世界で活躍するグローバル・リーダーを bimonthly (隔月ごと）にYGCでインタビューしていきます。全て英語でインタビューが記載されていますので、是非最後まで頑張って読んでいきましょう！
現在は、得意の数学も活かして音楽と融合した活動と教育に携わっており、国内外のSTEAMラーニングを推進するため第一線で活躍されています。2018年には内閣府STEM Girls Ambassadorに任命され、経済産業省『未来の教室＆EdTech』研究会研究員、米日財団日米リーダーシッププログラムのフェローも務めておられます。
- You currently reside in Brooklyn, New York. What is your daily life like? Please also explain your profession to our readers.
I currently study at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts – Interactive Telecommunications Program (ITP) as a Fulbright Scholar earning my Master’s Degree. Here, I am undergoing project-based research in the relatively new field of media art (a conglomerate of art/design and communications technology), where we fully utilize the latest technology, such as 3D printers, AR, VR, ML, and coding techniques to bring unique and emerging art into people’s lives.
In addition to my research and studies, I also operate a company in Japan by simultaneously managing six projects, which requires traveling back and forth between New York and Tokyo.
As for my personal life, I have a 13-year-old daughter whom I love to stroll around this wonderful city of New York with by checking out the latest art in such places as Immersive Theater and Digital Art Museum. Speaking of New York, I would love to see some jazz shows, but unfortunately, I am unable to fully enjoy the night life, as I have responsibilities as a mother of a young teenager!
Every day is an adventure for me in this city, rich with diverse cultures and people and I treasure every moment as much as I can.
- You spent your childhood engaged in the world of music. What made you develop a strong interest in mathematics?
I have always loved composing music – usually jaunty ones – from a young age. But around the time I was in middle school, I realized that life should be about experienced in all possible ways and that there was more to it than music. So, I took the plunge and decided to give music up for a while. With all the free time I had on my hands, I was able to read various books and tackle challenging, but practical, mathematical problems which I had always been curious about earlier. Specifically, I picked up a magazine called, Mathematical Journal for Universities (Tokyo Shuppan) and started solving modern mathematic problems in Péter Frankl’s (a famous Hungarian educator, mathematician and street performer, active in Japan) monthly column that were more difficult than the ones contended at the International Mathematical Olympiad (IMO). There was usually about a month to spend solving the monthly problem, which was an optimal timeframe to play around with and explore many different options using my imagination. I gradually acquired a predilection for this, spending time merely thinking and exploring. We tend to think that there is only one answer to a math problem, but I realized along the way that there are various (perhaps unlimited) ways of thinking, methods and approaches to solving math problems, making the process rather philosophical (and research-like) through trial and error. The problems took me a short period of time to solve and at times, on the actual day of the deadline where the answer would suddenly dawn on me. One day, I got a phone call from Mr. Frankl, himself congratulating me, which really boosted my confidence. It was not the fact that I got the correct answers that gave me this confidence, but rather the measuring I took to solve the problems in depth that gave me a sense of great satisfaction.
- You have mentioned that “music and mathematics are actually quite similar.” How is this so?
There are two reasons behind why I believe this is so. One reason is that both music and mathematics are concepts that are produced and created through their own processes – in an abstract sense. The charm of mathematics is not merely about using formulas created by others, but also investigating and delving into the problems to reach the solution. As for music, it is not only about performing according to the musical notes but also about expressing one’s emotions and even visions while composing and having fun. Mathematics and music both somewhat have similar processes in that they require the usage of both left and right hemispheres of the brain interchangeably, brushing one’s intellect and sensitivity as well as seeing or flashing new ideas along the way.
The other reason is more concrete. For example, there are mathematical factors hidden behind music composed by artists such as Bach and Mozart. There are almost always mechanisms behind beautiful things, not just only music, that rouse people’s emotions and feelings. Music is considered a traditional part of liberal arts education – it explores not only the playing and listening to music, but also searches out other tunes that may not necessarily be heard but harmonizes with the universe from early times.
Furthermore, music is similar to mathematics in that the latter does not only deal with numbers, but also with shapes, rhythms (patterns) and even movements. At times, many mathematicians experience a time when aesthetic musical tones reverberate in their heads the moment they realize the essence of mathematical concepts. In that sense, the beauty and idiosyncrasy of mathematics are extremely melodious.
- What kind of English education did you receive when you were growing up in Japan?
Having come to live in New York beginning in September, 2018, this actually is my first official long-term stay overseas. In the past, I’ve gone on trips, musical concerts and excursions (orchestra performances in countries like Russia and European nations), and educational events (participation in IMO events). I have always had an interest in English education through reading books, studying vocab, listening to Business English lessons on the radio, and having been given the opportunity to study and present in English at Ferris Girls’ Junior and Senior High School. I was confident to a certain extent in the language. That is, until I participated in the IMO in India and Argentina during my high school years, and in Romania and Scotland thereafter as a supporting member. But when I was in India, I had the hardest time deciphering the diversities of the English language when communicating with my fellow scholars from all over the world. I realized that fanatic vocabulary words and idioms I was eager to learn in Japan were not as useful and when asked about my country’s culture, religion, educational system, and politics, I was sometimes at a loss to give an adequate response. I was rather discontented with how little I knew about my own country, which compelled me to further wanting to pursue my English studies for effective communication and, naturally, to learn more about Japan.
In any language, I believe that effective communication is all about expressing your thoughts and opinions with rich content. Once this was established in my mind, communicating in English became practical and achievable. Merely “wanting to speak English” will not get you anywhere, I think. Thus, whether self-taught or free-style, I made the effort to speak in English as much as I could when overseas. When I returned to Japan from IMO events, I was able to reflect upon myself and was more mindful in making this effort. I was able to enjoy the language through reading even more books than ever and through the many friends I had made. I continued to foster the friendships and correspondences through writing letters (back in those days) and eventually emails. With my friends from China, we even started to exchange math problems. These endeavors led to utilizing English frequently as a tool for conveying, conducting, and communicating things rather than studying the English language per se. On a side note, the days spent communicating with my fellow IMO members in English is one of my fondest memories of youth, when we shared so many mathematical problems and ideas!
- As a professional on a global scale, how would you describe Japan’s current standing in the field of education when looking from outside of Japan?
There are many debates encircling the educational system in Japan, despite having some globally known programs such as Industrial Arts & Home Economics and Music. Moreover, the Japanese people are known to be some of the most creative people on Earth, especially in the realm of art, where we are seen as quite unique in the eyes of the Western people. The art of anime is a prime example.
On the other hand, the Japanese people are challenged in the areas that are project-based and require creativity and output on open-ended matters and diverse issues: Characteristics essential for the 21st century. We also lack transversality (collaboration and intersection of various expertise) when it comes to innovation within research fields and corporations. The 20th century was about differentiation where experts honed their professional skills, “vertically” in their respective field of research. While this verticalism is still essential in business and in some professional areas, we are now at a point where research and development among territories that may have not intersected in the past have now become indispensable for integration. Even within corporations, we are in an era where we see no borders or notions of an “industry.” In this regard, the Japanese society need to see and approach things from beyond the borders of a world that is divided vertically.
Furthermore, whether good or bad, Japan is culturally a place where we fear mistakes and where we clearly distinguish boundaries between “play and learn,” and emphasize the distinction between “adults and children.” This conception becomes a barrier when trying to implement reforms or induce innovation – especially with this strong distinction between “adults and children.” In the United States, whether you are a young child or a grown-up, your opinions count and that they are to be taken seriously. In contrast, adults in Japan are clearly in a position to teach and children to learn and that children are often expected to answer questions or solve problems the way the adults expect them to. I often think that if we all believed in and accepted the possibilities of all individuals that our society would be a much better, finer place.
- What attracted you to the field of education, in addition to your music and mathematics strengths?
When I was in University of Tokyo, I had the opportunity to join a team launched by my senior members of the IMO to teach modern mathematics. There, we proposed and built a math curriculum and prepared learning materials from scratch with a common goal and basis of creating and incorporating a fun air to mathematics as a pedagogy. To make things more interesting and novel, we added interactive works or sometimes physical playful works to our math curriculum in hopes of raising deeper and diversified understandings for the students. I am proud to say that this program we built was a success. I also learned many things through disentangling the complexities and antipathies of math and teaching the subject as a professional to non-professionals. Moreover, I genuinely had fun being involved in this program, which further provoked my interest in the field of education.
Then came my thirties, I became a mother, consciously wanting to give back to society through teaching and educating. Up until then, it was all about getting to know myself. After I had my daughter, I realized how fortunate I was to have been chanced upon being in an environment surrounded by things I love and love to do. I also began to convince myself that there is value in passing my strengths and knowledge on – especially the amusement of creating things – in the realm of music, mathematics, and education collectively, while treasuring my own perspectives. However, that did not just kick in naturally; there were many self-inquiries that lead to a manifestation of creativity. I also believe that it has been beneficial for me to witness others’ experiences, capturing things in the moment and having various perspectives in this world, especially through my research and outreach in STEAM PBL which I intend to further specialize in.
- What do you think are the biggest differences between education in Japan and overseas (namely the U.S.)?
First and foremost, I would have to say is, diversity. Japan is a nation with a culture centered around commonly shared cultural values, whereas there is strong acceptance of various cultures overseas. Whether culturally or academically, I feel that it is more common outside of Japan to question things creatively in an open-ended process, rather than striving for a single solution or merely answering with a yes or no.
The key is, how susceptible would Japan be in valuing diversity? Japan’s education is also conscious about “fear of making mistakes,” which is usually frowned upon. Manuals to obtain success, assumptions for the correct answers, and pre-established harmony are culturally ingrained. Education overseas is completely the other way around: It is rather flexible in that children are encouraged to think for themselves and express things freely so that educators can understand from their points of view.
The second big difference would have to be the connection to society. I do think that Japanese textbooks are given deep thought and are well-designed. They are highly-regarded globally. However, learning materials often lack a strong connection to societal relationships (though they are now being reviewed and updated nowadays!). Especially in times where boundaries between corporations and society are becoming obscured, it really becomes vital for schools and educational institutions to enhance practicability and connection between societies and communities. We need more project-based, practical learning that encompasses work or careers to prepare our young generation for the real-world. I think that this concept is still inadequate in the science and mathematics fields, where we would like to see more open-ended solutions. In the arts, where Japan is doing a pretty good job of teaching, it would still be nice to see more essence of bustle and excitement, rather than academic-like sentiment in classroom settings.
- STEAM education is advancing swiftly in the U.S. In your opinion, what is the current situation in Japan?
STEAM education is not implemented only in the United States, but also in many countries. STEAM is not fully established in Japan, but it is gradually infiltrating – it was officially incorporated as part of the MEXT (Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology) Society 5.0 proposal, just last year. I have been involved in METI’s (Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry) project for “Future Classroom-Learning Innovation” as a committee member and stressed the importance of STEAM learning. Programming learning will become mandatory in Japanese schools as of next year, but I urge that this learning does not dwell on mere coding or facing the technological aspects of computer devices; I would want the educators to manifest a creative side of this learning, where programming embodies elements of science, technology, engineering (especially when creating things), mathematics, and art or music – for students to think about “what they want to create and design,” and “how they exhibit new things and perspectives.”
Again, I fear that in the process of introducing programming and coding in technology subjects to the education system, STEAM education will be perceived as a learning by the book only for the confined purpose of just making things as the final product. This barely qualifies as knowing “how to use,” bringing us back to square one. By all means, such skills, knowledge, and thought processes should be the basis for creation of new things and concepts through trial and error, as well as the playfulness in STEAM education.
Another matter I’d like to point out is the gender gap in STEAM education in Japan: We see very few female participants in this field, and that it is still considered male-dominant. To bring creative, wonderful, and beautiful things into this world, gender difference should be an issue at all and to overcoming this inequality would strengthen the foundation for STEAM education in Japan. In this regard, I believe the next few years will be critical to power through this challenge!
- Why do you think STEAM education is vital in this day and age?
STEAM is merely a word (an acronym for the five subjects), and concepts learned in each subject have always been vital up until today. Through collaborative knowledge across the subjects, however, creative skills are augmented in individuals. Conventionally, creativity is a trait of professions of artists, researchers, and developers in corporations, but through advancement in technology and globalization, they are sought after by many people who wish to turn their ideas into concrete things or ideas and dispatch or share them with the world. We are in times where, through repetition of making mistakes and discoveries, we are able to solidify things through our innate creativity, but to realize this it is important to know that transfer of knowledge is not a one-way street. Henceforward, the learners (students) must become the main players and are expected to clear the path for knowledge and withstand trial-and-error throughout their lifetime. STEAM education then becomes vital to convert our science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics knowledge into creative outputs.
- It seems that you are in a profession that you are truly passionate about. What is the secret to your success?
To be in a profession that one loves does not necessarily equate to all fun and games. I am certain that many have experienced rough patches and made many mistakes throughout their lives before becoming professionals with confident self-understanding. The underlying motive behind this adversity is that there is happiness for these people. To maintain this balance, we reflect back to the basics and recall what made us exhilarated in the first place. Knowing yourself is essential. Furthermore, since life is not all sunshine and roses, it is necessary to bring a playful spirit to one’s work or studies and see how perspectives in life change. I have the honor of collaborating with Dr. Nobuyuki Ueda of Doshisha Women’s College of Liberal Arts and I am in complete agreement with Dr. Ueda’s ideology of playful learning and its environment for meaningful creativity. This idea is just not about having fun, but also about tinkering (experiencing) with things. Rather than learning enjoyably, it is ideal to discover the many playful aspects of learning itself.
Additionally, if one’s job or career is about producing one’s values, then it would only be natural that a playful spirit comes hand in hand with that. Playful spirit is also about seeing things from a different angle or changing one’s perspective if they feel that they are tied down to the rules of their company or organization, so why not start implementing such approaches in your daily life? Instead of giving up by thinking, “I can’t do this,” I believe it is more important to foster a mentality of “how can I or WE do this,” as Dr. Ueno says.
- Who do you admire as a global leader?
I have always had people in my life to support and guide me – people who I have respected as mentors throughout milestones in my life. If I may say, all these people have been of a great value to my being. If anything, values of leaders are evolving, and I believe that each and every one of us in this universe has the capacity to lead in one way or the other, depending on the various situations we encounter. As such, I admire all the wonderful people who have made a big impact in my career and life who have given me so much encouragement.
- A message to future potential “global leaders”:
I speculate that 21st and 22nd centuries will be radical in that we are bound to go through another cycle of the Renaissance Era, or something more colossal. The Renaissance gave us the printing press which enabled the spreading of knowledge worldwide, creating a revolutionary culture of literature as we know it. And now with the help of internet and AI technologies (including AR, VR and MR), each and every individual has the power to produce things and ideas to be transmitted to the whole world right at the tip of one’s fingertips. We can become the main players in any industry and explore the future as we wish. But again, for this to take effect, you need to face all of your possibilities and listen to what your heart desires by envisioning your aspirations.
Another prospect is, we must realize that there are many different types of people and that there are still problems that need to be solved and people who suffer from these unresolved issues. I believe it is integral that we at least try to understand differences in values or know that there are many walks of life out there to further expand your horizons and knowledge.
I say this again with emphasis, but on a final note, I regard “mistakes” as an accomplice to life – they are not something to be ashamed of, but rather the fruit of learning. Without making mistakes, we know that new things or innovations are not discovered. Ironically mistakes become our greatest assets by taking that risk and leap of faith to genuine creation of things. I encourage you to discover your new self through trial-and-error no matter how old you are, without considering what your strengths or weaknesses are, and whether you have the potential or not if you have the slightest interest in a certain field. Although you may be in it for yourself, you still need others to depend on in this day and age. That is where this great generation that provided the means to connect globally comes in handy, to collaborate through newly established relationships and crystallize ideas into actual shapes and figures in an enjoyable fashion. Let’s all aim to create a playful society!