News & Event

President’s Address to the March 2021 Hosei University Commencement Ceremony

Congratulations to you all on this occasion of your graduation. Let me also extend my sincere congratulations to parents and caregivers.

During the last twelve months of your degree, I think you have experienced a variety of difficulties that you never encountered before. Not only you Hosei University students, but all university students and graduate students across Japan and in other parts of the world have found themselves taking lectures online, conducting experiments and completing practical training in a limited time, or having to compile reports and papers without being able to fully experience any fieldwork, research, or overseas study. Furthermore, you are having to graduate or complete your studies without having been able to interact and exchange ideas much with faculty and friends. That is a real shame. Having said that, I believe special experiences in life can prove to be a source of great strength for the future. What have you felt or thought about in this restricted environment? When you have some time to spare, whether you are entering the world of work or further study, I urge you all to reflect on what this year has taught you, so that this particularly unusual year and experiences are not wasted or forgotten. During the coming new term, Hosei University will be offering hybrid classes that are a combination of face-to-face sessions and online or on-demand classes, along with high-flex classes that stream face-to-face classes live online. The places of study or work that you are all headed for will not return to pre-Covid ways. Those places will be exploring new methods and creating new ways of doing things on a daily basis, so please use what you have learned over the past year to help create new places.

Let me now mention that I will be retiring from my position as University president at the end of this semester and will be leaving the university along with you all at the end of March. I will also end my tenure as a faculty member. This is the last time that I will stand on this platform.

Standing here today reminds me of a moment seven years ago. On April 3, 2014, I stood in front of the Nippon Budokan lectern for the first time and said to everyone: “In 1970, I entered Hosei University just like you did. I still remember that I sat in the center on the second floor. I never imagined that I would be delivering messages to you all from this podium years later.” The reason why I couldn’t imagine that was because, in 1970, it was unheard of for a woman to become the president of a large university. Today, we have seen women take the helm at universities such as Toyo University and Doshisha University. Before taking office, US Vice President Kamala Harris said, “I may be the first woman in this office, but I won’t be the last.” I am sure we will see many more female leaders emerge in a variety of different fields.

But what about now? At the end 2019, Japan ranked 121 out of 153 nations on the gender gap index, the degree of participation of women, announced by the World Economic Forum. According to the 2018 Labor Force Survey published by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, 56.1% of female employees were non-regular workers compared to 22.2% of male employees. Between January and July 2020, approximately 1.07 million non-regular workers lost their jobs due to the COVID-19 pandemic, 80% of whom were women. There has always been a significant gap between men and women, but COVID-19 has highlighted that gap more clearly. Social inequalities are widening for both men and women, but the poverty that such inequality brings is spreading, especially quickly among women.

On the one hand, I have just been saying that we live in an era when women are becoming university presidents and vice presidents of a country. On the other hand, I have talked about how many women have lost their jobs. How are these two situations connected? Or are they maybe not connected? We are told that an organization will change significantly once the percentage of minority groups within that organization exceeds 30%. The same thing applies to women, and that is something that we absolutely must accomplish. If women constitute over 30% of an organization, will the gender gap among non-regular workers narrow? Probably not straight away. However, this I can say: By fulfilling their respective roles, men and women influence not only themselves, but also their families, friends, and society as a whole. How you all decide to live as a person, the goals you set yourself, the things you achieve, and your overall attitude will influence our society. Our society will be different depending on whether you decide to pursue only a stable life for yourself or whether you work with imagination and sympathy towards those people who live alongside you and the many people who underpin your work.

The Hosei University Charter also places great value on the word sympathy. When you graduate from Hosei University, I would like to all to graduate with questions remaining in your heart and mind. Questions that relate to the Hosei University Charter title Practical Wisdom for Freedom. You can’t learn the spirit of the University Charter just by knowing the dictionary meaning of the words. It is only by continually asking yourself what it means for you to live in freedom or what practical wisdom means to you that you can understand the values of the Charter. The words written in the Charter are not simply words, they are an opportunity to think about who we are as a person, a way of thinking.

Let me first tell you about my experience. I, like you, spent my time deciding what to study when I entered university, and what to research when I moved on to graduate school. It is hard to make important decisions about going on to higher education, finding employment, or changing jobs based simply on your likes and dislikes, isn’t it? You consider all aspects and avenues. Anyone would feel uneasy about what their future will look like if they go down a certain path. However, in my case, the desire to research Edo culture that I discovered at University outweighed any anxiety I might have felt. I started to think that I didn’t want to relinquish that path, no matter what kind of life I would end up living as a result. For me, living in freedom meant continuing my research and being able to write. I knew it might not lead to a regular job, but I decided to do my very best every day without thinking too much about the future. The poet Matsuo Basho once said that, “No matter where your interest lies, you will not be able to accomplish anything unless you bring your deepest devotion to it.” I felt that sentiment described me perfectly. For me, there is only path for my deepest devotion.

An incident that occurred in November 2020 reminded me of that decision. A homeless woman in her 60s sleeping sitting up on a bench at a bus stop in Shibuya ward in Tokyo was pummeled to death with a bag of stones. The women had been in non-regular employment, but had lost her job due to COVID-19. I heard that women are scared to sleep lying on the street, so they sleep sitting up in a well-lit place. This didn’t seem like someone else’s problem to me, who had thought that I didn’t care how I would live in the future when I was at university. In fact, I thought, this could have been me. It wasn’t only me. Many people took this incident to heart, and women in particular. Why should one life choice lead to such an end? Whatever choices you make, we need to have a society that enables human beings to live with dignity. Living in freedom doesn’t mean to simply cherish your own freedom, but to create a society in which everyone can live freely.

So, what about practical wisdom? The term practical wisdom comes from Greek philosophy, and it refers to an intelligence that continues to evolve in an ideal direction but which is firmly grounded in the reality in which you currently find yourself. That certainly means the wisdom to flexibly seek the best way to develop a society in which all people can live freely.

I have talked to you about my own experience where I didn’t hesitate, but what do you do if you are unsure? When faced with multiple choices, people can feel oppressed by a lot of information, the expectations of those close to them, and sometimes even pressure. On top of that, every person is influenced by the social values of the time. In other words, people can end up tying themselves up in knots and going over lots of things in their mind. To live freely in such a whirlpool, you must not try to escape. First, you need to listen to each argument, understand it, and put it into your own words in order to clarify it. That is the process of practical learning that enables you to flexibly explore the path you want to take. After that, you decide for yourself what choices you think are the most important to you so that you have no regrets. When seeking to live freely, it is very important to make your own choices and not be swayed by people’s recommendations. I sincerely hope that the decision you make will lead to the creation of a society in which everyone can live freely.

You are all graduating today, but going forward you will be connected to a network of graduates as members of the alumni association. Please make use of these special alumni bonds to carve a strong future. If you preserve those bonds, the alumni association and the University can support you on your journey. As a member of the Hosei University community, I hope we can get through these tough times of radical change together and emerge with renewed hope.

Finally, let me close by congratulating you once again on your graduation.