Asian Innovation Forum: The Youth of the World Come Together


The Asian Innovation Forum (AIF) (1) was started by Mr. Idei, former CEO of Sony, and I have had the privilege of helping out over the years.

This year, it was held on December 12th and 13th at GRIPS. I had the opportunity to give a lecture and serve on a panel. The second day was the competition for the Young Entrepreneur Award, by the bright, young people, which was really something. I had the privilege of giving another lecture.

Both the judges and the presentations by the young people were impressive, as they had been chosen from all over the world. There were people from Madras in India, London, Hong Kong and Dhaka, and from Japan, there were students from Keio and Waseda Universities.

Mr. Timothy Draper (1) also gave a lecture and shared fun and interesting stories based on his own experiences. It seems that it is a strength of the United States that there are such unique, out-of-the-box people. I was sitting in the front and had the opportunity to speak with him. He also wrote about the events of this day on his blog.

I also met Mr. Maheen, the Bangladesh partner of Mr. Saisho of “Dragon Sakura,” whom I have introduced on this column from time to time.

This was a gathering of diverse young people, who gave presentations and had discussions, and the entrepreneurs who support them. It is very promising.

Innovation City Forum Panel


It is already the tenth anniversary of Roppongi Hills. To commemorate the tenth anniversary, there have been many events held recently. One of those events, the Innovation City Forum took place over three days during mid-October.

I was invited to the closing session of the last day and was quite moved. The moderator was Mr. Nanjo, the director of the Mori Art Museum and the panel was composed of Glen Lowry, the director of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, Nicholas Serota, the director of the Tate Gallery(1) in London, Joi Ito director of the MIT Media Lab, and myself.

Mr. Joi has been involved in the organisation of this forum and Mr. Lowry and Mr. Serota are superstars. Each of the panellists gave ten minute presentations and then proceeded to the panel discussion.

The presentations and comments were brilliant. I spoke about future cities and museums and prepared some presentation slides which allowed flexibility in what I would say so that I would not be overlap with the others.

It is also the ten year anniversary for the Academy Hills. However, it feels like it has been here for a longer time. I am grateful to Mr. Mori, who has overcome many obstacles and spent much time pursuing the ideal of the urban planning.

I am grateful to Mr. Nanjo and everyone who gave me this opportunity.

MIT Media Lab at Tokyo Designers Week


MIT Media Lab was hosting a special forum at The Tokyo Designers Week 2013 which was being held at Jingu Gaien, so I went over to attend the afternoon session on the second day to listen to Prof Hiroshi Ishii, the associate director of MIT Media Lab. He gave a 90 minute talk titled ‘Remembering the Future’.

Prof. Ishii’s presentation was a delight to watch, with his passion showing through in the perfect content and delivery. Although I was totally convinced, the questions from the youthful audience during the Q&A session suggested otherwise, as many questions failed to follow up on what Mr. Ishii had to say. It’s important to be more daring and ask challenging questions.

Because Prof.Ishii is so serious and passionate, he met these lukewarm questions with a  dissatisfied look (as if to say ‘why ask such a question?’) . It was only natural that he was unable to answer some questions. Since I was in the front row, I was asked for my reaction 2 or 3 times, to which I responded with examples of Ishii’s inspirational words and what I had understood. Truly, his lecture was meant to be understood not through the head but through the heart.

After this lecture, there were two panel discussions with Mr. Ishii and Mr. Kenichiro Mogi, along with a guest and Mr Nobuyuki Hayashi acting as moderator.

The first guest was Yuji Hara ( links in Japanese 1, 2), who dropped out of university to become a martial artist before going on to start a 3D printing business. He was followed by Kuma Kengo, an architect who talked about using wood as a material in his architecture. Both of them gave talks based on their own personal experiences, and Mr. Hara’s talk in particular involved travels around the world, resulting in a very physical, very sensory account which was quite refreshing.Perhaps engaging the right side of the brain might have produced more memorable impressions.

My Commencement Speech at the Autumn Graduation Ceremony at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies (GRIPS)


The autumn graduation ceremony at GRIPS is made up of mostly foreign students (seventy percent of the students are foreign students who come from over sixty different countries). The diversity and uniqueness of each country shines through and is awe-inspiring and is a rare sight in Japan. The ambassadors and staff members from embassies of the students’ countries often are present at the ceremony.

This year, the graduation ceremony was held on September 17th. The program includes the conferment of diplomas, the Dean’s award, the President’s address, and the valedictory speech.

I was chosen to give the Commencement speech. I am grateful for this opportunity. It is my third time this year to give a commencement speech. In April, I gave the speech at the entrance ceremony at the University of Tokyo (although it is not the graduation ceremony, I believe it has the same significance as graduation ceremonies in universities abroad), and in July have the speech at the graduation ceremony at the United Nations University (1).

In recent years at GRIPS, one person has been chosen to give the commencement speech. Last year, it was given by the executive director of ASEAN, Surin Pitsuwan (the speech can be viewed here).

The speech for the 2010 graduation ceremony was given by Haruhiko Kuroda, who has been paid much attention recently by the world on ‘Abenomic’ as head of Bank of Japan and he was the President of the Asian Development Bank at the time.

It is my hope that my wishes and congratulations that I have poured into the commencement speech (video is here) will reach outgoing student hearts.

I am always filled with a feeling of awe at graduation ceremonies, from which young people take off and carry the future on their shoulders.

This is a privilege that comes with being involved in education.

Philadelphia-2: Fireside Chat With Dr. Kiyoshi Kurokawa


The main objective of this trip was to attend the two day conference of the Japan America Society of Philadelphia “Health Sciences Dialogue,” which I had been invited to for several times in the past but had not been able to attend. As an organization that connects Japanese pharmaceutical companies and various bio-venture companies, it has received high acclaim.

A breakfast meeting in Japanese was arranged from seven a.m. primarily for around ten people for Japan and we had a lively and interesting discussion.

The session began at nine a.m. Mr. Ai, the Director of the Public Information Center of the Consulate General of Japan in New York, gave his greetings.

The session and panelists covered the topics of biotech venture and venture capital, focusing on the pharmaceutical sector in the United States and Japan. After lunch was my turn to speak at the eighty minute session entitled, “Fireside Chat with Dr. Kiyoshi Kurokawa: How Can Japan Better Foster Innovation?” I took questions from David Flores (Co-Founder of BioCentury Publications) and Howard Brooks (Partner, Americas Life Sciences Sector Leader, Ernst and Young: I was also able to talk with Glen Giovannetti, who specializes in the same area), and the rest was a question and answer dialogue session with the audience.

Philadelphia is a place to which I have many strong ties. The University of Philadelphia was the first place I lived abroad, and it was in the two years that I spent there that I changed my career from being based in Japan to the world. It was also here that Umeko Tsuda, for whom I have the utmost respect, studied abroad (please search on this site, “Umeko Tsuda”), as well as where Hideyo Noguchi, whom I have touched upon through my work with the Noguchi Hideyo Africa Prize (1) began his global career. It is a place of many fond memories for me.

I was able to spend a fulfilling day here at the session.

The next day, I departed at seven a.m. and after a three-hour drive by car, reached JFK and boarded my flight.

My stay in Philadelphia was a quick but nostalgic, meaningful trip.

“Bula” from Fiji


After participated Manaba, I departed Haneda Airport on July 6th for Nadi in Fiji, via Hong Kong, and then to the capital city of Suva.

I attended the Inter-Congress (1) of the Pacific Science Association.

Everywhere you go, you first say “Bula,” the greeting for hello.

This association was established in 1920 and I have been quite involved in its work since 2003. On this website, I have written about the activities in Okinawa, Tahiti (1, 2, 3) (including the hidden story of Yoshida Shoin), and in Kuala Lumpur after the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami in 2011.

This time the congress was held at the University of the South Pacific and there were many students who were active as volunteers and it was a vibrant environment. I met with some Japanese professors who are members of the faculty here as well.

The next day, President Ratu Epeli Nailatikau gave a powerful speech at the opening ceremony. At the opening  ceremony, myself, Professor Nordin Hasan, Director of Asia Pacific Regional Office of ICSU gave the keynote speeches. Ambassador Eichi Oshima also attended the ceremony.

We were interviewed by television reporters and were on the evening news. The next day, it was widely reported in the newspapers as well.

Over the next two days, there were many activities organized around the sessions. I spent three hours sightseeing, had dinner with USP Vice-Chancellor and President Chandra, and was invited by Ambassador Oshima to lunch, where I spoke with members of the Embassy and Japanese people who work in Fiji. I also met with female UNDP officials who are working in Pakistan, Sudan and Fiji.

The official residence of the Japanese Ambassador to Fiji was acquired twenty years ago, is in a prime location in Suva, the capital city of Fiji, and has an incredible view.

Fiji was a British colony in the past and recently has been developing relations with India, China and South Korea. There are many Chinese fishing vessels that have come to do tuna hunting. Although the work of Japan is well known, there seems to be few Japanese people here.

This is also one of the challenges facing the Ambassador.

Manaba Seminar – My Keynote Speech and Panel Discussion with Dr. Iiyoshi


Manaba is an initiative started by a company to provide a new platform to help support education, and is being used by more and more universities worldwide. It is indeed a very ambitious project.

On the 5th of July, a seminar mainly aimed at professors, teachers and staff at educational institutions, was held in Tokyo. It was attended by a many people.

The bulk of the presentations (link in Japanese) were case-studies of the initiatives taken by universities that are using Manaba, but I was asked to give keynote address, a one-hour long speech encapsulating the main theme, ‘Global Trends: Understanding What Drives Them’. This is exactly what I want to do, to convey the efforts of the many educational institutions in the field who are constantly need to adapt and widen the possibilities for students and to make them think about the career that they pursue within the greater scheme of things.

And I believe that the audience was composed of people involved in universities, in fields like education and administration offices: and all the questions raised during the Q&A centered around this central topic.

My keynote speech was titled ‘Uncertain Times: The Choices You Make’. Needless to say, my slides were built around visuals, with minimal explanations in English with large fonts.

My speech centered around my message which exhorts each person to get an overall feeling for globalization and to fulfill the responsibilities required of each of their professions and administrators.

My hour was over in no time, but I was confident that my message had got across, judging by the responses of the audience during the last panel discussion and the reception afterwards.

In the last panel discussion, I was with Dr. Iiyoshi (1), who repeated that education looked to instill a bit of insanity, while I also stressed that it was the ‘crazy ones’ (1) who change the world. We also had Mr. Sato, an unconventional member of MEXT , along with Mr. Fukuoka from METI. Dr. Iiyoshi threw his ‘punches’ of ‘madness’, while the two government officials were willing to step out of the boundaries of the ‘ordinary’, a characteristic of young bureaucrats. The audience also voiced their opinions about their anxieties and concerns related to their work in education, showing their dedication and sincerity. I truly empathize with them.

Thinking out of the box, changing perceptions, being the nails that stand out, whatever you call it, the important thing is to go beyond boundaries. The future of Japan in an increasingly globalized world lies with the future generation. I wonder how many people in positions of higher responsibility understand this situation and act accordingly, dealing with this dilemma as a matter of ultimate importance.

I wonder how many people strive to harness their full potential and do their best to fulfill the calling of their duties. This includes the need to instinctively understand global trends, through proper information, and to put these trends into practice to help the nation.In a society such as Japan’s, where there exist terms such as ‘academic elite’ and ‘University Tokyo talk’ , this may be too much to ask for.

Even if this problem is recognized, too many are lulled into inaction by the sheer number of reasons why they think change cannot be brought about. This is the situation that we have here in Japan. It is of utmost importance to not only think but also to act at the same time, hard though it may seem.

Speech at the United Nations University Commencement


The United Nations University is located in Aoyama in Tokyo. A graduate program has been established here in collaboration with a group of research institutes across the globe, the Institute of Advanced Studies in Yokohama, and with links to other universities. The graduate school commencement was held on July 3.

Since being involved in the Science Council of Japan, I have been active in advocating strengthening the connections between the scientific community in Japan and the United Nations University. I have worked with the past two Rectors of the university, as well as the new Rector, David Malone, with whom I have a mutual friend in Canada and have been in contact with before he assumed office.

In these past ten years, there have been many conferences held at the university and I have enjoyed many opportunities to speak here.

The graduate school at the United Nations University was established in September of 2010. As it is a new graduate school, it is still quite small. This year, twelve people from twelve different countries graduated, representing the maximum diversity (there were also a few other students who graduated in the spring). I was very happy to have the privilege of being invited to give the Commencement Speech.

My speech can be accessed from the link here.

It was a wonderful graduation ceremony and everyone seemed happy. The ceremony began by a video message from President Malone, who had an urgent matter abroad, followed by a speech by the Senior Vice-Rector, Kazuhiko Takeuchi, my speech, the awarding of the degrees, speeches by three of the graduating students, and finished with the reception.

Is an indescribable and moving feeling to send off into the world young peoplewho will make a new start.

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.