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Science and Technology Innovation and the Japanese Mind of Shu「守」, Ha「破」, and Ri「離」 under the New Science and Technology Basic Plan

Suguru Tamura
Associate Professor, Faculty of Science and Engineering, Waseda University

Do you know the Japanese mind of Shu「守」, Ha「破」, and Ri「離」? There are several views about its origin, one of which references the book titled "Fushikaden"( The Flowering Spirit) in the 15th century, written by the leading Japanese Noh actor and playwright Zeami. But, anyway, this mind is well known as classic mind set in the field of tea ceremony, for example.

Shu means the attitude of learning and preserving styles and tradition from your seniors; Ha denotes the step of transforming the things that you have learned into your own style while preserving them; and Ri means the step of establishing new styles and departing from the seniors' styles. The Shu phase corresponds to, for example, learning science and arithmetic in elementary and junior high schools. The saying practice makes perfect would fit, and it would apply to memorizing the multiplication table and other fundamental academic skills.

After building up fundamental ability in the Shu phase, the phase of Ha involves critically observing existing ideas through the basic skills acquired in the previous phase. Next comes the Ri phase, where you leave the position of receiving instruction and establish your own new style to change existing concepts or values. In the case of the 17th century Italy, the astronomer Galileo and his unique observation of space with his astronomical telescope-a state-of-the-art research technique at the time-led to questioning of the geocentric theory, the commonplace view of the day.

The idea of Shu, Ha, and Ri seems similar to the concept of creative destruction advanced by Joseph Schumpeter, a leading economist from Austria in the 20th century who advocated the importance of innovation. Broadly speaking, he attached great importance to the creation of new paradigms through structural reforms as the driving force for economic growth. In other words, he held that economic growth and social development require structural reforms since efforts only within the existing framework would reach the limit at some point. Furthermore, he introduced the concept of innovation, and stressed the importance of commercializing research and development outcomes as new products or services. Comparing Schumpeter's idea with the Japanese concept of Shu「守」, Ha「破」, and Ri「離」, it seems that making efforts within the existing framework corresponds to Shu, and generating structural change is equivalent to Ha and Ri. This comparison might indicate that the world of Japanese classical literature and art has inherited ideas similar to those of Schumpeter positively through the ages beyond the differences between the western and eastern worlds.

The tide of promoting science & technology and driving innovation

There is no doubt that the large part of human progress has currently been brought about by advances in science & technology and innovation. I believe, however, that the approaches to promoting science & technology and driving innovation should be allowed to reflect each nation's diverse views and ideas based on the historical and cultural backgrounds.

In 2011, Japan will start a new basic plan for science and technology over the next five years to facilitate science and technology innovation. Similar kinds of national plans for promoting science and technology are being implemented in the United States, China, EU and many other countries around the world. Expected measures in the new basic plan in Japan include green innovation and life innovation, preparation of international technological standards, and the SciSIP (Science of Science and Innovation Policy), which the U.S. government already started in the 1990s.

For Japan's unique achievement

Asteroid Explorer HAYABUSA ("Falcon" in English)
Source: White Paper on Science and Technology 2006 (MEXT)

The purpose of Hayabusa is to obtain samples from asteroids to investigate the mysteries of the origin of the solar system. [.] Hayabusa,in the asteroid explorer launched in 2003, landed on the asteroid Itokawa in November 2005, approximately 300 million kilometers away from the earth. An asteroid is a body in space that is like a fossil containing a relatively good record of time when the planets were born. If the technology to bring back the samples obtained from the asteroid can be realized, it is expected to provide clues about conditions inside the solar nebula at the time the planets were born. (Cited from White Paper on Science and Technology 2006: Challenge for Building a Future Society, Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology(MEXT), Japanese Government )

In 2010, we witnessed the Japan's great success of the asteroid explorer Hayabusa("Falcon") in the field of space science. Even in this case, the space craft had faced challenges at times during the long-term project. This implies that it is usually impossible to predict the final result of ongoing projects, even if they will ultimately turn out to be great achievements.

Needless to say, it is vital to focus on short-term outcomes in scientific studies, due to severe international competition. For studies seeking unique achievements, however, balancing between the pursuit of short-term and long-term results might be an extremely difficult problem.

With this in mind, it would be worthwhile to address research and development projects in light of the fact that Japan has cultivated the ideas such as Shu, Ha, and Ri engendered from its unique culture. In doing so, I believe, we could anticipate the new basic plan to bring about more original achievements that could not be realized by other countries, such as the success of Hayabusa, from science and technology innovation.

Suguru Tamura
Associate Professor, Faculty of Science and Engineering (Graduate School of Global Information and Telecommunication Studies), Waseda University

September 2009: Associate Professor(without tenure), GITS, Faculty of Science and Engineering, Waseda University (Tokyo)
2004: General Affairs Group, Council for Science and Technology Policy(CSTP), Cabinet Office,(Japanese Government)
April 1993: General Affairs Division, Machinery and Information Industries Bureau, Ministry of International Trade and Industry, (Japanese Government)
(currently the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry)
Kyoto University (Molecular Engineering) (Kyoto)
Academic Society: Intellectual Property Association of Japan, and The Japan Society for Science Policy and Research Management
Consulting Fellow for Research Institute of Economy, Trade and Industry (RIETI)
Areas of study: Innovation policies, R&D management, etc

Contact: tamura [at] aoni.waseda.jp
(type @ instead of [at])

[Primary works]
1. Suguru Tamura, Correlation between Standardization and Innovation from the Viewpoint of Intellectual Property Activities: Electric Machine Industry and All Organizations in Japan, PICMET10, July 2010
2. Suguru Tamura, International Standardization Policies at Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry [Keizaisangyosho ni okeru Kokusai Hyojunka no Torikumi], invited presentation at Standard Committee, Japan Patent Attorneys Association, March 2007
3. Kentaro Terashima, Suguru Tamura, Sea-Hoon Kim & Toshinobu Yoko, Structure and Nonlinear Optical Properties of Lanthanide Borate Glasses, Journal of American Ceramic Society 80(11) 2903-2909, November 1997