu. Ms Hachisuka and I had dinner at the restaurant above this hotel, where we met the owner of the hotel, had sashimi and tempura and spent some time talking.

My heart goes out to the evacuees of the Fukushima nuclear power plant accident.

July, Gone in a Flash


I have not posted a new entry since the end of June. I apologize for the delay, I became busy with many things.

From the end of June to the beginning of July, I gave seminars for four days in a row, including over the weekend. I spoke at Mr. Takejiro Sueyoshi’s CSO Seminar, Ms Yoko Ishikura’s Global Agenda Seminar, and the Global Leadership Studies Seminar at International Christian University(ICU). Including the Q&A sessions, the longer seminars lasted over three hours. It was great to see many energetic, young people.

I also took part in the MIT Media Lab @ Tokyo 2014 at Toranomon Hills. I also attended the award ceremony of the 2014 L’Oreal – UNESCO For Women in Science Japan Award (1) at the official residence of the French Ambassador, among others.

At the end of July, I visited Paris for a meeting with the OECD. It was part of the World Dementia Council, which I reported on in April and began in London. I had half a day off so I went to see the Orangerie Museum.

As many unexpected things happened, the summer has become quite busy.

TEDxTokyo, The ACP Japan Chapter, and WEF Japan; Heralding the Change for Tomorrow


TEDxTokyo, which started in 2009, is now into its 6th year. Although TEDx has collaborated with many institutions over the past few years in the world, it all started here in Tokyo. From a conversation with my friends Patrick Newell and Todd Porter, this project has developed over the years in to the IMPACT Japan Project.

This year too, we had many interesting speakers at the TEDxTokyo, making for and enjoyable evening. You can catch the proceedings on the website.

Excusing myself from the reception held later in the evening, I headed for Kyoto, where a conference was being held, the annual meeting of the American College of Physicians Japan Chapter (ACPJC) (1). This congress was set up with the expressed purpose of nurturing world class talent in the clinical medicine by a group of dedicated young physicians who had received clinical training primarily in the US. Although this conference had started on the 31st, I was attending the TEDxTokyo, so I was able to participate only on the Day 2, 1st June.

I arrived in Kyoto just in time to join my friends for a second round of drinks, in a small bar that was quintessential Kyoto. I had a rousing conversation with my friends from my days as a clinical.

The next day, the second day of the conference, was attended by more than 600 physicians and interns (in Japanese) as the interesting sessions continued. The immediate past President of the ACP, Dr. Molly Cooke, was also in attendance.

I returned to Tokyo that evening to attend the World Economic Forum Japan to be held the next day. Here too, I caught up with many people, and we also had many stimulating discussions.

These 3 days were spent grasping the extent of the new generation of young people who were making their presence felt. This is a very heartening trend.

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 Abu Dhabi and Her Highness of Qatar’s Visit to Japan


I arrived in Abu Dhabi on April 20th to take part in the Board Members’ meeting and graduation ceremony at Khalifa University. There are 350 students graduating this year. This university specializes in science and technology and is attracting many bright students.

The graduation ceremony took place at the Emirates Palace. The President of Khalifa University, Tod Laursen has held his position for four years and will see his first cohort of students graduate. The Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi was also present at the ceremony. Each student was handed the graduation certificate individually, signifying the significance and thought that went into the graduation.

I departed Dubai late that evening, or rather the next morning, at 3am and landed in Kansai Airport. Her Highness Moza of Qatar was visiting Japan and I joined the Qatar Foundation that day. The next day, I visited Kyoto University and joined Her Highness Moza’s tour of Shinya Yamanaka’s iPS Research Center. The next day, I joined their visit to Riken in Kobe and met with Chairman Noyori and went to the signing ceremony.

Japan’s relations with Abu Dhabi and Qatar have been centered on oil and gas but in these past ten years, mainly through the field of scientific research, efforts have been made for greater cooperation in human resources training. At the beginning of this year, there were several events held at Tokyo University between the main heads of the universities in Abu Dhabi and Japanese universities. In March, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi made a visit to Japan. During his stay, he visited the Tokai University Korin campus and spoke with Vice President Yasuhiro Yamashita regarding more interaction through judo as well as the joint development of solar cars.

Encouraging greater cooperation with the Middle East regarding human resource development is a wonderful thing for Japanese government and businesses, which tend to think of Qatar and the United Arab Emirates only in terms of business relations.

It is a challenge for not only Japan, but for all countries to develop individuals who can understand and reach out across the world.

Japanese universities should also build on their own unique strengths and have greater interaction and cooperation with the world.