2016-2017 Undergraduate Entrance Ceremony Remarks (7 April 2016)

Juichi Yamagiwa, 26th President

Today, Kyoto University welcomes 2,997 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.

The city of Kyoto is situated in a topographical basin, surrounded on three sides by mountains. Kyoto University is in a picturesque location on the eastern edge of the basin, boasting views of Mt Yoshida and Mt Daimonji close by. At this time of year, many varieties of trees put on new growth, and the mountains are painted with fresh shades of green. These bright colors make people's spirits soar, and inspire them to apply the mental and physical energy they have amassed thus far in order to tackle fresh challenges in new places of learning or work. I am sure that all of you gathered at today's entrance ceremony are looking forward to stepping out on to a new stage, energized by the bright light and fresh breezes of this spring season. Kyoto University welcomes this spirit with open arms, and hopes that you will use your time at our university to develop the capabilities that will enable you to go forth on the world stage.    

Kyoto University advocates academic freedom as part of its mission. The opening lines of our mission statement read: "Kyoto University states its mission to sustain and develop its historical commitment to academic freedom and to pursue harmonious coexistence within the human and ecological community on this planet." But what is freedom, and what is academic freedom? Kyoto University was founded as Kyoto Imperial University in 1897, and one individual who was instrumental in this founding was Kinmochi Saionji, Japan's education minister at the time. Saionji expressed his desire to create "an academic institution for the pursuit of true learning through free and original thought in Kyoto, away from the center of government in Tokyo." Saionji had spent nine years studying in France when he was younger, and the first President of our university, Hiroji Kinoshita, also studied at the University of Paris for four years. Kinoshita enshrined "self-reliance and self-respect" as part of Kyoto University's mission. It is thought that the ideas of these two founding fathers of our university were informed by the liberal philosophy they had encountered in France.     

As you know, France has a tricolor national flag, with blue representing liberty, white equality, and red fraternity. These colors were adopted for the flag from the cockade worn by members of the Paris militia at the time of the French Revolution at the end of the 18th century, but the "liberty" represented by the color blue is based on the philosophy of Jean-Jacques Rousseau. It is the idea of respecting individual rights and freedoms and affirming free social activity. Incidentally, the school color of Kyoto University is dark blue, and the University of Tokyo's color is light blue. These colors are said to have been chosen at the time of the first boat race between teams from the two universities in 1920, and modeled on the colors of the Universities of Oxford (dark blue) and Cambridge (light blue). They are therefore not directly connected to the ideal of liberty, but it is beyond doubt that both Saionji and Kinoshita attached much weight to French liberalism as they worked to establish Kyoto University. The philosophy of individual liberty was at the heart of their work.     

Achieving liberty is not, however, a simple matter. Rousseau himself did not presuppose the existence of society as a natural human state. Rather, he was interested in how humans could progress from being committed solely to their own desires to forming a society based on a contract with others. This ideal inspired the French Revolution, which involved numerous compatriots being dispatched by the guillotine and the country eventually being ravaged by civil war. Individual liberty cannot be defined on one's own; it is something that is bestowed by others, and this is precisely why human societies generate so many inconsistencies and conflicts. Who exactly are these "others"? What does individual liberty encompass? These questions had caused the world much anguish, and led to wars in many places.

Paul Éluard, who worked assiduously for the Resistance in France under German occupation during World War Two, produced a 21-stanza poem entitled Liberté. The poem's opening stanza reads as follows: 

Sur mes cahiers d'écolier
Sur mon pupitre et les arbres
Sur le sable sur la neige
J'écris ton nom

On my notebooks from school
On my desk and the trees
On the sand on the snow
I write your name

The final stanza is:

Et par le pouvoir d'un mot
Je recommence ma vie
Je suis né pour te connaître
Pour te nommer

By the power of the word
I regain my life
I was born to know you
And to name you

To French people, the word Liberté apparently has a distinct air of consummate beauty. Éluard's poem seems to be telling us that liberty is an aspiration that humans should never abandon, and that this aspiration is engendered and secured by the word itself. I certainly believe that this is true, but it is also true that society is not formed by language alone. Other animals also have societies in which multiple individuals coexist and maintain order. This fact was discovered and asserted by the discipline of primatology, which was born at Kyoto University in the years immediately after World War Two. The discipline's founder, Kinji Imanishi, identified continuities between human society and animal societies through the course of evolution, and asserted the importance of tracing the evolutionary processes whereby human society was created out of the fundamental principles on which animal societies were based. Imanishi's protégé Junichiro Itani threw doubts on Rousseau's Discourse on the Origin and Basis of Inequality Among Men and established the hypothesis that even at the stage of monkeys, there already existed a form of society based on a priori inequality, and that human society sought to achieve equality by setting certain conditions on such inequality. I believe that we can read into this hypothesis the idea that liberty is not something that can be won, but rather something that is created through a mutual understanding that develops as we strive to coexist with others. Equality and fraternity are not essential conditions for liberty. Nonetheless, all these three principles are necessary in human society. Words are the tools through which the principles are advocated, but also weapons that can be used to hurt people, curtail freedoms, and legitimize inequalities. It is no exaggeration to say that the oppression and abuse that we see in society today is due to the violent power of words.

The principles mentioned above are also embraced in the Constitution of Japan. The word jiyū, which means "freedom" or "liberty", appears eleven times in the eleven chapters and 103 articles of this constitution. The preamble states that "[w]e recognize that all peoples of the world have the right to live in peace, free from fear and want", and Article 14 expressly provides that "[a]ll of the people are equal under the law and there shall be no discrimination in political, economic or social relations because of race, creed, sex, social status or family origin." In regard to academic endeavor, Article 23 states that "[a]cademic freedom is guaranteed." But what exactly does "academic freedom" mean? I believe it means the freedom of thought, speech, and expression. Kyoto University has a tradition of working to promote independent and interactive learning, transmit high-quality knowledge, and foster a spirit of creativity within broad and varied educational structures. Independent learning does not simply mean attending classes or thinking for yourself. What is expected is that you refine your own ideas through interaction with many other people and, on this basis, furnish the world with new ideas full of originality. This requires a true place of learning that can hone your powers of thought, judgment, and expression in the name of liberty. Kyoto University offers such a place. With a strong tradition of academic freedom, we have consistently striven to offer excellent higher education to our students, and to give our researchers every opportunity to conduct cutting-edge research, with the aim of formulating solutions to highly complex problems and pursuing harmonious coexistence within the human and ecological community on this planet. To date we have produced a great number of international prize laureates: these include nine Nobel laureates and two Fields Medal winners. This is evidence of the leading role that Kyoto University plays in research worldwide. We intend to continue to carry out our mission of welcoming people both from Japan and from overseas countries who aspire to the very best in their field of learning and nurturing their ability to take an active part in global society, as well as furthering research of all kinds and sharing the results of this research with wider society so that they may become part of assets shared worldwide.

I have been promoting the WINDOW Concept as a guiding principle for Kyoto University. I see the university as a window open to the community and to the world, and based on this concept I established a common overarching mission for the university: to develop the capabilities of talented students and young researchers and send them out into their respective fields of endeavor. University education is not directed simply to the accumulation of knowledge and cultivation of understanding. The real question is how the knowledge and skills acquired can be applied in order to generate new ideas and discoveries. It is when university faculty, staff, and students come together to enhance this creative spirit that innovation is born. Innovation does not occur where every student is working towards the same objective, even if each one improves their own abilities. The way to generate new ideas is to provide opportunities for different types of abilities to come into contact and healthy competition with one another. I want Kyoto University not merely to provide a competitive environment, but to be a place where people are exposed to different abilities and ideas beyond their own fields, enjoy dialogue and build cooperative relationships. Our university should use these encounters and dialogue to foster resilient and intelligent students, open windows to a world in which they can flourish, and guide them gently out into that world. This is a dream and a goal which all Kyoto University faculty and staff members can share.

To represent this idea of the university as a "window", I formulated the acronym WINDOW. "W" stands for "Wild and Wise", and expresses our aim of cultivating students that are both tough and savvy. "I" stands for "International and Innovative". By providing a richly international environment, keeping abreast of international developments, and engaging in ongoing dialogue with the international community, we aim to provide fertile ground for the production of epoch-making innovations. "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 outstanding natural beauty as well as great historical significance. Through the ages, researchers at Kyoto University have enjoyed the benefits of this rich environment and the inspiration that it brings. Such an environment has surely 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.

"D" stands for "Diverse and Dynamic". With the onset of globalization, it is now essential to be able to co-exist with a multiplicity of diverse cultures. Kyoto University should be a place of uninhibited learning that is always open to a diversity of cultures and ways of thinking. At the same time, it is important not to be swayed by short-term trends; we must look carefully at our own circumstances and properly understand our place in the long span of history. "O" stands for "Original and Optimistic". In practice, ideas that rewrite conventional wisdom are generally formed by bringing together the views and experiences of a large number of people. To generate such inspirational ideas, it is necessary first to engage in a process of becoming familiar with the words and actions of people that have impressed you personally, sharing and discussing them with your peers, and thereby deepening your own insights. You need to develop a capacity to respond positively to failure and criticism, using them as opportunities to incorporate perspectives different from your own to further your success. Finally, "W" stands for "Women, leaders in the Workplace". We are now living in an age in which women will flourish and be active. 681 of our new undergraduates today are women, which is equivalent to around 20 percent of our total intake of students. When more women enter university, and when we start to produce new research that is informed by their ideas and viewpoints, the world will change. 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.

All of you entering Kyoto University today will be able to vote in elections from this coming June if you have Japanese nationality. In Japan, the right to vote was previously granted to all citizens aged 20 and above, but the Public Offices Election Act has now been amended to reduce the minimum age to 18. You are now able to participate through your own vote in the debates and political judgments concerning the environment in which you live. I believe that this is a major shift. In the Guest Room in Kyoto University's Clock Tower Centennial Hall, there is a picture by the great artist Kunitaro Suda entitled Students Off to War. After graduating from the Kyoto University Faculty of Letters, Suda went to study in Europe in the hope of becoming an artist, and produced this painting of Kyoto University students who had been drafted to fight for Japan in the war. This was 20 November 1943, and Suda used dark hues to depict the students marching off while Mt Hiei in the far distance remains bathed in sunlight.

Some 4,500 Kyoto University students were mobilized in the war, and close to 90 percent of these were from social science and humanities fields. 264 students were confirmed to have died at the battlefront. At the time, the right to vote was only accorded to men aged 25 and over, so most university students were not eligible to participate in politics. It was after the war, in 1946, that the right to vote was extended to all men and women aged 20 and over, and the current Constitution of Japan was promulgated thereafter. The university students who participated in the wartime mobilization were sent off to fight not of their own will, but through decisions made by the older generation. We must always keep this in mind. When you vote in elections from June this year, you should keep in mind that you are being charged with a major responsibility for the direction of politics in Japan. I hope that you exercise your own will to cast a vote that helps build a solid future for us all. 

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 past few years, 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 and responding to changes in globalized society. 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 natural and cultural 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.

With the help of all its faculty members, Kyoto University has been building a practical system offering a high-quality liberal arts and general education. Taking into account the sheer diversity of academic fields and the necessity for structured learning, class-designated courses and course trees have been designed, together with small-group seminars with an emphasis on dialogue with instructors and practical classwork. We have significantly increased the number of non-Japanese faculty members, and we now offer undergraduate courses in which lectures and workshop classes are conducted entirely in English. We also operate five Leading Graduate School Programs in which students complete doctoral degrees and go on to apply their skills internationally. This month, we also launched an Institute for Advanced Study, a hub for cutting-edge academic endeavor that will extend our university's scholarly networks across the entire globe.

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 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 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 hope with all my heart that here at Kyoto University, you will cultivate bonds through dialogue with many fellow students, and be able to play and to take pleasure in the world of the unknown.

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