For this interview, we are featuring Distinguished Professor Motohide Yoshikawa, who graduated from ICU in 1974.
While he was at ICU as a student, he lived in one of the university dorms, Canada House. Right after he graduated from ICU, he entered the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and continued working as a Japanese diplomat for 42 years. In 2017, he was offered to come back to ICU as a Distinguished Professor and has been teaching the fields of United Nations, international institutions, and international relations.
In this interview article part1, we mainly focus on how Professor Yoshikawa built his career, when and how he decided to become a diplomat, and what he found from his experiences of working at many other institutions outside of ICU.
Q1. Please tell us about your career.
I worked as a diplomat at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for 42 years and started working at ICU as a Distinguished Professor in 2017. This position was offered by Professor Junko Hibiya, a former ICU president, and I decided to come back to ICU with Professor Katsuhito Iwai, who became a Distinguished Professor at the same time with me.
Currently, I am teaching three classes; “Debates in International Relations” (General Education), “International Unions and Institutions”, and “International Relations and Diplomacy”.
Outside of ICU, I teach classes at Kanda University of International Studies, and sometimes appear on TV and news media. Over the past 5 years, I’ve taught more than 50 lectures. Furthermore, as an advisor of the Japanese Delegation to NMUN, I write recommendation letters for the NMUN members and help them collect donations.
Q2. Could you also tell us about the group called “Leaders pour la Paix” that you are part of?
This is a group led by the 17th president of France, Mr. Jean-Pierre Raffarin, and I am the only Japanese member in this group. Concerned that our world might be shifting to bilateralism based on our observation, we conduct local activism and make suggestions to make the world more multilateral. Due to the spread of COVID-19, we are not able to meet in-person and therefore, we have our meetings online. The current US Secretary of State, Mr. Antony John Blinken, is also one of our members, and I was impressed by how fluent he is in French.
My activities at the Leaders pour la Paix allowed me to realize that it was very important to have a large network with friends from many different countries. Recently, due to the military coup in Myanmar, one of our members had to discontinue her NGO activism. How we, as the Leaders pour la Paix, can support the NGO’s activities is also one of the topics we should consider. Since there are many famous members, such as former prime ministers and the secretariat of UNESCO, I find it beneficial to hear opinions from them.
Q3. Could you also tell us about your activity at “Association for the Preservation of UN Peace Bell” ?
This association aims to disseminate the meanings of the Peace Bell, which is located at the Headquarters of the United Nations. In 1954, Mr. Chioji Nakagawa, from Uwajima, Ehime prefecture, who served as the Chairman of the Prefectural Assembly, started this group with his belief of “No More War.” He created the bell ring using donated coins from all over the world. This bell was donated to the United Nations. Moreover, in 2000, a Japanese garden was landscaped around the Peace Bell, supported by donations from Japan. In the United Nation’s courtyard today, you will find the Peace Bell and the Japanese garden, both donated from Japan.
Every year at the United Nations, there is a ceremony held by the Secretary-General and the UN General Assembly chairman, to ring the bell on the occasion of International Day of Peace, a tradition praying for peace. While other countries have also donated paintings and sculptures that are all ”visually appealing,” the Peace Bell is an art, but also a “tool.” But, since it is frequently damaged by rain and wind, we also need to repair the bell. Funds are necessary. Through running the Association for the Preservation of the Peace Bell, we are spreading the message of peace globally.
Currently, Ms. Seiko Takase, Mr. Chioji Nakagawa’s daughter, serves as president and the members of the Association give lectures about the Peace Bell. The Association also donates replicas of the Bell to other countries.
Q4. Thank you for talking about your past careers and activities and also what you currently do. It is impressive that that you are standing in the front line in many different fields, even after you retired from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Could you tell us why you decided to become a diplomat?
When I was in my third year at high school, I received a scholarship from American Field Service (AFS) and studied in the United States for a year. This experience inspired me to become a diplomat. I was born and raised in a rural area in Nara Prefecture, and I had not met any one who spoke English. However, after entering Unebi high school, I met Mr. Takaaki Sueyoshi, who was a year senior to me. He was studying so hard to receive the AFS Scholarship, and I was learning English conversation together with him. Mr. Sueyoshi passed the AFS examination and went to the U.S. One year later, I also passed the examination and finally went to the U.S. When I applied, the AFS accepted only two students per year from Nara prefecture–one male and one female.
While I was in the U.S., what impressed me was that many people asked me, “What would you like to do when you get back to Japan?” rather than,“Which university do you want to go to?” which is one of the most frequently asked questions for Japanese high school students. I was asked what I would want to do, not which school I would want to go to. When I was asked this question, I answered, “I haven’t decided yet,” but I could not repeat the same thing. I felt I had to come up with a plausible answer, so I started to say, “I want to become a diplomat.” Everyone who asked me seemed to be convinced by my answer. By the time I told them that I wanted to become a diplomat over ten times, I started to feel that I really wanted to become a diplomat. It must have been autosuggestion. However, I had not met any diplomats yet and had no idea what actual diplomats do.
After I returned to the Unebi High School, I told my high school teacher that I wanted to be a diplomat. The teacher said, “Then you must go to the University of Tokyo.” Because I had two younger siblings, my father told me, “You can’t take a gap year or repeat a year because you have already studied abroad for a year. I would like you to get a job right away after you graduate from university.” Since I knew Mr. Sumiyoshi didn’t return to the high school and went to ICU directly as a September student, I decided to go to ICU, too. At ICU, I lived in Canada House. Mr. Sueyoshi also lived in the Second Men’s Dormitory. I was greatly influenced by him.
Right after I started to live in the dorm, I told the friends I lived with that I would take the Diplomat exam and told them not to interrupt me, but this didn’t work in the dorm. My friends and I often went to Mitaka or Musashisakai to have drinks on Fridays, so there wasn’t really a good environment to study for my examination. However, in the dorm, there were students from the U.S. and Hong Kong, and I was able to spend time with students of different ages, places, and interests of study. As for my student life, I was part of the ICU Judo Club and also worked quite hard at my part-time job as well, so I would say my university life was not just about studying. My close friends right now are mostly friends from the Judo Club or Canada House. Even though I participated in extracurricular activities, I suppose I never studied harder than that later in my life. Finally, I passed the exam in my final year at university and entered the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
What I can tell you from my experience is that, if you have something that you want to accomplish, you should put it into your own words and tell your friends about it so that you can deliberately create an environment where you can’t escape from your goal. I think, in the dorm, it’s not easy to study for an exam secretly and only tell your friends after passing the exam, simply because you may be seen as an antisocial person. I recommend you set a rule with your friends, like “I can hang out with you only once a month because I have to study!” so that you won’t sacrifice your friendship for your studies. As a student who lived in the dorm, it was more challenging for me to figure out how to make time to study rather than actually studying for my diplomat service examination.
Q5. After working as a diplomat at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for 42 years, you decided to become a professor at ICU. Please tell us more details about your story on how you made a comeback to ICU.
My last position as a diplomat was Ambassador to the United Nations in New York. The Japan ICU Foundation (JICUF) is in New York, which collects donations and funds for ICU students’ scholarships. When I was in New York, I was invited to a welcome dinner organized by JICUF for the former President of ICU, Professor Junko Hibiya. I later organized a dinner party at the Residence of the Japanese Ambassador, inviting Professor Hibiya and ICU alumni who lived in New York. When I retired from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and came back to Japan, she offered me a position as a professor at ICU. I was pleased to accept that offer and Mr. Katsuhiko Iwai and I were assigned as Distinguished Professors.
Q6. How did you find coming back to ICU as a professor after a long career as a diplomat?
I was looking to somehow contribute to ICU by using my knowledge and network that I had built during my days at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Since I was sure that this position would allow me to utilize my experiences more than working as a company’s advisor position, for example, I was more than grateful to accept the offer.
ICONfront menber：I have taken Professor Yoshikawa’s course before. I found the opportunity of hearing practical experiences from you very special for me and for other students because many other professors tend to have stayed in academia for a long time.
I think I’m the only professor who doesn’t have a master’s degree. I feel it isn’t very sensible to compete with other professors over academic knowledge. But, I believe I am the only one that can share what I learned from being a diplomat. I can also introduce my friends or ICU graduates to my students who are job-hunting. My network allows me to introduce CEOs and directors of firms, and civil service personnel in Kasumigaseki to interested students. This is one of the things that I can do as a professor.
Four years is such a short time to enjoy campus life. ICU is like a utopia away from reality. Because ICU is relatively small, it carries so many possibilities, which many of you realize only after graduating from ICU.
Thank you for reading!
Please look forward to the next article – part 2.
【Past interviews with Prof. Motohide Yoshikawa】
Voices from Global ICU Graduates Motohide Yoshikawa
International Christian University Alumni Association – Alumni Who Shine Today No. 48 Motohide Yoshikawa