Tokyo University Of Agriculture


From "Return Students to the Farm" to "Return Students to the World"

From "Return Students to the Farm" to "Return Students to the World"

From "Return Students to the Farm" to "Return Students to the World"

Study to Support “Life” Resumes

May 1st, 2020 Katsumi Takano President Tokyo University of Agriculture

The Japanese Government has declared a nationwide state of emergency over the outbreak of Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) in an attempt to prevent its further spread. Upon hearing this declaration, Tokyo University of Agriculture (Tokyo NODAI) has put a hold on all educational research activities as the lives of our students, faculty, and staff are our utmost priority. Moreover, Tokyo NODAI has been keenly discussing how to provide a learning environment under this difficult circumstance.

After careful deliberation, Tokyo NODAI has officially decided to conduct all classes online for the first semester of the 2020 academic year. Furthermore, the university has decided to provide 50,000JPY COVID-19 Student Emergency Assistance Fund per student to all undergraduate students in order to reduce financial burden in preparing a remote learning environment.

Under ordinary circumstances, the university’s responsibility is to provide an environment in which faculty and staff can directly, face-to-face, educate our students. However, as COVID-19 continues to spread exponentially, we decided that remote learning is the best method to ensure the safety of our students.

Right now, not only Japan, but the entire world is facing an unprecedented situation.

You could say that the world is facing the worst global crisis since World War II that took place 80 years ago. After encountering this crisis, I was reaffirmed the crucial role of Tokyo NODAI in this world.

Next year will be Tokyo NODAI’s 130th anniversary since its founding. Since the beginning, Tokyo NODAI has carried the spirit of educating and researching in nature and teaching the way of supporting “life”.

Tokyo NODAI has three campuses (Setagaya, Atsugi, Okhotsk) with 6 faculties and 23 departments. We can broadly separate our curriculums to life science, molecular microbiology, chemistry, bioscience, nutrition, engineering, and business. Although it appears as though we have various specializations, interestingly these all belong to the “agricultural life science study” discipline.

The study of agriculture originated from the notion that food production is the source of supporting “life”. With the goal of realizing a society in which people can comfortably live, we have extended our studies to life science, environment, business, and regional societies. Tokyo NODAI’s “agricultural life science study” consists of a wide range of studies for the sake of supporting all “lives” on earth.

There is a disease called the beriberi. It is caused by a vitamin B-1 deficiency and affects the heart and peripheral nervous system. From Meiji to Taisho, and through Showa era, this disease along with tuberculosis was considered the two worst fatal diseases and approximately 10,000~20,000 lives were lost every year.

Exactly 110 years in 1910, there was a conference held in Tokyo in which it was announced that “rice bran has a component that is effective in preventing beriberi.” The following year in 1911, this extracted component from the rice bran was named “oryzenin” and was revealed as the 5th new nutrient that is different from minerals, the three major nutrients.

The person who presented this discovery was an agriculturalist, Umetaro Suzuki, who later became a professor at Tokyo NODAI in 1913.

This “oryzenin” is now commonly known as Vitamin B1; thus, Suzuki was the discoverer of Vitamin B1.

This discovery spearheaded the cure of beriberi and it is considered one of the most revolutionary discoveries in modern science.

Therefore, please allow me to reiterate that the “agricultural life science study” is an academic discipline that supports the “lives” of all living beings on earth and earth itself.

Currently, our “lives” are threatened by the COVID-19 pandemic.

This threat is not only limited to the danger of being directly infected by it.

World Food Programme (WFP) warned that COVID-19 could double the number of people suffering acute hunger to 265 million people due to food shortage. Although agricultural products are steadily being harvested, global distributions channels have been obstructed. Consequently, there is a concern for growing constraints on access to food as many will lose income.

On another hand, G20 leaders, representing 20 countries and territories, held a video conference. They expressed their concern on how certain countries are placing priority on securing flour and maize for their own country and restricting exports. At least 13 countries have restricted exports of agricultural products fearing the stagnation of production and drastic increase in the price of food.

Japan is inevitably affected by this recent trend.

In 2018, Japan's calorie-based food sufficiency rate was 37%, which is considered significantly low among the developed countries. Japan heavily relies on imported agricultural products. 90% of wheat to make bread and soybeans to make basic Japanese food and condiments, such as soy sauce, miso, and tofu are all imported. In addition, corn for livestock feed is 100% imported. If the price of food rises due to export restrictions in other countries, our lives will be significantly affected.

Japan is currently not only challenged with securing stable and safe supply of food. There is a strong urgency to strengthen the foundation of domestic production.

Smallpox, plague, tuberculosis, cholera, and polio….human beings have historically combatted infectious diseases. However, COVID-19 is incomparable to these diseases as globalization has significantly advanced. The world is interconnected more than ever before. Peace and security of Japan cannot be achieved without the peace and security of the world.

Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) has a program called the Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers that dispatch volunteers with the aim to provide technical assistance in developing countries. Tokyo NODAI is the university with most students and graduates to participate in this program. Many of them have been dispatched to Asia, Africa, and Latin America mainly to provide agricultural guidance. As a result, they have greatly contributed to the food production and improvement of life in these rural areas.

Graduates who learned at Tokyo NODAI are not only contributing in Japan, but also actively contributing in many parts of the world.

We also have many international students studying at our university.

The role of Tokyo NODAI is crucial and we cannot just passively wait for the matter to settle down. We cannot allow for the study of “life” to be stopped.

For this reason, let’s not be defeated by COVID-19 and continue to study.

We will start a new teaching method that has never been done in the past.

There may be obstacles and confusion.

Thus, I kindly ask you for your understanding.

The founder of our university, Takeaki Enomoto, left the following saying, “discovering your ignorance after learning, adventure is the best teacher”. Just as the saying goes, let’s carry on the Enomoto’s spirit of not being defeated by our current circumstances and continue to challenge for a brighter future.

History has shown that a pandemic outbreak of infectious disease has been the trigger to drastically change the world and its history. In other words, our way of thinking and actions may have to change forever due to this COVID-19 pandemic.

There are many challenges awaiting us, such as prioritization of the economy over lives, competition of resources, super power politics, and environmental destruction. I strongly believe that Tokyo NODAI’s “agricultural life science study” has an important role in overcoming these challenges.

In order to protect the lives of all people, to avoid causing disruption in society, and to regain our normal lives as soon as possible, we must follow the “Three C’s” (closed spaces, crowded places, and close-contact settings). We must also not forget to appreciate and send good thoughts to all the medical professionals who have been combatting COVID-19 at the frontlines while risking their own lives.

We may be in the midst of the collapse of the culture and civilization created by human beings. Let’s continue to live responsibly to protect our own lives and the lives of our loved ones.

I strongly wish for the day when I get to see you on campus again.

Katsumi Takano
Tokyo University of Agriculture

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