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AY 2020 Graduate Commencement Ceremony Address

March 26, 2021

Professor Akira Haseyama
President, Keio University

Congratulations to you all on completing your graduate degrees. I would also like to offer my heartfelt congratulations to the families and relatives of the graduating students.

In the 2020 academic year, Keio University was greatly affected by the spread of COVID-19. I am sure that all of you too had a hard time, not only because of the impact on your classes, but also because of the restrictions on obtaining materials necessary for writing papers and theses, fieldwork, and travel related to your academic activities. And for our international students for whom travel between their home countries and Japan was disallowed, I have no doubt that your anxiety was even greater. I sincerely commend you all for the hard work you put in daily to continue with your studies and earn your degrees even under these dire circumstances. I would also like to take this opportunity to express my gratitude to the dedicated faculty and staff members for guiding and supporting the graduate students during their time at Keio.

There is still no end in sight to the COVID-19 pandemic. Vaccines have been developed and vaccination against the disease has begun, raising hope that the virus will be brought under control, but at the same time, new fear is being instilled in the hearts of people by the threat posed by mutations of the virus. In the towns and cities, people are becoming fed up with the many restrictions imposed on their lives, and there are signs of waning vigilance against the virus.

Unlike pandemics in the past, today, it is possible for vast amounts of information to quickly reach the general public thanks to advances in technology, but as a result, it has become more difficult to determine which information is accurate and which is not. It is in times like this that we need the most to be able to discern the true nature of the situation and take appropriate action without being misled by unreliable information and trends of the world.

Back in his day, Yukichi Fukuzawa, the founder of Keio University, endeavored to nurture individuals who possess a spirit of independence and self-respect, invigorating them to pursue knowledge while empowering them to act on their own initiative and take responsibility for their actions. He also argued that all learning should be based on jitsugaku, practical learning, explaining that jitsugaku simply means the illumination of the true principles of things and propagation of their application. In this context, it can be said that all learning is jitsugaku, transcending academic disciplines such as the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences. And equipped with this skill, when an unexpected situation is encountered, we can be expected to see the essence of the situation and take action based on rational judgements underpinned by the power of learning.

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake. In its aftermath, the term "unexpected" was frequently used while examining the nuclear accident and tsunami disaster. Now, with COVID-19 having reached every corner of the globe, we are again hearing the word "unexpected" on a regular basis. In hindsight, however, it has become apparent that there are questions on whether or not certain matters surrounding the Great East Japan Earthquake were, in fact, truly "unexpected." For example, the coastal area of the Tohoku region has been damaged repeatedly by tsunamis throughout history. According to the "Nihon Sandai Jitsuroku" (The True History of Three Reigns of Japan), the official history book when the nation was governed under the ritsuryo system (a legal code introduced from China and based on Confucianism defined by ritsu, the criminal code, and ryo, the administrative and civil codes), when the 869 Sanriku earthquake hit in the Heian period (794–1185), a huge tsunami followed and hit the land near the castle and provincial office of Mutsu Province, present-day Tagajo City in Miyagi Prefecture, destroying many homes and dwellings. Even in modern times, for example, there are accounts of the tsunami that was generated after the 1933 Sanriku earthquake being up to 20 meters in height, causing catastrophic damage all over the Sanriku region.

Of course, the local people did not ignore the lessons from these experiences, and in the area around Taro Town of Miyako City, after the 1933 Sanriku earthquake, they spent many years building a huge seawall, which, when completed in 1958, towered 10 meters above sea level and spanned a distance of 2.4 kilometers. This seawall was effective in keeping damage from the tsunami resulting from the 1960 Valdivia earthquake that hit the coast of Chile to a minimum, but unfortunately, the 2011 tsunami was far more powerful and colossal than what the wall was designed to withstand, leaving the town vulnerable to destruction.

In other words, the term "unexpected" does not mean that an event could not be predicted. It is more appropriate to say that although a situation was expected, it far exceeded the magnitude of what was anticipated. If we were to scrutinize this from a harsher and more critical way of thinking, it may be said that the situation itself was not entirely unexpected, but rather the countermeasures put in place were insufficient. In fact, in the case of the nuclear power plant meltdown, experts had simulated damages that could result from a tsunami and warned of possible risks and consequences, but adequate measures were not taken. Furthermore, there were plans to relocate homes to higher ground after the tsunami, but these were not carried through in some areas.

However, we cannot just throw sweeping blame at the parties concerned. Those living in urban areas may wonder why people did not build higher seawalls or move to homes on higher ground. But one must also be aware that gigantic seawalls obstruct the traffic of fishing boats. And moving to higher ground will strike a blow at those working in the fishing industry whose livelihood is dependent on being in close proximity to harbors where fishing ships are moored and fish can be unloaded, so it is only logical that fish factories and homes are also concentrated near these harbors. The reality is that unexpected situations come about due to the intertwining of various factors, including the balance between risk and cost, political and economic interests, and the sentiments of the community.

One of the problems, I feel, is that the lessons from the times gone by and the voices of experts were not sufficiently conveyed to the people, and another could be that even if people did know what had happened in the past or did hear the voices of the experts, because of the social climate at the time, they were not in the habit of acting on their own initiative. In the wake of the Great East Japan Earthquake, rather than relying on governmental agencies to put everything right, individuals and private organizations from all across the nation began conducting volunteer work, contributing to the revitalization of towns and supporting the evacuees in the affected areas. A number of these activities were introduced in the news that reflected on the 10 years since the Great East Japan Earthquake, and what especially caught my attention was a story of a young individual who has been continuously working to erect stone monuments in various parts of Miyagi Prefecture to keep the memory of the tsunami disaster alive.

After the earthquake, this person noticed that there were stone monuments all over the place to preserve the memories of the devastation caused by past tsunamis. While looking into this, the individual realized that these stone monuments were erected at the highest points the tsunamis reached, such as at the middle of the stone steps leading to a shrine or at the slope of a hill in a village, but unfortunately, due to the wave of development, many of these stone monuments were moved to inconspicuous spots in the corners of the towns and villages. So, this individual too began to carve in stone records of the damage caused by the 2011 tsunami and placed these monuments at the highest points the tsunami reached in various locations. Along with a record of the tsunami, these new stone monuments were inscribed with the words "This spot, where this monument stands, is the highest point the tsunami reached" as well as the words "Please never move this monument." While carrying out this pursuit, this person met others who wished to be part of the project, and it was reported that the last of the several dozen stone monuments that were planned was erected in March 2021, just in time to mark the 10th anniversary of the disaster. Learning and taking action on your own initiative. These, I feel, are actions that are true to the spirit of jitsugaku.

The more people there are to carefully analyze vast amounts of information, understand the essence of a problem, and act appropriately on their own, the easier it will be to solve social issues. And this is the role expected of all of you who have acquired advanced knowledge through your studies at graduate school.

In order to anticipate the unexpected, cooperation among all academic fields is required. This is not only key to overcoming COVID-19, but also crucial when working to solve all sorts of global challenges. Be it climate change, disasters, or the global food supply, for any issue that concerns humanity and nature, there is a need for a power of learning that transcends the confines of the sciences and the humanities; there is a need for jitsugaku, which reveals the true nature of things and applies them to the real world.

Throughout your lives ahead, I am sure you will encounter many unexpected situations. Whenever you do, do not be misled by the trends of the world or arguments made by others. Instead, discern the true nature of things, make your own judgements, act on your own accord, and take responsibility for these actions. This is what is meant by jitsugaku as affirmed by Fukuzawa and correlates with what you have all learned at graduate school. You have all received your degrees today, but, earning a degree must not be your ultimate goal. Make good use of the academic knowledge you have acquired and validated in your degrees. This is the mission you must all undertake from here on out. There is nothing more we at Keio wish to see than our students pursuing learning, firmly establishing themselves in life through learning, and making positive contributions in society through learning.

From this day forward, I hope you all will make the most of your academic abilities in your various callings and become active and productive members of society who make valuable and meaningful contributions to the world.

Congratulations to you all again, and I wish you all the best.

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