Critically Considering Perspectives on Social Issues in Japan

The following reflection is a guest post written by Ai Tanoue, a student at the University of Tokyo and a Fall 2020 alumna of the Stanford e-Japan Program, which is currently accepting application for Fall 2023.
Students on Stanford campus Ai Tanoue (dark sweatshirt) along with other students from the University of Tokyo standing next to Stanford e-Japan Instructor Meiko Kotani at Stanford Business School; photo courtesy Ai Tanoue.

Stanford e-Japan is an online course that teaches Japanese high school students about U.S. society and culture and U.S.–Japan relations. The course introduces students to both U.S. and Japanese perspectives on many historical and contemporary issues. It is offered biannually by the Stanford Program on International and Cross-Cultural Education (SPICE). Stanford e-Japan is supported by the Yanai Tadashi Foundation.

Throughout the entire Stanford e-Japan Program that I participated in fall 2020, I was able to develop the ability to critically consider my perspectives on social issues in Japan. The participants came from various regions in Japan, not only public high schools like mine, but also private schools and international schools. The student backgrounds were diverse, ranging from individuals who grew up in Japan like me to those who were born and raised abroad, with experiences in different countries. Engaging in discussions with such members made me realize that different backgrounds can bring significantly different perspectives and opinions to class discussions. For example, when I read posts on the discussion board from participants who held opposing views, I found myself understanding and accepting their perspectives, while often thinking, “Oh, I never considered that way of thinking before.” By listening to the reasons behind their thoughts during class discussions, I also found that my perspectives could be reconsidered. It was the first significant opportunity for me to contextualize myself on a global scale, extending beyond Japan.

At that time, I was on the debate team in high school, and I experienced that I could argue both for and against controversial topics if I had appropriate supporting data. However, I found it challenging to express opinions that were beyond broad generalizations. Stanford e-Japan had a thrilling course design centered around discussions, with a significant portion of the class dedicated to Q&A sessions. Initially, I struggled to express my genuine opinions, and could only provide general arguments that were often heard. I felt quite frustrated with this. However, as the classes progressed, I began to pay closer attention to the various elements behind my opinions, such as my country of birth, my gender, or my experiences that might have shaped my views. I learned from how others formed their opinions, and gradually, I was able to post my original ideas. To this day, this way of thinking remains an important foundation for my aspirations and their impact on the future.

Furthermore, Instructor Meiko Kotani cultivated an open atmosphere throughout the course where everyone was encouraged to think about the course’s progression. We were able to provide feedback on the course and discuss how to utilize our time effectively, and the feedback influenced the design of future courses. It became a catalyst for considering what learning methods were most comfortable for me, as it introduced a different style of learning compared to that of the high school I had attended.

The most memorable module during the 13-week course was about innovation in Silicon Valley, where we compared the industries of the United States and Japan. It was not only fascinating to learn about innovation, which I was already interested in, but also genuinely gratifying to work on the group assignment. In particular, the ability to examine innovation from various perspectives such as ideas, work styles, and economic trends directly relates to my current endeavors, and I still keep in touch with those group members who are now friends.

It was the first significant opportunity for me to contextualize myself on a global scale, extending beyond Japan.

For the final assignment, I combined the ideas I had been contemplating during my local activities to promote a regional and global understanding of the SDGs with what I learned in the Silicon Valley module. In my paper, “U.S.-Japan Cooperation on Innovative Technology: The Way to Balance Economy and Protection of the Earth,” I concluded that by leveraging traditional Japanese lifestyles, combining the strengths of Japanese and American companies, and engaging in joint ventures, we could potentially influence the values of people worldwide and achieve a balance between economic growth and environmental protection. Looking back, the idea of balancing the two things has become elemental to my way of thinking since then.

Currently, I have a strong desire to apply cutting-edge technology in everyday life. I took the entrance examination for the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Tokyo and was accepted. After completing two-year liberal arts education, I will specialize in precision engineering starting next year. My goal is to create a cycle of technology where advanced robotics technology used in space can be applied to solving challenges on Earth, and vice versa. I am excited about working in the space industry, which has always been my dream. To achieve that, I am currently acquiring knowledge in the fundamental study of robotics and learning about business and backcasting methodologies through Deep Innovation Creation Ecosystem (DICE), a research and development-oriented startup community that focuses on fostering talent. In March 2023, I had the opportunity to visit Silicon Valley through DICE, where I observed the robotics laboratories at Stanford and the community of startups and investors. It was an overwhelming experience to meet Meiko Kotani in person for the first time. Additionally, driven by the desire to address social issues while maintaining profitability, I am working on creating a web service to solve mobility challenges for the elderly in Japan. My team has established mairu tech Inc., and we are planning to proceed with service demonstration experiments in Japanese cities.

The society I would like to create in the future is one that can simultaneously address immediate challenges and achieve long-term goals. Engaging in conversations with diverse individuals allows for deeper consideration of topics and enables us to contemplate what society and the future should aspire to from multiple evaluative perspectives. Although decision-making often requires one to narrow down options to a single evaluation axis, which can be challenging, I believe it will gradually become possible by engaging with many people with a positive mindset.

Finally, I am truly grateful for the opportunity to have participated in Stanford e-Japan and to have met amazing fellow participants. Moving forward, I want to continue learning, form teams, and strive toward my vision with unwavering determination.

For more information about the Stanford e-Japan Program, please visit Application deadline for the fall 2023 session is August 12, 2023.

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