Live. But not alone

The principles underlying the University of Tokyo’s Relief and Reconstruction Assistance

More than two months have passed since the Great East Japan Earthquake. Many continue to live as evacuees as a result of the earthquake and tsunami and the accident at Fukushima nuclear power station. Many more throughout Japan continue to live in a state of anxiety as a result of the nuclear accident and continuing aftershocks. Relief activities for the victims and affected areas continue, even though central and local government has yet to finalize a reconstruction program.

The University of Tokyo Office for Relief and Reconstruction Assistance is continuing its work in concert with its Toono Branch Office. As one would expect from university members, our staff and students have taken the initiative, drawing on their expertise while engaging in efforts towards relief and reconstruction.

We are assembling expertise and innovative solutions concerning how we employ technology and institutions in the course of our efforts, and as we explore the forms of industry and society. To give future meaning to this work, we must fully master this expertise. I believe that fundamental to this project is the philosophy that is captured in the title of this essay, "Live. But not alone," and which might also be termed a philosophy of coexistence.

The recent great disaster has reminded us of the meaning and value, of the importance of life. We have been forced to acknowledge how such a simple task as surviving can yet be so formidable, and to acknowledge the great value of life. Our relief and reconstruction activities must start from this origin, which in turn raises many significant questions for academia.

This great disaster has made us acknowledge the importance of others, even as we live out our individual lives. Those affected by the disaster are supporting each other, while at the same time people around Japan and overseas are assisting the victims and affected areas. We are made acutely conscious of the value of mutual support and of ties between individuals. People would not have been able to maintain hope in the midst of such devastation if they had felt isolated from the rest of humanity.

Our interaction with nature in particular requires an awareness of connection to others. Coexisting with nature is said to be part of the traditional Japanese way of life, and in recent years we have seen a global movement towards contemplating a sustainable relationship between humanity and nature. We should not dismiss the devastation of the recent disaster as an example of the overwhelming power of nature, but rather, we should reflect deeply on how humanity, society, and technology can coexist with nature. Such reflection will pave the way for the reconstruction of affected areas and the regeneration of Japan.

I feel that recently we had been taking coexistence for granted, like the air we breathe. However, on this weak foundation, coexistence lost its substance as social structure and in people's awareness, as symbolized by widening economic and social disparities and regional and generational inequalities. I believe that this phenomenon has given rise to today's sense of stagnation. Or perhaps we have been too indifferent in our interaction with nature. No small number of the issues that need to be resolved in the reconstruction of the devastated areas are some should have tackled long before the recent disaster.

To live is not simply to survive, but instead involves performing to our full potential and the pursuit of happiness. At times this also gives rise to vigorous competition, but such competition is in the nature of humanity and society and is a source of vitality. This nature is not in conflict with a philosophy of coexistence. Rather, when the two resonate, our civilization will step up to a new stage and enter a new era. This progress is essential if we are to reconstruct the affected areas and regenerate Japan.

The pursuit of coexistence raises a range of behavioral and organizational issues that apply from households to regions, from organizations to states, and even to international relations. Academic research at the university must engage with many of these: both the significance of and methods underlying education and research pursued at the university require it. Coexistence should not be something transient in the immediate aftermath of the Great East Japan Earthquake. Rather, it is my hope that it will be the foundation of our activities into the future and our motivation as we construct the society of tomorrow.

In this context, reconstruction from the disaster overlaps with our task of revitalizing Japan as a whole. What is required is not just cheerful encouragement, but a sustainable, long-term change in people's awareness and a steady effort to reform Japan's social structure. The process to coexistence requires more effort than living as one pleases. Reconstruction activities should bear in mind the feelings of those affected by this disaster, but above all should prioritize their requirements so that they are able to live through the present. This is the ideal form that reconstruction should take, and through this, we must take on the challenge of constructing a new society.

Thinking about how to realize coexistence, living with awareness of others, is a problem that each of us must confront as individuals. As we each reflect, discuss, and deepen our understanding, we also develop the common feeling, consciousness, and determination required for coexistence, and within our daily actions, whether private or public, we shall find its ethics and methods. From here too will come the lifestyles, the social frameworks, and the technologies that will shape the coming era.

An important role of the university after the Great East Japan Earthquake, as an institution with a global vision and engaged in the pursuit of truth, is to engage as broadly and profoundly as possible with the process of building a future together with others. While continuing relief and reconstruction assistance for the people and areas affected, we must once again question our own positions, search for wisdom and ingenuity from our accumulated knowledge, and have the courage to undertake innovation to bring about a society founded on a philosophy of coexistence. I believe it is the mission of the University of Tokyo to continue nurturing individuals who will assume a vital role in that process.

Junichi Hamada


The University of Tokyo