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2011 Speech at the Kyoto University Entrance Ceremony for Undergraduate Students (April 7, 2011)

Hiroshi MATSUMOTO, the 25th President

As I look out over the splendid view of cherry blossoms reflected on the water here at Miyako Messe, it gives me great pleasure to welcome and congratulate 3,031 new Kyoto University students. On behalf of Professor Emeritus Kazuo Oike, former president and guest of honor today, as well as the vice presidents, deans, directors and faculty, I would like to say that we are thrilled to have you with us, and offer our admiration for the diligent work that brought you here. Also, let me offer my congratulations to the families and others who supported your efforts.

This year’s entrance ceremony is held amid a national crisis caused by the Great East Japan Earthquake and the ensuing tsunami and nuclear plant meltdown accident. There was immeasurable loss of life and I would like to express my sincere sympathies to the victims; to those of you who have family, relatives, friends and acquaintances in the affected areas; and to those of you who have come to us from those regions.

The nationwide effort to help with rescue, recovery and restoration in the devastated communities serves as a strange backdrop to your university entrance, and this will surely be a defining event in your life which you will not forget.

Another effect of the disaster has been that Japan has shown the world the power of wa. The cooperation demonstrated by people in the devastated areas in the spirit of mutual help, their orderly behavior, and ongoing determination to get their lives back in order has demonstrated to the rest of the world why the wa mentality of harmony and putting the collective good over individual advantage has long been respected in Japan. The scenes of self-reliance and help for others that we have witnessed have made us proud to be Japanese and, although we in Kyoto may be far removed from the devastation in the northeast, we feel their pain, we stand in solidarity with them, and we will do what we can to assist with their recovery.

Science and technology did not escape unscathed. Many facilities that served as hubs for some of Japan’s most advanced sciences and technologies were razed completely by the disaster. Despite the imagery this may conjure, we must not take the nihilistic view that science has reached some sort of limit. Indeed, the disaster is not without scientific interest. Society operates knowing the risk of devastating occurrences, those risks are calculated by scientists with knowledge of such phenomena and their effects, and assumptions are made by governments and businesses based on the aforementioned knowledge about the economic tolerance of the risks and hazards involved. Given that authorities say the scale of the latest disaster exceeded their predictions, it is up to you, tomorrow’s thinkers, to review that existing knowledge, decide whether the those systems were sufficient and determine how society will live with risks and hazards in the future.

In light of the recent earthquake, this seems like an appropriate time to consider things from a broader perspective. The earth may appear to be generally stable, but this is an illusion; it is continually forming and reforming—unstable by its very nature. Our civilizations are built on precarious ground. What is more, resources are finite and yet we have used them as though they were everlasting. Future generations will surely recognize that we are burning through resources blinkered in our pursuit of ever easier lifestyles and greater convenience through economic growth.

The earth is showing signs that it is becoming unable to support human civilization. Surely, then, it is time we reconsidered our ways. The onus is on you to develop the depth of imagination needed to learn from history, apply current knowledge and establish a long-term vision for the future.

It seems to me that Japan today does not have many people with the ability to create a vision for the future—a vital skill for those who would lead the world. For instance, your generation is destined to live to a ripe old age, at least another fifty years, but few are the people with a vision stretching that far.

I hope you will strive to acquire the knowledge and wisdom necessary to a long-term vision of building a better future for the world. This requires the ability to consider large amounts of data amassed through long years of academic study. Only then is it possible to consider how to establish and maintain a society that is ideal for all the people of the world. Creating such a concept requires a well-considered philosophy and firmly-held world view.

Modern society is highly diversified and specialized, and creating specialists is one of the roles performed by universities. Research is the act of delving ever deeper into specialized fields in order to add to existing knowledge, and while each breakthrough may represent only a small contribution to current knowledge on its own, the combined force of all those contributions leads to the creation of a magnificent body of academic value. Indeed, this is how our current wealth of knowledge was formed, and now it is your turn to join in this historical quest and make a contribution, perhaps humble but not insignificant, through the research you do for your graduation projects.

Bear in mind, though, that when an expert’s activity becomes overly specialized, there is a danger that he will miss the forest for the trees. To avoid such pitfalls, I urge you to broaden your horizons. By all means, acquire the basic and applied knowledge and techniques of your chosen field, but be sure also to seek more general and peripheral knowledge in areas that may at first appear to be unrelated to your area of expertise. The more rounded your education, the better able you will be to get to the heart of matters and make decisions from multiple perspectives.

Moreover, do not be bound by past norms; strive to develop the outlines of your own philosophies and principles as quickly as you can and flesh them out. No doubt, when you graduate four years hence, you will be a completely different person from that whose university entrance we celebrate today.

Here at Kyoto University, we are pleased to offer a truly broad range of learning opportunities for those who seek out the truth. The acquisition of wisdom, however, comes through a varied process that sometimes involves robust discussion between people of conflicting ideas. Remember that lively debate is healthy; defend your position and respect those of others, and you will surely earn the respect of your colleagues—and yourself.

Self-respect has long been an important value at Kyoto University, and was an integral concept of the address made to the very first entrance ceremony by Hiroji Kinoshita, the university’s inaugural president, in 1897. Today, those wise words hang on the wall of the visitor’s room in the president’s office.

In addition to extolling the virtues of self-respect, Mr. Kinoshita exhorted his students to be independent. “You are no longer the wards of your guardians,” he intoned, “and I will treat you accordingly.”

Nowadays, while we ask students’ families and other relevant people to provide a certain level of assistance for the duration of studentship, we hope that they will follow our lead in treating the students as independent individuals.

Currently, Kyoto University has 22,000 students, 3,000 faculty and 2,500 staff. The people you meet and the connections you forge here will surely be of great benefit to you in the future. Whether it is academic activity or extracurricular, university life is a parade of ideal forums for meeting people; treasure those encounters because they are a source of lifelong friendship and opportunities for exchanging views with others. As such, I encourage all of you to make a proactive effort to forge many new friendships.

For our part, we, the Kyoto University faculty and staff, strive to maintain the university as an institution of wisdom, vitality and progression where innovation and creation are based on the solid bedrock provided by the university’s venerable traditions. To that end, we work hard to ensure the university offers a fully developed platform for education and research. We also humbly ask the families and others in attendance today to meet our efforts with their ongoing support and assistance for our beloved institution.

I would like to end my speech by evoking the spirit and words of Tadataka Ino, the cartographer who made a map of Japan’s coastal area in the Edo Period which was stunningly accurate for the age. Ino retired at the age of 50 and decided to make a fresh start, which he did by becoming the apprentice of astronomer Yoshitoki Takahashi, a man 19 years his junior.

Under Takahashi, Ino studied Western astronomy and calendar science, as well as mathematics. He established highly accurate surveying techniques and, starting in 1800 when he was 55 years old, spent 17 years surveying the whole of Japan and amassing data for maps of the country. Ino is recorded as saying, “Focusing my spirit in one place naturally drew me into its wondrous vistas and caused me to make effort after painstaking effort.”

He meant that concentrating on one thing in particular inspired greater interest in his studies and work and led to the best possible results. Similarly, I hope that you will find your “one thing” on which to concentrate and dedicate yourself to its pursuit—not excessively and to the neglect of your health and the pursuit of the full range of your potential, though. Indeed, I pray that you will spare no effort in your time at Kyoto University and that you will do the university, your families and yourselves proud.

Thank you, and welcome to Kyoto University.