In interview part 1 with Professor Yoshikawa, we asked him about his career from his graduation from ICU to the present.
In part 2, we asked him about the benefits of being a diplomat and a professor, as well as his advice on university life and finding a job.
Q1: This is a little off topic, but a master’s degree is often a requirement for employment at the United Nations. What are some differences between going to graduate school and not?
I believe that the UN recruitment system is strongly influenced by the Anglo-Saxon, and especiallyAmerican, style of employment. In the U.S., the level of university entrance qualification is not as high as that in Japan. In fact, when I studied in the U.S. in high school, I found that I came first in mathematics which I was not good at in Japan. However, the academic level after entering university is very high. In order to work in an international organization, you need a master’s degree. In addition, your educational background is also important, such as where you got your master’s degree. You also need work experience, so it is also a good idea to get a master’s degree after you work once. Age doesn’t matter. The number of Japanese working at the UN is small compared to Japan’s financial contributions, which is advantageous for recruitment. This is especially true for women.
To become a diplomat of Japan, you have to pass the civil service exam. There are a lot of people from the University of Tokyo, but it doesn’t matter where you received education as long as you get top grades in the exam. I, an ICU graduate, served as the Ambassador to the UN and the recent ambassadors to the United States were graduates of Keio and Waseda. I would say that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is one of the government offices in Kasumigaseki that is not biased by academic cliques.
International organizations and many foreign-affiliated companies focus on educational background and ability when hiring people. Their criteria include knowledge and experience in their field of expertise as well as whether they have a master’s, PhD., foreign languages or IT skills.
In Japan, hiring decisions are often based on a person’s potential. Even if the person’s current skills are not high, if you judge that the person has potential, such as having been active in an athletic club, you can invest in and train them. International organizations, on the other hand, evaluate the skills and expertise that you have already acquired. So the perspective when hiring is different.
Q2: What was the most challenging part of being a diplomat?
Diplomats represent his/her country and protect the interests of the country and the safety of its people. In reality, you don’t do that kind of abstract work every day, but it is rewarding to feel that your daily work is connected to a bigger goal. All government offices in Kasumigaseki have been known as “black” for many years, and I actually used to work until midnight when I was a young officer there. It can be difficult to feel a sense of accomplishment and maintain motivation in such an environment. In recent years, the way of working has been reformed and Kasumigaseki has undergone major changes, so please don’t hesitate to become a public servant.
Forty-two years in the diplomatic service has been rewarding, and I have never found it hard. I’m not exaggerating. I think it was my father’s experience that greatly influenced this way of thinking. My father was a soldier from the age of 20 to 24, and from 24 to 28 he was detained by the Soviet Union in Siberia. During his time in Siberia, he was in a situation where he could have died at any time. Compared to that, a job at Kasumigaseki is nothing; it’s not life or death. Seeing my father like that, and my mother who survived the war, I didn’t think that being a diplomat would be hard work. I can say that now, though.
The one thing that all professions have in common is that you need to sort out for yourself what motivates you. If you lose your motivation, you should quit. If you were a prisoner of war in Siberia like my father, you could not quit even if you wanted to. Having the freedom to quit something you don’t want to do is a big deal, in my opinion.
ICU graduates are known to leave their jobs easily, but I think it is much better to quit and start something new than to work grudgingly for 10 years. In my opinion, there is no need to hesitate when it comes to changing jobs, although I did work for the same institution for 42 years. I think it is important to have a dialogue with yourself about what you want to do, and whether what you are doing now is living up to it. If we live our lives every day doing the same things we did yesterday, it will be a boring life, won’t it?
Q3: Could you tell us about your efforts related to the SDGs during your time as an UN Ambassador?
When I was Ambassador to the United Nations, there were several major events regarding the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals). First, the SDGs were adopted at the UN Summit in the fall of 2015. The UN Summit was attended by then Prime Minister Abe. This document was negotiated over a period of three years. The Japanese Delegation formed a special team to participate in the negotiations.
Next, in April 2016, the signing ceremony of the Paris Agreement was held at the UN Headquarters in New York, and I signed on behalf of Japan. In fact, the Minister of the Environment, Ms. Tamayo Marukawa, was scheduled to come from Tokyo to sign the agreement, but she was held up by the Diet, so I signed it on short notice.
The SDGs are often thought of as the work of governments, but they are an international agreement that calls for individual behavioral change. There are things we can all do to help realize the SDGs.
I would like to introduce some concrete examples.
When I was working abroad for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, I had to have a car, so I bought a number of cars, but after I retired, I stopped using cars. Now I travel by train and bus. I bring a water bottle with me to ICU to avoid using plastic bottles. We can increase the number of water fountains on campus, reduce the number of vending machines, etc.
My wife has been supporting an NGO that provides scholarships to children in Niger for more than 10 years now. A girl named Mariama, whom we have supported since she started elementary school, has already graduated from high school. I enjoyed reading the yearly report sent by Mariama every year. in terms of SDGs, it is about education (Goal 4) and gender (Goal 5).
Since last year, I have been serving on a board of an NGO called the “No Harm Association”. This organization advises small and medium-sized companies and individual stores to use the SDGs concept in their business management.
Many classes are offered at ICU which are related to SDGs, so please take them and think about what you can do to contribute to achieve SDGs.
Q4: What is the most rewarding part of being a professor?
I was very grateful to be asked by the former president, Ms. Hibiya, to be a senior thesis advisor. There are only about five students in my thesis seminar every year, which is not many, but they are all very active in various fields after graduation. There are also connections among alumni of different years. Seeing the growth of the students is the most rewarding part of my job.
Q5: What did you notice through your activities, what do you want to tell ICU students, and what books do you recommend?
Many of my senior thesis seminars participants became public servants. I would like ICU students to understand the importance of public work and public service. In my case, I learned a lot about public service from Ogata Sadako sensei when I was at ICU and during my 40 years of professional life. After Ogata sensei passed away, every year around December 5th, on Human Rights Day, we hold a memorial event for her at the ICU, which, I hope, will continue for many years to come. There is a saying in Spanish; “La vida de los muertos está en la memoria de los vivos.” or “ The lives of the dead will live on in the memories of those who remain”.
Ogata-sensei was an associate professor at ICU, so it would be good for ICU students to read what she wrote. The best one is “Kikigaki: Memoirs of Sadako Ogata” from Iwanami. I think it will be useful for any kind of work.
Q6: What do you think are the characteristics of ICU students? Also, is there anything good about graduating from ICU?
As for my generation, I think one of the characteristics of ICU students is that they tend to dislike being in groups. I was a bit more neutral, and when I was a diplomat, I wasn’t particularly close with people from ICU. After I retired and started working at ICU, my attitude changed dramatically and I give special treatment to ICU graduates (lol).
ICU is the first university in Japan to be named “International” and “Liberal Arts”. The founders were very forward-thinking. ICU is characterized by its diversity because its students come from many different backgrounds, and I think ICUHS (high school) is also very diverse. I hope that ICU will continue to be a university where a diverse group of people want to study.
I did not choose ICU because my school teachers recommended it or my parents told me to. In fact, the teachers at my high school did not even know about ICU. I followed Mr. Takaaki Sueyoshi, who was a senior in my high school, and entered ICU without hesitation. So what I learned at ICU was exactly what I expected.
In the future, I think it would be a good idea to interview international students and professors who come from abroad. I think you will find a different perspective on ICU from the outside.
Q7. What do you think students should learn during their four years at university and how do you think students should use their university life?
Going to class and doing the assignments given to you constitutes about half of your overall student life. It’s important to see how much you actively do things that don’t count as credits. There are many things that you can do, such as circles, club activities, dormitory life, part-time jobs, and making friends. Part-time jobs may be more important than club activities in that you actually get to learn about society and earn money.
If your only goal is to earn credits, you will become an uninteresting person. It is important to have a balance between university classes and extracurricular activities.
I have an impression that many students at ICU have always had a strong sense of extracurricular activities. When I entered ICU 50 years ago, ICU was the center of the student movement. I was against the student movement at the time, but I think the social movement today is more positive and better than it was then.
Q8: Do you have any advice on leadership?
You should read about it in Mrs. Sadako Ogata’s books. She was a very accomplished person in leading others. She was not the “smiling and kind lady” that people think she was in Japan. In fact, she was a strict leader, and although she would argue, she would give clear directions, saying, “You should do this.” She just didn’t appear strict because of her good manners and upbringing. That kind of leadership is hard to imitate, but each of us must learn to lead in our own way. I daresay that we learn it in valuing various encounters and relationships with people.
Q9: Professor Yoshikawa, you have learned French and Spanish in addition to English. What can you tell us about choosing and using a second language?
When I joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, I could speak English and decided to learn another language. I had the opportunity to be sent by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to study abroad for two years, and out of the seven languages (English, Franch, Russian, Chinese, Arabic, German, and Spanish), France and Spain were the ones left after excluding places that had cold and harsh climates. Since many people chose French, I decided to go to Spain. I was the only one out of 27 classmates who chose Spanish.
My Spanish was very useful in my life as a diplomat. At the UN negotiations, I was able to make friends with people from about 30 countries just because I could speak Spanish. There were not many Japanese who could speak Spanish, and when I gave speeches in Spanish, word went out that a newly-Japanese representative could speak Spanish, which was helpful.
In my personal life, I married a French person I met in Spain. If I had not studied in Spain, I would never have met my wife. I am grateful to have been able to go to Spain.
From its foundation, ICU was strongly influenced by the U.S., and I felt an impression at ICU that it would be enough if one could speak English. Since I lived in the U.S. during high school, I wanted to live in Europe, which has a long history, after entering the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Nowadays, there are many other important languages such as Chinese, Indonesian and other Asian languages, so I think it would be a good idea to choose those. Languages have a rich background of history, culture, ways of thinking and behavior, and although they take time to learn, they enrich your life for sure.
Q10: Is there anything you would like to tell or appeal to society?
It’s not a big deal, but I tell my students to read other news sources because the amount of information in the Japanese media is very limited and there is very little analysis. If you take a debate class or something like that, you will understand that everything is double-sided, with advantages and disadvantages. You have to put it all on the table and discuss it first.
If you don’t have enough information from the mass media, then you have to do it by yourself. I think we need to get into the habit of pausing and thinking about things.
For example, the media in Japan today is all about COVID-19. Of course it’s an important issue, but it’s not worth being in the news from morning to night. There are many other important issues, such as the situation in China and global warming.
It is important to have an attitude to search for what is important now. Not many people in Japan are worried about the coup d’etat in Myanmar, but I am worried about the fact that many citizens are being killed in an ASEAN member-country. Let’s make a habit of thinking for ourselves why this is happening. I always want to be a person who is full of curiosity.
Q11: Is there anything you would like to challenge in the future?
To lower my golf handicap (lol). I’m only half joking, but I’d like to travel not only across Japan, but also to places in Spain and France that I haven’t visited yet.
I think this kind of coverage by ICONfront is great because classes have been online since last year and it has been difficult to build relationships with your colleagues and other students. Please keep up the “no-credit activities”!
【Past interviews with Dr. Motowei Yoshikawa】
Voices from Global ICU Graduates Motohide Yoshikawa
International Christian University Alumni Association – Alumni Who Shine Today No. 48 Motohide Yoshikawa
Noham Association [Former UN Ambassador Motohide Yoshikawa] SDGs Special Talk