令和5年度 東京大学秋季学位記授与式・卒業式 総長告辞

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Address by the President of the University of Tokyo at the AY 2023 Autumn Commencement Ceremony

To all of you receiving your bachelor’s, master’s, doctoral, and professional degrees today, congratulations! On behalf of the faculty and staff of the University of Tokyo, I offer my deepest respect for your efforts and heartfelt congratulations on your achievements. I also wish to convey my gratitude and best wishes to your families, who have encouraged and supported you along the way.

The past few years that you have spent at UTokyo have been marked by global events that disrupted daily life and posed challenges for your studies and research. I am thinking especially of the COVID-19 pandemic and the international turmoil sparked by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. In the business world, the abbreviation VUCA, standing for Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity is used to describe unpredictable times like ours.

As you set out from UTokyo into the wider world to pursue your careers, you may indeed encounter unexpected disasters, irrational conflicts, and sudden misfortunes that threaten to overwhelm you. So before you take your next step, I would like to spend a few minutes now reflecting on how you can face such problems and continue to move ahead.

Four years from now, UTokyo will mark the 150th anniversary of our founding in 1877. The iconic Akamon Gate which you all know well is a vestige of the Hongo Campus’s past as the estate of the Maeda clan during the Edo period. That gate is now being renovated in preparation for the anniversary. But aside from the brick wall along Hongo-dori Avenue, which dates from around 1900; the old library’s custodians’ office and book bindery from 1910 at today’s Communication Center; and the Main Gate, which was rebuilt in 1912—almost nothing remains on campus from the Meiji period, which ended in 1912. The reason is the Great Kanto Earthquake, which struck exactly one hundred years ago, on September 1, 1923, at 11:58 in the morning. That quake set off fires that destroyed one-third of the buildings on this campus.

How did people respond to that disaster then?

Well, the damage from the earthquake was made much worse by the fire. Because the quake struck around lunchtime, when people had fires lit for cooking, flames broke out across Tokyo. Both the main quake and the many aftershocks delayed firefighting efforts, and a firestorm arose that took a full two days to contain. As we saw in the recent tragedy in Lahaina on the island of Maui in Hawaii, it is indeed very difficult to confine the spread of fire even now. That afternoon, a gigantic cloud could be seen in the sky from all over Tokyo. At first, people did not realize that the smoke came from the burning city. Rumors spread that it was from an erupting volcano or an explosion at a gunpowder warehouse.

The fire spreading north from the city center was stopped at Kasuga-dori Avenue near Hongo Sanchome. In those days, the part of today’s Hongo Campus south of Akamon was still owned by the Maeda clan. During the Edo period, they had maintained their own fire brigade called the Kaga Tobi. On September 1, the head of the clan, Toshinari Maeda, encouraged people in the area to fight the fires, and together they were able to keep the flames from reaching the University.

However, other fires broke out in three locations on campus after chemical storage cabinets fell over in laboratories of the Faculty of Engineering and the Faculty of Medicine. Especially devastating was the fire at the Faculty of Medicine’s laboratory for medical chemistry near Akamon. Fanned by the strong winds from the south drawn by a typhoon in the Sea of Japan, it spread north to the library and to the classroom buildings of the law, literature, and economics faculties. It ended up engulfing all the major buildings around the Yasuda Auditorium where we are today, including the octagonal lecture hall of the Faculty of Law and the Sanjo Conference Hall next to the Sanshiro Ike pond. Because the walls alongside the buildings had fallen in the earthquake, the flames not only entered through damaged upper floors on one side but also created drafts that spread the fire to adjacent structures on the other. The result was a wide-scale conflagration.

The university library burned to the ground. Overall, the university lost some 760,000 volumes. A writer named Yaeko Nogami who lived in Nippori later wrote an essay with the evocative title “The Burning Past.” In it, she described seeing charred pieces of paper with Latin words printed on them raining down on the small park in Nishi Nippori where she had taken refuge. She was horrified to realize that the treasure trove of knowledge at Tokyo Imperial University was ablaze.

In the wake of that great calamity, the University received help from around the world. Just a couple of weeks later, the League of Nations in Geneva adopted a resolution to facilitate international cooperation for rebuilding the library’s collection. The swiftness of that response was partly due to similar efforts nearly a decade earlier by an international coalition, including Japan, to help restore the library at the University of Leuven in Belgium after it was destroyed in the First World War. Thus there already existed momentum for the world to join hands to protect storehouses of knowledge, and Japan had been part of that international initiative.

Our library benefited from much generous support. The British Academy collected donations from publishers and sent us around 70,000 volumes, including 187 rare books illuminating the history of printing. The nations providing aid included, in alphabetical order by their names then, Belgium, China, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Siam, the Soviet Union, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United States, plus donations from organizations and individuals in 21 other countries, representing a total of 35 nations.

Donations poured in from within Japan as well. Marquis Yorimichi Tokugawa of the Kishu Tokugawa family donated 96,000 items from his Nanki Collection that had been available to the public at his residence. The library also received books on Western arts and crafts that had been collected by the photographer Koreaki Kamei during his study in Germany, and the family of the writer Ogai Mori, who had died the previous year, donated his books as well. Together with collections bought using monetary donations, the gifts infused the reconstituted University of Tokyo Library with a new diversity.

The problem was where to put the books. The national government was trying to deal with an unprecedented disaster and had no money left over for a university library. But the American businessman John D. Rockefeller Jr. stepped forward with an unconditional offer of 4 million yen. In today’s currency, that would be about 6 to 10 billion yen. Rockefeller’s donation funded construction of the General Library building that you know and use today.

Donations were thus an invaluable resource for recovery from disaster. The University of Tokyo will always remember the generosity of everyone who helped us rebuild from that earthquake and fire a century ago. I would like to take this opportunity to express our profound gratitude once again.

Now, what did that disaster a hundred years ago mean for UTokyo?

First of all, by doing research on earthquakes and pursuing ways to mitigate disaster damage, the University realized that contributing to a safer, more secure society was an important part of our mission.

Thus, in 1925, two years after the Great Kanto Earthquake, our Earthquake Research Institute was established. Initially focused on pursuing the science behind earthquakes and on disaster mitigation, the institute later expanded into studying volcanic phenomena and the dynamics of the Earth’s interior. Seismic and volcanic activity were later discovered to be deeply linked to the Earth’s overall activity through the theory of plate tectonics that emerged in the late 1960s. That theory explains the movement of the Earth’s crust based on the interaction of a dozen-odd plates covering our planet’s surface.

One of my own research fields is underwater technology. I have studied underwater robots for deep sea exploration. At first glance, underwater technology might seem unrelated to earthquakes. But I myself have the experience of participating in a scientific cruise in Okinawa to survey the traces of faults from the Great Yaeyama Earthquake and Tsunami of 1771 by a remotely operated vehicle, or ROV.

The Earth’s crust is, in fact, thinner under the ocean than on land, so undersea drilling is an effective way to investigate plate tectonics. In 1961, the Mohole project was launched by the United States to drill through the crust into the mantle. That effort later developed into today’s International Ocean Discovery Program. Japan has contributed to that program by providing the deep-sea scientific drilling vessel Chikyu for boring deeply in zones where major earthquakes occur.

Knowledge about earthquakes comes not only from direct observation and experiments. It is also important to read historical documents and inscriptions. Major quakes in Japan were recorded more than a millennium ago in texts, paintings, and stone monuments, but little of that information was being applied to seismology. Now, through the interdisciplinary efforts of the Collaborative Research Organization for Historical Materials on Earthquakes and Volcanoes under two of our research institutes, the Historiographical Institute and the Earthquake Research Institute, many types of information are being integrated, collected, and correlated to construct new hypotheses. This is an excellent example of collaboration between the sciences and the humanities.

This year’s intense heat and heavy rains have brought home vividly how disaster can encroach on our daily lives. Against the backdrop of global warming, we have recently seen an increase in extreme weather events as well as wildfires, floods, and droughts. Just as plate tectonics provide a unified framework for understanding earthquakes, we need to think about individual weather-related events by trying to understand the mechanisms behind the fluctuations in the oceans and atmosphere on a global scale.

Thus, a century ago, the Great Kanto Earthquake inspired UTokyo to pursue both applied and theoretical research, to find links between different disciplines, and to expand globally the depth and breadth of our intellectual inquiry for both research and education.

A second lesson of that earthquake came from the widespread reconstruction support we received from around the world. We realized anew the importance and effectiveness of building connections throughout society based on empathy among people.

We continue to cooperate today with research institutions nationwide and throughout the world on preventing and mitigating disasters of all kinds. While it is still very difficult to forecast when earthquakes will occur, a nationwide network of seismometers installed in the wake of the 1995 Kobe earthquake now enables early warning when an earthquake strikes. You’ve probably heard those warnings on mobile phones just before the shaking begins.

To minimize the loss of life, it’s also important to predict the arrival of tsunamis. Japan has been a pioneer in research on rapidly detecting, measuring, and forecasting tsunamis, and we have helped to build observation networks around the world. One such network, called DONET, runs along the submarine trench called the Nankai Trough south of the main Japanese islands of Honshu and Shikoku. That network enables real-time monitoring of earthquakes and tsunamis, and it is also used for early warnings. I used to be a part of the panel of experts for the first DONET system installation operated by JAMSTEC (Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology).

The UNESCO Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission is now building a tsunami forecast system for the entire world. The goal is to have all coastal communities tsunami-ready by the year 2030 so that the lives and property of the residents can be protected. This past June, Professor Yutaka Michida of our Atmosphere and Ocean Research Institute was appointed the chairperson of that commission. He is the first Japanese person to hold that job, and we at UTokyo are very happy and proud about that.

Another lesson from disasters has been the importance of human connections and mutual aid. Right after the 1923 earthquake, our maintenance department set up temporary shelters and water and sanitation facilities for people who had evacuated onto campus. The Faculty of Medicine and University Hospital treated people who were injured or sick, and the Faculty of Science quickly set up a relief station at the Botanical Garden. Especially admirable were the student volunteers. They organized relief efforts and tirelessly prepared and distributed food to people taking shelter on campus and in Ueno Park. Their activities marked the beginning of volunteer work by students during disasters in Japan. Even today, researchers studying social business initiatives note the importance of the work pioneered by those students in the early 1920s.

A third major insight from the Great Kanto Earthquake was how vital information is during times of crisis.

The harm from natural disasters comes not only from the earthquakes, fires, or floods themselves. It may be hard to believe now, but in the wake of that 1923 earthquake groundless rumors ran rampant. There were claims of arson, bombings, poisonings, and military attacks. Even official bulletins and newspapers spread unconfirmed rumors. A great tragedy resulted: assaults and murders that targeted the many Koreans living in Japan at the time. That horrible experience reminds us that we continue to face serious issues involving information. Those include the surfacing of the conscious and unconscious prejudices present in everyday life; the specific challenges of urban and online spaces filled with people who are strangers to each other; and the reckless propagation of inflammatory explanations.

In 2011, after the Great East Japan Earthquake, the meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant also led to many false rumors, this time about radiation. While social media can be powerful tools for communication during disasters, they also represent a serious problem for society, because they allow anyone to spread inaccurate information and to amplify irrational hostility. A pressing issue for us today is figuring out how to share needed information accurately and not to be misled by false rumors, especially during times of uncertainty and when communication systems are not functioning properly.

The University of Tokyo has long recognized the need for academic research on media. In 1927, a library of newspapers and magazines from the Meiji period was set up in the Faculty of Law, and in 1929 a research department for journalism studies was established in the Faculty of Letters. After the war, that journalism department became the Institute of Journalism and Communication Studies. Awareness of the importance of information in our society continued to grow, and in 2004 that institute became part of the Interfaculty Initiative in Information Studies, or Joho Gakkan.

The wide-ranging collaborative research that had been conducted on disaster information continues today at the Center for Integrated Disaster Information Research, or CIDIR, in Joho Gakkan. CIDIR was founded jointly with the Earthquake Research Institute and the Institute of Industrial Science.

Let’s think a bit more about what UTokyo learned from the Great Kanto Earthquake a century ago.

The twin tragedies of that disaster and of the harmful rumors highlighted the importance of research both on earthquakes and on information. The burning of the library was a great misfortune, but it also drew in help and cooperation from around the world. That support made us appreciate even more the goodwill of others, and we remain extremely grateful. We also felt even more strongly that universities have a responsibility to confront the issues facing society. By searching for underlying mechanisms and by identifying basic principles, we can help lead the way to practical solutions for real-world problems. It was also a great discovery for us to realize that innovative new solutions emerge when researchers with diverse expertise cooperate and collaborate across disciplinary boundaries.

These realizations apply not only to disaster research but universally, to whatever challenges may await us. No matter what future you pursue or where you decide to live, I hope that each of you will keep learning for the rest of your life. Our abilities as individuals are limited. But let us never forget the broader connections that underlie the areas we specialize in. When you follow those connections to seek new perspectives, you may uncover innovative solutions to whatever problems you face. And even more important than just learning more, you will also be able to form connections and interact with other people who have similar interests and concerns. That is where you will find the greatest meaning in life.

So please keep this all in mind as you set sail out onto the open ocean that lies before you today. I wish every one of you the greatest success. Congratulations once again.

The University of Tokyo
September 22, 2023

(和文)令和5年度 東京大学秋季学位記授与式・卒業式 総長告辞


























そして現在、ユネスコ政府間海洋学委員会(IOC-UNESCO)は世界全体で津波予報システムを構築し、2030年までに世界中のすべての沿岸コミュニティーで津波から生命や財産を守る準備を進める“Tsunami Readyプログラム”を推進しています。今年6月、このIOC-UNESCOの議長に、日本人として初めて本学大気海洋研究所の道田豊教授が選出されたことは、東京大学にとってうれしく誇らしいニュースでした。











藤井 輝夫