This article originally appeared in The Stanford Daily.
On Thursday, the Walter H. Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center (APARC) inaugurated the “Asia in 2030, APARC@40” conference series to commemorate the Center’s 40th anniversary and explore the diverse ways that Asia has transformed and continues to transform over the years.
“The Future of Social Tech: Nurturing Skills and Markets for Social Impact Innovation” is the first installment of a six-part academic convention spanning both the winter and spring quarters hosted by the Stanford Japan Program. The one-day conference brought together entrepreneurs, investors and other digital influencers to discuss social impact through the lenses of education, government and environment. The event concluded with a keynote address by YOSHIKI, who is the leader of rock bands The Last Rockstars and X Japan and whose musical career of 40 years has earned him a reputation as an innovator in Japan’s entertainment industry.
In his opening remarks at the conference, professor Kiyoteru Tsutsui, director of the Japan Program and deputy director for APARC, said that the event marks the first major in-person conference for the Japan Program since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Need” for Nature
A segment of the conference was dedicated to discussing the future of Japan’s environment and large-scale investments in nature. Gretchen Daily, co-founder and faculty director of the Natural Capital Project, spoke of connecting local stewardship of the ecosystems with investors. According to Daily, by integrating valuations of nature into decision-making, such as through land zoning for the provision of the flow of benefits, there are improvements to ecosystems on both national and local levels. These improvements include water resource management, biodiversity and sandstorm control.
“We know, in cities, that there is a tremendous need for nature,” said Daily. She added that this “need” is reinforced by studies that reflect the “many pathways connecting nature experiences causally to the benefits of human health, mentally and physically.”
STEAM and Innovation
Another panel at the conference focused on STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics), an educational framework integrating art with STEM. The panel was led by Rie Kijima M.A. ’03, Ph.D. ’13, professor of education at the University of Toronto and co-founder of SKY Labo, and Sachiko Nakajima, CEO of setAM, Inc. and director of the STEAM Sports Laboratory. Nakajima and Kijima both work on STEAM education initiatives in Japan and called for interdisciplinary education to be made accessible for youth of all backgrounds.
“In our increasingly challenging, complex world, we need learners who have the courage, audacity, motivation and self-belief that they can be a catalyst of social change,” says Kijima.
According to Kijima, her experiences with STEAM learning from the SKY Labo program demonstrated to her how “empathy can be cultivated and supported in learning, providing learners with an opportunity to reflect, understand and become empathetic listeners.”
“You might not necessarily agree 100% with the person who’s sitting next to you all the time and that’s impossible because we all have different views,” Kijima said. “But we can provide an opportunity for these students… to be at least empathetic towards each other.”
According to Kijima, SKY Labo proposes students to innovate and think outside of the box. “It’s okay that you’re trying to bring out an idea that no one else is thinking about,” Kijima said. She added that the initiative promotes a self-starter mindset that encourages participants “to have a bias towards action. If you have an idea, make it into something that’s actionable.”
According to Nakajima, a focus on innovation should also extend to educators. “Active learning for children should be also done for teachers, I think. Teachers should experience active project-based learning or experience new things in a safety zone,” Nakajima said.
Art and Perseverance
YOSHIKI, a renowned Japanese composer, producer and rock star, spoke at the event’s keynote address. YOSHIKI is known for shaping the visual kei rock genre, which is characterized by heavy glam makeup and androgynous aesthetics. As a musician and artist, he discussed the future of the entertainment industry and his experiences engaging with both America and Japan.
According to YOSHIKI, his father’s early passing was a turning point in his life that motivated him to persist in the face of difficulty. He said that artistic exploration in other disciplines, such as designing kimonos and making wine, helps him stay motivated.
When asked what message he would like to share with Stanford students, he encouraged them to “be your own rockstar.”
“The hero is within you,” YOSHIKI said. He said that, whether he is composing, competing or experiencing a difficult time, he reminds himself of the question, “Who are you fighting?”
“If you believe in yourself, you can conquer anything,” the musician added. “It’s never too late to start anything.”