Welcome Address at the 2019 Entrance Ceremony

April 3, 2019

Let me begin with a warm welcome to all our new students, and their parents and guardians.

This year Hosei University will open a new building called the Ouchiyama Building on our Ichigaya Campus. The buildings we have used to date were called the ’55 and ’58 Buildings, because they were constructed in 1955 and 1958. I studied in these buildings when I entered Hosei University 49 years ago. 

I was delighted to come to Hosei, and looked forward to university life because—unlike my time at junior high or high school—I would be able to read the books I wanted, and think to my heart’s content about things I wanted to consider.  I found that Hosei was a university where I could actually do this. People say that students today have lost the habit of reading, but I wonder if this is really the case. I think you all have your own ideas about what you want to read and learn. Since you are entering university, you will be able to read the things you want. That is the freedom of university study. Please make use of this freedom, which is unique to this time of your lives.

Eventually I devoted myself to research on Edo-era literature and culture at one of Hosei’s graduate schools, but when I first entered university I had not yet encountered Edo literature. In my first year and beyond, my days were filled with reading to explore questions that arose in my mind, and reading to discover things I wanted to know.  If I had no money, there was always the library. I could buy books cheaply at second-hand bookstores. Every time I opened a book, I was sure to find a new world.

However, I did not read without aim or direction. What gave me direction were Hosei University classes and teachers. For example, one of the classes I took in my freshman year was linguistics. It was an amazing class, and when I walked into the classroom I saw not only first year students studying for the course credit, but also second- and third-year students who had already completed the course. Sometimes those senior students gave lectures and guided the newer students. During the summer vacation we carried out language surveys, and guidance from senior students was essential at that time. Conversations between the professor and the senior students were peppered with names that were new to me: Ferdinand de Saussure, Roman Jakobson, Roland Barthes, and Noam Chomsky. About the only name I knew was that of the anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss, of whom I had read in high school. I discovered that the linguistic methods discussed in this class and the mathematical methods I studied in my liberal arts course were used in anthropology, a field that was familiar to me. Rather than being distinctly separate, academic disciplines profoundly influence one another. Linguistic methods are also vital to the study of literature, and I began to carry around a book by Noam Chomsky called Syntactic Structures. I carried it with me because unless I read it carefully line-by-line, I couldn’t understand a word of it. I just couldn’t get to grips with it at all. However, I learned by experience that if you are determined to understand a book you can’t grasp, you will gradually do so by listening to your teachers and more senior students, and by reading other books at the same time.

Then in my third year I joined a seminar I was interested in, and while I was preparing for a seminar presentation, I had an astonishing encounter with Edo literature. Since it was a modern literature seminar, it dealt with a certain novelist. I borrowed money off my parents and bought the novelist’s complete works at a second-hand bookstore. A very short essay I found in the complete works changed my future. I was astounded by the way people in the Edo era thought about things, and I “got” the structure at the core of that way of thinking. However, at that time I had not “understood” Edo culture. Nor did I even memorize the chronologies printed in history books. From then on, I spent my days in pursuit of knowledge about what it was that I had simply “got.” Realizing that I could not quickly understand 270 years’ worth of literature and culture, I decided to embark on specialized studies in graduate school.

In this way, you read books and are drawn into their world, and sometimes this changes the way you look at things. It even changes your life. But at times this experience differs from understanding things in your head. It is like the bodily sensation of a different world. In many cases, you are guided into this world by your university professors, classes, seminars, and classmates.

The Japanese sports commentator and business executive Dai Tamesue once said: “I wanted to decide for myself, and at Hosei I could.”  Tamesue competed at the Olympics as a track athlete while he was studying at Hosei. When he was choosing a university, he wanted to be able to set his own goals and determine his own training program with advice from coaches and trainers. Only Hosei University was receptive to this approach. The words “I wanted to decide for myself, and at Hosei I could” also apply to me. Lectures and seminars provide a compass for reading, research and moments of insight, and teachers are coaches and trainers.  No matter what you want to do, you yourselves will be the ones who accomplish it. They say we are now in an era of hundred-year lifespans. Your lives may continue for about 80 years after you graduate from university. Over the course of that time, you may well do all kinds of jobs we can’t even imagine right now.  Reading will provide you with a foundation for living flexibly in such changing times. Your university days are the very best time to build fundamental skills to be able to read and master anything. You will have ample opportunities to get used to reading for seminars, lectures, and exams. I urge you to acquire the fundamental skills of reading. 

The term “book” now means more than just paper books. We no longer have the excuse that lots of books are too heavy to carry or take up too much space. I am in the process of digitizing my books, and I can already read more than 2,000 volumes anywhere I like simply by taking my iPad with me. That number keeps growing. If you think about the amount of information they contain, there is nothing cheaper than books.

To build a basis for your future lives, it is essential to develop the ability to speak and discuss based on your reading.  How much preparation is required to speak to an audience for an hour? How much is needed for a 30-second statement? In fact, it’s the same.  To speak for an hour, you just need to present convincing material. However, to responsibly state your own thoughts in 30 seconds you must do away with wasteful words and focus in on what you should really say.   

Mistakes are tolerated at university. Don’t miss any opportunities to prepare thoroughly and speak to an audience. Other students and your teachers will pose questions and criticize, and you will again choose your words to respond to them. In this way, you will learn that there are many ways of looking at things while developing your own values and acquiring logic skills for speaking. Even if you are not interested in the topic, if you have to speak on it you will search for data and a range of documents, and you will become interested. If you can take interest in many things, you will vastly broaden your perspectives.

The techniques I have described of speaking in front of your classmates and teachers and using this to spark discussion were in fact the educational methods used in the han schools (originally established to educate children of samurai)  and private schools of the Edo era. Since it was the Edo era, lessons dealt with Confucianism, as typified by works such as The Analects. However, the important thing was acquiring the ability to debate. Hosei University began in 1880, the 13th year of the Meiji era, under the name of Tokyo Hogakusha, which means the Tokyo School of Law. The young men who created Tokyo Hogakusha included two who were born in the Edo era and studied at han schools and private schools in the Kitsuki Domain of what is now Oita Prefecture. One of them, 28-year-old Kanamaru Magane, published Japan’s first specialist law journal. He had also studied French in a han school. Another was 25-year-old Ito Osamu, who had studied in a han school and a private school, and went on to become the first lawyer in the Kitsuki Domain. This was before the establishment of a national assembly and a constitution. At that time, more than 2,000 intellectual societies are believed to have existed in Japan. These societies were for the purpose of discussion aimed at establishing a national assembly and a constitution. The samurai class no longer dominated politics and the law after the end of the Edo era, so forums were needed where farmers, townsfolk, and former samurai could overcome traditional barriers to discuss matters together. Citizens who no longer had a fixed position in society set up reading groups, thought for themselves, engaged in discussion, and held lecture meetings aimed at creating a new country. Many people had a profound interest in the future of Japan. That shows the power of discussion initiated by people in their twenties who had been educated in the Edo era, such as Kanamaru Magane and Ito Osamu.

In 1881, 24-year-old Satta Masakuni, another of this university’s founders, set up Tokyo Hogakko under the policies of the government of the time. On the top floor of the Sotobori Building on our Ichigaya Campus there is a multi-purpose hall called Satta Hall. This name commemorates Satta Masakuni. Also on the Ichigaya Campus is a 27-story high-rise called Boissonade Tower. It commemorates the Frenchman Dr. Gustave Emile Boissonade, under whom Satta Masakuni studied law.  

Hosei University grew out of this encounter between European legal knowledge and the ability Japanese people had acquired to think for themselves and debate. The title of our University Charter, “Practical Wisdom for Freedom” expresses that spirit for modern society.

Your own life of utilizing “freedom” and discussing ideas and issues with your teachers and friends begins today. I encourage you to acquire the language you will need for this from a wide range of books, both old and new and from East and West. A world beyond space and time stretches out before you. Don’t miss the chance to use it for yourself.

Once again, I welcome you to Hosei.

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