The following is a guest article written by Professor Hideto Fukudome, Graduate School of Education, the University of Tokyo. Fukudome was also the Director of the Center for Advanced School Education & Evidence-Based Research (CASEER) at the Graduate School of Education until March 2022.
I invited Dr. Gary Mukai, SPICE Director, to the University of Tokyo as an invitational fellow of the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS). JSPS accepted our collaborative research plan, “Enhancement of U.S.–Japan Cultural Exchange Based on International and Cross-Cultural Education” and Gary stayed at the University of Tokyo from late September to mid-November 2022.
CASEER has been working with SPICE since the fall of 2021 to promote research exchange through the “SPICE/Stanford-UTokyo Partnership Program on International and Cross-Cultural Education and Global Citizenship.” During the Autumn 2022 semester, Gary and I taught a course at the Graduate School of Education called “Introduction to International and Cross-Cultural Education.” These are great learning opportunities for UTokyo students and for me as well.
I enjoyed spending time with Gary daily and learning many things from him. I am a higher education scholar and have studied American colleges and universities from a comparative and historical perspectives. American universities are unique in many ways. In particular, the diversity of missions and objectives of higher education institutions and the corresponding diversity of educational offerings and approaches can provide tremendous insight into American higher education. On the other hand, I also understand that diversity in the United States involves complicated issues that are closely related to the history of the country’s origins and its challenging social problems. The United States has a social structure that requires people to respect diversity at all times. However, despite the complex issues, I can say without a doubt that respect for diversity has shaped the vitality of the United States as a country and of American higher learning.
I studied in the United States for the first time in 1999. One of the things that impressed me the most was that consideration for people with disabilities was widespread in universities and every corner of society. More than 20 years have passed since then, and I believe that what diversity means in the United States has changed dramatically. In Japan, until recently, people scarcely mentioned the word “diversity” in society. Many Japanese have perceived Japan as a monolithic country in terms of language, culture, and so on, though this is not valid. Japanese society is undoubtedly becoming more diverse. At the same time, there has been a growing awareness, albeit belatedly, that diversity, which people should have taken into consideration, has been largely overlooked in the mindset of Japanese people.
The University of Tokyo is considered the most competitive university in Japan in terms of admission. Many students come from elite private high schools in metropolitan areas. There has been little diversity in the composition of students and faculty. One of the serious issues is that the percentage of female undergraduates has only recently exceeded 20 percent. This situation is surprising given the current state of universities around the world. However, for a long time in Japan, women were not required to have high academic credentials, and various “cooling” functions were in place before they got into college.
However, the University of Tokyo has recently begun a serious effort to increase diversity and inclusion. I believe this move is significant for the future of Japanese universities and society. The School of Education is also working to promote this movement. For many years, Japanese education has focused on academic achievement in a narrow sense as an indicator for evaluating students. However, I have come to realize that by looking at the diversity of human beings, we can capture a wide range of individual characteristics. Among other things, I have come to understand this since I met Gary several years ago, and we have discussed many things. Through stories grounded in Gary’s upbringing as a third-generation Japanese American and the interactions with SPICE people, I have developed a greater appreciation for cultural diversity.
Diversity is multidimensional, and a comprehensive understanding of diversity is not straightforward. However, there is no doubt that a willingness to focus on and consider diversity will help us to be more flexible and cultivate a multifaceted perspective. In this sense, I believe applying and extending what I have learned in our classes with Gary to my teaching and research is essential.