2018-2019 Graduate School Entrance Ceremony Remarks (7 April 2018)

Juichi Yamagiwa, 26th President


Today, Kyoto University welcomes 2,350 new students enrolling in master's programs, 326 in professional degree programs, and 891 in doctoral programs. On behalf of our guest of honor, former President Makoto Nagao, 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 also extend my warmest congratulations to your families and others around you who have encouraged and supported you thus far.

You are now taking a new step toward mastery of your various academic disciplines. Kyoto University operates graduate schools across a wide range of disciplines, and awards 24 different types of academic degrees. Supporting your advanced studies are 18 graduate schools, 13 research institutes, and 14 other education and research facilities. Students in our master's programs are expected to gain advanced knowledge and skills, and develop their abilities as researchers through classes, practicums, and fieldwork that build on the basic knowledge and expertise acquired at the undergraduate level. Professional degree programs include professional practicums, case studies, site surveys, and other activities in addition to regular classes, and provide many opportunities to learn from experts with extensive practical experience in the respective fields. Doctoral programs are focused on the production of a doctoral thesis, which involves data-gathering, analysis, and comparative review of findings with existing research. In addition, we operate five Leading Graduate School Programs, designed to equip students with the practical knowledge and skills to address contemporary challenges.

Whatever program you may be enrolled in, as you pursue advanced graduate-level studies, you will be facing a rapidly changing world. Some of you may have heard the term "Anthropocene". This is a new geological time division jointly proposed in 2000 by Paul J Crutzen, who received the 1995 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, and ecologist Eugene F Stoermer. Some 65 million years ago, the impact of a giant meteor caused the earth to cool, leading to the extinction of the dinosaurs and the dawn of the Cenozoic Era, known as the age of mammals. We are in the fifth period of this Cenozoic Era, called the Holocene, which began 11,700 years ago following the end of the preceding Pleistocene, commonly referred to as the Ice Age, which began 2.58 million years ago. The concept of the Anthropocene distinguishes this Holocene from a new period of human activity commencing with the Industrial Revolution. This distinction is based on the idea that the composition of the atmosphere has been altered by the over-use of fossil fuels, beginning with James Watt's invention of the steam engine, and subsequent human interventions have caused large-scale changes in terrestrial and marine ecologies. There are others who draw the line between Holocene and Anthropocene at the end of World War Two, a time of rapid industrialization and the emergence of nuclear energy.

Whichever division we adopt, it is clear that irreversible harm has been done to the global environment in forms such as loss of biodiversity resulting from deforestation, pollution by toxic chemicals, and depletion of lakes and rivers through over-development. In 2009, nine "planetary boundaries" were proposed in which there is a risk of "irreversible and abrupt environmental change" once human activity crosses these thresholds. But perhaps some have already been crossed in the areas of climate change, genetic diversity, biogeochemical flows of phosphorus and nitrogen, and land-system change. The Paris Agreement adopted in 2015 stipulates that the rise in global temperature since the Industrial Revolution must be kept at "below two degrees Celsius". We all need to think seriously about how to create a prosperous future while placing restrictions on human activity.


The idea of the Anthropocene renders irrelevant the binary distinctions between nature and culture, and between the natural sciences and humanities. This is because there is no longer any part of nature that is immune to human influence; society, politics, and many aspects of human life are intertwined with the natural world. Humans have established farming and grazing lands across the globe, while domesticating 90% or more of the world's large animal life. Not only has the human population itself exceeded 7.2 billion, but we now have 1 billion pigs, 1.5 billion cows, and 50 billion chickens; we are transforming nature and robbing wildlife of its natural habitats. If we accept that it is impossible to detach our own bodies and senses from their context in nature, the impact of the recent large-scale changes in the natural world is sure to be felt by each and every one of us. Atopic dermatitis, pollen allergies, wheat allergies, type 1 diabetes, and other immune and digestive disorders are increasingly prevalent. Psychological conditions such as depression, autism, and obsessive-compulsive disorder have also become widespread. These "21st-century diseases" are now said to be a product of a major deterioration in volumes and balance of gut bacteria, a consequence of improved hygiene achieved through the use of pharmaceuticals in the mid-20th-century industrialized world.

At any rate, the human gut contains more than one thousand different types of bacteria, numbering around 100 trillion in total and weighing around 1.5 kilograms. Huge numbers of bacteria are also active on the surface of our skin and in moist locations such as the insides of our mouths and noses. These bacteria have around three million different genes — over 100 times the total number of human genes, which is around 21,000. The human body is a conglomerate of these different bacteria and micro-organisms. The genes of our gut bacteria work with human genes to manage the ingestion and storage of energy, and exert significant influence on things such as obesity, disease resistance, and brain function. Unlike human genes, the genes of bacteria can transform dramatically in response to changes in their environment. It is this capacity that has enabled humans to spread out into a diverse range of environments. Humans cannot maintain good health if their symbiotic relationship with these bacteria is upset. When you think about it, the earth itself is a planet of micro-organisms. They came into being long before humans, and continue to live in all parts of the planet: in the soils, in the hydrosphere, and in the atmosphere. We must endeavor to live in harmony with them rather than eliminating them, or humanity will surely perish.

In this way, we have come to rethink the notion that the human world can expand through the use of a stable, unlimited supply of resources. It has become clear that we must carefully relate to our fragile planet, managing our complex relationships with other organisms. From now on, rather than simply helping human beings survive and flourish, science and technology must aim to create an ecosystem in which humans can live symbiotically with other forms of life. Will this pathway forward be paved by gene modification and editing technology, information and communication technology, and artificial intelligence? Currently there is great interest in what kind of ideas and technologies will connect with new industries to create the world of tomorrow. Universities of the future will surely be at the center of such co-creations.

Kyoto University does not only encourage research that is of immediate use to society. Since its establishment, our university has upheld the tradition of academic freedom based on dialogue and fostered a spirit of creativity. These traditions have generated diverse learning activities and research which, inspired by new ideas, help solve the problems of the future. You are about to embark on research of a highly specialized nature, but this does not mean plunging headlong down a narrow path. Enriching your own ideas through dialogue with many fellow students and researchers in other fields will help you find pathways toward the truth. Today you begin your graduate studies at Kyoto University, but one day you too may diverge from your own fields of specialization and delve into other areas of academic inquiry. I believe that such divergence is a chance for you to open up new possibilities and lead to great advancements equal to any success in your own field. Immerse yourself in your research as your interest dictates, with no fear of failure. I am confident that Kyoto University can provide you with an environment equal to your ambitions.

In Japan, it has often been said that students with doctoral degrees find it difficult to secure employment in industry. In recent times, however, as many employers move to become more internationalized, we are beginning to see signs of more proactive recruitment of people with doctorates. It is therefore important for graduate students to gain insights into actual workplaces while they are still enrolled. To this end, the University operates an Industry-Academia Innovative Human Resource Development Consortium project involving many companies to offer medium- to long-term internships and matching services. We hope to expand the opportunities for our students to gain hands-on industry experience before completing their studies, and to experience fields suited to their own abilities and research interests. Additionally, in order to cultivate students' abilities to play active roles in the international arena, we are working to offer more double- and joint-degree programs with leading universities overseas. With international offices in Heidelberg and Bangkok, we are strengthening our ties with universities in Europe and Asia. We have also opened a new office in North America in order to expand the opportunities for inter-university exchange. Many of Kyoto University's faculties, schools, and institutes already have their own networks and bases for exchange with other researchers around the world; these will be used to advance joint research and student exchange, extending our capabilities and opportunities for international engagement.

In all these ways, Kyoto University is working to enhance its education and research activities and to help its 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 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.

Once again, I offer my sincere congratulations to each and every one of you on your entrance into the Kyoto University Graduate Schools.