June 23, 2017
Posted by Brain Science Planning Office
Original text (Japanese) appeared in May 2017 issue of RIKEN NEWS
The symposium, which took place on December 10, 2016 and was attended by 300 people—as well as 450 online participants—was a great success. The venue in Tokyo featured a popular area displaying the chronologies of RIKEN and BSI, as well as a place where participants were invited to post their comments and questions. Opening remarks by RIKEN President Hiroshi Matsumoto were followed by recollections of BSI’s early days by Deputy Minister Kazuo Todani of MEXT (all titles are at the time of the event).
Next, BSI Director Susumu Tonegawa summarized the history of the Institute—its launching by Masao Ito, strengthened international standing under the second director Shunichi Amari, and its leading position with organizational restructuring under Director Tonegawa. Also mentioned were recent budget cuts, and the severe outlook regarding the future of brain science in Japan. In closing, he introduced some of BSI’s research results, such as brain mechanisms related to memory and mammalian parenting and attachment, and emphasized how basic research in brain science is closely tied to society and to daily life.
In part 2 of the event Prof. Tadashi Isa of Kyoto University and science writer Kaoru Takeuchi served as moderators for lectures by Prof. Yasushi Miyashita (University of Tokyo), Prof. Kazuyuki Aihara (University of Tokyo), Prof. Tatsuyoshi Saijo (Kochi University of Technology), Prof. Shinya Yamanaka (Kyoto University), Team Leader Takaomi Saido (BSI), and Deputy Director Atsushi Miyawaki (BSI). For the panel discussion that followed these six lecturers were joined by BSI Director Tonegawa, Prof. Shigenobu Kanba (Kyushu University), Prof. Noriko Osumi (Tohoku University), and BSI Deputy Directors Hitoshi Okamoto and Tadafumi Kato. The panelists engaged in an active discussion on subjects ranging from cures for psychiatric and neurological disorders to areas of current interest such as AI and future technologies involving the brain, starting from the difficult concepts of consciousness, mind, and individuality. Student participants asked, “What is the current status of brain science in Japan?” and “How can Japan excel in brain science?” to which Prof. Yamanaka, recently back from a trip to the US, replied, “Researchers are respected in the US, and well-to-do citizens and private industry are stepping up to fund the research, as government funding is insufficient.” Director Tonegawa added, “Japan’s brain science is headed in the right direction, but it still lacks depth. Government funding is skewed toward innovation, and funds available for basic research are tapering off. This is discouraging to young researchers entering the field.” Prof. Yamanaka continued, “This is a problem not just for brain science, but for all areas of life science,” and spoke of the importance of seeking funding for basic scientific research from the government, the private sector, and donations.
Mr. Takeuchi finished on an upbeat note saying, “We need to expand the scope of science and convey the message to our children that science is fun,” followed by Prof. Isa, who commented, “I believe that science has a bright future. As scientists we feel that we must respond to the public’s expectations by expanding the brain science field. We ask for everyone’s support.”