令和2年度 東京大学秋季入学式 総長式辞

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Address by the President of the University of Tokyo
at the 2020 Autumn Semester Matriculation Ceremony

Welcome to the University of Tokyo. On behalf of the university’s academic and administrative staff, I would like to extend our sincere congratulations to all of you. I would also like to congratulate your families, who have supported you until now, and will continue to support you during your studies.

This autumn, 818 students are joining our graduate schools. 419 are entering master’s programs, 334 are enrolling in doctoral programs, and 65 are joining professional degree programs. At our undergraduate faculties, 38 students are enrolling in Programs in English at Komaba, or PEAK, an English-language degree program. Also, 2 students are entering the Global Science Course of the Faculty of Science, an English-language transfer program for those who started their study at foreign universities.

Just like you, we were also looking forward to holding the ceremony together in person in attendance. But to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus, we have decided to welcome you in a different manner. Yet, we are thinking of you all watching this livestream wherever you are and we celebrate your enrollment in the University of Tokyo.

I am sure you are excited about your future research and learning experiences at the university. Nevertheless, the global outbreak of the new coronavirus has greatly restricted even the most basic of our activities such as moving around, gatherings, and face-to-face conversation. That has forced us to reconsider our fundamental values, bringing about a big change in how we live our lives. The university is no exception. Due to the restrictions on entry to Japan, many international students are still unable to join us in time for the start of the fall semester. As president, I would like to do my best to support you all so that you can start your studies safely.

We must be prepared to live with the coronavirus for some time to come. We have introduced an online health-management reporting system and an e-learning program about infectious diseases. With thorough infection prevention measures in place, we are pushing to offer more effective education and research incorporating on-campus activities as well. We are committed to securing a new, safe environment for your studies: a UTokyo model for surviving in this age of living with the coronavirus.

At the same time, we are living through a digital revolution, a rapid and sweeping change brought about by advances in information communications technology and the internet. The coronavirus outbreak is speeding up the pace of this change. An exponentially increasing volume of data is accumulating in cyberspace. This is changing how we conduct academic research, prompting a shift toward data-driven research that begins with comprehensive information gathering. The ultimate expression of this transformation, researchers’ use of AI technology to analyze enormous amounts of data instantly, is drawing much attention.

These new research methods in cyberspace are making great progress even in the middle of the coronavirus outbreak. But at the same time, we must also remember that this pandemic has been an opportunity for many people to appreciate the significance and value of learning face-to-face in a shared setting.

In the face of this unprecedented challenge, you are now entering this new place, the University of Tokyo. I would like to share my thoughts about how you should set your goals as you begin your studies here.

First, by way of example, I would like to talk about one researcher in the United States, Dr. Stuart Firestein. He is currently a professor at the Department of Biological Sciences at Columbia University and specializes in olfactory receptor neurons in physiology. In 2004, the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to Richard Axel and Linda B. Buck “for their discoveries of odorant receptors and the organization of the olfactory system.” But in fact, Dr. Firestein’s research provided new scientific proof for their discoveries and was a significant boost leading to their award.

Interestingly, Dr. Firestein worked as a stage director until 30. At that age, he made up his mind and entered college, obtained his Bachelor’s degree at age 35, and acquired his Ph.D. in his 40s. After spending time as a post-doctoral researcher, he became a university professor. He is a scientist with an extraordinary background. His career track itself shows that the path to academic study is not just a straight line and it is never too late to start.

Then, why did Dr. Firestein decide to become a scientist after having worked as a stage director? Since he was 18, he had always been interested in communication with animals and had dreamed of making a stage play about this topic. One day after finishing a performance in San Francisco, he suddenly decided to attend a lecture about animal communication being held at a nearby state university. He was amazed and drew strong inspiration from the lecture -- so much so that he wanted to become a scientist himself and was convinced that he could become one.

At first, Dr. Firestein chose to study vision, considered the most important of human beings’ five senses, for his specialty in graduate school. But after having interactions with experts on eyesight, he shifted the focus of his study to olfactory perception, the sense of smell, out of his interest in the act of communication itself and earned his degree in that field. He later said that he was able to make that change because his graduate supervisor was generous and a true scientist.

The sense of smell has not been digitized. Even today, this sense cannot be recreated with virtual reality (VR) technology. We don’t have as many words to describe smell as those to express colors. By that I mean, the sense of smell is still a vague and hard-to-define perception. If you look up the word “nioi,”which means smell, in a Japanese dictionary, you will find that the word has more meaning than just fragrance or odor that can be captured by the nose. The word also contains meanings such as perceived brightness and glossiness of colors seen with the eyes, as well as ambiance, atmosphere or elegance. We tend to rate the sense of smell as less important than the other senses, but it actually has a very important function in identifying and assessing objects.

Perhaps by being able to sniff out the sense and atmosphere of the topic of the lecture he happened to observe, Dr. Firestein attracted such a life-changing encounter. But more importantly, he was proactive enough to knock on and open the door of opportunity. If we let go of the ability to sniff out chances and human connections in this increasingly digitized world, we will lose our sense of what it is to be human. Therefore, I hope that you will continue to sharpen your senses that cannot be measured by digital technology or experienced in cyberspace.

What’s more, Dr. Firestein has laid out an idea that is key to academic study. His book, titled “Ignorance,” generated a lot of buzz and was translated into Japanese by Professor Osamu Sakura of the university’s Interfaculty Initiative in Information Studies. Ignorance is literally translated as “muchi,” or not knowing. But the translator carefully dug deep into the meaning of the word and instead translated the title as “michi,” meaning the unknown or yet to be known. According to Dr. Firestein, the fact that you don’t understand is what helps you find a research question. Being ignorant itself is nothing to be ashamed of. What matters is that you become aware of your ignorance and develop curiosity to learn and understand. That is what makes academic pursuit interesting.

It may sound contradictory, but you need knowledge in order to face up to your own ignorance. In other words, you need to know what you already understand. Organizing a body of your knowledge helps, in turn, highlight what you don’t know. A fundamental natural history-style approach to reality and fact allows us to develop theoretical insight. This insight transcends experience and makes it possible for us to interpret any new phenomena that we observe. This means a good research question only arises from the experience of solid studying. In other words, the deeper you go into your research, the greater your ignorance becomes. But that is the very appeal and beauty of doing academic research.

In other words, ignorance can provide an impetus for becoming knowledge professionals. I am sure that most of you have so far studied hard to gain knowledge, with an eye toward earning the merit of getting high test scores. While it is important to acquire knowledge, doing so just for the sake of acquisition you will not enrich your experience of ignorance. Exciting research can only be found beyond that stage. As you enter the University of Tokyo, I would encourage you to change gear in your approach to learning. I would challenge you to find an essential question about the unknown on your own and try to solve it in your future studies here at the university.

Ignorance can prompt aspiring individuals to simply pursue greater knowledge about their academic interest. This is one common approach. On the other hand, there is another type of research, which is driven by one’s desire to resolve existing issues in society. Finding solutions to such issues requires not just dealing with the tasks that are given to you but also discovering a problem and addressing it on your own. In this respect, this type of approach is also related to the ignorance that I have mentioned.

Here, I would like to talk about another researcher who engaged in this type of problem-solving research. He was the late Professor Umetaro Suzuki at the College of Agriculture of the Imperial University, the forerunner of the University of Tokyo’s Faculty of Agriculture. He is well known for his discovery of vitamins ahead of other researchers around the world. According to his biography, German chemist Dr. Hermann Emil Fischer suggested to him that he should work on a problem unique to Japan or Asia when Professor Suzuki was studying in Germany back in the early 1900s.

For many of his achievements, Professor Suzuki was driven by the need to find solutions to real-world problems. This is very significant when we think about the role of the university as a public good. For instance, Professor Suzuki developed Japan’s first powdered baby formula called Patrogen. This powdered milk was long-lasting and provided all the nutrition that infants needed. As such, it went on to change the environment surrounding baby care. Professor Suzuki also developed a brand of synthetic sake called “Rikyu” in order to make sake without using rice at a time when it was in short supply and prices were high.

By the way, there is an “Umetaro Don rice bowl” on the Yayoi Campus cafeteria menu at the Faculty of Agriculture. This item commemorates Professor Suzuki’s research on nutrients and it is made up of vitamin-rich black rice, pork and pickled plum. It is not on offer at the moment due to coronavirus prevention measures, but I hope you will have a chance to taste it when it is back on the menu.

So far, I have talked about examples of bottom-up research and problem solving research. These two types of research have one thing in common; they both require the ability to examine essential questions deeply. To sharpen this ability, you need to not only deal with given tasks but also find your passion and take the initiative to act on it. Professor Suzuki started research on nutrients based on a comparison of the different physiques of the Japanese and Germans. These simple issues can be found everywhere in our daily lives. And as indicated by Professor Firestein’s life story, you may come across a research topic of your own through encounters and engaging in communication with other people. In particular, you will meet and interact with people with different backgrounds and values at this university. Such activities will help you tap into your potential, strengthen your flexibility to deal with diverse environments, and broaden and deepen your research.

In recent years, there has been much interest in many fields in research projects using big data and AI. Indeed, AI is an excellent tool to automatically generate evaluation criteria based on enormous volumes of existing data and to present strategies and predictions like never before. And yet, AI just processes an accumulation of data from the past and is not capable of creating a desirable future. What we need is the ability to break free from the shackles of the past, get over existing barriers, and create a future based on individual experiences. Just as I have been saying today, we need the ability to come up with essential questions and identify social issues. AI is still not up to this task. To train this ability, I urge you to change gear in your approach to studying, face up to your own ignorance, sharpen your senses and cherish encounters with others, detect “the smell of academic learning” and feel the joy to be found there.

Throughout its 143-year history, the University of Tokyo has accumulated a rich reservoir of world-class research achievements. You can make free and full use of these research resources. The university also offers a variety of programs and initiatives for you as you engage in your new learning experience. For example, we have introduced the World-leading INnovative Graduate Study or "WINGS," which is a Master’s-Doctoral degree program with financial support for students in 18 different fields. We have also established Tokyo College, an institution that invites world-class researchers and intellectuals to share their great knowledge with you. I hope you will make good use of these programs so that you can develop the qualities needed to become knowledge professionals who can demonstrate imagination, flexibility, and the ability to discover essential questions.

There will be times when you feel anxiety as the new coronavirus continues to restrict our activities. That said, I believe there are some positive aspects to learning in the age of living with coronavirus and in a post-coronavirus era. You can see this difficult time as a chance to demonstrate your creativity fully without being hindered by precedents. Together, let’s build a new type of university, a University of Tokyo for a new era of diversity and inclusiveness where cyberspace and physical space are deeply integrated. All the faculty members of the University of Tokyo are here to fully support you so that you can lead a fulfilling life as an undergraduate or graduate student. I wish you the best of luck with your studies ahead!


Makoto Gonokami
The University of Tokyo
September 24, 2020


(和文)令和2年度 東京大学秋季入学式 総長式辞


この秋、大学院には修士課程419名、博士課程334名、専門職学位課程65名、合計818名が入学しました。学部には、初等中等教育を日本語以外で履修した学生を対象とするPEAK(Program in English at Komaba)に38名が入学しました。また、グローバルサイエンスコース(GSC)に2名が入学しました。







最初に、ある米国の研究者を紹介したいと思います。現在、コロンビア大学の生物科学科の教授で、嗅覚の生理学のStuart Firestein博士です。2004年のノーベル生理学・医学賞は、Richard AxelとLinda B. Buckの「嗅覚受容体および嗅覚系メカニズムの発見」に与えられますが、博士の研究はその発見に新たな証拠を提供し、受賞を大きく後押ししたものでした。

















五神 真