News & Event

2018 Conferment Ceremony: President’s Address

News & Event

Congratulations to you all upon your graduation. I would also like to warmly congratulate all the parents and guardians here today.

Some of today’s graduates will start work, while others will continue with studies and research. Some of you are already playing active roles in society. What kind of social issues are you likely to face as you move forward?

Japanese society and the world as a whole are changing at a dizzying pace. In April this year, revisions to Japan’s Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act will come into effect. Revision of this act has entailed much discussion, and doubts have been raised, but revising immigration law to enable a diverse range of foreign nationals to work in Japan is a major turning point for Japanese society. In your workplaces, neighborhoods, and schools, you will come into contact with people from other countries and regions and people who may not speak much Japanese. I am concerned about whether the government and companies have put in place a suitable environment for such foreigners, but at the same time I eagerly anticipate their arrival. Why? Because it will transform the nature of Japan, as occurred during the Meiji Restoration. We must create a positive society in Japan that respects the human rights of people from a wide variety of countries and regions.

In June 2016, when you were all studying here, we issued the Hosei University Statement on Diversity. Since this forms part of our long-term vision we are still in the process of achieving its goals. The statement begins with the declaration that “Achieving diversity means recognizing the wide range of values within our society and respecting the differing values embraced by free citizens as integral to their individuality.” It is only natural that people have their own individuality and values. Why did we go to the trouble of issuing a declaration to this effect?

The declaration explicitly states the importance of eliminating discrimination on the basis of “gender, age, nationality, race, ethnicity, culture, religion, disability, or sexual orientation,” respecting such differences as integral to human individuality, welcoming such differences, and listening carefully to one another so as to gain a deeper understanding of each other’s perspectives, lifestyles, feelings, and ideas. There is sometimes a tendency in our society to discriminate against and exclude people who differ from us, rather than embrace diversity. If we judge from standards of economic development and productivity, in particular, discriminating against people we believe do not contribute to these factors may make us feel that we are contributing and thus justify our own existence. However, this attitude fuels ceaseless conflict. If such conflict arises between peoples or countries, it leads to war. Respect for diversity is an essential human behavior in order to avoid major global crises.

Thus the second paragraph of the declaration begins with the sentence: “Respect for human rights is the first step.” In other words, achieving diversity means maintaining diversity through efforts to respect the rights of humankind. The concept of diversity teaches us what it means to be human, and what it means to value ourselves and others. Diversity vastly broadens our awareness. For example, we now use terms such as LGBT. Once we thought that male and female were the only two genders in the human world, but we are now learning that sexual identities come in all the colors of the rainbow.

Aya Kamikawa, a graduate of this university and a member of the Setagaya City Assembly who has gender dysphoria, had this to say: “We all assume that we are ‘normal.’ I noticed this when I became ‘someone troubled.’ If you distance yourself from the majority in Japan, you cease to be ‘normal.’ In a society with such immense pressure to conform, can people who are troubled say that they are troubled? Constantly questioning such matters is a theme of my service as a local assembly member.” Achieving diversity frees us from such assumptions of ‘normality.’

One of our students here at Hosei have set their sights on competing in the 2020 Tokyo Paralympic Games. That student is Chie Yamashita, a sprinter with a prosthetic leg. When I met her, she told me that “I don’t try to compensate for what I’ve lost, I just use what I’ve got.” People often measure themselves in terms of the values of the society they live in, imagine an ideal version of themselves that matches those values, and worry about their shortcomings. But sometimes this has the reverse effect of preventing them from noticing their own physical attributes and abilities, and they miss out on opportunities to maximize their strengths. The life that Chie Yamashita has decided to lead sends the message that we should develop our own attributes and utilize them to the full. This idea will be especially important in the fast-changing society of tomorrow.

Last year we ran a staff training course on the concept of “universal manners.” This term refers to awareness and behaviors needed when communicating with people with disabilities, older people, and infants, for example. Yukie Usuba, who has a hearing impairment, works for a company called Mirairo and gave a splendid lecture that was notable for its clarity. Several things she said made an impression on me. One was the statement that “obstacles exist not within people, but in the environment. By creating a society where people without disabilities are the norm, we created the concept of “people with disabilities.” Particularly in a society where the only goal is to improve productivity, contribution to that outcome becomes the standard by which all are measured. Thus a very narrow range of abilities is evaluated, and the number of people deemed to be disabled increases.

I have been asked why society has to become more diverse. Some feel that a society that assembles people with the same values is a safe and comfortable place where it is easy to get along because everyone can communicate their feelings tacitly. There are those who feel freed from uncertainty when people of the same ethnicity or the same organization unite with one another. The desire for such a situation tends to lead to exclusion. In the final years of the Tokugawa Shogunate, there was a political philosophy referred to as sonno joi, which loosely translates as “revere the emperor and expel the foreigners.” “Joi” is exclusivism. Now, 150 years after the Meiji Restoration, it is common to travel overseas and work all over the world, yet some people still have the same desire.

Why is diversity better? Imagine living and working with people who have different lifestyles and cultural backgrounds. Explanations are required in order for everyone to follow rules and share spaces and values. If some people cannot conform, you need to know about their difficulties. In order to listen to and understand others, we must first respect them. Based on that, we also gain deeper knowledge of our society and express our feelings. If people with differing backgrounds reflect on their own societies through communication, and society changes as these interactions occur, everyone hones their skills in the process. One of the reasons why diversity is important is that interaction draws out and refines each person’s individuality and capabilities, and at the same time improves society.

In fact, according to a survey conducted by a consulting firm, the top 25 percent of organizations in terms of ethnic and gender diversity outperformed other organizations. Perhaps this is because highly diverse teams generate a variety of perspectives and engage in lively discussion.

Moreover, in fast-changing times, when conventional methods no longer work and we face issues that have no simple answers, people with differing ideas and sensibilities can quickly suggest alternatives. Such risk avoidance and breakthrough solutions are further reasons why diversity is important. In Silicon Valley, home to a major cluster of IT firms, they talk about “neurodiversity.” People with differing neuroanatomies?in other words differing ways of looking at things and feeling about things?differ in scope of awareness, so these differences lead to new discoveries and creations.

However, Japan still lags behind other countries on the diversity front. In the Global Gender Gap Report 2018 issued by the World Economic Forum, Japan ranks 110th out of 149 countries, the lowest ranking of any developed nation. Around 70 percent of Japanese women aged between 15 and 64 work, yet just 44 percent of them are regular employees, compared to 78 percent of men. Japan ranks especially lowly for the proportion of female managers and legislators. In other words, many women in Japan work, but very few are in positions of responsibility compared to other countries. Please bear in mind that this is the kind of society you are entering. I encourage the women among you to take every opportunity to extend your skills. Greater involvement of women in organizational management and politics will steadily change Japan.

Today you graduate, but I urge you all to do your utmost to hone your own individual qualities. As our Statement on Diversity declares, Hosei University aims to be “a place where students, instructors, and researchers from all backgrounds feel free to pursue their studies and careers creatively and develop their own individual potential.” As the university seeks to become more diverse, we also aim to be a place where anyone can study, regardless of age. Hosei University values freedom, and to enable you to keep exercising your abilities to the full in a changing society, I welcome you to come back and study here for a second or third time. I look forward to seeing you again in the future.

Let me conclude by once again congratulating you on your graduation.