Hisashi Kobayashi's Blog
Sherman Fairchild University Professor Emeritus of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, Princeton University

English Translation of Hisashi Kobayashi’s Speech delivered at the Opening Exercises of the Graduate School of the University of Tokyo on April 12, 2010 at Nippon-Budokan, Tokyo

(2010年4月12日日本武道館に於ける東京大学大学院入学式での祝辞の英語訳。 日本語での祝辞は 4月12日のブログに掲載)

The Opening Exercises (or the Entrance Ceremony) of the University of Tokyo took place at the Nihon Budohkan (http: //www.nipponbudokan.or.jp/), which is near Chidorigafuchi famous for its beautiful cherry blossoms.

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Following the ceremony for the undergraduate freshmen held in the morning, the ceremony for the graduate school’s entering students (both Master’s and Doctor’s candidates) commenced at 2 pm. I was told that the seating capacity is about 3,100 on the first floor and 7,800 seats for the 2nd and 3rd floors combined. Since the first floor was almost full of the students, and the second and third floors were approximately two thirds full by the parents, the total number of audience was estimated around 8,000.

Following the address by President Jun-ichi Hamada, and the speech by Prof. Hiroyuki Yamato, Dean of the Graduate School of Frontier Sciences, I gave a congratulatory speech as a guest.

Then a recorded video of Astronaut Mr. Souichi Noguchi, an alumnus of the Aerospace Engineering Department, transmitted from the Space Shuttle was projected on the screen. Then after the “swear-in” by a student representing the entering class, all participants sang “Only One”, the school song of the University of Tokyo to finish the ceremony.

I would like to thank President Hamada, Vice President Kojima, and Trustee members who appointed me as a guest speaker at this beautiful ceremony . It is a tremendous honor for me to be invited here.

The entering graduate students: I wish to extend my congratulations to all of you. We are here to celebrate your successful achievement to have been admitted to the Graduate School of Todai, and I am delighted to participate in this wonderful Opening Exercises. Before I give my speech, however, I would like to know your background. First of all, those of you who graduated from the University of Tokyo last month: will you please raise your hand. Next, those who graduated from other universities in Japan are asked to raise your hand. Then, international students, please raise your hand. Female students, please raise your hand. Finally, those who worked in society for a while and are here to resume your study in the graduate study, please raise your hand. Thank you! Now I have a better idea about the composition of this entering class.

Now I would like to take this opportunity to discuss a few topics that I have been thinking about recently and I hope some of my comments will be of some help to your career planning.

As you may know, Japan became an economic power house within three decades after World War II. Yet, our economy has been stagnant for the past twenty years, namely since around the time when you were born, so that Japan’s economic growth rate during this period has been the lowest among countries in the industrialized world. Japan is now much behind the U.S. in such fields as information technology, software in particular. In the manufacturing industry and material industry, where Japan has excelled in the past, Taiwan, South Korea and China have caught up, and in some sectors they have surpassed Japan. Why did these things happen? Have you given enough thought to these situations?

I, as a Japanese citizen, have exchanged opinions on this problem with some of my friends and knowledgeable individuals. Different people give different explanations or excuses. Although this may sound somewhat offensive, I believe one of the main reasons is that many of our leaders are, regrettably, not so capable, lacking knowledge, insight and English ability that are so crucial for competing in today’s global world. The proliferation of the Internet, digitalization of products, and the rise of our industrialized Asian neighbors and India in today’s globalized environment , all these have fundamentally changed the framework from that of 20 years ago, in which we carry out product development, design, manufacturing and marketing. Japan is in a very difficult position today, precisely because most of the managers and staff in Japanese corporations are not sufficiently experienced in international business, nor are they well connected to, and directly communicate with, the leaders of other countries at a personal level so that they are not capable of mapping out effective strategies in response to this paradigm shift.

In this regard, I think that education and the system of the Japanese university are also responsible. If any of you who are present here, including the parents of the students, have read or remember about a book published by a Mr. Ivan Hall in 1998, entitled “Cartels of the Mind: Japan’s Intellectual Closed Shop” [1] , please raise your hands. It seems that this book has not been widely read by Japanese intellectuals, as I suspected. Mr. Hall is a Pro-Japanese scholar and journalist who, after having obtained his BA degree in history from Princeton University and his Ph.D. degree in Japanese studies from Harvard University , lived in Japan for 35 years, and taught at several Japanese universities. In his book, he critically points out how exclusive Japanese universities are against non-Japanese scholars. I think that the situation has not changed much even today, although it has been twelve years since the book was published. I would like to urge you to read this book: both English and Japanese editions are still available.

It is true that many outstanding foreign students can be found today on the Japanese university campus, as we find here, and this may give a false impression that Japanese universities have made great strides in internationalization, but in the essential aspect they have made little progress [2]. The Japanese university has not made a serious effort to enhance its vitality, creativity, and international competitiveness by bringing in top-notch researchers and educators from abroad. Instead, they appoint mostly Japanese nationals who have similar backgrounds and the same sense of values.
Then it becomes obvious that we cannot produce creative talents who can compete, or effectively collaborate, with foreign countries in the knowledge intensive industries, nor nurture future leaders who can lead Japan, equipped with a global vision and effective communication skills.

As you may know , many professional baseball and soccer teams in Japan today routinely recruit excellent players and coaches from abroad, and many foreign wrestlers play an active part in Sumo, Japan’s national sport. In the Winter Olympic Games held at Vancouver, many of the figure skaters from China, South Korea and Japan who won medals were trained by outstanding foreign coaches. Why don’t Japanese universities do similar things?

The highest recognition in the fields of natural sciences, medicine, economics and literature that corresponds to a gold medal in the Olympic Games is perhaps the Nobel prize. Japan has won 16 Nobel prizes, including two scholars who became U.S. citizens. This is one twentieth of the 320 Nobel prizes won by the U.S. , and Japan ranks 12th in the world in this respect [3] . Another interesting table found in the official Web site of the Nobel Foundation shows the number of Nobel prizes won by universities [4]. Kyoto University has won two, Todai, Nagoya University, Tsukuba University, the former Tokyo University of Education, and Kyoto Sangyo University each have won one. Harvard University alone has won 24 Nobel prizes. Princeton University, which has only 800 professors at all ranks has won 11 Nobel prizes . The University of Cambridge in the UK is among the top ten universities in the world , but the remaining nine are all U.S. universities . Of course, we cannot measure the quality or strength of a university just based on the number of Nobel prizes. But there is no question that the best universities of the world are overwhelmingly concentrated in the United States. This is because American universities and American society welcome foreigners and treat them equally regardless of their origins and give them opportunities to flourish. Consequently, outstanding scholars come to the U.S. universities from all over the world.

So what should you do? I believe that the next two to three years will be the most critical period in your life. You should decide what you really want in your life, and make a careful plan accordingly, and spend your precious time wisely. You should plan to make your experience at Todai as a spring board for your next big jump.

Those who are entering the master’s degree courses, please raise your hands. I strongly urge you to pursue your Ph.D. study at one of the top U.S. universities after having obtained your master’s degree here. A first-rate U.S. university engages outstanding professors, who offer well -structured lectures at the graduate level , and attracts the most brilliant and competitive students and researchers from all over the world. In U.S . universities, all Ph.D. candidates receive financial support in terms of either a fellowship or assistantship that covers your tuition and stipend [5]. You may find useful information from Japan Student Services Organization (JASS) [6].

By the way, how many of you know about TOEFL? Raise your hand. TOEFL stands for “Test of English as a Foreign Language.” Then what is the acronym GRE? GRE stands for “Graduate Record Examination,” and it is a test to examine the ability in math, English and analysis of a student who has finished the undergraduate-level study. Of course it is essential that you have excellent grades on your transcripts for undergraduate and graduate courses, and have strong recommendation letters from your professors at Todai. If you are an outstanding student of Todai, you will have a good chance to be accepted by a top U.S. university once your clear TOEFL and GRE, because it is widely known even abroad that Todai is a top-class university in Japan. At any rate, I urge you to take your first TOEFL and GRE tests at your earliest convenience to find out where your current ability stands, and then study accordingly so that you should be able to attain the passing scores by the time when your application is due. Because my specialty is in science and engineering, I tend to emphasize the strength of U.S. universities, but there are many excellent universities outside the U.S. , depending on your chosen field. It is of utmost importance for you to select a place that will provide you with the best environment for your study. If you wish to study, for instance, French literature or French history, you may want to choose France instead of America.

Those who are enrolled in the doctoral courses here: please raise your hand. I would like you to seriously consider seeking a post-doctoral fellow position at a U.S. university. In order to find an opportunity for a post-doctoral fellow appointment, you may have a chance to meet U.S . professors in the field of your specialty at international conferences. Don’t be shy! Introduce yourself to them, and follow up the meetings by sending them reprints of your papers. You should also prepare yourself to become proficient in presenting your ideas and writing scholarly papers in correct English. I should also call your attention to the JSPS ( Japan Society for the Promotion of Science ) program called “Postdoctoral Fellowship for Research Abroad.” [7]

Many of you who are enrolled in the master ‘s degree program may not pursue a research or academic career, but instead take a position in society upon graduation. Even though you may not have an opportunity to study abroad or gain international experiences in the near future, I strongly advise that you make a serious effort to study English while you are still a student so that you can write and speak English adequately. I believe that there will be an increasing demand in this globalization age for intellectuals who have a deep knowledge of international affairs, economics, history and culture, and have the ability to communicate fluently in English, the de facto international language, on matters of his or her own field of specialty.

You should feel confident that you are blessed with excellent brain and have worked harder than others so that you have been admitted to the graduate school of the prestigious University of Tokyo. I want you to further enhance your ability and aim to lead a worthy and challenging life by proactively confronting this era of rapid globalization. Don’t become one of “the frogs in the well that do not know the ocean.” As an old alumnus of Todai, I sincerely hope that you will become a competent leader of Japan— no, of the world, and heighten the reputation of Todai.

Finally, to the parents who are present, I express my hearty congratulation and respect for your successful effort to bring up your sons and daughters, who will hold responsible positions for Japan in the future. But your continued encouragement and support will be required for these young people to succeed in revitalizing Japan. In order for the University of Tokyo to become on a par with the top universities in the world, it will require adequate financial resources. As you may be aware, while the independent incorporation of the national university will encourage the autonomy and independence of the university, the amount of grants from the Government is likely to decline. The fund asset or endowment of Todai is approximately 25 billion yen. Added to this is the scholarship donation of
$20 Billion Yen, which will make the total asset approximately 45 Billion yen, or $ 450 millions. The endowment of Harvard University is about $ 35 billions, and that of Princeton University is $15.8 billions. In terms of the number of students, Todai holds 27,800 students, while Harvard has 19,100 and Princeton, only 7,200. Therefore, the amount of asset per student is approximately $ 2 millions at both Harvard and Princeton, whereas it is only $16,000 or 1.6 million yen at Todai. If we invest this amount as the principal and get a return of 4% per year, the amount we can spend per student is less than less than 65,000 yen.

According to NHK’s TV program “Close-up Today (Gendai)” broadcast on March 30, 2010, the total amount of contributions to charitable organizations in the U.S. is about 22 trillion JPY, while that in Japan is 700 billion JPY, i.e., one thirtieth of the U.S. The Asahi Newspaper of April 9th (Fri) , in its article related to the tax benefit policy for NPO corporations, reports “In the United States where the culture of charitable donations has firmly taken hold, donations made annually by individuals amount to more than 20 Trillion JPY, whereas the Japanese donate less than 300 Billion JPY.” If the latter number is correct, the Japanese charitable donation is less than one seventieth of that in the U.S. If the numbers reported by NHK are accurate, the annual donation per capita is 72,000 JPY in the U.S., while it is 5,500 JPY in Japan, i.e., the Japanese donates only one fifteenth of the amount of the American. According to the numbers reported by the Asahi Newspaper, the ratio is less than one fiftieth.

Initiated by the past president Komiyama, a foundation called “Friends of Todai Incorporated (FOTI)” was established in New York about three years ago, and started its fund-raising effort under the leadership of Mr. Junji Masuda, the president of New York Icho-kai , and I have been taking part in this effort to a limited extent. I strongly feel, however, that the alumni of Todai must be asked to significantly raise their consciousness to love their alma mater. I appeal to all alumni, alumnae and parents of Todai that If they are serious enough to wish their alma mater to prosper, every one of them must respond to the fund raising effort, and increase the amount of their gift by one to two orders of magnitude, outstripping the outdated notion of meager contribution. Incidentally, it is estimated that an American household contributes, on average, 150,000 to 200,000 JPY. A household with annual income $40,000 contributes as much as 5% to such causes as religion, education, culture, art, people in poverty, regions of natural disaster and other NPOs. Our alumni and friends of Todai: let us unite together to support President Hamada, the faculty members, trustee members and the development department in their effort to revitalize and globalize Todai!

Thank you for your attention.

I will post this speech and relevant references in my blog. For the benefit of non-Japanese students, I will post its English version as well.

Acknowledgments: I thank the following individuals for their valuable comments and suggestions: Ms. Masako Egawa, Dr. Gerhard Fasol, Prof. Tsunehiko Kameda, Prof. Shoshichi Kobayashi, Prof. Kiyoshi Kurokawa, and Dr. Masako Osako. Prof. Brian Mark’s careful editing of this English version is much appreciated.

[1] Ivan P. Hall, “Cartels of the Mind: Japan’s Intellectual Closed Shop.” W. W. Norton & Company, New York and London (1998): Japanese translation 「知の鎖国:外国人を排除する日本の知識人産業」Mainichi Shinbunsha (1998).

[2] Hisashi Kobayashi, “Concerns about the insularity of Japan’s universities, poor performance of Japanese students and weakening competitiveness of Japanese industry” www.HisashiKobayashi.com

[3] List of Nobel laureates by country: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Nobel_laureates_by_country

[4] Nobel Laureates and Universities:http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/lists/universities.html

[5] Hisashi Kobayashi, “Research Management In US Corporate Laboratories and Universities (in Japanese),” Journal of IEICE, vol.92. No. 5, pp. 318-326, May 2009.

[6] Japan Student Services Organization (JASSO):

[7] JSPS: Postdoctoral Fellowship for Research Abroad: http://www.jsps.go.jp/j-ab/index.html

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