Yamanaka: The most important thing to achieve the SDGs is to learn. We must then apply what we have learned in society to create the future.

Professor Yasuhiro Yamanaka

Professor Yasuhiro Yamanaka

Professor Yasuhiro Yamanaka has been focusing on sustainability education and practice for over 10 years. Currently, we are collaborating widely with local governments, companies, and high schools in Hokkaido to conduct social research and educational activities in order to realize a sustainable society. We spoke to Professor Yamanaka, who values both the perspectives of a researcher and an educator, about what is needed now for a sustainable society.

Hokkaido University is committed to sustainability with an eye on the world.

I heard that Hokkaido University has been working on sustainability from the beginning.

Yamanaka: Hokkaido University officially advocated sustainability in 2005, ten years before the United Nations adopted the SDGs. If you call the teachers who were at the center at that time the first generation, and the current teachers who are at the center, such as Dr. Demura, the second generation, I am the 1.5th generation between them.

From Mr. Yamanaka's perspective, what was the impetus for the first generation to start working?

Yamanaka: I think the biggest thing for the first generation of teachers was that they saw the world. Among them, there were many professors who had actually visited developing countries in Africa and Southeast Asia to conduct research. I think this is something that Hokkaido University should be very proud of.

What did Mr. Yamanaka tackle after taking the baton from these teachers?

Yamanaka: To name a representative example, I would say that he launched the graduate school version of the cross-faculty educational program `` Nitobe College'' and served as its first vice principal. The course was launched in 2015, and the SDGs were adopted by the United Nations in September 2015. In other words, we started the program before the SDGs were adopted, but we have been focusing on the SDGs since the beginning of the course. Before being selected, I had already created a program in which I would give lectures on the SDGs and have students think about how Hokkaido University could contribute to the SDGs.

Collaborating with each region of Hokkaido to resolve issues

Currently, it seems that you are working extensively in collaboration with the local community.

Yamanaka: We are conducting various social surveys in Hokkaido. For example, I once conducted a survey of foreign tourists visiting Hokkaido. At this time, we were able to propose improvements to the tourism business based on the survey and contribute to solving problems. We have also conducted research on ski classes at elementary schools in Hokkaido. In social research, we value the attitude of listening to Hokkaido's problems rather than so-called industry-academia collaboration.

Questionnaire form in three languages (Japanese, English and Chinese) regarding tourism in Hokkaido (sample)

Questionnaire form in three languages (Japanese, English and Chinese) regarding tourism in Hokkaido (sample)

Are you working with the local community to solve problems?

Yamanaka: Another thing we are focusing on is educational activities targeting high school students in Hokkaido. In particular, the `` Sustainable World Hokkaido High School Student Contest'' is gaining momentum. This is a contest that solicits works from high school students in Hokkaido that introduce their activities from the perspective of the SDGs, and in the third contest last year, 49 works were submitted. Not only university teachers and students, including myself, but also many people from government, NPOs, and companies who are implementing SDGs seriously comment on all the works.

It's a valuable experience for high school students.

Yamanaka: We also want the contest to be an opportunity for interaction between high school students. Participating schools will be connected online for a networking event, and I will only speak for about one hour out of the three hours. The remaining two hours are used for discussion among high school students.

Sustainable World Hokkaido High School Student Contest Exchange Meeting

Sustainable World Hokkaido High School Student Contest Exchange Meeting

What we need now is the ability to learn

What is the aim of educational activities for high school students?

Yamanaka: I want high school students to cherish the attitude of continuing to learn even in their daily lives. Learning is not confined to schools. This is a lesson that can only be learned by applying it in society. What is needed here is not just a sleight of hand technique, but the ability to learn in the truest sense. It is the ability to discover issues on your own, investigate them, and deepen your thinking through trial and error.

The sequence of finding a problem, researching it, and deepening your thoughts is exactly what university research is like.

Yamanaka: This is something that is originally acquired at university, and can be called the ability to conduct research. However, times have changed, and now everyone in society needs to have the ability to learn.
On the other hand, in Hokkaido, only about half of the students go on to university after graduating from high school. For the other half, high school is the last place they will receive an education. That is why it is necessary to teach the ability to learn in high school. Although there is time for integrated research in high school, there is not enough time because there are no specialized teachers, so I am currently focusing on that.
There is talk of universities becoming regional hubs and centers of local knowledge, but unfortunately, many municipalities do not even have universities or even high schools. The population is also decreasing at a tremendous rate; for example, excluding Hokkaido's large core cities and the Ishikari area, 1% of Japan's population lives in the vast Hokkaido.
There's no point in saying "zero carbon" in a place like this. In other words, since the population is decreasing so much, I'm currently thinking about connecting high schools and doing various things. Online has actually become a very important item. If you do it online, you will be able to put together a great event without being affected by Hokkaido's transportation or being far away.

Schematic diagram of “ability to learn”

Schematic diagram of “ability to learn”

Let's all think about a happy society and the way we live our lives.

What happens when everyone acquires the ability to learn?

Yamanaka: Up until now, we have been taught that a good life is to enter a good university, go out into society, work, and become involved in economic activities. In other words, education has been provided to increase GDP. But things will be different from now on. We live in an age where people are thinking about what is called well-being and how to make them happy. Intergenerational learning is also important here. You won't know anything about your 20s unless you ask people in their 20s to tell you about it, and you won't know anything about your 50s unless you ask people in their 50s to tell you about it. High school students, working adults, and the elderly all need to come together to learn and think about how to live a happy life.

A world where everyone continues to learn and think about wellbeing, both at school and in society.

Yamanaka: The world has already begun to move, and Scotland has made sanitary products free. New Zealand is beginning to examine whether policies are aligned with wellbeing when formulating the national budget. From now on, everyone in society must create a happy future. The most important thing is to learn, and what underpins this is the ability to learn. In Hokkaido, the people who should be leading the way in learning are, of course, Hokkaido University students. It is the graduates who have learned a lot at university who must use what they have learned in society and take the lead in creating the future.


Hokkaido University URA Station / SDGs Initiative Office (Planning)
Space Time Co., Ltd. Keiko Nakamura (Director/Editing/Writing) Kyohei Hosoya (Writing)
PRAG Kenta Nakamura (Photography)

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Yasuhiro Yamanaka Professor

Affiliation: Hokkaido University Graduate Faculty of Environmental Earth Science

Environmental education, practical environmental science, area studies
Originally a natural scientist who researched climate change using numerical simulations. An educator who engages in dialogue with society and learns on his own across academic disciplines, occupations, regions, and generations with many people, inspired by the business classification and Great East Japan Earthquake that he encountered in his 40s.