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Giving students a broad perspective and multilateral approach to thinking

Interview - June 13, 2017

Established in 1875, Doshisha University is one of Japan's oldest private institutions of higher learning.  In this interview with The Worldfolio, president, Takashi Matsuoka, speaks about nurturing a culture of innovation at the university and “globalizing education in Japan”


In Japan, Prime Minister Abe’s economic reforms, dubbed ‘Abenomics,’ are being steadily implemented. With these changes, Abenomics has opened a conversation on the need for a more globalized mindset in Japan. Japanese universities have been requested to help Japanese students become more entrepreneurial and globalized. In your opinion, what has been the impact of Abenomics on the education system?

The fundamentals of Abenomics are the growth strategy and the relaxation of monetary policy, of which the growth strategy is more closely connected with education. ‘Fourth industrial revolution’ technologies, such as AI and big data, are rapidly changing the social system, and the higher education sector is making great progress in response. Driving cars that are becoming increasingly autonomous, or utilizing big data, for instance, is creating a kind of society that we have never experienced. It is very important to build a solid foundation to respond to these changes. To do this, we should realize that this issue must be shared globally beyond the border of countries or regions. The essential role of universities is to work as a bridge to connect academia and R&D of different countries and regions through networking among universities worldwide. If the country is in a position to lead us towards this direction, I believe it will provide the stimulation to establish a more enriched education system.

The university’s R&D will progress a lot if we concentrate on these points. Universities need to understand what they should practically teach their students and design a curriculum accordingly. For instance, AI will have a tremendous role in society in the future. Therefore it is important that universities diversify course curricula instead of simply designing a course in terms of information science, and also, for example, create courses from the perspective of humanities while involving AI technology.

As a higher education institution, it is crucial to upgrade and expand the educational content and courses to enhance students’ critical thinking skills, thereby contributing to the development of society. At the same time, we need to emphasize the importance for the students to have a globalized perspective since this is one way to curb the mindset of being an islander isolated from the rest of the world. This is also an important step in terms of how we respond to the fourth industrial revolution.

Originally, the Japanese university system was focused on a deep pursuit of one discipline. However, I aim to encourage students to study multilaterally and expose themselves to a broader spectrum of ideas and perspectives, which I believe is very important.


Indeed, there are challenges ahead both inside and outside of Japan and we must find ways to adapt to the changing society on a global level. In terms of the fourth industrial revolution, do you believe Japan is ready for the challenges? Do you think further promotion of student exchanges between Japanese and overseas students will help attain positive outcomes?

As for the fourth industrial revolution, I don’t think Japan as a country is quite ready yet. However, I do believe Japanese universities are ready to educate students who can lead the fourth industrial revolution in the coming years. The challenge for universities is knowing what specific kinds of skills are needed by companies to advance the fourth industrial revolution. To this end, it is important to have a strong collaboration between academia and industry. Japan has been focused on solving issues on a domestic level, but a more global approach is needed to address future challenges. I think Abenomics emphasizes this very point, having, as it does, a global perspective instead of a national one. We must further develop partnerships with other countries and regions while considering and adapting to their different objectives and policies.


Mr. Matsuoka, you are the president of a university rich in history that has been contributing to the development of social science, humanities and business for more than 140 years. Doshisha University has produced numerous CEOs and high profile executives. For our readers to understand the essence of your university, could you tell us more about the key milestones that have led this institution to where it is today?

Doshisha University was established when Japan was going through a rather turbulent time. Our founder, Joseph Neesima, spent 10 years in the United States between the Edo and the Meiji period, and such travel was very rare at that time. His experience abroad became the foundation of the university’s educational philosophy, and we still apply this philosophy to this day. One of the pillars of the philosophy is to instill in students the notion of conscience, bring out each student’s unique personality, and integrate these into their academic experience within a strong educational system. It is significant that Doshisha University was established during the Meiji period, not by the nation but as a private institution, which had a great impact on society. At that time in Japan, it was very difficult for a university to educate students to have an ability to make decisions on their own and put them into action. Neesima carried through with his plan with the conviction that Doshisha University aims to produce good-hearted and highly principled graduates.

I think the reason why our university has an impressive record of alumni is that we have valued each and every student and made efforts to provide an educational environment where students can learn with a free spirit while respecting one another. This kind of approach is highly appreciated by society from the perspective of human resource development.

Also, Doshisha University is grounded in Christian principles. Neesima established this university on the philosophies of conscience and Christianity, and those values have guided us and are still evident on campus today.

I believe Doshisha University is the only university in Japan that provides education with emphasis on the values of human development and the cultivation of conscience. Society is becoming more complex each day, both domestically and globally. We are facing issues such as aging and population decline, as well as war and terrorism around the world. In these situations, people are required to make difficult decisions, and to do so, the most important factor is to have a sincere mentality that we aim to facilitate. I would like to disseminate the importance of ‘ryoshin’, which means to have conscience and compassion. This is the essence of education at Doshisha University.


The excellence of Japan, or ‘monozukuri’ (the art of manufacturing), is at the heart of our extensive campaign to promote Japan. In the automotive, high-tech and food industries, your country has continuously been a pioneer in manufacturing high-quality goods. However, some commentators have criticized Japan for an apparent isolation mentality and lack of entrepreneurial spirit. Doshisha University brings innovation through ‘entrepreneur-based education’. How do you train young students to become future entrepreneurs?

Our university does not have specific courses on entrepreneurship. However, we do emphasize individual thinking and innovative ideas. As mentioned before, we have produced a number of leading figures, and those graduates have brought enormous recognition and prestige to the university that you see today by demonstrating their value to society. Compared to other universities, we offer a free and open environment for education, research and development that gives students the creative strength necessary for the development of innovative ideas. We aim to cultivate the entrepreneurial spirit through a variety of education and research courses instead of a course specialized in entrepreneurship.

Another important point is our location. Kyoto is renowned for its entrepreneurial spirit and many innovative ideas and companies have been developed here. The ‘monozukuri’ spirit has been rooted in Kyoto since the Edo period. Also, as the capital of Japan for over 1,000 years, Kyoto reflects traditional values through its varied culinary culture and craftsmanship, making the city a place rich in tradition and strong in entrepreneurial spirit. In other words, Kyoto has promoted the innovative entrepreneurial spirit as a city that emphasizes both monozukuri and hitozukuri (human development). As a result, many global companies were born here, including Kyocera, Omron, Nintendo and Murata Machinery.


One of the key goals of Shinzo Abe through Abenomics was to open the Japanese economy to the world. Doshisha University is a great example of such international vision. Indeed, your university is aiming to become an outstanding university meeting the highest international standards. Could you explain how you envision reinforcing Doshisha University’s position on this topic and how you are facilitating internationalization?

In order to be active on the global stage, a reputation for excellence is vitally important, and it is also important to have unique characteristics as a university, such as having distinct faculties not found in other universities. We adopted a Grade Point Average (GPA) system ten years ago to be competitive globally and meet the international standards, however, I do not think simply emphasizing such standards is so important. What is important is that the faculty members understand the international standards, apply them in their teaching and prepare their students for a global society.

In terms of the promotion of internationalization, we offer a double-degree program as part of the student exchange programs, in which students study both at our university and a partner university elsewhere in the world, earning two degrees in the process. As a new project, we established the Institute for the Liberal Arts in April 2011, enabling students to obtain degrees through programs taught entirely in English. This is Doshisha University’s unique and original education system, offering interdisciplinary studies across six humanities faculties to students from various countries and regions, as well as Japanese students.

Currently enrolled students come from 41 countries across Asia, the Americas, Europe and Africa. Also, Doshisha University houses four centers established by prestigious overseas partner universities as a base for Japanese language and Japanese studies. KCJS (Kyoto Consortium for Japanese Studies) affiliated with 13 universities such as Columbia University, Harvard University and Yale University; AKP (Associated Kyoto Program) affiliated with 13 renowned universities in Liberal Arts such as Amherst College, Carleton University and Smith College; the Tubingen University Center for Japanese Studies (Germany); and Stanford Japan Center. Through these initiatives, Doshisha University is collaborating closely with overseas universities, exchanging educational systems and strengths with each university and making efforts in the promotion of internationalization.


As part of your strategy, could you share with us where you would like to see Doshisha University in the next 10 to 20 years? How would you like to evolve?

The government has enacted a program called ‘Go Global Japan’ where they designated certain schemes for the universities, and Doshisha University has been selected as one of the universities to be at the forefront of this program, aiming at globalizing education in Japan. We have been concentrating on the expansion of the student exchange programs, trying to increase the number of foreign students at our university, as well as to send more Japanese students overseas. For the next ten years, I believe it is important to focus on the subjects and content specific to the university from a global perspective. As I mentioned, demands vary depending on countries and areas, so finding ways to meet those demands will be crucial. For instance, traditionally, if someone wants to learn about philosophy, he or she would go to Germany. But to study philosophy, a student must first be equipped with a wide range of global knowledge and perspectives. We aim to establish a broader educational field where students can acquire these global perspectives. With a focus on Europe, Asia and the US, we are planning to expand our exchange programs.

For the future, we are looking at Africa. A few months ago, Prime Minister Abe declared that the government will increase its support and efforts towards the African region, so I think that the education sector can strengthen ties with this area in the future. Considering the societal challenges faced by Africa, we would like to make a positive contribution to African society with our ‘ryoshin’ spirit, as well as the Japanese concepts of ‘monozukuri’, ‘kunizukuri’ and ‘hitozukuri’, that is a contribution from the perspectives of education and human development, as opposed to an industry-oriented perspective.

Our international students are mostly from South Korea and China, and many of the students want to learn the Japanese language. However, to further promote the university’s globalization, we are focusing on offering education in English, which has not been done yet in many other universities in Japan. As the location of Kyoto-with its rich history and culture-is also a strong factor to attract overseas students to our university, I believe an increasing number of students from Europe, the Americas, Arab nations and Africa will come to study at Doshisha University.


As one of the most historic and established universities in Japan, what message would you like to send to the younger generation in the US, and other regions abroad? Secondly, what kind of added value do you believe Japanese education can bring students coming to Japan to study?

As the number of faculties and departments of a university increases, academic specialization in specific disciplines deepens. However, I would like to again emphasize the importance of not only having a wide offering of faculties and academic areas, but also being a comprehensive institution integrating education with human development. We aim to educate and prepare students to become active and engaged citizens who can contribute to a global society.

As a university that has been committed to the ‘education of conscience’ for over 140 years, and one that is currently embracing 14 faculties and 16 graduate schools, Doshisha University offers the integration of research and development with education for cultivating all aspects of the human character. Our founder, Joseph Neesima, graduated from Amherst College and became the first Japanese person to earn a BSc in the US, following the completion of study in English at Phillips Academy. He then entered Andover Theological Seminary to study for the ministry. Through his own experience, Neesima advocated the concept of the integration of studies aimed at specializing in one discipline while at the same time acquiring wide-ranging knowledge in diverse fields. This concept has been deeply ingrained in Doshisha University and helps to equip students with a broad perspective and a multilateral approach to thinking, something we strongly believe is necessary in today’s globalized and rapidly changing world.