Opening Messages

Summer in JAPAN President and Founder: Mari Hirotsuru

Opening Speech Summer in JAPAN 2020

Dear SIJ students and parents, Team USA Harvard students and graduate instructors, Team Oita staff members, and distinguished guests of honor, I am very happy to announce the commencement of the 8th Summer in JAPAN seminar, our first to be held ONLINE, which was made possible in such a short frame by the creativity and flexibility of our team.

When I was your age, many many years ago, I didn’t like going to school. I didn’t see the value in doing the same thing as all of my classmates. Even though we were all different, we all had to eat the same lunch at the same time, and study the same subjects regardless of whether we were interested in them or not. And if you didn’t do well in a subject, you were told to start liking it… or else. It was thought that this was the only way to get into a good school, then get a good job, and ultimately to have a good life.

But now things are changing!  These old, inflexible ideas are disappearing from education. There are now online schools that allow you to study whatever you want, international schools on every street corner, schools that specialize in anime or video games, and now you can even leave high school early to start your own company. Adults are gradually realizing that what they once believed was correct can not apply to every person and every situation.  There is now growing respect for young people’s diverse motivations and ambitions. After all, they are the ones that will build the future.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, a world-renowned essayist and former quantitative trader wrote:
Every major single piece of advice I was given turned out to be wrong and I am glad I didn’t follow them. ..I was told to never procrastinate and I waited 20 years for The Black Swan and it sold 3 million copies.

This speaks to my own life. I was told to never procrastinate, but I took decades to make SIJ despite holding doubts about Japanese education since elementary school.  I didn’t like school, but now I HAVE a school.  I didn’t like studying, but now I WRITE BOOKS about how to study!

Now you know that the world doesn’t remain the same.  You can decide your future, instead of waiting for it to come to you.

Don’t follow the path others set for you. Lead yourself into your future.

The world is now facing difficult challenges which test us both physically and mentally: the memories of loss, the uncertainty of the future, and the fear of tragedy repeating itself.

However, I strongly believe in the strength of humanity and the power of innovation to overcome these hardships.

So. In 2021, when I host Summer in JAPAN again.  Let’s all meet in Oita City, enjoy the local food, soak in the hot springs, dance at the festivals, practice Zen, and make the future with good friends.

Closing Speech Summer in JAPAN 2018

When I was young my dream was to become an author because I loved reading books so much. The library in my elementary school was not enough for me, so I read all the books on my parents’ bookshelf, and kept asking them for money to buy more books. Also, as there was no such thing as the Internet, reading was the best way to learn about the world and other people.

Now I’m an author of books about education. Is it only because I’m good at writing? No, it’s not. It’s the fact that I have made an impact on English education in Japan that has made people believe in me and ask me to write these books to spread my ideas.

I’ll tell you one more thing. I teach English, make speeches in English, write books about English education, and also established SIJ. However, I’ve never lived in any English speaking countries. Just like Sumire, who had only lived in Japan before entering Harvard College. People might think you have to live in America, Canada or the UK to become really good at English, but of course you can still be learn a foreign language well without doing so if only you have a strong mission and motivation in mind and the energy to put it into action.

Please have a look at these two books. I translated this English book titled “So good they can’t ignore you” into Japanese. It is more than 300 pages long. What skills do you think I needed when translating this? English, of course but also I needed an excellent sense of the Japanese language to pick the appropriate word for each English word. In addition, I needed a huge amount of time to check if my translations accurately conveyed the true intentions of the author. Acquiring languages requires not only language skill but intercultural knowledge which creates meaning behind the word.

In this way, to achieve your goal, to make your dream come true, first you must be really good at what you do. You should be really really good so that people cannot take their eye off of you. Then you can make an impact on society. 

From my experiences I want to say that you are not really sure about where your life takes you to in the course of this wonderful period of time called “life.” To be successful, you are really good at something, keep doing it, and never give it up. However, there is a change in society and technology during your lifetime so you have to be consistent at your mission of “make an impact” or “change the world” while remaining flexible enough to dodge everything that life throws at you.  

Watching all of you, the 95 students. Team USA and Oita, grow throughout this seminar, I feel so inspired as you chase your dreams. Now let’s go back to my dream. Now my dream is to become a great DJ like Zedd, a world famous DJ and composer. When I was younger, it was almost impossible for people without any skills in playing musical instruments to be on stage as a musician. Due to the development of technology, however, now anyone can play music or even compose music! It is really amazing to see the word constantly changing. So I bought the latest DJ machine from Pioneer to get ready for my first performance as a super-fly DJ at a dance party in Brooklyn or maybe at SIJ 2019. 

You never know where your life may take you. Bon Voyage!


Opening Message Summer in JAPAN 2017

Good morning and welcome,

“If Einstein’s father had had his druthers, Albert would have become an engineer. Instead, he devoted himself to, in his words, thinking for its own sake,” said Drew Faust, then President of Harvard University, at the opening convocation for Harvard’s Class of 2016, which included my daughter who was taking her first step forward on a new continent.

Young people are often encouraged to listen to the experience and advice of great achievers, but in life you have to stand on your own two feet. Have confidence in yourself and what you’re doing. Every single minute of your life is a crucial moment that determines your future.

In 2013, I was relaxing in a hot spring in Beppu, a world-renowned hot spring resort in Oita, when the idea of creating an educational space for young people around the world to exchange ideas came to me like, “eureka!” The very next day, I made a rough teaching plan, and booked a hundred rental rooms for workshops, a concert hall, and some cultural places to visit.

Then I asked my daughter, a freshman at Harvard at the time, to advertise the seminar on campus. I made a website to recruit talented college students from Harvard. Then I waited and waited. I waited for a long time expecting someone from Harvard to respond, “Hi, Mari. I would like to apply for SIJ 2013!” The deadline day came. No one had responded yet, like Arnold Lobel’s story of Frog and Toad waiting for the mail to come on the front porch. Am I all right? My daughter answered calmly, “No worries, mom. We Harvard students take action at the very last minute as we are always too busy to plan ahead with deadlines of every upcoming event.”

So it was eleven fifty-nine at night, one minute to the deadline. Blood was rushing to my face and I was about to count the total sum I had spent when suddenly so many emails from Harvard rushed into my laptop. If I had given up in the middle for fear of total failure , SIJ would not have been born at all. This story is not only about the importance of making decisions, but also of having confidence in yourself and what you are doing.

Five years have passed, and SIJ regularly receives about 100 applications from Harvard along with other universities, such as Stanford and UT Austin, and welcomes 155 participating school pupils from 10 countries to SIJ Oita and SIJ Okayama.

In closing, I hope SIJ 2017 will be a fun and exciting summer place for every one of you to embark on an uncharted ocean full of adventures and learning.

Thank you.

Opening Message Summer in JAPAN 2016

Good morning and welcome,

I am very pleased and honored to officially open the 4th Summer in JAPAN sevenday English Seminar here in Oita, Japan. From a pool of over 100 extremely qualified applicants from Harvard, we have brought these 9 exciting young people here to Summer in JAPAN.  Their presence here was made possible due to the generous support of this community: the parents, the students, local governments, local universities, and businesses.  All of you are an essential part of this seminar.

We were awarded the 5th Career Education Award from the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry of Japan.  The reason we received this is because we believe that liking what you do and doing what you like is the key to having a successful professional career.  If students are encouraged to pursue their passions, they will become highly motivated self-learners.  For instance, if students like music, they need to have their interest nurtured.  By being enrolled in piano lessons, they will meet other musicians and join an orchestra or music groups then go on to study musical theory and then to study abroad in Europe and thus their once idle interest may develop into a satisfying lifelong journey of musical discovery.

Life is not linear. Life is richer and more complex. Just because you are pursuing something with all your passion does not mean, that is the entirety of your life.  Having a broad, well-rounded experience is one of the keys to having a fulfilling life.  Looking back on three years of SIJ I have observed that our guests from Harvard have their own specific interests, but they also remain open to new ideas and experiences.  Just because someone is focused on music doesn’t mean they cannot later develop a passion for computer science or organic chemistry, or even baking. Please remember: you are the future.

At SIJ I want to provide role models who have a great wealth of cultural capital so that students can be immersed in a rich culture of learning and exploration.  A large part of cultural capital consists of one’s personal habits: spending your time on worthwhile pursuits, not staring at Pokémon GO every spare minute of your day. Fill your time with reading, writing, performing music, dancing, filming, enjoying arts, having conversations, going to amazing places, and having adventures!

I wish all the participating students and the university student instructors a very fruitful and productive seven-day seminar. Embrace your future.

Thank you.

Opening Message Summer in JAPAN 2015

First of all, we sincerely appreciate all of you here today coming all the way from your hometowns in Japan and beyond to attend our seven-day English Seminar, Summer in JAPAN 2015.

At Summer in JAPAN, we seek to bring a unique educational opportunity to Oita. Ambitious young students from Japan and abroad have the rare opportunity to study and network with exciting instructors from Harvard University. This year we have brought together eight talented young people from Harvard College selected out of over 100 applicants. Over the course of our program, participating students will acquire invaluable experiences, inspiration for their futures, and lasting international connections, all in an immersive native English environment.

Since the establishment of Summer in JAPAN in 2013, I have put emphasis on language and self expression when teaching students. Some may say that to survive in the 21st century, you need to acquire IT skills such as computer programming and mathematics, and they would be correct. However, please just remember how human beings like us have come to spread across over the Earth today. It’s so closely related to the invention of tools and language.

Suppose you are in need of something for a particular purpose, for example, you are a very hungry human being living in an ancient time and want to eat this fish you see swimming in front of you, but the fish swims too fast to catch. You need to make a tool to catch the fish because you are starving.

If you are creative enough to imagine the finished product of something able to catch fish in your mind, and carefully imagine its construction too, then through trial and error, you will surely be able to make the product of your imagination. And if you’re successful, soon people around you will begin to use your product. One person’s creativity can move all of humanity forward a step. A computer is one such practical tool.

We humans have made such tools for a long time so you can be a next inventor whose creation will surprise the world. We just have to be able to imagine them first. Language is the most powerful tool we have to help us advance. Not only is it very useful to help us in our thought process when tackling our challenges but also it is the avenue through which we share our creations and pass them on to future generations. Without language, your ideas would end with you.

I want each and every one of you to become a person who is able to invent the future: an inventor, a start-up founder, a lawmaker, a doctor, an artist, a musician, someone who will lead us into the future.

I hope this week will be of your help to seek for your journey of self-discovery and creativity.