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

Juichi Yamagiwa, 26th President

Today, Kyoto University welcomes 2,253 new students enrolling in master's programs, 320 in professional degree programs, and 943 in doctoral programs. 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 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 23 different types of academic degrees. The studies of our graduate students are supported by 18 graduate schools, 14 affiliated research institutes, and 17 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 focus on the production of a doctoral thesis, and essential tasks for that purpose include data-gathering, analysis, and comparative review of findings with existing research. What is important is for students to (1) devise a research topic, (2) establish a methodology for that topic, (3) gather data, (4) analyze the data and formulate findings, and (5) demonstrate the significance of their findings in light of existing research, and to establish the value of their discoveries and ideas in the academic community. This is a long and arduous process. However, there is no need to feel isolated. There are sure to be faculty members and fellow researchers interested in hearing about your new discoveries and ideas. Original research takes shape through discussion with others; it is this process that fuels the creativity and innovation of which Kyoto University is so proud.

The five stages of the thesis production process that I have just listed are all important, but probably the most difficult of them is the data-gathering stage. Regardless of whether their research deals with academic literature, case studies, fieldwork, or experiments, all students struggle with the question of how to obtain reliable data. My own motto, based on many years of fieldwork, is: "Let the data speak for itself." Whether you are studying monkeys or gorillas, birds or insects, or even plants or inorganic rocks, you won't be able to obtain good data unless your research subject speaks to you. What this means is that you need to avoid building self-serving hypotheses and expecting to find only what suits you. If you are recording observations of a monkey habitat in the wild, for example, you shouldn't be feeding the monkeys or following them around in the hope of getting a better view. It is essential that you observe the monkeys' behavior under natural conditions, not under human influence. Try to obtain data with a high degree of reliability by gauging your research subject carefully -- and even putting yourself in its shoes if necessary. In recent years, there have been many cases of data manipulation, plagiarism, and other improper conduct in the production of academic papers. Researchers have come under strict public scrutiny. It is my sincere hope that you will all observe the ethics of research, pursue highly original projects, and produce findings of great significance. 

You are about to embark on research of a highly specialized nature. However, this does not mean plunging headlong down a narrow path. There are 34 research units at Kyoto University engaged in a variety of interdisciplinary activities having to do with education and research. There are education programs and research projects underway that involve multiple graduate schools, research institutes, and research centers. I encourage you to participate in these programs and projects in order to open your eyes to the diversity of academic endeavor and to enhance your own creative powers. Our university is also home to five Leading Graduate School Programs in which students complete doctoral degrees and go on to leadership roles in applied settings: the Graduate School of Advanced Integrated Studies in Human Survivability (Shishu-Kan), the Inter-Graduate School Program for Sustainable Development and Survivable Societies, the Training Program of Leaders for Integrated Medical System for Fruitful Healthy-Longevity Society, the Collaborative Graduate Program in Design, and the Leading Graduate Program in Primatology and Wildlife Science. Specific graduate schools work in partnership with each of these programs. I encourage you to find out more about them.

In Japan, it has often been said that students with doctoral degrees find it difficult to secure employment in industry. In recent times, however, the government has been encouraging employers to pay more attention to doctoral degrees, so more and more employers are now recruiting people with doctorates. In response to this trend, Kyoto University has just opened its new International Science Innovation Building. Around 40 companies are participating in this initiative, which enables a variety of industry-government-academia partnerships involving research and development for commercial applications to be undertaken under one roof. The aim is to generate and disseminate new innovations through partnerships that transcend the conventional boundaries between universities, industries, nation-states, and communities. With a view to creating a peaceful, resilient society that rewards initiative, we have already launched joint research projects across four areas: (1) cordless technology, power transmission, energy conservation, and eco-friendly systems; (2) secure and comfortable life with sensor networks; (3) preventive/proactive medicine; and (4) translational medicine. We also operate an Industry-Academia Innovative Human Resource Development Consortium project involving many companies and offering medium- and 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 experience fields suited to their own abilities and research interests.

Additionally, as more and more Japanese companies venture overseas, there is growing demand for individuals capable of playing active roles in the international arena. As part of the Top Global University Project, Kyoto University has launched a Japan Gateway project and is preparing to offer double degree and joint degree programs with leading universities overseas. Through international offices in London, Heidelberg, and Bangkok, we are strengthening our ties with universities in Europe and Asia. We also plan to establish offices in North America and Africa 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 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 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.

Today, university research is expected to contribute to the development of industry, but this does not mean that Kyoto University only encourages research that is of immediate use in wider society. Our university has a tradition of valuing diverse learning activities and research inspired by new ideas. Dr Tadao Umesao, the inaugural director-general of the National Museum of Ethnology and a leading light in the field of ethnology and cultural anthropology, was a graduate of Kyoto University's Faculty of Science and Graduate School of Science. He was enlisted in the army during World War II while still a graduate student, and eventually received his Doctor of Science degree at the age of 41. His doctoral thesis was an attempt to represent the animal world in mathematical terms. He placed tadpoles, gathered from the pond in the Faculty of Science's Botanic Gardens, in a tank mounted with a camera, and took a series of single-frame images on 16-millimeter film. He then examined the film under a binocular microscope to analyze the interrelationships among the tadpoles. His hypothesis was that if the tadpoles moved freely of their own will, they would be distributed in accordance with the binomial theorem; any deviation from this model would be an expression of the tadpoles' social nature. He entered the observed deviations into a mathematical formula, and generated an index using the parameters of the Polya-Eggenberger distribution. In other words, he earned his doctorate by creating the field of bio-mathematical sociology.


At the same time, Umesao was working on an idea described in An Ecological View of History: Japanese Civilization in the World Context. This was based on Umesao's encounters with Islamic and Hindu civilizations during his travels across Afghanistan and India, and his discovery of a major civilizational zone sandwiched between the Orient and the Occident, that could be termed the "Mediant" or "Middle World." Japanese civilization, Umesao argued, differed vastly from this Mediant civilization, and instead had many characteristics in common with European civilization located at the opposite end of the Eurasian continent. This civilization was similar to Japan's in that it had experienced military feudalism and then revolution leading to the development of a modern society and the emergence of a bourgeois class. Umesao attributed these similarities to the ecological makeup of the Eurasian continent as a whole. It can be said that this unusual and ambitious theory was born out of a masterful blending of Umesao's scientific approaches, particularly in the fields of ecology and mathematics, with his own fieldwork observations.

The same kind of blending of approaches in disparate academic fields can be found in the United States. Thirty years after Umesao's An Ecological View of History: Japanese Civilization in the World Context, Jared Diamond, a professor from the University of California, Los Angeles, published a book titled Guns, Germs, and Steel, which became a major bestseller worldwide. It is surprising to learn that the contents of this book bear a marked resemblance to Dr Umesao's work. Like Umesao, Diamond postulates that civilizations pass through several stages of development, and that the mechanisms of civilizational development and propagation differ between civilizations in continents running east-west such as Eurasia, and those that run north-south across the equator, such as Africa and North and South America. In Eurasia, civilization and technology passed rapidly across similar climatic zones. Furthermore, the vast majority of mid- and large-sized mammals suitable for keeping as livestock were found in Eurasia, enabling early advancements in agricultural technology and the acquisition of immunity to infectious diseases transmitted by livestock. These features proved to be major strengths when expanding into other continents. Professor Diamond himself earned a doctorate in physiology before studying a range of disciplines across the arts and sciences -- including molecular biology, evolutionary biology, genetics, biogeography, archaeology, anthropology, and linguistics -- and becoming a professor of geography. Like Umesao before him, Diamond achieved great success as a researcher by applying scientific approaches to make sense of social phenomena.

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 to open up new possibilities for you and lead to great advancements equal to any success in your own field. Immerse yourself in your research with no fear of failure as your interest dictates. I am confident that Kyoto University can provide you with an environment equal to your ambitions.

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