2018-2019 Undergraduate Entrance Ceremony Remarks (6 April 2018)

Juichi Yamagiwa, 26th President

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Today, Kyoto University welcomes 2,961 new undergraduate students. On behalf of our guest of honor, former President Hiroshi Matsumoto, along with the Vice-Presidents, Deans, and Directors here today, and all other faculty 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 spirits soar, and inspire all to apply the mental and physical energy amassed thus far in the pursuit of 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 to 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 new horizons in creative, scholarly endeavors. As one of its key goals, the University has also sought to pursue harmonious coexistence within the human and ecological communities on this planet. 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 planet, 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 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 and the World.

Our campus is not limited to the University's premises in Kyoto. We have 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 at these institutes and bases, as well as interact 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.

How, then, can you actually pursue free thinking unconstrained by convention? First, it is important to turn your attention to what is actually happening in the world, and think deeply about contexts and causes. I spent my time as a KyotoU student in an era when people were singing the praises of science and technology, and Japan was engulfed in a wave of development. I witnessed this era first-hand as I walked the length and breadth of the Japanese archipelago during university vacation periods. On the island of Yakushima in Kagoshima Prefecture I observed an especially poignant example of both the natural environment and human lifestyles undergoing immense change.

Home to the tallest peak in the Kyushu region, Mt Miyanoura, Yakushima is known for its lofty mountains covered in mossy primeval forest. However, an alarming sight awaited me when I climbed the island's steep ridges and looked out on the forest below. Many of the slopes were cleared entirely of trees and turned into bare grassland. Heading back down the mountain paths, I saw great trees of Japanese fir, southern Japanese hemlock, chinquapin, and Machilus Japanese bay that had been cruelly cut down and left by the roadside. Old-growth forests in Japan were in those days considered by the government's Forestry Agency to be "miscellaneous woodlands" that served no useful purpose. They were cut down and replaced by fast-growing varieties that made good construction materials, such as Cryptomeria and Hinoki cypress. Looking back, we understand that the appearance of bears, deer, monkeys, and other wildlife in areas of human settlement, and the emergence of pollen allergies as a common affliction, are attributable to the changes in Japan's forest profile brought by this kind of clear-felling and planting activity. I gained a direct sense that Japan's natural environment was rapidly disappearing.

Looking at Yakushima in this way, it became clear that it was not only the forest that was changing dramatically, but also the ocean. Countless fishing fleets equipped with radio communications and sonar fishfinders visited the island's waters, fishing indiscriminately and virtually exhausting the abundance of marine resources. Fishing for varieties such as mackerel and flying fish, formerly Yakushima's major industry, became unviable and people increasingly turned to employment in public engineering projects, or abandoned their island life for work in the city. The construction of concrete revetments robbed the island of its beautiful coastlines, debris-control dams brought natural waterways to a halt, and road-widening works tore through forests. This kind of destruction was not limited to Yakushima: it was happening all over Japan.

It was around this time that I had a surprising encounter. As a high school student, I had sometimes visited a rock music café called Hora-gai. One of the owners of this establishment, Sansei Yamao, later travelled around India and eventually settled in Yakushima. Making his home high in the mountains, he balanced his time between farm work and intellectual pursuits, cultivating his fields with a hand-held hoe, communing with monkeys and deer, and writing poetry. As I continued my study of Yakushima's monkeys, I talked with Sansei and other local residents about nature, and eventually joined with them to voice opposition to the national government's tree-felling and road-widening projects. Yakushima was eventually listed as a World Heritage area. If we hadn't taken action at that time, it is possible that Yakushima would no longer exist in the form we know today. Last year I paid a visit to Sansei's grave for the first time in a long while, and thought back to my student days. What was that feeling which Yakushima's natural world gave us? I would like to answer by sharing with you one of Sansei's poems, entitled Mizu (Water).

"When I listened to the water

I was water

When I listened to the trees

I was trees

When I talked with someone

I was that person

And what was foremost always

Was silence

When I listened to the water

I was water"

Yakushima is an island of water. Water has a presence everywhere and always. Sansei's poem is suggesting that in order to fully connect with anything that is given life and sustained by water, we need to put words aside and simply listen in the silence. This code of nature applies equally if you are connecting with another human being. The world somehow seemed a different place to me after I came to this realization.

There is one other short poem I would like to share with you. This was penned by Tota Kaneko, a haiku poet who passed away this February.

'The youth, in love with the deer on the stormy slope'

When I read this poem, I think of a deer standing tall and proud on a cliff in Yakushima. Back in the 1970s, it was very rare to see deer even in the forest; they would grow scared and run off at the first glimpse of a human. When as a student I caught sight of a deer tripping nimbly and bird-like across a sheer precipice, it took my breath away. The deer in Kaneko's poem is making its way across the treacherous slope in the midst of a storm. In my mind that noble, solitary figure became synonymous with my own self, buffeted by the cruel winds of the era in which I lived. I found this image irresistibly compelling. In this way, I realized, the natural world would always give us reassurance and courage. As one of the leading poets of postwar Japan, Tota Kaneko continually tackled the problems of society head-on, and the poem I have just shared with you is certainly imbued with his innovative spirit. I hope you gain the same courage from it as I did.

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 working in Japan for local companies 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. You will also need the audacity to question accepted wisdom and search for genuine truths. Even if a person has 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 — knowledge of scientific issues is just as necessary for those who have professions in the humanities. Unless a person is conversant in local and national history 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 unable to exercise effective leadership on the world stage.

With the help of all its faculty, 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. We have also launched an Institute for Advanced Study, a hub for cutting-edge academic endeavor that has been extending our university's scholarly networks across the entire globe. Moreover, in addition to our existing study-abroad programs, we have established an international program called "Omoro Challenge", where students carry out plans they make for themselves. This is a fieldwork-type program in which participants can directly experience not only classroom learning but also cultures and environments 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.

In order to help enhance Kyoto University's education and research activities and allow our students to lead a secure and fulfilling life, 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 enrollment. 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 fellow students, and be able to immerse yourselves and 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 an English translation of material taken from Yamao Sansei, Biroha Boshi no Shita de — Yamao Sansei Shishu, Yasosha, 1993.)

(Text in 'single quotation marks' is an English translation of material taken from Kaneko Tota, Kaneko Tota Shishu Dai1kan, Chikuma Shobo, 2002.)

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