Speech delivered at the 2015-2016 Undergraduate Entrance Ceremony (7 April 2015)

Juichi Yamagiwa, 26th President

Today, Kyoto University welcomes 3,002 new undergraduate students. On behalf of the Executive Vice-Presidents, 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.

April is the month of cherry blossoms. It is a season when all sorts of trees put forth their buds, and the mountains are covered in a tapestry of beautifully vibrant greens. In Kyoto, because of our location near Lake Biwa and its abundant fresh water sources, and the fact that we are in a topographical basin, which keeps the air here constantly moist and the surrounding forests lush and verdant, we are particularly blessed with varied, bright colors in spring: they delight the eye and make our spirits soar. It is not for nothing that we in the world of education, and many in the world of work as well, choose this season as the one in which we welcome new entrants and new recruits. Having endured the winter hunched up against the cold, all of us are now uncurling, relaxing, waking up to life once more -- along with other living creatures, which are also starting to scamper around busily. All of us feel the same charge of energy and excitement, the same sense of renewed vigor and energy. Without even being aware of it we start to walk around with our shoulders back and heads held high, we quicken our pace -- literally, we have 'spring' in our step. I'm sure that most people would agree that this season of spring is appropriate for a new start, whether it is in the world of academia or in the world of work.

Nevertheless, this enlivening of the spirit is not the only way in which poets have interpreted April. Take these lines from The Waste Land, a poem widely regarded as one of the masterpieces of English literature in the twentieth century, written by T S Eliot.


April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers.


Eliot wrote The Waste Land in 1922, after the First World War, and the lines I have just quoted, which are the opening lines of the poem, are seen by many as describing the collapse of Western civilization at this time and the devastation wrought on society. England, of course, has its four seasons, just like Japan. Many poets there have composed poems in praise of April as a season of new life and promise. However, Eliot chose to focus on bleakness, pitilessness, and cruelty. For many years I couldn't imagine the scenery that must have inspired him, but when I took a trip to England at the end of last January, and experienced for myself what winter there is like, I felt as if I had gained some idea, even if only an inkling. Arriving in London, I traveled by car to Bristol, then returned to London and journeyed by train to Cambridge. The landscapes I saw were nearly all completely devoid of greenery. All the trees were bare, and the fields out in the countryside were simply stretches of withered brown grass. Halfway through my trip, the freezing cold rain turned to snow. However, what I found most startling of all was the gale-force winds, which seemed to sweep unstoppably across the land. During my trip to Bristol, I stopped and took a look at Stonehenge, the extraordinary ring of Neolithic standing stones. People have been living in this part of the world from as long ago as 8000 BC, withstanding the threats posed by nature and living off its blessings -- giving rise to a great variety of prehistoric cultures. As I stood there -- barely able, actually, to stand, the wind was so strong -- my face set against the cold, I found myself wondering how on earth people in ancient times would have been able to survive such freezing winds. To one side of the Stonehenge visitor center, some Neolithic houses have been recreated, showing how people thousands of years ago built their houses with thick thatched roofs and thick walls made out of solid tree trunks and branches covered with daub to keep out the wind. In the winter, they would spend time shut up indoors, sitting round their hearths, like dormant buds waiting out the wintertime. I can well understand why people in the British Isles eventually chose bricks and stones to build their dwelling places. In winter, people would want to make sure to keep out the cold winds with walls of stone, and to spend time inside with their thoughts, sitting close to the fire.

Winter in Japan, however, is different. Japan is an archipelago that extends over many degrees from north to south, and its people live in a wide range of climates -- from Okinawa in the south, covered with lush subtropical vegetation, to Hokkaido in the north, where drift ice reaches the shore. In some regions that are snowbound in winter, people stay indoors by their fires doing handiwork or conversing and telling stories, as they must traditionally have done in England. Nevertheless, thanks to the steep ranges of mountains that go down the center, like a backbone, not too many places suffer terribly strong gales -- and on the southern coast, which is washed by warm sea currents, all sorts of non-deciduous trees grow, keeping much of the countryside green even in the wintertime. Some native trees, like Nandina domestica and Ardisia crenata (also known as 'coralberry') bear brightly colored berries in winter, and they provide shelter to many varieties of birds at this time too. Traditional festivals held in mid-winter, such as o-shogatsu, the New Year's festival in early January, and setsubun, the day marking the beginning of spring, usually around 3 February, keep people in buoyant spirits. And then winter releases its grip, and after a brief preparatory period in March when the plants put out their faces and the insects start to chirrup and scurry about, it is April once again, and time for the cherry trees to come into bloom. This gorgeous natural brocade provided by the successive seasons has made people in Japan very sensitive to nature, and has exercised a profound influence on our culture, in various representations of such emotions. The relationship between climate and culture is something that the philosopher Tetsuro Watsuji, who taught here at Kyoto University, referred to as fudo. Japanese thought and culture have always developed against the backdrop of our climate and the seasons, nurtured by the soft, sometimes intensely vivid colors of the natural landscape.

And yet, as Eliot intimates, April may also be a time when the buds, which are just on the point of coming into flower, remind us of loss -- the sense of lost possibilities, perhaps, which inevitably inheres in any memory we may have of the past. When each of you chooses to enter the world of learning that is the university, what you are doing is choosing a path that you consider to suit you best, and that will enable you to hone your abilities so that you can go along that path. University will be like nowhere that you have experienced up till now. Up till now you will have been merely accumulating already known facts, and competing against the clock to come up with the correct answers. The world is full of problems that have no answers, or that may have multiple answers. Further, in today's society, which continues to change unceasingly at breakneck speed, the resolutions that were relied on in the past can, in many cases, no longer be relied on, but have to be retested and retried to see whether they can still meet today's conditions and requirements, in order to come up with new solutions. The path that you will all have to tread will doubtless be quite different from the paths that people had trod in the past. Nevertheless, in order to open out new paths, it will still be necessary to follow some of the well-trodden paths and to put them to good effect, using your creativity -- to tackle the problems of the modern age.

Kyoto University was founded in 1897, and ever since then it has continued to offer itself as a place of learning. With a strong tradition of academic freedom based on dialogue, we have consistently striven to offer excellent higher education to our students, with an emphasis on student autonomy, initiative and creativity, and to give our researchers every opportunity to pursue cutting-edge research. Our aim is to cultivate the ability to work out solutions to highly complex problems, and to contribute to peaceful coexistence across the global community. To date we have produced a great number of international prize laureates: these include nine Nobel laureates and two Fields Medal winners. Last year was a particularly notable one for Kyoto University: Isamu Akasaki, who graduated from Kyoto University, won the Nobel Prize in Physics; Kazutoshi Mori, professor of Biophysics at the Kyoto University's Graduate School of Science, won a Lasker Award, one of the most respected science prizes in the world; and Kayo Inaba, Executive Vice-President of Kyoto University, won a L'Oréal-UNESCO Award for Women in Science. This is all evidence of the leading role that Kyoto University is taking even amongst other comparable world-class research institutions. We intend to continue to carry out our mission of providing a place for people both from Japan and from overseas countries who aspire to the very best in their field of learning, nurturing their ability to take an active part in global society, and furthering research of all kinds, transferring the results of this research to wider society so that it may become part of assets shared worldwide.

We are living in what is called an "age of globalization." Huge flows of physical goods and of people enter Japan from a great many countries, and similar flows likewise leave Japan all the time. Due to the scarcity of our natural resources, we have relied on developing all sorts of technology to create machinery and devices that make people's lives easier, more interesting, and comfortable, which we have exported all over the world. The number of Japanese corporations that have set up companies overseas and of Japanese individuals going overseas to work has increased markedly over the last decade or so, and the number of foreign nationals working for Japanese corporations and working in Japan has also soared. As all this goes on, universities are increasingly being required to cultivate people of talent who are capable of playing an active part on the international scene, responding quickly and effectively to changes in globalized society. Last year, in a survey conducted by a certain corporation directed at staff in charge of personnel affairs at corporations to investigate the reputation of their new recruits' alma maters, Kyoto University emerged as No 1 overall.  We gained especially high points in intelligence, academic ability, and originality. Nevertheless, we had a low ranking in interpersonal relations, and it has been pointed out that we score low in the ability to form new relationships. Certainly, it has often seemed to me that students in recent years are not adept at presenting themselves, or providing clear explanations in a way that others can understand, or leading negotiations to a successful conclusion. In order to be effective negotiators, especially in international situations, people have to be equipped with a wide-ranging education and to be thoroughly conversant with the nature, culture, and history not only of Japan but of many other countries as well -- so that they can respond effortlessly to whatever their 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. This means that universities now need urgently to develop students' fluency in foreign languages (reading, writing, listening, and speaking) and to provide a sufficiently high-quality basic education and liberal arts and science education. In April 2013 Kyoto University set up the Kyoto University Institute for Liberal Arts and Sciences (ILAS) to offer general education programs, constructing, with the help of faculty and teaching staff across the university, a very practical system offering a high-quality basic education and an education in liberal arts and sciences. Taking into account the sheer diversity of academic fields and the necessity for structured learning, class-designated courses and course program trees (clusters of subjects in basic education and liberal arts education that lead on to more specialized subjects) have been designed, together with seminars and "pocket seminars" with an emphasis on dialogue with teaching instructors and on practical classwork. We have significantly increased the number of our international teaching staff, and we also offer subjects for our undergraduates in which lectures and workshops are conducted entirely in English. Already we have many more lectures and seminars for graduate students offered in English and other foreign languages, and we plan to take other steps to seamlessly put into effect an education that can meet the needs of globalization, providing a flexible link between basic education, specialized education, and graduate education.

Since being appointed to the position of President in October 2014, I have been promoting the WINDOW Concept as a guiding principle for Kyoto University. The basic idea is that the university should be a window that connects researchers and students to society and the wider world -- that it should be the mission of the whole university to heighten the abilities of gifted students and young researchers, so that they can be then sent out to play an active role in their fields. A university education should be more than an accumulation of knowledge and an improvement of understanding: it should also focus on how to give birth to new ideas and discoveries using existing knowledge and skills. It is when we strengthen this commitment to creative thinking in both students and teaching staff that innovation occurs. But if all our students aimed for the same thing, no matter how much they improved their ability, that wouldn't bring about innovation. It is when diverse abilities come together, and when people are given an arena in which they can work hard and engage each other in friendly rivalry, that new ideas are produced. At Kyoto University we don't aim simply to provide a place for students to compete against one another but also one in which students can transcend their individual fields, encounter different abilities and ideas, and enjoy dialogue and create cooperative relationships. It is the cherished ideal and the objective of all of the teaching staff at Kyoto University -- myself included -- through providing such encounters and discussions to cultivate students who are both resilient and intelligent. We want to open a window to the outside world, and to give our students an encouraging push on the back so that they can then fly out and take an active part in it.

It was with this in mind that we decided on the WINDOW Concept. It consists of six themes, or desired objectives, each beginning with the six letters of the word 'Window' in order.

"W" stands for "Wild and Wise." I want to cultivate wildness and wisdom in students at Kyoto University. It is often remarked that students today are withdrawn and introspective, they never go anywhere without some sort of IT device in their hands, and they always seem to have to be connected with a rather small circle of friends. Because of this, there is an increasing tendency for students to be unable to make their own decisions, and to be self-satisfied and complacent -- to think that as long as they are all right, it's fine -- no one else matters. In fact, correct and intelligent decisions require interpreting information in an appropriate way, mobilizing the knowledge and experience of others as well as oneself, and then being strong enough to make one's own decision. At Kyoto University we want to provide ample opportunities both on-campus and off- for students to learn from discussions with other people, and to try out their decisions and choices, so that they can become wild and wise -- in other words, tough and savvy.

"I" stands for "International and Innovative." This refers to our commitment to keep providing innovation -- finding ways that revolutionize the era, and to continue to keep aware of what is happening in the wider world and to communicate with people all over the globe freely in a truly international environment. We intend to keep this commitment ongoing through multifarious exchanges with universities and research institutions overseas, and also through industry-academic-government-corporation initiatives.

"N" stands for "Natural and Noble." Kyoto University is located in Kyoto, the thousand-year-old former capital of Japan. With mountains on three sides, this is an environment of great natural beauty as well as great historical significance, and it has proven to be a wonderful source of inspiration for our researchers. Such an environment has to have played a key role in helping produce all sorts of new ideas and fields of learning, including what is now known as 'Nishida Philosophy,' formulated out of strands of eastern and western thought during Kitaro Nishida's strolls along the 'Philosopher's Walk' (a pedestrian path in Kyoto); and the field of Japanese primatology, which was inspired while climbing mountains to the north of the city. The citizens of Kyoto have a longstanding affection for Kyoto University students, sometimes treating them as if they were their own children. Any refinement and ethical values for which Kyoto University students are credited is due in large part to this very special natural and social environment. I hope that we can stay true to this tradition, and cultivate a noble spirit in our students so that they can adapt to and lead in a new age.

"D" stands for "Diverse and Dynamic." With the advent of global society, it is now a necessity to be able to live co-existing with a multiplicity of diverse cultures. The homogeneity of Japan that was at one time considered advantageous is now deemed sometimes to weaken creativity and to hinder innovation just when international competition makes these things so urgently necessary. Kyoto University has to be always open to diverse cultures and ways of thought, and has to be a place where people can study in an atmosphere of freedom. On the other hand, it is also important to be able to get some perspective on one's own existence, and to be able to place oneself appropriately within the longer frame of history, without being pushed hither and thither by the rushing currents of the time. At Kyoto University, we want to offer a calm and quiet place for learning that will ensure that our students will be able to do precisely this.

"O" stands for "Original and Optimistic." Any idea that completely redraws previous ways of thinking is in fact always born through having first absorbed the ideas and experiences of a great number of people. In order for this to happen, you should first gain a thorough understanding of the actions and words of people who move and inspire you, and subject those things to a deepening process, sharing them with your companions and discussing their worth. When you come to a stumbling block in your own thought process, when you get criticized by others and start to feel pessimistic or worthless, it's vital to have the spiritual strength to remain cheerful and get over such setbacks. We have to cultivate the ability in our students to remain optimistic in the face of failure and criticism, and to use such failure and criticism as key experiences that will open out different angles on things and in fact will eventually lead to success. At Kyoto University we want to create an environment that gives as many opportunities as possible for this kind of thing to happen.

Finally, "W" stands for "Women, leaders in the Workplace." We are now living in an age in which women will flourish and be active. Seven hundred and three of our new undergraduates today are women, which is equivalent to 23.4% of our total intake of students. When more women enter university, and when we get new research that is informed by their ideas and viewpoints, the world will change. The primate research in which I myself am involved was fifty years ago largely dominated by male researchers, and mostly taken up with looking at male hierarchical relationships and behavior related to fighting, as well as social structures. However, in recent years, with more women participating in primatology, many more people have started looking at themes such as reproductive strategies, selection of partners, and care for others in the social group. At Kyoto University we want to create an environment in which everyone can throw themselves wholeheartedly into their studies, and to provide a framework in which women will have no difficulty working.

In all these ways, Kyoto University is working to enhance its 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 Foundation. The families who are here today will have been given leaflets explaining the Foundation 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 would like to end by reading you all a poem by Shuntaro Tanikawa, one of my favorite poets. The poem is titled "Asa," or "Morning," and I first read it when I was a university student.


It is morning again, I am alive
The dreams of the night gone, I see
Bare branches of a persimmon tree, trembling in the wind
A dog without a collar stretching out in a pool of sunshine

A hundred years ago I didn't exist
A hundred years hence I will be no more
The earth seems so ordinary, so unremarkable
But surely it has to be a miraculous place

In the womb, long long ago
I was a tiny tiny egg
Soon I became a tiny tiny fish
And then I became a tiny tiny bird

And then, finally, I became a human being
Ten months, it took me, hundreds of billions of years
We've got to do it all over again
Up till now, all we've been doing is preparing to live -

This morning the piercing coldness of a drop of water
Tells me what a human being is
I want to share this water
With the fish, with the birds -
Even with beasts that might kill me

[Translation by Kyoto University]


These lines, I feel, contain the eternal cosmos, the world of living creatures, and all of human history. They are filled with great wonder and strangeness. I hope with all my heart that you will be able to play and to take pleasure in that world, here at Kyoto University.

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