2017-2018 Undergraduate Entrance Ceremony Remarks (7 April 2017)

Juichi Yamagiwa, 26th President

Today, Kyoto University welcomes 2,930 new undergraduate students. On behalf of our guests of honor, former President Hiroo Imura, former President Hiroshi Matsumoto, and Professors Emeritus, along with the Vice-Presidents, Deans, and Directors here today, and all other faculty members and staff, I congratulate each and every one of you on your entrance into Kyoto University. I would also like to pay tribute to the tremendous amount of effort you must have made up to this point, and to extend my warmest congratulations to your families and to those around you who have encouraged and supported you in your efforts.

The city of Kyoto is situated in a topographical basin, surrounded on three sides by mountains. Kyoto University is in a picturesque location on the eastern edge of the basin, boasting views of Mt Yoshida and Mt Daimonji close by. At this time of year, many varieties of trees put on new growth, and the mountains are painted with fresh shades of green. These bright colors make people's spirits soar, and inspire them to apply the mental and physical energy they have amassed thus far in order to tackle fresh challenges in new places of learning or work. I am sure that all of you gathered at today's entrance ceremony are looking forward to stepping out on to a new stage, energized by the bright light and fresh breezes of this spring season. Kyoto University welcomes this spirit with open arms, and hopes that you will use your time at our university to develop the capabilities that will enable you to go forth on the world stage.

Since its foundation in 1897, Kyoto University has worked to cultivate academic freedom under a spirit of self-reliance and self-respect, and to open up new horizons in creative scholarly endeavor. The university has also sought to pursue harmonious coexistence within the human and ecological community on this planet as one of its important goals. Our world is currently experiencing a number of rapid changes that would have been unimaginable in the 20th century. The global conflict structure, which was expected to be resolved with the end of the Cold War, is actually growing in both complexity and intensity as a result of ethnic and religious tensions; the pace of global environmental degradation accelerates, unprecedented major disasters and deadly infectious diseases wreak havoc across the world, and financial crises shake both national economies and individual lives to the very core. In these turbulent times, Kyoto University needs to identify how best to respond to the demands of government and wider society while remaining true to its founding spirit.

In line with its commitment to independent learning, Kyoto University must maintain its position as a bastion of academic freedom, unconstrained by convention. In order to do so, the university must be a place where academic endeavor can proceed undisturbed, while also providing windows into the world and society. Based on this idea of the university as a window, I launched the WINDOW Concept, which positions Kyoto University as a window to society and to the world, one which is to be opened by faculty/staff and students together, with the whole university community sharing in the common goal of guiding students gently out into the wider world. WINDOW is also an acronym representing goals for action in the areas of Wild and Wise, International and Innovative, Natural and Noble, Diverse and Dynamic, Original and Optimistic, and Women, leaders in the Workplace. The Kyoto University campus is not limited to the university's premises in Kyoto. We have affiliated research institutes and centers all over Japan, and more than 50 research bases worldwide. You will be able to hone your skills through participation in laboratory and field work in these research institutes and bases, as well as interaction with many different people here in Kyoto, a city proud of its long history and traditions, and eventually grow into individuals capable of making your mark on the world stage.

When we say "free thinking unconstrained by convention", what do we actually mean? I recall a song that was popular when I was a senior high school student in the 1960s, by Bob Dylan, recipient of last year's Nobel Prize for Literature. It begins with these lines:

"How many roads must a man walk down
Before you call him a man?"

The song proceeds:

"How many ears must one man have
Before he can hear people cry?

How many deaths will it take till he knows
That too many people have died?"

It concludes with the lines:

"The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind
The answer is blowin' in the wind"

Penned when Bob Dylan was 21, the phrase "the answer is blowing in the wind" expresses the idea of an answer that cannot be found in a book or gleaned from a television debate among intellectuals; it is in the wind, and if it falls to the earth nobody moves to pick it up, so it is blown along again. In the same song, Dylan also sang:

"How many times can a man turn his head
And pretend that he just doesn't see?"

In other words, this song was highly critical of those who recognize mistakes but nonetheless turn their gaze away from them. The song became an anthem of the civil rights movement in the United States in the 1960s, and was also on the lips of many young people in Japan at the time.

Universities are full of questions that are yet to be answered. In order to become aware of these questions, however, it is essential to cast off self-serving ways of thinking and view your world through fresh eyes. Ideas unconstrained by convention are generated when you start to entertain doubts about the things you had previously taken for granted, and keep those things firmly in your sights as you seek to uncover the truth. No matter how much opposition you face, or how much you are derided for your unconventional ideas, you must remain forthright and catch hold of the answers blowing in the wind.

It is in this spirit that Kyoto University has given the world so many new inventions and original ideas to date. Japan's first Nobel laureate, Hideki Yukawa, once said at a research conference of Kyoto University faculty members that the real mission of a university lies in searching for the truth intrinsic to the world in which we live, discovering truth, and imparting truth to students, to successors, and to people outside the university. I believe that Yukawa was expressing a pride in a university's knowledge as something not to be used in the pursuit of personal gain, but always for society and the common good.

We are living in what is called an age of globalization. In the future, all of you will play your part in fields that extend across the globe, well beyond Japan's national borders. There are many problems that need to be solved if we are to achieve harmonious coexistence within the human and ecological community on this planet. Poor in natural resources, Japan has used advanced science and technology to develop devices that enrich people's lives, and launched them out one after another into the wider world. There has been a dramatic increase in recent years in both the number of Japanese companies establishing international operations and the number of Japanese people working overseas, while the number of non-Japanese employed by Japanese companies and working within Japan is also soaring. The day will come when you too will need to throw yourself into this changing world. To do so, you will have to be equipped with a wide-ranging education and to be thoroughly conversant with the natural and cultural history not only of Japan but of many other countries as well, so that you can respond effortlessly to whatever your interlocutors may say. Even if a person has a training in the sciences and is employed in some engineering profession, he or she should have knowledge in the various humanities to be truly effective in international negotiations, and the reverse will also be true too -- knowledge of scientific issues is just as necessary for those who have professions in the humanities. Unless a person is conversant with the history of his or her own country as well as the history of the world, and has a good level of knowledge truly worthy of being called an intellectual, he or she will be quite unable to exercise effective leadership on the world stage.

With the help of all its faculty members, Kyoto University has been building a practical system offering a high-quality liberal arts and general education. Taking into account the sheer diversity of academic fields and the necessity for structured learning, class-designated courses and course trees have been designed, together with small-group seminars with an emphasis on dialogue with instructors and practical classwork. We have significantly increased the number of non-Japanese faculty members, and we now offer undergraduate courses in which lectures and workshop classes are conducted entirely in English. We also operate five Leading Graduate School Programs in which students complete doctoral degrees and go on to apply their skills internationally. In April last year, we also launched an Institute for Advanced Study, a hub for cutting-edge academic endeavor that will extend our university's scholarly networks across the entire globe. Moreover, in addition to our existing study abroad programs, last year we established a new experiential study abroad initiative under the title "Omoro Challenge", in which students carry out plans they make for themselves. This is a fieldwork-type program in which students can experience for themselves not only university-based learning but also culture and nature overseas. We hope that through dialogue with many different people in new learning environments outside of Japan, students will cultivate the creative capacity to contribute to the wider world.

I would like to conclude by sharing with you one of my favorite poems. Titled "June", the poem was written by Noriko Ibaragi, who spent the most precious years of her youth in the midst of the wartime student mobilization and the subsequent ruins of Japan's defeat.

'Isn't there somewhere a beautiful village

where, when day's work is over, there is a measure of rye wine,

where the hoes are left standing, the bamboo baskets left lying,

as both men and women down a generous cup?

Isn't there somewhere a beautiful town,

where edible fruit hangs down from the street trees

right into the distance; and the violet of twilight

is full of the friendly uproar of youngsters?

Isn't there somewhere the beautiful strength

of people living together in the same era,

a warmth and an irony and even an anger,

that can be a creative force in the world?'

I would like to create the kinds of beautiful villages and towns that Ibaragi was seeking, right here in our university. Kyoto University sent as many as 4,500 of its students out to fight during the Second World War, and 260 of these are known to have lost their lives. We must never again commit the same kind of mistake. I believe that in order to achieve harmonious coexistence within the human and ecological community on this planet, we must first make our own university a beautiful place in which everyone can share in the joy of living. Last year the Public Offices Election Act was amended to lower the voting age in Japan from 20 to 18. All of you who have just entered Kyoto University can now participate in elections if you have Japanese nationality. In Noriko Ibaragi's times, voting rights were limited to males aged 25 and over, so most university students were not eligible to participate in the political process. The students mobilized in Japan's war effort were sent out to fight not of their own volition, but through a decision made by the older generation. Today, all of you could cast your own votes either for or against political decisions on certain situations you face. I urge you by all means to keep this fact in mind.

In order to make Kyoto University a beautiful place, we will strive to enhance our education and research activities and to help our students lead a secure and fulfilling life. To support these initiatives, we have established the Kyoto University Fund. The families who are here today have been given leaflets explaining the Fund as well as details of a special plan put together in celebration of your entrance. I would be grateful if you could all take the time to read through the material provided and for any support you feel moved to provide.

I hope with all my heart that here at Kyoto University, you will cultivate bonds through dialogue with many fellow students, and be able to play and to take pleasure in the world of the unknown.

Once again, I offer my sincere congratulations to each and every one of you today.

(Text in "double quotation marks" is quoted from Bob Dylan's Blowin' in the Wind )
(Text in ‘single quotation marks’ is an English translation of material taken from Noriko Ibaragi, Mienai Haitatsufu , Iizuka Shoten, 1958.)