Welcome to the University of Tokyo. On behalf of everyone in the UTokyo community, I would like to express my heartfelt congratulations to all of you on your entrance into the University.
You gather here today after passing the University’s entrance examination at a time when society is confronted with many challenges, including the COVID-19 pandemic. Allow me to express my sincere respect to each of you for your efforts. At the same time, I would also like to extend my congratulations to your families and to everyone else who has supported you.
The university where you are now embarking on your studies is a place that brings together the diverse potential of individuals and fosters that potential further in many ways. Today, we have technologies that enable people to connect with each other and to learn together. We live in a time when we have communication tools to connect with people around the world, the internet provides a place for dialogue, and we can take the initiative in our own learning.
During the first year of the pandemic, the University of Tokyo conducted almost all of our classes online. Those classes were attended by students around the globe. Serendipitously, the pandemic showed us that people can learn no matter where they are physically located. But while we see the growth of online classes, we have also realized anew the value of learning on our real campuses, for they serve as places for meeting new people, engaging in dialogue, and creating new things. While we need to take sufficient steps to prevent infections, the offline university is still a place where we can do many things. Together with you, I would like to devise new ways to make our campuses places for connecting and extending a diverse range of abilities and potentials.
The importance of respecting and fostering your diverse abilities and potentials here at the university is deeply intertwined with our vision of entrepreneurship education. UTokyo Compass, which sets out the direction for the University of Tokyo to pursue, states that we will proactively support UTokyo-affiliated start-ups and that we aim to increase the number of such ventures to 700 by the year 2030. You may wonder why we now focus our attention on encouraging new businesses. Our focus on entrepreneurship is deeply rooted in UTokyo’s commitments to reconsider the meaning of the university in society and to enable students to develop the abilities to resolutely confront challenges, imagine paths to new solutions, and achieve goals in cooperation with other people. As society increasingly requires a diverse pool of talented people, you now have a wider range of careers to choose from upon graduation. More of our students are now choosing to start new businesses. The University of Tokyo is committed to supporting the launch of new ventures that seek to help solve the challenges facing society. And although the number of female entrepreneurs is still small, we are working hard to create many more.
Globally, there are high expectations for innovative start-up businesses because of their speed and effectiveness. In the 1990s, for instance, the U.S. National Institutes of Health led a publicly-funded project to decode the entire base sequence of the human genome. Concurrently, a team of scientists led by Dr. Craig Venter moved to the private sector and started a venture company called Celera Genomics. That competition, combined with the policy of making research findings public, not only accelerated the decoding of the human genome; it also highlighted the agility and effectiveness of start-ups in the private sector.
Because the core of that decoding technology had been originally developed by Japanese scientists, the research has sometimes been called a defeat for Japan’s science and technology policy. It is worth re-examining why no Japanese research institution could accomplish what that American venture company did. That would show why it is so important now to support “deep tech” start-ups that implement leading-edge technologies developed by universities and research institutions, not only for them to profit as companies but also to solve major social problems.
Starting a business is often associated with setting up a company in order to make a profit, but that understanding is not enough. The very idea of what role a company or corporation should play needs to be reviewed fundamentally.
In the Meiji era (1868–1912), Fukuzawa Yukichi, the author and founder of Keio University, discussed the need to start companies. The point of his argument was not so much about making a profit or issuing stock but more about creating a system for dialogue and decision-making so that people could bring together the abilities of different individuals to get things done.
In my speech today, I would like to reflect on the time around the Meiji Restoration in the late 1800s, when Japan’s modernization was beginning, and talk about Shibusawa Eiichi (1840–1931), whose portrait will be featured on the 10,000-yen bank note to be issued in 2024, and his ideas about business.
Shibusawa Eiichi was an entrepreneur who laid the foundations for Japan’s modern society and economy. He helped set up companies in finance, transportation, commerce, and industry, and he also created educational, welfare, and international friendship organizations. He is said to have launched more than six hundred such social and public undertakings. For Shibusawa, business was about more than just establishing companies to earn profits; rather, it was a way to bring together the abilities of diverse individuals for the greater public good.
This idea was evident in his books, such as Rongo to Soroban [“The Analects and the Abacus”], that call for promoting businesses by bringing together capital and human resources to pursue the interests of society as a whole under the vision of what he called gappon shugi, or “consolidationism,” which differed from conventional capitalism. After the Meiji Restoration, many new occupations appeared that had not existed in the previous feudal society, and the question arose of how to build new social and economic systems. At that major turning point in history, Shibusawa was attempting to present a new way of thinking. The launching of venture businesses in Japan, rather than being a new wave that arose in the late 20th century, can in fact be traced back to the origin of capitalism in our country.
Needless to say, entrepreneurs must have the courage and daring to take risks and forge ahead—what the English economist John Maynard Keynes called “animal spirits.” The inner ambition that underpins economic activity can also serve as a driving force for plowing ahead in uncertain times. But that ambition can also prompt risky speculation and attempts to outwit other people. The Nobel-laureate economists George Akerlof and Robert Shiller cite, as a basis for the animal spirits of investors and entrepreneurs, not only the expectation of secure trading and the illusion of a stable currency but also the contribution of narrative, that is, thinking in terms of stories.
The theory of narrative, that is, of the way we understand stories in terms of cause and effect, was originally developed in the field of literary research. Now it has been widely adopted in other fields, including clinical psychology, education, and business. In the form of stories, narrative is the foundation of our perceptions, taking shape as our understanding, thought, expression, dialogues, and much else. In other words, narrative defines what the world is like in the perception of each individual and determines our values about how we are supposed to behave in society. Because narratives are both stories that we create and channels for our understanding, we are able to think for ourselves and create new narratives through our own thoughts. In clinical psychology, a story that controls the consciousness of a patient struggling with mental issues is viewed as a dominant narrative; through dialogue, the psychologist seeks an alternative narrative that can undo those preconceptions. In fact, narrative itself is just such a practice.
One reason Japan has far fewer start-up companies than countries bursting with IT ventures and the like is said to be the narrative that “Japanese society is not interested in setbacks and recoveries.” But tackling new challenges such as launching a business invariably involves setbacks and failures, and it is important to tell stories about such stumbles. As part of UTokyo’s entrepreneurship education initiatives, we manage a number of business incubation facilities; their activities include exchanges among students interested in entrepreneurship and the matching of students with relevant companies. If you have any interest in this, I encourage you to have the courage to take part in the positive discussions and dialogues at our university about launching businesses. You will discover a whole new world of experience that is different from what you learn in the classroom.
Finally, let me talk about an important but often overlooked connection between the entrepreneurship narrative, which focuses on venture businesses and start-ups, and the concept of care.
Starting a business is all about identifying potential needs and wants in society and creating products and services that cater to those needs. The essence of business lies in recognizing and learning about what other people want and taking appropriate action. This is, I believe, deeply connected with the concept of care.
The political scientist Joan Tronto has penned a book with the superb title Who Cares?: How to Reshape a Democratic Politics. In English, of course, the expression “Who cares?” is often used dismissively in conversation to mean “I don’t care.” Professor Tronto points out with a critical eye that this position of “I don’t know and I don’t care,” while common among an arrogant majority and the elite, is dangerous because people who take that position seem to think that they are independent of society. We need to recognize that the word “careless” in that sense could not mean just simple absent-mindedness but indifference and arrogance arising from a determination not to engage with others.
Inspired by the discussions of care by Professor Tronto and others, an interdisciplinary group of researchers, called The Care Collective, released in 2020 a book titled The Care Manifesto, which lays out specific ideas for systemic reform at all levels of society, from micro-level person-to-person relationships, to the mezzo levels of local, corporate, and community relationships, and all the way to the macro levels of the economy, politics, and nation. This manifesto begins by passionately describing how the modern world is in the midst of a “crisis of care,” giving examples such as the pandemic, climate change, large migrations of people, and wars and conflicts. It also argues that care is what is needed for humans to continue living and thriving on this planet together with all other living things.
I am sure you all remember the essential workers—the medical personnel, the caretakers and childcare workers—who have struggled so hard to save lives and keep our society going throughout the current pandemic. When we consider their working conditions, though, those essential workers are not compensated nearly enough. In our social system, with its emphasis on markets and profits, care has unfortunately been undervalued. But with only those conventional values our society is no longer sustainable. Our social system must be reorganized to emphasize the value of essential care.
In our modern society, beset with excessive competition and exclusionist movements, care is at risk not just in the narrow sense of nursing care but also in the broader sense of paying attention to, being considerate of, responding to, and supporting other people. UTokyo Compass emphasizes the importance of dialogue, but dialogue is not tenable without consideration and care for other people. That is why it is so essential to demonstrate care on the micro everyday level and to embody it through activities at the mezzo and macro levels.
The sudden, unjustifiable military invasion that occurred in late February is causing destruction and tragedy that no one ever wished for, and it is forcibly shattering people’s ordinary lives on a large scale. Our world order has been proven to be fragile. This situation reminds us yet again that war is not the direct result of everyday conflicts that accumulate over time; rather, the use of military force—the state of war itself—deepens and entrenches conflicts between two sides, thereby increasing people’s suffering and hatred and making it extremely difficult to resolve those conflicts. But even in times of fierce confrontation, we must remember the important role of dialogue and exchange. Now universities are called on to find ways, through our academic and scholarly work, to help rid the world of the suffering brought about by this crisis.
The University of Tokyo has launched a special program to host scholars, students, their families, and others affected by these difficult circumstances. We are also reaching out to help by establishing an Emergency Relief Fund for Scholars and Students at Risk. These efforts are part of the care we can offer as an academic institution to give at-risk individuals the opportunity to continue their learning and research. These initiatives are one step toward fulfilling our University’s mission to create a space for intellectual pursuit that is open to the world and free from discrimination.
Caring about other people is not just for the sake of others. Putting yourself in other people’s shoes and, through your imagination, empathizing with their thoughts and feelings will enlarge and enrich your own life, too. Caring about people in circumstances other than yours allows you to experience alternative possibilities. And if you turn that caring into a business venture, you can help to create an alternative new system for society as a whole.
Starting and running a business should not be limited to the pursuit of self-interest. Rather, it should be about practicing care for others through economic activities and helping to promote the public good and to build ties within society. I have great hope for the future contributions of all of you as students, professionals, and global citizens who understand and take responsibility for the vital connections between what you learn in university and what society needs.
Over the past few years, the global spread of COVID-19 has triggered rapid changes both for our university and for society as a whole. You may be somewhat worried about starting your university life at this time. But please keep in mind that the condition of our society now offers many options for you to better utilize your talents in the larger world. Remember as well that there are all kinds of people with high potential both inside and outside the University and that each has great and unique possibilities. The University of Tokyo is committed to fully respecting the individuality and potential of each and every one of you and to deepening compassion and dialogue with you further. Let’s walk together through this difficult period toward the brighter future that lies ahead.
Welcome to the University of Tokyo!
The University of Tokyo
April 12, 2022