Research Cooperation Division,
International Program Department,
Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS)
5-3-1 Kojimachi, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo 102-0083, JAPAN

Frontiers of Science Symposium

FoS Alumni Messages No.1

“My dearest FoS”

Atsushi Iriki
Senior Team Leader
Laboratory for Symbolic Cognitive Development,
RIKEN Brain Science Institute

Past Participations in FoS:
5th JAFoS (Speaker) 
6th JAFoS (PGM)
7th JAFoS (PGM)
1st JFFoS (PGM Co-Chair)
JSPS FoS Symposium Advisory Board Member in charge of JGFoS

“Congratulations to be invited!!” This was a warmest address that I received at the 2002 Japanese-American Frontiers of Science, at the moment my ever-lasting involvement in a series of FoS symposiums initiated. If not for this long-lasting engagement with FoS, I would had been a different man. FoS has deeply affected my fundamental ways of thinking as a scholar, upon a whole range of aspects including science, academics, culture, the world, history, human beings, myself, and many many others. I shall speculate here, as they cross my mind, sorts of future that should be awaiting for myself and Japan’s science community, by recollecting my past ensemble of experiences with my dearest FoS.

Above address did indeed make sense, when I heard the opening remarks by the US host who pointed out, “The purpose of this symposium is to help the excellent young researchers’ elite, responsible for today’s cutting-edge science, to create new academic disciplines through academic exchanges, as well as to build international human resource networks which will be helpful for them, when they became leaders at their research institutions in the future.” I attended FoS for the first year as a speaker, and tried my best to accomplish this purpose, which resulted in joint research projects with participants of different fields, both domestic and international, which still continue developing aiming to create new sciences.

My participation in the JAFoS for following two years was as a Planning Group Member (PGM). I was thrilled with FoS as a “system” of its tremendous organization. During the participants’ selection and program planning processes, information about promising young researchers to lead the next generation is automatically accumulated, ranging from research capability and human networks to personality. It made much sense to me that most US participants later become candidates for memberships in National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. Observing the facts that equivalent information about the partner country could be obtained, FoS would reflect US strategy to build global human resource networks aiming to “civilize the world”, through the social systems, as “Modern Romans”.

The PGM meeting for JAFoS, always held in Hawaii every spring, became the origin of my “academic diplomacy”. The discussion over the session topic selection appeared a debate competition. To all Japanese PGM attendees, the first year’s PGM meeting ended regretful – we felt completely outdebated by US counterparts. For the second year’s PGM meeting, therefore, we prepared elaborate countermeasures for English debate far beforehand, and had a strategic meeting on the evening before. As a result, our wish accomplished. This experience as yet helps me when facing various diplomatic situations such as international conferences and negotiations; however this “combative diplomacy perspective” was amended immediately, again through my FoS experience.

It happened in 2007, when I was appointed a PGM co-chair for newly launched Japanese-French Frontiers of Science (JFFoS) Symposium. At its PGM meeting, French delegates tried to reach a conclusion by leading discussions balancing the points of arguments under various perspectives. This “continental rationalism”-based debate style exhibited French (wo)mens’ persistence deep rooted in their culture. My previous strategy of straightforward dichotomy based on the reduced evaluation axis was drawn into the depths of scholarly speculations. Even after reached a conclusion at the meeting, philosophical discussions over its background were thoroughly continued, until midnight off the venue, at the home of “Tokyo subculture”. Through this experience, I learned that the “science” is the matured international activity, that assumes the members to “fight with the left hands while shaking the right hands”, that can be realized only under deep mutual respect and understandings.

In 2008, I was involved in scheming UK-Japan FoS as a part of commemorative events of the 150 anniversary of the Anglo-Japanese Treaty of Amity and Commerce. As an editorial board member of the Royal Society’s Journal at the time, taking this occasion, I was planning its special issue featuring Japanese science, in collaboration with JSPS London Office. The time also coincided with my first year of service as a member of JSPS FoS Symposium Advisory Board, through which a proposal for a UK-Japan FoS symposium had been realized. The PGM meeting took place at the Royal Society, the birthplace of modern science, and the UK-Japan FoS itself was held in Japan, with the reception at the ambassador’s residence at the British Embassy in Tokyo. Since then, the FoS receptions are regularly held at the embassies of the counterpart country, formalizing the “academic diplomacy”. As such, I came to recognize that Japan’s history and culture are of massive advantage – no other countries have such a long history and tradition as Japan among the major cultural spheres of advanced modern sciences.

Since then, till today, I have been looking after the Japanese-German Frontiers of Science (JGFoS) as a sub-committee of JSPS FoS Symposium Advisory Board. A lovely “chemistry” exists among Japanese and German participants, perhaps because of friendly nature of both societies, or may be because the Japanese academic system was initially launched after German’s, or they have to communicate through a second language for both, that is English. Particularly, I saw a glorious future in young Japanese participants expressing as intensively as their German peers in face-to-face discussions. This is not merely because their English language skill have improved, but due to the confidence in their argument subserved by scientific evidence as well as the broadmindedness to respect their counterparts. If they acquire, in addition, Japanese wisdom and pride as international citizens, a great future will be waiting for the Japanese academia.

Through my involvement in FoS, I have come to understand in which world I should live as a scholar, and in which time as a human being. In the midst of daily experiments and routine business as performance appraisal-related duties and else, there might be a few among FoS participants, who can realize the moment that makes it possible to take a close look at the essential nature of the life. In that sense, FoS is the “Intellectual Spice” – the secret of its flavor is shared by only those who can appreciate, and they can enjoy it together throughout their lifetime. It might be something to prove themselves as global scholars who can proceed beyond borders and centuries. And also, it is a source of the integrity of the nation that wins international respect and the dignity of science making a contribution to human beings. I heartily wish young researchers, to lead the next generations, will continue to be provided with these exceptional chances.