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HOME  >  Research Grant Program  >  2015  >  Comments by Selection Committee Chair

Research Grant Program 2015

Comments by Selection Committee Chair

Professor, Tokyo Institute of Technology

The Toyota Foundation’s Research Grant Program, based on the theme “Exploring New Values forSociety,” aims to select and support pioneering research projects. This unique research grant program welcomes bold initiatives proposing outlooks, concepts, cognitive frameworks, and paradigms oriented toward new social models that have theoretical grounding and practical backing, serving as the basis for addressing a variety of problems that exist on our small planet within the vast universe.

In contemporary society, humanity’s tangled conflicts are not only overturning the peaceful lives of people but destroying the very environment in which we live. Turning to the case of Japan, we see that solutions have yet to be found to heal the scars left from the natural disaster that struck northeast Japan in March 2011 and the manmade nuclear disaster that followed it.

Selection Committee members expect that research projects under the program will challenge and confront such aspects of social reality, but at the same time, in light of the situation for academic research these days, we are aware of the difficulty of meeting this expectation. Researchers are quite assiduous when it comes to procuring outside funding. In fact, research institutions now offer training sessions and the like to foster skills relevant to those tasks, and scholars seem to be accustomed to filling out grant applications and formulating research plans. The Toyota Foundation grants also seem to be viewed by some as just another source of outside funding.

In addition, research results are often evaluated within the framework of the given academic discipline. Time constraints on researchers due to limited term employment place a heavy burden on young researchers in terms of designing their research life. Anxiety among researchers over how they can produce results within the existing academic framework seems to make it hard for them to take flight into the realm of creative research.

This situation constrains innovative ideas that could help drive social change by overturning the assumptions that now govern research. However, this is precisely why the Toyota Foundation has based its program on the theme “Exploring New Values for Society” and is looking to the vitality of youthful intelligence.

The topic of what it actually means to explore and create new values has, in fact, been the subject of a vigorous debate every year among the members of the Selection Committee as they carry out their task of screening project proposals. The members do not hold tightly to any fixed criterion when performing this screening work. Debate arises because of the wide-ranging expertise of each member. In particular, members often debate how the creation of new values can be realized, with each drawing on his or her own research experience. The sort of proposals we are looking for are those that can generate such passionate debate among Selection Committee members.

I hope those who have had their projects selected for grants, as well as those who plan to submit proposals next year, will undertake the challenge of pursuing research oriented toward breaking down existing frameworks. One element that seems necessary is assembling project teams composed of members from a diverse range of fields, rather than simply relying on colleagues who share similar academic concerns and values. We would like to see enthusiastic research teams emerge, particularly those led by young researchers.

For this year’s research grant program, projects were selected for the following six broad categories:
“Peace-building, Reconciliation, Symbiosis,” “Education, Culture,” “Socially Vulnerable,” “Regional/Social Development,” “Disaster Risk,” and “Natural Resources and Environment.” Below are two examples of projects that were praised by numerous members of the Selection Committee.

(A) Joint Research Grants
YAMADA Masahiro (Program Specific Assistant Professor, Center for the Promotion of Interdisciplinary Education and Research, Kyoto University)
“Understanding Japan as a Multi-cultural and Multi-lingual Society: Establishing objective criteria for measuring mutual intelligibility and intergenerational transmission of the endangered languages”
This project looks at regional languages in Japan, such as the Ryukyuan languages in Okinawa, which have been viewed as just regional dialects of the common languages spoken in Japan. The aim is to correctly understand these languages on an objective basis as the means for constructing fundamental concepts for engaging with the social diversity reflected through those languages. It is hoped that the project will create new values related to language and culture, and lead to an enrichment of the policies in contemporary Japan to promote cultural coexistence.

(B) Individual Research Grants
O Yongho (Part-time Lecturer, Tokyo Gakugei University)
“Historical Analysis of the Legal Position of Schools for Foreigners in Post-World War II Japan: To build an education system in the time of globalization”
This ambitious project examines how foreign schools in Japan were eliminated from the public education system following the end of World War II, clarifying the logic behind that decision and the actual process. The project also rethinks the meaning of school education in our increasingly global world. Even though the project looks at foreign schools in Japan, we hope that over the course of carrying out the project the researcher will bring into clearer focus how foreign schools should be positioned and envisioned within the overall Japanese educational system as well how to utilize the results of historical research to engage with contemporary issues.

(Figures in brackets are for the previous year)
Applications Grants Selection Rate
(A) Joint Research Grants 347 (351) 17 (17) 4.9% (4.8%)
(B) Individual Research Grants 352 (340) 15 (14) 4.3% (4.1%)
Total 699 (691) 32 (31) 4.6% (4.5%)
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