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The Japanese university using manga to make global connections

Interview with Keiichiro Tsuchiya, President of Meiji University

Meiji University was founded in 1881 as the Meiji Law School, based on the principles of rights, liberty, independence and self-government. Since then, it has expanded into one of the prominent private universities of Japan, having sent out more than 550,000 graduates into the world to date, while still staying true to its founding ethos. Here, Keiichiro Tsuchiya, the university’s president, discusses how the college is adjusting to today’s rapidly changing society and promoting a multi-cultural and holistic learning environment for all of its students

What have been your main priorities since taking on this role?

We want to position Japanese education within ASEAN and give it some movement, but first of all, we focused on how we can establish it more strongly in the country. Today, we are not just a domestic university; Meiji University is a university within ASEAN also, which means we are capable of sharing the curriculum, the professors and the students throughout ASEAN. We want to promote the university as an institute which strengthens the entire individual, including the student’s lifestyle, and learn the value shared by all humanity.  University education should be a composition or a mix, rather than just teachings in classrooms. We are currently working on something even bigger, which is the Meiji University ASEAN Center. The ASEAN center is a facility run by Meiji University and this acts as a base for various student and academic exchange programs within ASEAN countries. In the future, I want this to be on a larger scale, where students can move within these centers and institutions set up in a number of ASEAN countries. Up until now, the Japanese government has been very focused on Japanese traditions and Japan’s own uniqueness, but now we need to open up Japan to accepting a more global point of view and be more active on sharing what we have together.

Meiji University is unique in that it has graduate schools, undergraduate schools, as well as a junior high and senior high school. Can you tell us more about this integrated approach to education and how the different levels feed into one another?

We have ten undergraduate schools, 12 graduate schools and four professional graduate schools, the newest of which is the School of Interdisciplinary Mathematical Sciences, which was set up in April 2013. In April 2008, we also set up the School of Global Japanese Studies, which looks at the pop/visual culture and Japanese society and culture, and teaches how to showcase it and disseminate it to overseas countries. This program is very popular, especially among women, who make up 60 percent of students.

We are also planning to set up a National Center for Manga. In addition, we have established the Meiji University Manga Library Reading Room in the School of Foreign Languages at Peking University.  The Meiji manga library is aimed at passing on Japanese culture to young Chinese students. Every year, we do a symposium on manga and animation at Peking University, where students dress up in cosplay for Sailor Moon, a popular Japanese manga series. This has enabled Peking University students to change their perspective on Japan, which supports foreign relationships between Japan and China. For example, Japan and China had a diplomatic problem at the time of the symposium, and relations were very, very tense between the two countries. All events planned with Japan were canceled, except this manga symposium. The Japanese embassy was very worried about this. However, the creator of the anime series Gundam, Yoshiyuki Tomino, was there, and he held a seminar at the event. There is a large Gundam fan club in China, so all of these fan club members showed up at this event to see the author. This became the main event, rather than a demonstration against Japan. What could have been something against Japan ended up being an homage to Japanese culture. Rather than the foreign affairs policies of Prime Minister Abe, I believe that Cool Japan has more power in supporting relationships. We are now looking to South America, and we donated 200 manga books to JAPAN HOUSE Sao Paulo for the purpose of furthering cultural exchange with Brazil. We want to position Cool Japan as the main core that supports our partnerships with other universities.

The liberty tower at Meiji's Surugadai Campus is a landmark in downtown Tokyo. Photo: Meiji University

“We want to position Cool Japan as the main core that supports our partnerships with other universities”

What about the rest of the world? Do you have plans to expand into the United States?

Our relationship with the United States is becoming much stronger, particularly with the universities of Boston, Stanford and UPenn. We are trying to send our students over there to study; however, the biggest problem is the tuition fees, which make it difficult for Japanese students to go to the US. To tackle this, we have set up a scholarship plan to help our students go overseas and study at top universities in the world, of up to roughly $27,000 per semester.

With economic and societal transformation on the horizon as a result of new technologies such as IoT, AI, big data, and the Society 5.0 Plan, how is Meiji University preparing its graduates for the jobs of tomorrow?

When I spoke at a recent graduation ceremony, I highlighted the importance of creating global human resources. The most necessary thing for that is integrity. The English communication level or the general skills that you have, of course, are very important, but what we need the most is a strong moral sense. That is very difficult to teach, so our students go and exchange their ideas by studying abroad in ASEAN countries or in the United States. In May 2017 I met with Antonio Guterres, the UN Secretary-General, at General Headquarters in New York. The UN was providing support to refugee students through the UNHCR Refugee Agency. During my trip to New York, I had an opportunity to talk with our students studying abroad and also with the academics of our partner institution.  Throughout the entire visit, I renewed my strong feeling that economics, English skills, AI, all of this is important, but what is more important is how prepared you are to deal with the current problems that are going on in the world. That’s why integrity is fundamental. This is in line with the core beliefs of Meiji University, which was founded 137 years ago on the principles of rights, liberty, independence and self-government.


“I want my students to be people who will be multicultural, diverse and have multiple identities”

What is the role of higher education in fostering integrity in the country?

First of all, the university supports a peaceful society and will not collaborate in activities or research that will be used for military activity or human rights suppression. This comes at a time when Abe is shrinking educational research funds but has expanded military research funds. We published a statement in the newspapers saying that we were against this idea. This may be something that goes against Abenomics, in a way. But for us to keep in line with our beliefs as a university, we believe this is what we should do, and this is how we can maintain our integrity within the university.

Which sectors does the university focus its research efforts on?

We are not looking at just one single issue as a university; we have many focus areas. We are one of the few private universities in the metropolitan area to have an agricultural school. We have the Meiji University International Institute for Bio-Resource Research, where we partner with other universities, enterprises and researchers around the world to contribute to the development of next-generation medical technology; for example, we are currently breeding pigs to do research to find a cure for diabetes. We have a robotics program that is developing a robot to operate in airports and train stations. We explore solutions on social issues from diversified perspectives, and we have also set up a center for self-driving vehicles, the Meiji University Research Institute of Autonomous Driving and its Social Acceptance, where we are researching the engineering development, the economic system and the laws around these vehicles. We are also planning to cooperate with local governments and other research institutions to come up with a way to deal with transportation modes in depopulated areas. Meiji University’s School of Political Science and Economics has a department that specializes in local governance. At the Meiji Institute for the Advanced Study of Mathematical Sciences, we have an origami engineering studies focus that is using the techniques of origami to try and make shock-absorbent materials. Thus, we are not looking at just one single problem, but we are looking comprehensively at many different issues.

“Tokyo is the only place where you can feel this liveliness of different ”

What can international students expect from life at Meiji University?

Eight years ago, we made a documentary of one of our Chinese exchange students. She was an architecture student. For her, it was a whole culture shock just walking around in the city. She was studying architecture and looking at Japan as one big textbook. One of the best things about Meiji University is that it is not closed in. The whole of Tokyo is the university’s campus, you could say. So, this Chinese student studied architecture just by walking around Tokyo and then she brushed up her skills by studying within the campus. Close by we have Akihabara and we have the Imperial Palace just down the street. You can learn about the Edo period and up to today just by being here while learning about the dynamism of modern Tokyo at the same time.

What is your target for the rest of your time in this role?

This April, we held an LGBT symposium, and I made a statement that we do not discriminate against LGBT people at our university. I don’t want our students to be tied down by identity, but to be free when they are here. At the same time, for students at the ASEAN center, I want them to know that they are Japanese but also Asian. I want my students to be people who will be multicultural, diverse and have multiple identities. I want them not to hesitate to step out of that boundary that they have within themselves that identifies who they are. Be it race, nationality, sexuality, I want them to exist beyond the borders of that which differentiates them. I don’t want Meiji University to be just a Japanese university; I want it to be a shared university with ASEAN, the United States, and countries all around the world. I want it to be a university that can share, mix and blend.

What would be your message about the Meiji University experience?

I am a producer of Noh, which is a traditional Japanese performance art founded 650 years ago. Over these 650 years, nothing really has changed about this theater. It is 200 years older than even Shakespeare. I live with this very, very old culture while experiencing the pop culture of manga and animation at the same time. Tokyo is a mixed and multi-dimensional city, and I believe that it is the only place where you can feel this liveliness of different dimensions all in one place.

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