Japan regards South Africa as an important research partner. This was affirmed on Thursday during the first session of the fourth South Africa-Japan University (SAJU) Forum Conference, at the University of Pretoria.
"South Africa is a very important country for Japan," highlighted Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology director for international cooperation (Ms) Mutsuko Yasuda. South Africa was the only country in sub-Saharan Africa with which Japan had a scientific cooperation agreement.
"The cooperation between Japan and South Africa is very unique," stated Tokyo University of Foreign Studies Deputy Vice Chancellor Jun Matsukuma. Both countries sought to learn from each other.
By 2015, 42 cooperation agreements had been signed between Japanese and South African universities, pointed out Yasuda. Joint projects between the two countries included those developed under Japan's Science and Technology Research Partnership for Sustainable Development programme.
"We academics need to work together [across international borders]," observed Matsukuma, "Academics also have the responsibility to explain their research to the public."
In his address to the Conference, Japanese Ambassador Norio Maruyama stressed that this year was an important one for both South Africa and Japan. South Africa had just elected a new government, while Japan had seen the accession of a new monarch (Emperor Naruhito). He explained that, in Japanese culture, the accession of a new Emperor marked the beginning of a new era. The name chosen by the Emperor for his new era was "Beautiful Harmony".
He noted that there were many problems that were now international problems. "This platform [SAJU Forum] is the most ideal platform to address these problems."
He also expressed pleasure that President Cyril Ramaphosa had mentioned the Fourth Industrial Revolution in his State of the Nation Address. The Ambassador explained that Japan was trying to solve social problems, such as an ageing population and a shrinking work force, by using technologies such as artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things. This programme was known as "Society 5.0".
Yasuda reported that a new agreement between her department and South Africa's National Research Forum was being developed. She expressed the hope that "Beautiful Harmony" would also apply to the future of Japanese-South African relations in general and Japanese-South African science, technology and innovation cooperation in particular.