Tokyo Institute of Technology: First Taki Plaza Lecture: Thinking deeply about diversity

The first Taki Plaza Lecture, “Thinking deeply about diversity, ” was held on October 27, 2021 at Hisao & Hiroko Taki Plaza, Tokyo Tech’s new student exchange hub. The event, co-organized by the Student Support Center’s Student Success Support Section, the Student Support Division’s Support Planning Group, and the Tokyo Tech Alumni Association, brought together a range of members from the Tokyo Tech community to discuss the meaning and importance of diversity.

This lecture was one of several sessions comprising the Student Success Support Projectouter, a project supported Tokyo Tech alumnus and Gurunavi Inc. Chairman and Director Hisao Taki, which aims to encourage students actively engaged in various activities at Taki Plaza. A total of 215 people — 62 in-person participants and 153 online attendees —gathered at this hybrid event to contemplate and discuss the meaning of diversity, one of the key concepts of the student exchange hub. The October lectures, joined by experts from various fields, will be followed by two more sessions — the Future Creation Challenge, an idea contest that offers significant financial support to winners, and a Cooking Contest.

To kick things off, participants heard opening words from the moderators of the event — 2nd-year master’s student in Chemistry Yuuga Yashima and 2nd-year student in Transdisciplinary Science and Engineering Rieko Yanase. Yashima played an important role in the Tokyo Tech Grand Prix, a student workshop that was held to brainstorm the potential uses of Taki Plaza before it opened. Yanase is the leader of the Taki Plaza Gardeners (TPGs), the student group in charge of planning and managing activities at Taki Plaza.

Executive Vice President for Education Tetsuya Mizumoto, who also actively participated in the panel discussions, continued with some brief comments. “We have all experienced a period during which the COVID-19 pandemic obstructed us from holding many of the social events that we had planned. However, we are holding the First Taki Plaza Lecture today in the hopes that this hub becomes a bustling space where many students gather,” Mizumoto stated.

Part One
In Part One of the session, participants heard viewpoints on diversity from three experts from very different fields — alumnus Taki, architect Kengo Kuma from Kengo Kuma & Associates, and Institute Professor Hideo Hosono from the Materials Research Center for Element Strategy.

Sporting the same stylish hat he wore during his student days, alumnus Taki, a major contributor to the establishment of Taki Plaza, began with his lecture. He explained that by truly valuing international students, we naturally immerse ourselves in diversity. “I want Tokyo Tech to be known across the world as the place to go for international students, a place where the entire student population calls out to each other even when outside of the classroom, where students mingle, enjoy meals together, and discuss each other’s rich cultures. The Institute is already made up of many attributes that can be considered the best in the world. I want all of our students to discover these attributes, and to share them proudly with the rest of the world,” Taki stated.

Next up was Kuma, the head architect of Taki Plaza. He began by expressing his desire to strongly connect the student exchange hub with the concept of diversity. In a world that used to be simple “fields,” we created cities that became extremely concentrated, skyscrapers side by side in which people were crammed in their small boxes. These people became the elite, but they also became stressed, and this stress in some ways represented the opposite of diversity. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, however, we are beginning to revert back to the idea of the “fields” where people can walk freely and embrace diversity. I want Taki Plaza to become a place where such “fields” are created, Kuma explained. Since the beginnings of his architecture firm, Kuma had the idea of turning a building into a garden. As the vegetation on its roof began to bloom and the garden that is Taki Plaza began to take shape, Kuma felt that he was getting closer to the concept of a “field”, and he felt extremely happy. To conclude, the renowned architect explained the future of architecture using dynamic visuals and easy explanations, holding the complete attention of the students in the audience.

To conclude Part One of the event, leading materials researcher Hosono offered an interactive lecture aimed at students. In addition to speaking about his own research on element strategyouter, IGZO thin-film transistors, and the startup company Tsubame BHB Co., Ltd.outer, Hosono also touched on three essential conditions for the development of outstanding researchers — unexplored, exciting new areas that can create broad societal impact, openness that allows for free and thorough discussions in academic spheres, and a greater degree of freedom that encourages emerging researchers to generate results and outshine their predecessors. Hosono finished with some words of encouragement that were a perfect fit for the students participating in the Student Success Support Project. “I want you to be brazen! Being brazen means you can express your opinions strongly. And to be able take responsibility for your strong opinions, you must do your very best when conducting research.”

Part Two
In the second part of the session, moderators Yashima and Yanase led a panel discussion involving Taki, Kuma, Hosono, and Mizumoto. The discussions were based on questions collected in advance from Tokyo Tech students, and included topics such as the following:

– Coming from a completely different field, what were your thoughts when you heard some of the other lectures?
– What were some of your best achievements as a student?

“Architecture and materials are actually very closely related because innovation in materials leads to improved architecture,” was one of the replies from the panel. It was interesting to see leaders from different fields enjoying and commenting on each other’s talks, which provided an excellent opportunity for all those present to think about the future together through the lens of diversity.

“The stories of real people are indeed profound and thought-provoking. When we think about diversity, we also need to think about the individual. I think this was a good opportunity for us to reconsider where we stand as individuals in the midst of diversity,” concluded Student Support Center Head Tetsuji Okamura, who is also vice president for student affairs at Tokyo Tech.

The first Taki Plaza Lecture ended with renewed interest among participants to consider how the meaning of “diversity” may change in the future, and how Taki Plaza can be used as the venue to develop this conversation. Similar lectures will be held at the student hub in the future, hopefully with more in-person participants and interaction as the COVID-19 pandemic subsides.