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  • Writer's pictureHirokazu Kobayashi

A prosperous society fosters science!

Updated: May 14

Hirokazu Kobayashi

CEO, Green Insight Japan, Inc.

Professor Emeritus and Visiting Professor, University of Shizuoka


Concerned that Japan has fallen to 13th place in the world research power rankings, I need to examine the historical relationship between society and scientific development when I think about the solution to this problem. According to the definition that science is a part of the culture, if we look at the flowering periods of culture in world history, we can see Classical Greece (late 400s BC to 300s BC), China's Tang Dynasty (618 to 907), and Islamic gold (700 to 1200s), and the European Renaissance period (1300s to early 1600s). Later, with the Industrial Revolution in England in the mid-1700s, industrial production became active, society became more prosperous, and culture developed. In Japanese history, the periods of significant cultural development include the Heian period (late 700s to the end of 1100s), the Genroku era of the Edo period (1688 to 1704), the Horeki/Tenmei era (1751 to 1789), The Bunka/Bunsei era (1804-1830) can be mentioned. It is said that the literacy rate of Japanese people in the mid-1800s was over 70%, the highest in the world at the time. The subsequent development of industry after the Meiji Restoration supported the development of culture.


How did people of culture, including scientists, earn an income to live on? Socrates (470 BC - 399 BC) of ancient Greece received support from his friends and disciples. Plato (427-347 BC) was an Athenian aristocrat. During the Renaissance, Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) received support from aristocrats and patrons. Scientists and philosophers can also be found among the clergy, who were guaranteed a minimum amount of food. Roger Bacon (1214-1294: experimentalism), Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543: heliocentric theory), Joseph Priestley (1733-1804: discovery of photosynthesis), Gregor Johann Mendel (1822-1884: Laws of Heredity) apply. If we define a university as a "university," the University of Bologna and the University of Paris were established in the 1100s and 1200s. In the 1800s, the importance of science and technology increased with the Industrial Revolution, and institutions such as governments and universities began to provide funding for scientific research. As a result, researchers became recognized as a profession and could earn a salary. As a pioneer, the University of Berlin (currently Humboldt-Universität Berlin) was founded in 1810 by Wilhelm von Humboldt (Alexander von Humboldt's older brother) and emphasized freedom of research and education researchers. The foundation for recognition as a professional has been created.


Let's take a look at the Japanese economy. After World War II, the Jinbu boom (1954-1957), Iwato boom (1958-1961), Olympic boom (1962-1964), and Izanagi boom (1965-1970) continued. This was followed by the bubble boom (1986-1991) and the Izanami boom (2002-2008). In 1979, Ezra Vogel's “Japan as Number One" was asked by the world. I would like to thank Dr. Yoshinori Ohsumi (the 2016 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine: The discoveries of mechanisms for autophagy), whom I discussed with as a colleague at the National Institute for Basic Biology (NIBB) in Okazaki City, Aichi Prefecture. I worked on administration at the University of Shizuoka along with Dr. Tasuku Honjo (the 2018 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine: The discovery of cancer therapy by inhibition of negative immune regulation). The start period of their research for the Nobel Prize seems to coincide with the "bubble boom." Dr. Shinya Yamanaka (the 2012 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine: The discovery that mature cells can be reprogrammed to become pluripotent) initiated research for the Nobel Prize at the Nara Institute of Science and Technology (NAIST), where I worked. The development period of his research coincides with the “Izanami boom." Although there appears to be a correlation between economic conditions and excellent research, Japan's scientific research funding does not rise or fall minutely with the economy. In fact, due to the economic downturn, national universities, and many more public universities, have been converted into independent administrative universities since 2004, and the accompanying increase in miscellaneous work for university researchers and reductions in operating expense grants are significant problems. From a historical perspective, it could be said that science develops when there is economic leeway. That is, a prosperous society may foster science.

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