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Japan Broadcasting System, Japan's First Internet TV Station for Global Communities

N. Yuji Suzuki, Ph.D.
School of Environment and Information Studies
Graduate School of Media and Governance
Keio University at Shonan-Fujisawa

Higher education in Japan has been stagnant. Japanese universities and colleges are now struggling to survive by revitalizing their curricula. However, few realize that communication is the key issue for effective reformation. As an educator, I would like to state my views on, firstly, how communication should be incorporated into higher education, and secondly, how an internet TV station can contribute to it along this line.
What is communication? Simply speaking, it is a process of exchanging messages by means of media such as language, gestures, etc. We create messages and convey them to others, and at the same time receive and interpret messages from others; the first part is the productive side of communication while the second part is the receptive or perceptive side. To perceive messages, we hear, see, touch, feel smell, read, etc, to, and to convey messages, we speak, write, draw pictures, make things, etc. All these organically interrelated activities constitute communication. We listen to others in order to create messages, and speak out messages to listen to what others say about them. Our daily communication is bidirectional since we receive and convey messages interchangeably. Communication thereby consists of perception and production as a set like the head and the tail of a coin: One cannot exist without the other.
Unfortunately, bidirectional communication appears alien to Japan's higher education. A typical style of communication there has not changed for the past 150 years. It is unidirectional, and desperately one-sided. The professor lectures while the student only listens. The former is the provider of given knowledge and the latter is its recipient. No interesting messages could be created by students under such circumstances. It is high time we remodeled our higher education by recycling it back into a cycle of bidirectional communication. This has been exactly the mission imposed upon us teaching at Keio University at Shonan-Fujisawa (hereafter SFC), which was established in 1990.
Offering project-oriented courses is one of SFC's attempts to attain this mission. In my project-oriented courses in linguistics and communication studies, students do individual or group projects planned out on their own. They get highly interested in knowing what others are doing, and simultaneously become very expressive of their own findings. Bidirectional communication naturally takes place among participants. They discuss and debate not only inside but also outside the classroom. Our classroom spaces turn into market places where students share their intellectual products. My role has changed accordingly. I join their ongoing communication cycles as an academic consultant rather than a lecturer. My job is giving pieces of expert advice after listening to their presentations; however, more often I find myself overwhelmed by their creative ideas. Namely, I am learning more than teaching.
Recent information technologies have enabled us to extend our classroom spaces to global communities. Ever since SFC started in 1990, students have been helping globalize our classroom spaces by installing information technologies. Heaven helps those who help themselves. IT specialists have been offering us their help to update all these technologies. Now students in my courses are working and sharing ideas with their friends living overseas. Classrooms have been virtually enlarged to cover the global community. Students' final products are now sent as messages to distant communities. They often get feedback from people living in different parts of the world.
To give one example, a student, who was enrolled in my English linguistic course in 2001, did a project on the structure of an English variety. She decided to take up the lyrics of all the songs by the Brothers Four as her data, because she grew up hearing her mother sing their songs. To collect data, she communicated with people of the Brothers Four Fan Club. She put the outcome of her research on her web-site, which was later invited to up-loaded on the website of the Brothers Four Fan Club. One day she got an e-mail from Mr. Bob Flick, the leader of the Brothers Four, who came across her work, to inform how he was impressed with her research.
To give another example, a group of students joined SFC's project-oriented summer program at the College of William and Mary in 1996. The title of the program was "Fifty Years of Change -Preparation for Tomorrow: American Work and Recreation in a Multicultural Age." The participants of both schools selected one of the following four projects: "Native Americans: Dreams Denied," "Religion," "American Music," and "The Field of Dreams: Baseball in America." They discussed and exchanged ideas through a series of video-conferencing before the summer. Then they physically met to work together at the College of William and Mary during the summer program. In the fall semester, they held an online symposium to present their final works.
Keio and William & Mary students went to many different communities to talk with people there. Native Americans, African Americans, jazz and country music musicians, pastors and ministers of churches and synagogues, military service men and women, postal workers, residents and city officials of the lower income housing project in Richmond, and professional baseball players and managers. A group of students working on the baseball project had the opportunity to talk with Mr. Boby Valentine, who was then managing Norfolk Tides after leaving Lotte Orions. Mr. Valentine spent almost one hour before the game to answer all questions asked by our students who had been doing a project on cultural differences between the professional baseball in USA and that in Japan. Coming back to Japan in 2005, Mr. Valentine led Lotte Orions to win the championship in Pacific League, in Japan Series, and in Asian Series. The messages that he gave our students at Norfolk back in 1996 continue to be true and will remain in the heart of each of the participants.
camille_2.jpgBy activating a cycle of communication in education, a host of unique contents will be produced by students. Unfortunately we must face a cold fact that such excellent contents disappear without being introduced to the public. A TV station is a must that could highlight these original creative works done by students. This will indeed reform Japan's higher education by turning it into a more productive one. The answer to it is a new world-wide internet TV station. As such, Japan Broadcasting System has made a timely appearance just on time when needed.

High Expectations for JIN

by Nobuo Saito

JIN (Japan Information Network, Inc.) has been transformed into a new company to strengthen its services and activities promoting better understanding of Japan overseas. Starting such a new venture, which never existed before, on the 60th anniversary of the war's end is also most welcome.

On the occasion of this 60th anniversary, the mass media has been showing old photos and films showing what Japan was like 60 years ago and later. It made me think about how Japan needs to carefully formulate policies and strategies for its future. The times always change, and during the past 60 years especially, we have seen exceptional historical changes.

Japan becoming the world's No. 2 economic power is due to a number of reasons. The country's push for modern industry, zeal for product manufacturing, and marketing of numerous products with worldwide appeal can be cited as major reasons. Japan is also backed by a scientific and technological prowess ranking among the world's best.

However, how long can Japan maintain this current condition? The 20th century can be called the century of science and technology led by the United States. The 21st century will likely see science and technology advancing further. Asia is also a fast-rising region serving an important role in industrial development.

Even within my own field of Information Technology (IT), India, China, and South Korea are seeing rapid growth. IT specialists in these countries are said to be superior to Japan's IT engineers. As a person who has trained such people in Japan, I feel embarrassed by this. When you consider the huge populations of India and China compared with Japan's, we might think of Japan as near hopeless. The US and Europe are also formidable competitors. Is there a way for Japan to survive this fierce competition, and is there a bright future ahead for Japan? We must seriously ponder over this.

Off-hand, I can think of three strategies: Training people to have high intellectual productivity, promoting industrial innovation, and having a global outlook. To improve labor productivity, economic growth has been essential. However, in the knowledge-oriented society of the 21st century, improving intellectual productivity will be most important, and how we can train people to improve this intellectual productivity will be a major topic. Applying the knowledge and ideas of these people for industrial innovation is an absolute requirement for winning the economic competition in the international arena. The current industrial structure geared for product manufacturing must be changed. The mind-set for this change must be globally-oriented from the start.

Amid such conditions, what role should JIN fulfill? Its foremost function is disseminating about Japan. People with a global outlook and high intellectual productivity who drive innovations in new industries are needed in any country. Japan will lead in this regard. If we can propagate this, we can, for example, spearhead new industries. And in the near future, we can look forward to mutual exchanges between Japan and other countries based on JIN's activities. On the Internet, various tools for mutual communication and exchanges on a global scale provide unlimited stimuli for the next generation of human resources.

Having a global outlook will become normal and part of everyday life for them. Without a good information provider, good information cannot be received. Backed by JIN's longtime experience and expertise, it can certainly provide a platform for meaningful exchanges. This is one of JIN's essential projects to help Japan advance in an increasingly international society.

SFC (Keio University Shonan Fujisawa Campus)