Message to graduate students matriculating in fall 2019 (12 October 2019)

Today, Kyoto University welcomes 82 new students enrolling in master's programs, 6 in professional degree programs, and 149 in doctoral programs. On behalf of the executive vice-presidents, vice-presidents, deans, and directors, and all other faculty members 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 all those who have encouraged and supported you thus far.

You are now taking a new step toward mastery of your chosen fields of specialization. Kyoto University's graduate schools span a wide range of disciplines, and the University awards 23 different types of academic degree. The studies of our graduate students are supported by 18 graduate schools, 13 affiliated research institutes, and 14 other education and research facilities. Students in our master's programs are expected to acquire 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 their respective fields. Doctoral programs focus on the production of a doctoral thesis, and essential tasks for that purpose include data-gathering, analysis, and a comparative review of new findings with existing research. Kyoto University also provides five Leading Graduate School Programs and two doctoral programs for World-leading Innovative and Smart Education (WISE Program), in which students acquire the practical knowledge and technological skills needed to address issues in modern society.

Through your graduate studies, you will acquire the advanced knowledge and skills needed in our rapidly changing world. Currently, significant climate change is occurring across the globe. Since the Great East Japan Earthquake, Japan has experienced a succession of large earthquakes, including the Kumamoto Earthquake and Hokkaido Eastern Iburi Earthquake. It is predicted that a large Nankai Trough earthquake will occur in the near future. Severe typhoons with heavy rain and strong winds have also caused serious damage. Recently a severe typhoon hit Chiba prefecture, damaging many houses and causing a massive power outage that lasted a long time. It is widely believed that global warming is a major cause of the increasing frequency of natural disasters. Higher atmospheric and sea surface temperatures have led to an increase in the amount of water vapor, which has resulted in record-breaking torrential rains across the globe. Large-scale wildfires, floods, and tornadoes have also occurred in different areas this year, and many countries have been struggling with life-saving and damage recovery measures. The Paris Agreement, a climate change framework adopted in 2015, represented the first time since the Kyoto Protocol 18 years earlier that all 196 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change member countries were required to set specific CO2 emission reduction targets, and track and report their progress. The agreement aims to keep the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2℃ (above pre-industrial levels) until the end of the 21st century.

Last year, however, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned that by the end of this century, temperatures will rise to more than 4℃ above pre-industrial levels. According to the IPCC report, in order to keep the temperature increase to below 2℃, or pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5℃, the world must achieve a net zero CO2 emission and reduce other greenhouse gases as much as possible by 2050. Since the report was published, young people around the world have been standing up and urging governments and society to make changes in response to the issues. On 21 September of this year, the Youth Climate Summit was held as a precursor to the Climate Action Summit, a gathering of international leaders. At the Youth Climate Summit, a Swedish high school student, Ms Greta Thunberg, voiced the next generation's earnest appeal that, "there may still be enough time to do something, provided we do it now!" As professionals in the academic world, we must listen to these opinions, and seriously consider how we can address these issues.

Prior to the summit, as president of the Science Council of Japan, I wrote an urgent message regarding initiatives to address the global warming to the director of the Global Environment Bureau of the Ministry of the Environment. The content of this message was:

  • Global warming poses a serious threat to the survival of human beings, and it is steadily worsening.
  • To reduce the impact of global warming, international and domestic cooperation must be strengthened quickly.
  • In particular, it is necessary to implement air quality control and comprehensive management of water, energy, and food, as those are essential for human life.
  • It is also vital that we conserve terrestrial and marine ecosystems.
  • The change to a new economic and social system is urgently required to ensure the welfare of next generation.

We should not just endure or put up with these problems. There are still ways that we can reduce CO2 emissions to zero by 2050, while enriching people's lives by changing our economic and social systems, such as those relating to energy, transportation, cities, and agriculture. The theme of the Commemorative Symposium of the 49th Session of the IPCC, held in Kyoto in May 2019, was: "To Realize a Decarbonized Society — the State of the World and Kyoto's Challenges." During the symposium, Kyoto City expressed its determination to develop and implement specific measures to achieve a "net zero" CO2 emission by 2050. Kyoto University will also explore specific measures to support those efforts utilizing every piece of knowledge available to us.

Japan is also currently facing the difficult problems of a shrinking and aging population, and a declining birthrate. The population of Japan began shrinking from around 2010, and the elderly population is expected to account for over 40% of the population by 2050. The total fertility rate (TFR), which is the average number of children born to a single woman over her lifetime, is 1.4. A further decline in the TRF will accelerate the decline in population. Moreover, the concentration of the population in urban areas has led to rural depopulation, which has rapidly increasing the number of critically depopulated villages. There is even a prediction that approximately half of municipalities will disappear by 2040. If the number of young people who will become the primary workforce in the future continues to decrease, it will become difficult to maintain the current social security system, including the pension and healthcare systems, and that will have a serious effect on regional administration and industrial development. Japan will be the first country in the world to experience a severe impact from a shrinking and aging population and declining birth rate. South Korea, China, India, and other Asian countries are also expected to face the same issues, but Japan must address those issues ahead of those countries and the rest of the world.  

The concept of Society 5.0 was proposed in Japan as an initiative to address such issues using information and communication technology (ICT). Society 5.0 aims to create a super-smart society in which:

  • Rapidly developing medical technology utilizing artificial intelligence based on big data is used to carry out image diagnosis, and distant diagnosis technologies enable the accurate prescription of treatment or medicines even if there is no nearby hospital.
  • Smart agriculture and smart fishing are carried out using information technology and robotics to make up for labor shortages.
  • Stable energy supplies using diverse energy sources are ensured based on accurate energy demand prediction and weather forecasting.
  • In smart cities, people can easily access information anywhere and perform many kinds of house and office work remotely.
  • Factories operate without any manual labor using the 5th Generation Mobile Communication Network (5G) data infrastructure, and on farmlands, the same system is used to carry out the work required to cultivate and manage crops best suited to each particular soil and environment.
  • As an increasing amount of data becomes freely available, the process of creating and distributing new products — from development, to distribution, to sales and consumption — is efficiently managed by artificial intelligence, and people can be freely involved in different areas of the process.

However, ICT is not always used for the right purposes. Incidents involving the use of false information to deceive people and the theft of personal information for illegal purposes are significantly increasing. Fake news may affect the fate of a nation. Every country is making efforts to protect its confidential information and enhance information security technology. Space technology, ocean exploration technology, and robotics may be used for military purposes. We must always keep in mind that modern science and technology can be used not only to enhance human wellbeing through endeavors such as disaster prediction and prevention, but also for military purposes. From an academic perspective, the reconciliation of the fact that research and development for safety and security is advancing indivisibly from military use is a major issue. In the World War II, scientists cooperated on the development of new weapons, including atomic bombs, which wrought extensive destruction and claimed many lives. Having deeply reflected on such matters, and out of concern that the same thing could recur, Kyoto University has established guidelines to restrict, as much as possible, research that is likely to be directly connected with military technology.     

A "super-smart society" is an attractive dream. However, overdependence on science and technology may have negative impact on humans — both physically and mentally. As indicated by the rapid increase of lifestyle-related diseases, our bodies and minds, which have evolved over a long period to adapt to a hunter-gatherer lifestyle, are suffering a mismatch with our modern artificial environment. To eliminate that mismatch, it is necessary to change our lifestyles and improve the artificial environment. However, it is now becoming possible to change human beings themselves to adapt to the new environment using gene editing and bioengineering technologies.

Recently, there was a report that designer babies engineered to resist possible future HIV infection were born in China by editing the genes of an infant whose father is an HIV carrier. If this technology develops further, it may be possible to create babies who have different genetic constitutions from those of their parents, and create humans with traits that can survive in harsh conditions such as radioactive contamination and oxygen scarcity. The integration of robots and humans may make space exploration and deep-sea operation easier. However, if such human remodeling develops, how we can define human beings? It may create a big difference in physical strength and intelligence between "upgraded" humans and natural humans, which could make personal relationships between them difficult. We have already begun manipulating non-human life, including cultivated plants and domestic animals.

Currently, of the worldwide land area, which makes up approximately 30% of the surface of the Earth, deserts and Antarctic Continent account for 33%, forests for 31%, and grassland, pastures, and cultivated land for 36%. Over 90% of mammals living on the Earth are domestic animals and pets. That means that most of the life on Earth was created by human beings. We have to deepen our discussion about all life, including human beings and the ecosystem as a whole.

Energy is also a serious issue. The energy self-sufficiency ratio in Japan was 8.3% in 2016, which was an extremely low level compared to other developed countries. Japan's energy self-sufficiency ratio in 1960 was 58%, and in 2010 it was 20%, and it continues to decline. Japan has been depending on fossil fuels imported from abroad, which poses environmental, economic, and safety concerns. Many of the issues surrounding nuclear energy remain unresolved — such as issues regarding nuclear power plant safety and regarding the disposal of radioactive waste. There are also many issues with regards to renewable energy, including the control of naturally variable energy outputs and the expansion of electric power systems using renewable sources.

One of the roles of academia is to raise contemporary issues such as I have been discussing, including our perspectives on the world, human beings, and the meaning of life, to consider such issues from global and long-term perspectives, and propose solutions to society. All of the newly enrolled students here today are about to engage in advanced studies at Kyoto University, and it is vital that you develop the knowledge and skills needed to address the numerous challenges that arise in our rapidly changing world. The world has now begun a shift from labor- and capital-intensive societies to knowledge-intensive societies. Through sharing and consolidating knowledge, instead of resources and physical objects, different social issues can be solved, and new values can be created. Economic and human movement will accelerate, and the dispersion and circulation will become a driving force to transform society and industry. Such a future society will require not only diversity and creativity, but also self-determination and adaptability grounded in a global-minded sense of ethics.

Kyoto University does not aim to promote research for which society will only have immediate use. Since its foundation, the University has fostered a tradition of academic freedom based on frank and open dialogue, and cultivated a spirit of creativity among its students and researchers. This approach has facilitated the pursuit of diverse learning and the development of innovative research, which will be vital in addressing future problems and issues. All of you are about to undertake advanced and specialized research, but this does not mean that you should rush straight into the narrow path of a specific field. By interacting and communicating with many other students and researchers in different fields, you will be able to develop your knowledge and ideas, and pursue the truth. In the future, some among you may turn your attention to a different field of specialization, or different social issue, to that which you are currently pursuing, and become active in that field. Such a change of direction can be the catalyst for a great leap forward of equal significance to success in your established field of specialization, and can create new possibilities. I hope that you will not be afraid of making mistakes, and will devote yourself to your studies, guided by your own interests. Kyoto University can provide the environment in which you can do that.

The campuses of Kyoto University are not only the places where you can learn. Before you graduate, it is also important to learn from work experience in the business sector, and to seek opportunities to develop your abilities and research in the world outside the campus. Our University implements mid- and long-term internship programs, and provides matching opportunities in cooperation with many companies through the Industry-Academia Collaborative Innovation Human Resource Development Consortium. Also, to endow our students with the ability to be successful on the international stage, we are planning to implement an increased number of double and joint degree programs with leading institutions overseas. Currently, Kyoto University is enhancing its collaboration with universities around the world through its overseas centers, which are located in Heidelberg in Germany, Bangkok in Thailand, Washington DC in the US, and Addis Ababa in Ethiopia. Many of the University's faculties and departments have already established international networks and overseas offices to facilitate international exchange among researchers. By utilizing these networks and offices, we will enhance research collaboration and student exchange to provide opportunities to our researchers and students, and foster the skills that will enable them to play an active role in the international community.

In all of these ways, Kyoto University is working to enhance its education and research activities and help our students lead a secure and fulfilling life. To support these initiatives, we have established the Kyoto University Fund, and we are grateful for any support you may feel moved to provide.

Once again, I offer my sincere congratulations to each and every one of you on your entrance into Kyoto University's graduate schools.

12 October 2019
Juichi Yamagiwa
26th President, Kyoto University