UTokyo Vice-President Atsushi Tsuda Gives Talk Titled “University of Tokyo and Athletics: How Can Sports ‘Improve’ the Entire University?”

On January 27, 2023, Prof. Atsushi Tsuda, Executive Director and Vice-President of the University of Tokyo gave a talk titled, “University of Tokyo and Athletics: How Can Sports ‘improve’ the entire University?”. The event was co-sponsored by Satsuki-kai America and Friends of UTokyo. A total of 30 participants from the U.S. and Japan attended the event, including many alumni who were members of sports teams/clubs (“Undo-bu”and “Aiko-kai”) during their undergraduate years. The gathering was hugely successful with a lively discussion.

First, Mr. Kenichi Kawamoto, President of JETRO New York, who was a member of the track and field team at UTokyo and remains an avid marathon runner to this day, made opening remarks. He was followed by Prof. Tsuda who spoke for about 40 minutes after which he fielded questions and comments from the panel and audience.

From Todai Shimbun, photo credit: Kanshiro Sonoda.

Arguing that athletics have great potential for multifaceted growth at the University of Tokyo, Prof. Tsuda focused mainly on five points: 1) The current state of athletics at UTokyo, 2) The University’s relationships with sports team/club alumni, 3) Promoting the development of athletics at UTokyo, 4) Presenting the research findings of the UTokyo Sports Science Initiative (UTSSI), including the “FUSION” concept and cooperation with local communities, and 5) The improvement and outreach activities of sports at UTokyo.

Following Vice-President Tsuda’s presentation 1, panelists including UTokyo swim team alumnus, Takeshi Komoto (Google Japan G.K.), and UTokyo volleyball team alumnus, Yasuhiko Takanashi (Kyoto Sangyo University), spoke about their personal experiences with UTokyo athletics and addressed the following topics:

Komoto: 1) My motives for joining the team, 2) The benefits of joining a sports team/club, and 3) What should be done to invigorate athletics at UTokyo.

Takanashi: 1) The importance of setting a goal to strengthen sports at UTokyo, 2) The need to publicize/share UTSSI findings with the outside world, 3) Future topics such as bringing sports science researchers in contact with athletes on the field.

In the Q&A session that followed the presentation and panel discussion, interesting questions were raised and a lively exchange ensued as many of the participants had played an active part in sports while at UTokyo. Below is an excerpt from the discussion.

Q: What is your thought about setting a concrete goal for strengthening athletics at UTokyo?

Tsuda: Setting a goal to promote sports at UTokyo is a frequent topic of discussion for the University, and continues to be so as it is a highly complex issue. Some reasons for its complexity include the fact that there are many stakeholders in the University, and there is no department that coordinates sports at the University. However, this is an issue that needs solving, and the fact that discussion has commenced over the need for a “UTokyo Sports Charter” is already a huge step. With the “UTokyo Sports Charter,” it is our expectation that setting a goal for promoting and supporting sports at UTokyo will be possible.

Q: Do you have any thoughts on training elite athletes at UTokyo?

Tsuda: When considering the brand/mission of UTokyo, training elite athletes should NOT be the priority. However, since contributions to society by UTokyo alumni are of the utmost importance and given that the social influence of UTokyo is significant, the University plans to give wide and balanced support for sports activities on campus.

Q: Please tell us about sports science at UTokyo and its contribution to society.

Tsuda: UTSSI was established to be the internationally preeminent center for sports science research. Providing support for competitions and strengthening teams are not the only purpose of this research facility. Through sports science research and development, the center aims to explore a wide variety of ways to contribute to society such as through improving public health on a community level and promoting the well-being of the elderly and/or disabled.

Lastly, Mr. Kenichi Sugiyama (former general manager of the External Relations Division of the University of Tokyo), who was a member of the university’s American football team and the General Section for Athletic Affairs during his undergraduate years at UTokyo, gave the following closing remarks:

Until this discussion, I was largely unaware of Prof. Tsuda’s commitment to athletic matters. However, I now see that his enthusiasm for the development of athletics at the University is clearly demonstrated by his proposal to create a “Charter on University of Tokyo Athletics.” His discussion today clearly explained the University’s policies and stance in this area. As an alumnus, I appreciate the contribution of the University to wider society as well as the latter’s support for the former.

Reflecting on FUTI’s accomplishments/activities, I realize the enormous impact of the contribution of its benefactor, Mr. Chihiro Kanagawa, (formerly Chairman of Shin-etsu Chemistry, Ltd.) who passed away in January 2023  2. Just as he did, we must also endeavor to support the development of our alma mater.

After the lecture and dialogue, many of the participants remained to continue the stimulating discussion. The hosts of the event commented, “On top of thanking all the participants, it would bring us great joy if this event, with the support of UTokyo alumni, becomes an impetus for societal progress through sports and further invigorates UTokyo.

Friends of UTokyo/Satsuki-kai America Event Team

1 A presentation by one of the panelists, Masako Osako, was not given due to time running out. For those interested in seeing the slide presentation, “What does it take to rally a university through sports? A venture by the Harvard Alumni Association (HAA) University-wide 5K,” please contact satsukiamerika@gmail.com.

2 See Dr. Chihiro Kanagawa’s obituary.

Endnote: Translated by the Event Team. For the original article approved by the lecturer, please refer to the Japanese version.