Speech delivered at the 2014-2015 Undergraduate Graduation Ceremony (24 March 2015)

Juichi Yamagiwa, 26th President

Let me begin by offering my heartfelt congratulations to the 2,803 students who are graduating from Kyoto University, today. On behalf of our guest of honor, my predecessor former President Hiroshi Matsumoto, the Executive Vice-Presidents, Vice-Presidents, Deans, and Directors here today, and all other faculty members and staff, congratulations on your graduation. I would also like to express our deepest gratitude to the family members and others around you who have loyally supported you as you worked toward this, your graduation day. From the first graduation ceremony in 1900, three years after the university's founding in 1897, to the end of today's ceremony, Kyoto University will have awarded bachelor's degrees to a total 199,782 students who have graduated from this university over its 118-year history.

Today, I'd like you to look back to the time when you entered the university. As new students, having achieved outstanding results at high school and successfully passed the fiercely competitive entrance examinations, what kinds of hopes and dreams did you have for your time at Kyoto University? Were you able to achieve those goals during the last few years, leading up to today's graduation ceremony? Or, did your dreams undergo significant transformation during your time here? And, how are the new paths that you are about to embark on connected to your original aspirations?

I entered Kyoto University in 1970, exactly 45 years ago. My dream back then was the rather vague notion of deciphering the workings of our expansive universe. At that time, university student protests were gaining momentum and, as a high school student living in Tokyo, I was significantly influenced by those events. Many students attended residents' meetings and street demonstrations, reluctant to dispassionately immerse themselves in revision for entrance exams and miss out on developments that were taking place at what they recognized as a major turning point in Japanese politics. Indeed, some of my fellow high school students chose not to go to university. I, however, was more interested in discovering a world that was broader and deeper than the one right before my eyes. I felt the need to expand the boundaries of the time and space within which I viewed things as far as I could, in order to envisage the world that I might encounter in the future, beyond the everyday world that was at the mercy of political developments. I saw Kyoto University as a bastion of learning which would allow me to do this. My dreams changed drastically during my time as a student here, ultimately bringing me to where I am today. However, I believe that the essence of my freshman aspirations was never lost and that those dreams have come true to a certain extent.

Since its establishment, Kyoto University has upheld the tradition of academic freedom based on dialogue. In the year that I entered university, students were still occupying the campus and it wasn't possible for us to have a proper entrance ceremony. Lectures were boycotted or cancelled but dialogue between faculty members and students was even more common than it is today. Students would also organize seminars on their own volition, taking the initiative to select topics, assemble the necessary reference documents, and lead discussions. We came together from different academic fields and would sometimes take the debates off campus, to the Yoshida-yama area, the Kamo River, Maruyama Park, and to local bars. I think that those discussions allowed us to readdress conventional ways of thinking and to develop many interesting concepts and new ideas. Before the war, the predecessor of the present Kyoto University Museum -- the Exhibition Hall, or Chinretsukan, as it was known in Japanese -- was a place for free and open exchanges between teachers and students, and among fellow teachers. A booklet published last year by Kyoto University Museum, entitled "Preserving the Cornerstones of Scholarship", includes this description of the Chinretsukan: "The teachers, who came to the university in kimono and wooden sandals, would always first stop off at the basement room to change their sandals. This room became a hub of lively and productive interaction between students and teachers, including animated discussions ranging from various academic issues to the latest gossip."

I would like us to consider what is meant therein by "animated discussions".

In 1887, Nakae Chomin, who was responsible for introducing the ideas of Jean-Jacques Rousseau to Japan and who developed the Freedom and People's Rights Movement in the Meiji Period (1868-1912), published an essay entitled "A Discourse by Three Drunkards on Government" (Sansuijin keirinmondo). The essay depicts a discussion among three men who are debating Japan's international strategy over their drinks: "Gentleman of Western Learning" is a keen debater who champions modern western ideals, "Champion of the East" is a political activist wearing typical Japanese style dress, and "Master Nankai" is a keen drinker. Following the ideas of Rousseau to the letter, the Gentleman of Western Learning preaches establishment of the three fundamental principles of liberty, equality, and fraternity, and advocates for the abolition of military capability. "People are united in a universal brotherhood; even if Japan were to be invaded by a powerful nation, the other strong nations won't let us down if we argue our case on the basis of morality," he asserts. "No," argues the Champion of the East, "that argument is only effective within a scholar's study. The real world is defined by the law of the jungle, and conflict between nations is inevitable. We shouldn't submit to aggression but rather equip ourselves with military capability and face up to the continental great powers." Master Nankai then jumps in to separate the other two, arguing that both opinions are extreme and nothing more than armchair theories and illusions of the past. He goes on to explain that it is necessary to establish a constitutional system and protect the rights of the people within Japan, while also collaborating with the democratic powers of the nations of the world and avoiding the use of military force. Both the Gentleman of Western Learning and the Champion of the East are stunned by the mediocrity of Master Nankai's argument but Master Nankai firmly refuses to give way, telling them that eccentric approaches are not valid for long-term strategy which will dictate the nation's international policy for years to come. Each of the "three drunkards" appears to represent an alter-ego of Nakae Chomin, and it can be suggested that he used the format of the dialogue among three men to demonstrate the path that he felt that debates should take.

Kyoto University also produced a pioneer in adopting the dialogue format to develop arguments: Kinji Imanishi, who created the academic field of primatology in Japan. He was the first professor of the Department of Anthropology, which was established in the Faculty of Science in 1964, and I was the sixth. In 1952, Professor Imanishi published a paper entitled "The Evolution of Human Nature" (Ningensei no shinka). The format of the paper is a dialogue in which an evolutionist, another person, a monkey, and a wasp state their respective opinions. The article discusses from each participant's perspective whether or not "culture" exists for both animals and people -- here Professor Imanishi used the term "culture" to indicate a contrasting concept to "instinct" with a wider definition than the term "culture" as it is used in a human context. He uses the dialogue to reveal that it is possible to make a different interpretation of a phenomenon which was formerly considered to relate only to humans, by replacing it with something that is seen in animals. For example, animals, which live by their instincts, do not know the aims of their actions but humans, who are guided by "culture", know the aim of each and every one of their actions. The evolutionist says that the generally held idea is to accept that we should recognize this difference between humans and animals and he asks the others what they think. The monkey responds by arguing: "Chimpanzees stack boxes in order to grab a banana hanging from the ceiling -- this shows that they understand the aims of their actions." The human responds: "Humans take actions and make efforts to achieve goals, as opposed to aims." The wasp asserts: "The hunting wasp traps its prey in an underground hive and lays eggs in order to ensure the safety of the larvae and food. Thus, it appears to be acting with expectations of what may happen, but it is acting on instinct, not "culture". It is a highly engaging discussion which draws you in before you realize it. At the same time, it reveals how we self-importantly perceive the actions of humans as special. The Department of Anthropology, in which I was based, encouraged students to readily engage in such discussions from various different points of view, and that tradition lives on.

I am sure that you who are graduating today have experienced such open-minded and frank debates. Those debates and the contributions of your fellow students will no doubt serve as highly precious assets for you on your future paths in life. Kyoto University also values its tradition of honoring the spirit of creativity. The university takes pride in engendering a spirit of readiness to take up challenges and motivation to carve out new paths in previously unexplored fields. The President Award recognizes students who have achieved remarkable successes through demonstrating such a spirit. This academic year, 11 students received President Awards. Among them is Eisuke Tanaka, who graduates from the Faculty of Engineering, this year. While also devoting himself to his academic studies and research for his graduation project, he contributed to the victorious record of the Kyoto University Baseball Club as a key pitcher and has been drafted by the baseball team Chiba Lotte Marines to pursue a career in professional baseball. He is the first graduate of Kyoto University to take up the challenge of entering the world of professional baseball. We are confident that he will have a successful career as a result of being able to demonstrate abilities which are not possessed by other professional baseball players. I am sure that many of the other students graduating today have acquired various skills which set them ahead of the rest and that they are already applying those skills successfully in pursuit of their aspirations. I have no doubt that there will be many opportunities in the future for each of you to demonstrate and test the skills that you have cultivated at Kyoto University. However, it is important to remember to listen thoughtfully to the opinions of people with different ways of thinking from yours. It is also necessary to draw on the input and feedback of various different kind of people in order to ultimately be capable of making your own decisions regarding the challenges that you face, and then to tackle such challenges. If you only listen to the opinions of those who agree with you, your judgment will eventually become clouded, just like that of the emperor in the popular tale "The Emperor's New Clothes." In this context, academic freedom based on the ability to engage in dialogue, which you have acquired and developed here at Kyoto University, will help you to make wise decisions.

One of the key missions of Kyoto University is to contribute to "peaceful coexistence across the global community". We are living in an age in which such harmony is in a state of disarray and conflict between religions and races is increasing, placing in jeopardy coexistence among people with different ways of thinking. I expect that you will all face situations in which such issues will need to be addressed, wherever you may go in the world. When you do, I hope that you will tackle such challenges boldly while demonstrating the spirit of unconstrained debate that is upheld by Kyoto University. As alumni of Kyoto University, how you behave and act, going forward, will be of great interest to the world, and your actions will serve as examples for current and future students of the university to follow. From today, the paths that you take will diverge significantly, but they will surely cross at least once again in times to come. I sincerely hope that such occasions will be enjoyable encounters that you can take pride in as graduates of Kyoto University.

Once again, let me offer my sincere congratulations to each and every one of you who is graduating today.