To mark the centenary of its Faculty of Law and Letters, Tohoku University hosted the Hasekura Summit on September 30 at Kawauchi Hagi Hall. The event attracted some 400 participants, including faculty members and students from 25 universities around the world.
In his opening remarks, Tohoku University President Hideo Ohno spoke of the importance of cultural understanding, pointing to the rapid pace of change in modern societies and escalating political conflicts.
"In order to avoid and resolve disputes and friction, we all need to deepen our awareness of diverse cultures and values, to tolerate different opinions and viewpoints, and to continue dialogue with one another," he said.
It was a sentiment echoed strongly by the Italian Ambassador to Japan Gianluigi Benedetti in his keynote video address. He said that even in difficult times, art and culture can inspire people to progress forward, and universities, in particular, can shape the next generation of well-informed global citizens.
Addressing the youth in the audience, he said "as Baby Boomers and Generation X loosen their grasp on decision making, it will be up to you to pick up the baton and make your contribution. The world we are leaving to you is complex, it is faster yet more fragile, it more advanced, yet more dangerous. You may rely on the tools of the contemporary world, such as information and technology. But you will need an understanding of culture and history in order to use them wisely."
In the second part of the summit, representatives from Tohoku University and seven other member universities of the Hasekura League introduced their institutions and engaged in a lively discussion about the future directions of research and education within the social sciences and humanities.
They also answered questions from an audience that included several dozen high school students. A few asked about the usefulness of the social sciences compared to popular STEM subjects such as science and technology.
"I think we are at a time where the crossing of experiences and learning are fundamental," said Professor Roberto Tottoli, Rector of L'Orientale University of Naples. He noted that some students might have great scientific and technical skills but cannot cope with the increasing diversity around the world.
"What is supposedly truth in scientific and technological development, must also be translated to different cultures and to different people cultivating the same culture," he said, adding that having cross knowledge in the humanities "can help you deal with the complexities of the world."
The Russian invasion of Ukraine was mentioned often as an example of rising global tensions and the need to be politically aware. Kiya Kaur, a graduate student from Russia, asked "how do I continue being a scholar and preserving good relationship with everyone when this horrible situation is happening?"
Professor Franciszek Czech, Director of the Institute of Intercultural Studies at Jagiellonian University in Poland, said that it is important to remember that "every country has some dark side in history." Professor Matilde Mastrangelo, Vice Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Humanities at Sapienza University of Rome, added that "you have a good chance to explain to everyone your point of view about the situation, and at the same time, also learn something more about your own country."
In a later session, two Tohoku University students - Yoko Kagami from the Graduate School of Arts and Letters, and Peiyao Wu from the Graduate School of International Cultural Studies - took to the stage to share their experiences of studying abroad.
The summit ended with the signing and presentation of the Hasekura Statement. In it, the Hasekura League member universities reiterated their commitment to promoting social sciences and the humanities and to enhancing interdisciplinary collaboration.
The Hasekura League is an international interdisciplinary Japanese Studies network, established between Tohoku University and affiliated research universities renowned for their work in the social sciences and humanities. There are currently 25 member universities.
The league is named after Hasekura Tsunenaga, a retainer of Sendai's feudal lord Date Masamune. Hasekura was famously tasked with leading a political delegation to Mexico and Europe in the 17th century, and was the first Japanese political envoy to visit the American continent.
Contact:Office of the International Graduate Program in Japanese Studies